Admitting to your doctor that you are having trouble achieving an erection can be difficult, but take comfort in the fact that they are not judging you and are there to improve your health and well-being. If you are just beginning a blood pressure treatment regimen and are beginning to experience erectile dysfunction, tell your doctor as soon as you can—they can solve the problem by simply changing the prescription.


Although medication can help extend the lives of men with chronic heart failure, several factors associated with this disease can interfere with a person's ability to engage in and enjoy sexual activities. Fatigue, depression, medication side effects and the fear of damaging the heart can cause people with chronic heart failure to lose interest in sex or wonder whether this activity is safe for them.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
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:

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).


Relation between erectile dysfunction prevalence and type of coronary syndrome (A). Time interval (months) between erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease symptom onset in chronic coronary syndrome according to the number of vessels involved (B). ACS, acute coronary syndrome; CCS, chronic coronary syndrome, G1: ACS and 1-VD; G2: ACS and 2-,3-VD; G3: CCS. VD, vessel disease; C: the control group with normal coronary angiography. With permission from Montorsi et al.15
The 12-week study of 164 men, all with hypertension, was divided into 2 groups of 82, one group with sexual dysfunction, the other group reported normal sexual functioning. Both groups took losartan in dosages of 50 to 100 milligrams daily for the 12 weeks of the study. In the group of men with sexual dysfunction, 88 percent reported improvement in at least one area of sexual function and 73.7% reported an improved quality of life.

Experimental hyperglycemia may also affect cavernosal smooth muscle cell contractile responses. In experimental diabetes, penile smooth muscle has augmented force responses to vaconstrictors, possibly mediated by changes in expression of protein kinase C and the RhoA-Rho kinase Ca2+-sensitization pathway.32 These changes may promote flaccidity and alter the relaxation responses to nitric oxide. End-stage penile dysfunction may occur as a result of diabetes, with progressive loss of normal cavernosal endothelium and smooth muscle cells from the corpus cavernosum.33 Replacement by fibrotic tissue may lead to complete erectile failure.34
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common sexual problem affecting many men irrespective of cultures, beliefs and nationalities. While medical therapy for ED has been revolutionized by the advent of oral phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors and intracavernosal injection of vasoactive agents, recent technological advances such stem cell therapy, low intensity shock wave and newer generation of penile prosthesis implant offer hope to men who do not respond to conventional medical therapy. In contrast, traditional and complementary medicine (TCM) focuses on the restoration and better overall bodily regulation with the use of various herbal and animal products as well as exercises to invigorate qi (energy) in vital organs. Western medicine involves an analysis of ED symptom and underlying causes that contribute to ED, while TCM emphases the concept of holism and harmonization of body organs to achieve natural sexual life. The following article reviews our current understanding regarding the philosophical approach, and evaluates the evidence surrounding various ED therapies between mainstream Western Medicine and TCM.
Yohimbe. Before Viagra and the other prescription erectile dysfunction drugs became available, doctors sometimes prescribed a derivative of the herb yohimbe (yohimbine hydrochloride) to their patients suffering from ED. But experts say the medication is not particularly effective, and it can cause jitteriness and other problems. "It's not a great drug," says McCullough. "And I suspect the herb is not as potent as the pharmaceutical version." What's more, evidence shows that yohimbe is associated with high blood pressure, anxiety, headache, and other health problems. Experts discourage its use.

The impact of third-generation cardioselective beta-blockers such as carvedilol and nebivolol has also been investigated. Fogari et al. investigated the effect of carvedilol on erectile function in a double-blind crossover study involving 160 men newly diagnosed with hypertension and found chronic worsening of sexual function in those treated with carvedilol compared with valsartan and placebo.24


Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (164) | Google ScholarSee all References Several double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown vardenafil to be more effective than placebo in the treatment of ED secondary to a wide range of other etiologies as well.71x71Hellstrom, WJ, Gittelman, M, Karlin, G..., and Vardenafil Study Group. Sustained efficacy and tolerability of vardenafil, a highly potent selective phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, in men with erectile dysfunction: results of a randomized, double-blind, 26-week placebo-controlled pivotal trial. Urology. 2003; 61: 8–14
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as the persistent inability to attain and maintain an erection that is sufficient to permit satisfactory sexual performance (1). The current pharmaco-therapeutic research in ED focuses on underlying endothelial dysfunction as the root cause for ED and introduction of phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors to potentiate nitric oxide (NO) action and cavernosal smooth muscle vasodilation, has revolutionized modern ED treatment over the past two decades (2). In contrast to Western Medicine, the traditional and complementary medicine (TCM) aims at restoration and better overall bodily regulation with medicine to invigorate qi (energy) in vital organs such as kidney, spleen and liver; to enhance physical fitness, increase sexual drive, stabilize the mind and improve the overall situation resulting in natural and harmonious sexual life (3).
Cardiovascular tolerance for sex is based on “functional reserve,” which corresponds to how closely the cardiovascular response to sex (in terms of heart rate, blood pressure level, and oxygen consumption) approaches the patient's peak response to exercise.85x85DeBusk, RF. Evaluating the cardiovascular tolerance for sex. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 51F–56F
Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References Different classes of β-blockers have been postulated to have differential effects on erectile function, with the nonselective β-blockers (eg, propranolol) having more deleterious effects than the more cardioselective medications (eg, atenolol, metoprolol).42x42Weiss, RJ. Effects of antihypertensive agents on sexual function. Am Fam Physician. 1991; 44: 2075–2082
For those patients who cannot take erectile dysfunction medications, the authors counsel that an exercise training regimen may be an appropriate substitute therapy to enhance sexual function and quality of life. The authors stress that clinicians should focus on the sexual activity history of chronic heart failure patients and not ignore it, since addressing this element can substantially improve their quality of life.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References They evaluated 40 patients with coronary artery disease who underwent coronary artery catheterization and whose penile brachial index (PBI) was measured by Doppler ultrasonography. Although a positive correlation was noted between the PBI and the severity of coronary artery obstruction, the relationship was not strong. Also, the degree of PBI abnormality did not effectively stratify the patients according to the severity of their coronary artery blockage. This study concluded that the PBI used alone would not be an effective predictor of ischemic heart disease.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Interestingly, this study found no association between erectile function and the number of years or packs per day of cigarette use. In contrast, a study of 314 current smokers with ED found that the number of cigarettes smoked inversely correlated with penile rigidity as measured by nocturnal penile tumescence.27x27Hirshkowitz, M, Karacan, I, Howell, JW, Arcasoy, MO, and Williams, RL. Nocturnal penile tumescence in cigarette smokers with erectile dysfunction. Urology. 1992; 39: 101–107
The 12-week study of 164 men, all with hypertension, was divided into 2 groups of 82, one group with sexual dysfunction, the other group reported normal sexual functioning. Both groups took losartan in dosages of 50 to 100 milligrams daily for the 12 weeks of the study. In the group of men with sexual dysfunction, 88 percent reported improvement in at least one area of sexual function and 73.7% reported an improved quality of life.
The pathophysiological basis for the predictive ability of ED has been discussed above. It should be emphasized, however, that ED should not only be viewed as a manifestation of obstructive CAD that could be identified by ischaemia revealing tests. Owing to the inflammatory and pro-thrombotic activation of the disease,13 it should also be regarded as an early warning sign of an imminent acute event (mainly acute myocardial infarction)22 due to the rupture of a subclinical plaque, and thus identification of the risk should ideally include plaque vulnerability tests. Finally, an issue that has important clinical implications is by how long the clinical manifestation of ED precedes the clinical manifestation of CAD. According to studies, men with ED and no cardiac symptoms have an increased incidence of experiencing a cardiac event, both acute and chronic, in the ensuing 2–5 years, thus providing a ‘window of opportunity’ for risk reduction management in these patients.2
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References When matched for age, hypertension, diabetes, and tobacco use, no significant difference was noted in the presence of ED (42% in the myocardial infarction group vs 48% in the control group). However, the presence of severe congestive heart failure has been associated with increased ED. A study of 80 patients with New York Heart Association class III/IV congestive heart failure found that 40% of these patients had complete ED, and another 40% had either mild or moderate ED.15x15Taylor, HA Jr. Sexual activity and the cardiovascular patient: guidelines. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 6N–10N

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (35) | Google ScholarSee all References Also, if lower blood pressure level was the primary etiology of ED, all classes of antihypertensive agents should be expected to have relatively similar effects on erectile function because of their efficacy in lowering pressure, which has not been seen.6x6Kloner, RA. Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular risk factors. Hosp Pract (Off Ed). 2001; 36: 41–44 (49-51.)


As ED has become more prevalent among the U.S. population, entrepreneurs have set out to serve this patient population by introducing a variety of non-invasive devices to help correct the condition. There’s the penis pump, which includes a plastic tube that fits over the penis and a hand or battery-powered pump attached to the tube, and a band that circles the base of the penis when it becomes erect.
Testosterone therapy (TTh) should be reserved for patients who (i) are symptomatic (ED or reduced libido) of testosterone deficiency45 and (ii) they have biochemical evidence of low testosterone (TT <8 nmol/L or 2.3 ng/mL). In men with borderline TT (8–12 nmol/L or 2.3–3.5 ng/mL), a TTh trial (for 3–6 months and continuation if effective) may be envisaged. While adding a PDE5 inhibitor can be considered in men who have not improved with TTh, the usual clinical scenario is to add TTh in patients who have not responded to PDE5 inhibitors. Improvement is dependent on the testosterone levels with better results being obtained at lower levels of TT.45 Despite evidence of benefit in patients with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions (angina or heart failure), it should be emphasized that TTh is not a medication with cardiovascular indications.

The recommended dosage of sildenafil is 50 mg/day, usually taken 1 hour before sexual activity. This dose may be increased to 100 mg or decreased to 25 mg based on side effects.6 PDE5 inhibitors also have a beneficial effect in the treatment of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction as well as pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension. The use of PDE5 inhibitors in the treatment of right heart failure and left ventricular failure associated with combined pre- and post-capillary pulmonary hypertension has been well studied.71,72
Low testosterone levels have been observed inconsistently in STZ-induced diabetic and BB rats.18 Androgen deficiency in rats is associated with downregulation of the neuronal isoforms of nitric oxide synthase, suggesting a trophic effect of testosterone on peripheral erectile tissues. In humans, androgens play a larger role in sexual interest and motivation (libido) than in erectile capacity itself; penile erection is more resistant to androgen withdrawal than is sexual desire.19,20
Sexual intercourse is an infrequent cause of myocardial infarction. In a study of 1774 patients after myocardial infarction, only 1.5% of these events occurred within 2 hours of sexual intercourse, and sexual activity was considered a direct contributing factor in 0.9%.8x8Muller, JE, Mittleman, A, Maclure, M, Sherwood, JB, Tofler, GH, and Determinants of Myocardial Infarction Onset Study Investigators. Triggering myocardial infarction by sexual activity: low absolute risk and prevention by regular physical exertion. JAMA. 1996; 275: 1405–1409
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.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (35) | Google ScholarSee all References Also, if lower blood pressure level was the primary etiology of ED, all classes of antihypertensive agents should be expected to have relatively similar effects on erectile function because of their efficacy in lowering pressure, which has not been seen.6x6Kloner, RA. Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular risk factors. Hosp Pract (Off Ed). 2001; 36: 41–44 (49-51.)
Experimental in vivo studies have implicated central and peripheral neuropathy, impaired neurotransmission, and endothelial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of diabetic ED.26,27 Copulatory behavior and penile reflexes are uniformly impaired 4–12 months after the onset of diabetes in the BB rat.26,27 McVary et al.26 found that peripheral neuropathy accounts for only part of the dysfunctional findings, and that spinal sexual reflexes were also severely impaired.
Since their introduction in the therapeutic field, more than a decade ago, PDE-5 inhibitors have revolutionized the treatment of sexual dysfunction. By blocking the activity of PDE-5 isoenzyme, localized throughout the smooth muscle cells of the vasculature (genital vessels included), PDE-5 inhibitors increase the levels of cyclic guanosine monophosphate thus exerting vasodilating properties and facilitating penile erection[40-42]. Due to these properties, sildenafil was the first drug of its class to receive wide acceptance. Its short half-life, food interactions and the associated visual disturbances however, paved the way for the development of newer PDE-5 inhibitors. As such vardenafil with its more rapid onset of action, and tadalafil with its longer half-life and the lack of food interactions or side effects, have offered significant alternatives to sildenafil[43-50].
Ginkgo Biloba is promoted to treat conditions ranging from hypertension to Alzheimer’s dementia. There is evidence that shows improvement of memory enhancements in the geriatric population (47), improvement in terms of cognitive function via effect on cerebral vasculature (48), improvement of claudication distance and cutaneous ulcers in patients with peripheral vascular disease (49). Ginkgo Biloba extract is proposed to induce NO in endothelial cells and thus causing relaxation of vascular smooth muscles. Animal studies have reported relaxation of rabbit corpus cavernosal smooth muscle cells with the use of Ginkgo Biloba (50). Adverse effects include headaches, major bleeding (in patient who are taking warfarin concurrently) and seizures with reported fatality (36).

In contrast to Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng is divided into three types, depending on how it is processed. Red Ginseng is harvested at the sixth year of cultivation and is steamed and dried. In addition to the effects mentioned regarding the effects of ginsenoside, red ginseng has been repoted to improve erectile function in a rat model of metabolic syndrome and it was also found to inhibit fibrosis of the corpus cavernosum of the penis (39). As with most herbal medicines, the concentration of ginsenoside are distributed unevenly throughout the ginseng plant and the concentrations in individual supplements can vary. Common side effects include headaches, insomnia, gastric upset, rash and constipation.

A considerable number of patients with ED can have psychogenic factors as the only cause, or in combination with organic causes of ED. Depression, low self-esteem and social stresses are among the psychogenic factors that can lead to ED. Depression is an independent risk factor for both ED and IHD; these three disease conditions are interlinked.51 Psychogenic ED can be managed by multiple psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy, couples counselling and guided sexual stimulation techniques.52
Powerful clinical and scientific experience suggests a close link between erectile dysfunction and heart disease. Studies like the Health Professionals Follow-up Study have revealed the risk factors for erectile dysfunction to be very similar to those for heart disease. Hypertension, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and physical inactivity all strongly predict sexual dysfunction in men, as they do heart disease.1

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References In comparison, a randomized placebo-controlled trial of 65 patients given either placebo or 95 mg/d of sustained-release metoprolol for 4 months after percutaneous coronary angioplasty found no significant difference in sexual function between the 2 groups.44x44Franzen, D, Metha, A, Seifert, N, Braun, M, and Hopp, HW. Effects of beta-blockers on sexual performance in men with coronary heart disease: a prospective, randomized and double blinded study. Int J Impot Res. 2001; 13: 348–351
Experts feel that treating erectile dysfunction on your own, without consulting a doctor, is unsafe. "If you have ED, the first thing you need is a diagnosis," says impotence expert Steven Lamm, MD, a New York City internist and the author of The Hardness Factor (Harper Collins) and other books on male sexual health. He says men with severe erectile dysfunction probably need one of the prescription ED drugs, which include Levitra (vardenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil) as well as Viagra. But, he says, mild ED -- including the feeling that "you're not as hard as you could be" -- often responds to natural remedies.
In Eastern medicine, animal products are commonly used for their perceived health benefits. The philosophy “like nourishes like”, suggests that consuming the organ of an animal will bring benefits to the corresponding organ in one’s body is a common belief. Men seeking greater potency have turned to eating penises from goats, bull, deer, horses, seals and other mammals in the form of cooked dishes or herbal preparations. While there is no scientific evidence supporting this practice, the cultural beliefs remain strong and supplements containing extracts from animal penises are readily available in the form of capsules, often mixed with herbal compounds pitching similar erectogenic properties. A significant proportion of these potency-inducing supplements in Asia have been found to contain PDE5-inhibitors substrates such as tadalafil and sildenafil (30). However uncontrolled use of illicit PDE5-inhibitors under the guise of natural supplements remains a health threat to the general public.
Sildenafil should be taken 1–2 h before intercourse. It is important to tell patients that the drug’s effectiveness requires sexual stimulation. One patient in our clinic recently complained that he had no effect from taking sildenafil. It was later discovered that he took the pill and then sat on his couch and read a book about how to grow tomatoes!
Characteristics that imply a higher risk is severe ED (SHIM 1–7) and ED duration >3 years.15,30 Vascular and circulating biomarkers may help to characterize further the patient with ED.23 Of the wide array of biomarkers that have been proposed for the assessment of cardiovascular risk in asymptomatic adults,34,35 some have been studied specifically in the context of ED.23Table 4 offers a critical evaluation of these biomarkers. Such tests should be considered as potentially helpful and thus recommended where available, but not mandatory.30 Despite its potent predictive ability recently shown,36 exposure to radiation with coronary artery calcium scoring should be carefully weighed. Although not specific for ED, it might be reasonable to evaluate biomarkers that have been proposed for the intermediate-risk patient such as uric acid, glycated haemoglobin, microalbuminuria, and lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2.30

The Epimedium plant is a flowering perennial found throughout Asia and parts of the Mediterranean. Horny Goat Weed’s active ingredient is icariin, a falvonol glycoside and reputed to improve cardiovascular function, hormone regulation, modulation of immunological function and antitumor activity (44). Icariin has also been shown to have a PDE5i effect. Animal studies have been carried out showing improvements in penile hemodynamic parameters. There is one report of tachyarrhythmia and hypomania with the use of this herb (45).
The bottom line is that nearly all men with diabetes who wish to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse can do so with the therapies currently available. And with commitment and communication, the experience of erectile dysfunction can be changed from a potential personal tragedy to an opportunity for greater emotional intimacy in a couple.
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