This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Axe nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.
For many men, stopping smoking is an erectile dysfunction remedy, particularly when ED is the result of vascular disease, which occurs when blood supply to the penis becomes restricted because of blockage or narrowing of the arteries. Smoking and even smokeless tobacco can also cause the narrowing of important blood vessels and have the same negative impact.
Size matters, so get slim and stay slim. A trim waistline is one good defense — a man with a 42-inch waist is 50% more likely to have ED than one with a 32-inch waist. Losing weight can help fight erectile dysfunction, so getting to a healthy weight and staying there is another good strategy for avoiding or fixing ED. Obesity raises risks for vascular disease and diabetes, two major causes of ED. And excess fat interferes with several hormones that may be part of the problem as well.
A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that a large percentage of men with ED also have low levels of vitamin D. If you’re experiencing ED, you may want to have your level of vitamin D checked. Other symptoms of a low vitamin D level may be too subtle to notice. However, if you have serious vitamin D deficiency, you may have bone pain or muscle weakness. Vitamin D levels can be checked with a simple blood test and for most people corrected with a supplement.
For example, you’ll often hear that watermelon is a great remedy for ED. This belief seems to come from a study done in 20075, which showed that consuming watermelon could raised levels of L-arginine in the bloodstream. L-arginine is used in the production of nitric oxide (NO), which is a key to healthy erections (see our article, “How Do Erections Work“). However, the study did not show that consuming watermelon actually improved erections. Also, the subjects consumed the equivalent of three eight-ounce glasses of watermelon juice per day!
While these side effects mainly create discomfort, some individuals are at risk for more serious, even life-threatening reactions to these drugs. Some men have reported fainting after taking impotence medications, and priapism (a painful condition involving an erection that does not subside after more than four hours) has also occurred as an effect of impotence drugs. This condition can lead to permanent nerve damage; injectable drugs may also cause irreversible damage to the penis if used incorrectly.
L-arginine is an amino acid that is necessary for the lining of the blood vessels to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide allows the blood vessels to relax, thus improving blood flow throughout the body, including to the penis. Studies on L-arginine and erectile dysfunction have used between 2,000-5,000 mg a day in divided doses.ii Supplemental arginine is best taken on an empty stomach.3
Acupuncture. Though acupuncture has been used to treat male sexual problems for centuries, the scientific evidence to support its use for erectile dysfunction is equivocal at best. In 2009, South Korean scientists conducted a systematic review of studies on acupuncture for ED. They found major design flaws in all of the studies, concluding that "the evidence is insufficient to suggest that acupuncture is an effective intervention for treating ED."
While carrots have always been touted for their benefits for the eyes, studies reveal that carotenoids, vitamins, and minerals present in carrots act as antioxidants, anticarcinogens, and immune enhancers. Carrots also boast of antihypertensive, hepatoprotective, renoprotective, and wound healing benefits as well as cardio- and hepatoprotective, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic effects. Studies on male rats have shown that carrots can exert an effect on fertility by elevating testosterone levels in them.10
However, you might actually be better off going one step back in the chain reaction and taking an L-citrulline supplement. While your body converts L-arginine to nitric oxide, it also metabolizes it too fast when the amino acid is taken in an oral supplement, according to a 2011 study from the University of Foggia in Italy. L-citrulline, which the body converts to L-arginine, is actually a better option to follow the same metabolic pathway and serve as a treatment for ED, the same study found.
The B vitamin folic acid is good for cardiovascular health. Keeping your blood flowing smoothly is a key to preventing and even treating erectile dysfunction (ED). After all, ED is often an early warning sign of heart problems. In particular, some men have high levels of homocysteine, which can contribute to heart problems. Findings show that eating foods high in folate and taking folic acid supplements may help lower high homocysteine levels. Lots of foods contain folic acid, including spinach, tomatoes, and orange juice. But most of us don’t get enough of these heart healthy foods in our daily diet. To boost folic acid, look for a supplement with about 525 milligrams (mg) of this vitamin. That’s good advice for everyone, and might help with your ED. Research suggests that for some men with ED and high homocysteine levels, taking folic acid may be a key to helping ED medications like Viagra perform well.
If you want to go long enough to help your date reach the big O, reach for some oatmeal. The popular breakfast cereal is a good source of l-arginine, an amino acid commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction. Plus, whole grains like oatmeal also help lower cholesterol levels. Having high cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition that clogs and narrows arteries, impairing blood flow. This could eventually lead to heart problems, but you’ll likely notice issues below the belt first. The arteries surrounding the genital area are narrower than coronary blood vessels, so they’re more susceptible to clots. Simply put, the better your cholesterol levels are, the better your erection will be, too.
Mirja Holtrop was born and raised in Germany, where she studied Computer Science and Public Relations. After working as a Marketing Assistant for a couple of years she joined the Dr. Rath Health Foundation. In the early 2000s she moved to South Africa where she studied Education at the University of Cape Town. Her first book, ‘The Secret of Cells’, was published in 2004.
Much of the evidence shows high rates of vitamin D deficiency in patients with erectile dysfunction. In fact, one study of 3,400 participants found that men with vitamin D deficiency were 32% more likely to have trouble with erections when all other risk factors were controlled for. It’s a little on the nose that you need vitamin D for your “D,” but hey—science can be funny too.
Although you should steer clear of supplements advertised online, research shows certain vitamins and herbs can help ED. They may help improve the health of your blood vessels, increase blood flow to the penis, and boost erectile function. If other treatments have failed, you’re not a candidate for ED medications, or you’re looking for a more natural approach, ask your doctor whether these supplements could be right for you. Here are three to discuss with your doctor:
If ED continues to be a problem even after making certain lifestyle changes, talk with your doctor. ED is an uncomfortable subject for many men to discuss, but it’s treatable in most cases, so there’s no reason to avoid getting help. Doctors see patients every day about ED, so you’re simply one of millions of men dealing with this common condition.
The natural remedy to ED is a healthy lifestyle that can “reverse” ED naturally, as opposed to “managing” it. Since ED can be considered a “chronic disease,” healthy lifestyle choices can reverse it, prevent its progression and even prevent its onset. Since sexual functioning is based upon many body components working harmoniously (central and peripheral nervous system, hormone system, blood vessel system, smooth and skeletal muscles), the first-line approach is to nurture every cell, tissue and organ in the body. This translates to achieving “fighting” weight, adopting a smart heart-healthy and penis-healthy diet (whole foods, nutrient-dense, calorie-light, avoiding processed and refined junk foods), exercising moderately, losing the tobacco habit, consuming alcohol in moderation, stress reduction (yoga, meditation, massage, hot baths, whatever it takes, etc.), and getting adequate quantity and quality of sleep. Aside from general exercises (cardio, core, strength and flexibility training), specific pelvic floor muscle exercises (“man-Kegels”) are beneficial to improve the strength, power and endurance of the penile “rigidity” muscles. If a healthy lifestyle can be adopted, sexual function will often improve dramatically, in parallel to overall health improvements. Since many medications have side effects that negatively impact sexual function, a bonus of lifestyle improvement is potentially needing lower dosages or perhaps eliminating medications (blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetic meds, etc.), which can further improve sexual function. Eat real food and avoid refined, over-processed, nutritionally-empty foods and be moderate with the consumption of animal fats and dairy. Processed meats and charred meats should be avoided. A healthy diet should include whole grains and plenty of vegetables and fruits, particularly those that contain powerful antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Pay attention to your vascular health. High blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides can all damage arteries in the heart (causing heart attack), in the brain (causing stroke), and leading to the penis (causing ED). An expanding waistline also contributes. Check with your doctor to find out whether your vascular system — and thus your heart, brain, and penis — is in good shape or needs a tune-up through lifestyle changes and, if necessary, medications.
As men age, their estrogen levels gradually rise, while testosterone levels fall. Anti-cancer coupounds called indoles can help strike a balance. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are rich in indoles, which boost testosterone production by breaking down and flushing the system of excess estrogen, which inhibits the production of male sex hormones. In one study, supplementing with indole-3-carbinol from cruciferous vegetables for just 7 days cut the estrogen hormone estradiol in half for men. Another study found indole supplementation significantly increased urinary excretion of estrogens.
Just because a product claims to be natural doesn't mean it's safe. Many herbal remedies and dietary supplements can cause side effects and dangerous interactions when taken with certain medications. Talk to your doctor before you try an alternative treatment for erectile dysfunction — especially if you're taking medications or you have a chronic health problem such as heart disease or diabetes.