How common is impotence? According to findings from several studies, including “The Massachusetts Male Aging Study,” overall prevalence for men between 40–70 years old is around 52 percent (or around 30 percent of all men between 18–60 years old). That’s right — nearly half of all men over 40 experience erectile dysfunction symptoms at some point. Not surprisingly, research demonstrates that impotence is increasingly prevalent with age. Around 40 percent of men in their 40s experience sexual dysfunction. Up to 70 percent of men in their 70s experience ED. (1) Every year more than 617,000 new cases of impotence occur in the United States alone.
The vacuum device is approved by USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of ED since 1982. Vacuum therapy (VT) works by creating a negative pressure environment around the penis through the use of a cylindrical housing attached to a pump mechanism, which can be manually-operated or battery-operated. Vacuum draws mixed arterial and venous blood into the corporal bodies and distends the corporal sinusoids to create an erected penis. If a pre-loaded constriction band is applied over the base of the penis to prevent outflow of blood and maintain tumescence for intercourse, it is considered a vacuum constriction device (VCD). It is recommended that the constriction band be removed within 30 mins to return the penis to its flaccid state, as prolonged application of the constriction band can compromise both arterial and venous blood flow (7). Some minor side effects associated with VCD are penile discomfort, coldness, numbness, bruising and pain on ejaculation. Major side effects such as penile skin necrosis, gangrene, urethral injury and Peyronie’s disease are very rare (8).
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The penile roots are enveloped by two pelvic floor muscles, the bulbocavernosus (BC) and the ischiocavernosus (IC). The IC muscle is the “erector muscle” and the BC muscle the “ejaculator muscle.” The BC and IC muscles are responsible for the ability to lift one’s erect penis up and down (wag the penis) as they are contracted and relaxed. Although not muscles of glamour, they are certainly muscles of “amour.” Although unseen and behind-the-scenes, hidden from view, these often unrecognized and misunderstood muscles have vital functions in addition to erection and ejaculation. When the pelvic floor muscles are not functioning optimally, one loses the potential for full erectile rigidity. Like other skeletal muscles, they can undergo “disuse atrophy,” becoming thinner, flabbier and less functional with aging, weight gain, sedentary lifestyles, poor posture, chronic straining and other forms of trauma, including pelvic surgery (e.g., prostatectomy). Exercising them can enhance sexual health; maintain sexual health; help prevent the occurrence of ED in the future; and help manage ED. Specifically, pelvic floor exercises can be beneficial with respect to the following spectrum of issues: ED; ejaculation issues including premature ejaculation; urinary incontinence; overactive bladder; post-void dribbling; and bowel urgency and incontinence. One of the challenges of pelvic floor training is that most men do not know where their pelvic muscles are located, what they do, how to exercise them, and what benefits exercising them may confer. In fact, many men don’t even know that they have pelvic floor muscles. Because they are out of sight, they are often out of mind and not considered when it comes to exercise and fitness. However, although concealed from view, they deserve serious respect as they are responsible for vital functions that can be enhanced when intensified by training. Pelvic floor muscle training before and after prostate cancer surgery can facilitate the resumption of urinary control and sexual function after surgery. Pelvic floor training is also useful for men who suffer with stress urinary incontinence following prostatectomy. This is a spurt-like urinary leakage that occurs at times of increased abdominal pressure, such as with sports and other high impact activities. Pelvic floor contractions on demand are a technique in which the pelvic muscles are braced and briskly engaged at the time or just before any activity that triggers the stress incontinence. When practiced diligently, this can ultimately become an automatic behavior and the incontinence improved, if not resolved.
The treatment of ED using TCM ties in with the treatment of late-onset hypogonadism (LOH). LOH occurs due to the breakdown in coordination between the heart and the kidneys, deficiencies of the spleen and kidney (yang), deficiencies of the liver and kidney (yin) and deficiencies of the kidney (yin and yang). The endocrine function of the pituitary and gonads becomes disordered with age due to a depression of overall function. This results in accumulation of free radicals and other toxins that cannot be relieved solely with male hormone supplementation. Warm yang can energize kidneys to benefit the body, remove toxins, invigorate qi and promote blood circulation. Free radicals are removed, blood fat regulated, cardio-cerebral blood flow improved and again the key here is to improve the function of the digestive, respiratory and endocrine systems, hence regulating the body in every aspect holistically (28).
The use of shock wave therapy has revolutionized the treatment of many aspects of medicine. High intensity extracorporeal shockwave therapy has been used for the treatment of nephro-urolithiasis while medium intensity shockwave therapy is used by orthopaedic surgeons to treat joint pain as well as tendinitis. Low intensity shockwaves therapy was first noted to improve ischaemia-induced myocardial dysfunction in animal studies when low intensity shockwaves were applied to porcine myocardium (13). Shockwaves induces a localized stress on cell membranes in the same way that shear stress affects endothelial cell membranes (14) and this triggers the release of angiogenic factors, such as increased NO production through increased activity of endothelial NO synthase (eNOS) and neuronal NO synthase (nNOS), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) (15). These shockwaves also cause membrane hyperpolarization (16), activation of the Ras signaling pathway, non-enzymatic synthesis of NO and induction of stress fibers and intercellular gaps (17).
The medications also require a healthy endothelium and healthy arteries capable of providing increased blood flow to work. If the sex organ arteries the size of a swizzle stick are severely diseased, there will be no “bada-boom bada-bing” an hour after taking them. These medications only work by enhancing the natural effects of a healthy endothelium.
Ginseng, specifically “red ginseng,” is known as the “herbal Viagra” that helps puts to rest men’s bedroom woes. Red ginseng is when the root has been steamed and then dried. The ginseng root is the part of the plant that is mostly used as a natural remedy when in its supplement form. However, the plant must be grown for a minimum of five years before it can be used. In a 2008 review, seven studies on red ginseng and ED, ranging in dosages from 600 to 1,000 milligrams three times a day, were found to provide evidence for the effectiveness of the herb in ED treatment.
Sexual dysfunction has been evaluated in ancient literature of TCM in terms of subjective sensation and the actual sexual performance (3). In TCM, methods and matters related to direct sexual activity is described in terms of “ten motions”, “seven impairments” and “eight benefits”, which asserted that the ideal intensity and frequency of sexual activity should be moderate. TCM is all about balance, to achieve better overall regulation of the yin and the yang. The aim of treatment of ED using TCM is not for the end point of a penile erection but rather for a natural and harmonious sex life. TCM aims to achieve regulation in terms of the man’s anxiety, fatigability, changing hormonal levels, insomnia and gastroparesis. Medicine to invigorate qi can enhance physical fitness, and medicine to warm the kidneys can regulate sex hormones, increase libido, invigorate the spleen, regulate the stomach and improve general well-being (3). Medications used to treat a “stagnated liver” provide tranquilization and helps to stabilize the mind, hence improving mental processes and emotional wellness. As a result, the patient’s overall condition and quality of life is improved.
Ginkgo biloba. Known primarily as a treatment for cognitive decline, ginkgo has also been used to treat erectile dysfunction -- especially cases caused by the use of certain antidepressant medications. But the evidence isn't very convincing. One 1998 study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that it did work. But a more rigorous study, published in Human Pharmacology in 2002, failed to replicate this finding. "Ginkgo has come out of fashion in the past few years," says Ronald Tamler, MD, assistant professor of medicine and codirector of the men's health program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "That's because it doesn't do much. I can say that in my practice, I have not seen ginkgo work -- ever."
The phrase “use it before you lose it” can be applied when it comes to helping men with ED regain normal erectile function. Pelvic exercises, more commonly known as kegel exercises, are used to promote urinary continence and sexual health. They help to strengthen the bulbocavernosus muscle, which does three things: allows the penis to engorge with blood during erection, it pumps during ejaculation, and it helps empty the urethra after urination, according to Healthline.
In addition, when research has shown a nutrient such as zinc or niacin to improve sexual function, it's usually in people who are deficient in it. So, before you stock up on over-the-counter nutritional supplements for ED, speak with your doctor. He can test you for deficiencies and steer you toward the most effective and safest way to treat your erectile dysfunction.
Other factors that “stress” the body can also increase your risk for ED. These include: substance abuse, using marijuana, smoking cigarettes, depression, anxiety and low self esteem. Cigarette smoking — or using nicotine — leads to constricted blood vessels, which has negative effects for sexual health. Other mental/emotional obstacles can cause less desire for sex and decrease testosterone. Several ways to help manage stress include:
Energy-boosting goji berries have been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to help increase energy and enhance the release of hormones. Goji increases the body’s ability to handle stress and support healthy mood, mind and memory—all while giving you the get-up-and-go energy needed to get your workout to the next level,” says Dr. Lindsey Duncan, celebrity nutritionist (he’s worked with Tony Dorsett and Reggie Bush). “Goji is also beneficial for increasing blood flow, which helps to oxygenate all of the cells and tissues of the body, which increases your drive—that’s why they call goji the ‘Viagra of China.’”
Dan practices a unique blend of conventional and holistic medicine, drawing on his extensive experience with integrative techniques like healing touch, guided imagery and yoga. By fostering an understanding of the deep connections between body, mind and spirit, Dan seeks to help every patient unlock his or her own innate healing ability. He received his MD from the Hahnemann College of Medicine and completed his residency in family practice through UCSF. Dan is a fellow of the Wilderness Medical Society, is a clinical instructor at UCSF, and is certified with both the American Board of Family Medicine and the American Board of Holistic Medicine. Dan is a One Medical Group provider and sees patients in our San Francisco offices.
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."
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Tribulus terrestris is a dicotyledonous herbal plant of the Zygophyllaceae family, used to increase serum testosterone levels, which has only been shown in animal studies (40). A prospective, randomized, double blind study of 30 men showed that Tribulus terrestris was not more effective than placebo on improving IIEF scores or serum total testosterone (41). Two accounts of hepato-nephrotoxicity have been reported in young men who ingested high doses of this herbal medication (42,43).
A 2011 study of 160 men with moderate or severe erectile dysfunction divided the group in two—80 men were given niacin supplements, and 80 a placebo. The group given niacin reported improved ability to “maintain an erection versus the control group.” It’s not exhaustive research, but still promising. The best part about niacin is that it’s naturally found in foods like turkey, avocado, and peanuts (yum). If you’re not a turkey sandwich fan, you can supplement with a vitamin B complex.
If you can't take one of these oral medications, your physician may have you try Caverject (alprostadil for injection), a hormone that you inject into your penis using a fine needle, or Muse (alprostadil urogenital), a tiny suppository that you insert into the tip of the penis. Both of these will bring on an erection within five to 15 minutes without sexual stimulation.