In the vessels that supply the heart, healthy arteries enlarge in diameter up to 50% during exercise when sufficient nitric oxide is present. Because of its brief half-life, a continual supply of nitric oxide is required for optimal effect. If the supply of nitric oxide is inadequate, endothelial dysfunction—a core factor in heart disease—is made worse. Endothelial dysfunction can trigger the growth of coronary plaque.8
Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (56) | Google ScholarSee all References However, subsequent studies of older patients who had sexual intercourse in their home and were monitored with ambulatory ECG reported significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure levels.84x84Stein, RA. Cardiovascular response to sexual activity. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 27F–29F
While Western medicine emphases the link between cardiovascular function and ED, TCM places importance on liver and kidney ailments as causative factor for development of ED. Western medicine involves a step-wise approach by targeting the relevant organ systems to treat various clinical symptoms; but TCM focuses on restoring the balance between various organs to achieve harmony and holistic approach to inner sense (4). 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 (see Table 1).
Getting blood glucose under control is a good anti-ED tactic. Men with diabetes and poor blood glucose control are two to five times as likely to have ED as those with good control. One study in a group of men who had had type 1 diabetes for up to 15 years with minor complications found that intensive blood glucose control lowered the risk of ED compared with conventional treatment. A study in men with type 2 diabetes found that lowering A1C (average blood glucose in the past two to three months) below 7 percent and reducing blood pressure through a combination of medication, diet, and exercise improved sexual functioning.
The American College of Cardiology is a 52,000-member medical society that is the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team. The mission of the College is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The College operates national registries to measure and improve care, offers cardiovascular accreditation to hospitals and institutions, provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research and bestows credentials upon cardiovascular specialists who meet stringent qualifications.
“I’m hoping this study will drive that (tie) a little bit harder and faster so that physicians will routinely be including ED when they’re screening patients for cardiovascular disease,” he said. “Doctors should ask the question and consider whether hardening of the arteries is occurring, ask about family history and signs or symptoms like chest pain with exertion, and spend the requisite amount of time to find out what’s going on.”
Many products contain undocumented “fillers” that can cause allergic reactions. In recent years, the FDA has found over 300 herbal products that contain hidden, deceptively labeled, or dangerous ingredients4. And since 2015, the FDA has released public warnings on more than 160 ED supplements and “male enhancement” products found to contain dangerous ingredients and contaminants5 . An independent study of FDA data, conducted in 2018, found almost 800 herbal supplements that contained unlisted ingredients6.
High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, can contribute to erectile dysfunction (ED). Some of the medications used to treat high blood pressure can cause ED as well. According to the authors of one study, about 30 percent of men with high blood pressure also have had ED. Finding a medication that treats high blood pressure without causing ED is a goal of many men.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Phase 2 and 3 trials reported minimal associated cardiac adverse effects, which occurred in 3% of patients taking sildenafil and in 3.5% of patients receiving placebos.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
In another scientific article published in 2015 in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, respondents who were not taking cholesterol-lowering medication experienced an average 42 mg/dl decrease in LDL cholesterol and an average decrease in triglycerides of 79.5 mg/dl about one year after switching to a Nutritarian diet. Furthermore, case histories presented in that publication documented atherosclerosis reversal.7
Usually patients will try less invasive alternatives to treat impotence before opting for surgery. These alternatives may include supplements, herbs, lifestyle changes and even medications. In cases where other treatments do not work to resolve ED, surgery might be a last-resort option. Surgery involves implanting a penile prosthesis. This is a saline-filled silicone device or a malleable device. Although the likelihood of serious side effects is considered to be low, certain risks are associated with surgery to correct erectile dysfunction. These side effects may include: anesthetic risk, device infection, and device malfunction or mechanical failure. Some studies have found that five years following surgery around 10–20 percent of men experience device malfunction and failure. Infection rates are low. Around one percent of men who opt for this type of surgery get an infection.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (25) | Google ScholarSee all References Patients with prior cardiac events should be encouraged to enroll in cardiac rehabilitation programs before restarting sexual activity.80x80Muller, JE. Triggering of cardiac events by sexual activity: findings from a case-crossover analysis. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 14F–18F
Normal male sexual function requires a complex interaction of vascular, neurological, hormonal, and psychological systems. The initial obligatory event is acquisition and maintenance of an erect penis, which is a vascular phenomenon. Normal erections require blood flow into the corpora cavernosae and corpus spongiosum. As the blood accelerates, the pressure within the intracavernosal space increases dramatically to choke off penile venous outflow. This combination of increased intracavernosal blood flow and reduced venous outflow allows a man to acquire and maintain a firm erection.
Other treatment options such as penile self-injection therapy, external vacuum pumps and the medicated urethral system for erection are on rare occasions an effective long-term treatment. A very small percentage of men will continue with these treatments as evidenced by a very high drop out rate and a very low refill rate for these treatments. These procedures require extensive planning which interfere with sexual spontaneity and are really not a realistic long-term treatment for young patients with permanent ED.
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Patients with vascular risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, heart disease, and hyperlipidemia) had significantly decreased peak systolic velocities and increased end-diastolic velocities. Patients with diabetes mellitus had increased end-diastolic velocities and decreased resistive indices, indicating a disorder of venous trapping during erections. Another study examined corpora cavernosal tissue removed at penile prosthesis placement in 21 diabetic men and 42 nondiabetic controls.23x23Saenz de Tejada, I, Goldstein, I, Azadzoi, K, Krane, RJ, and Cohen, RA. Impaired neurogenic and endothelium-mediated relaxation of penile smooth muscle from diabetic men with impotence. N Engl J Med. 1989; 320: 1025–1030
Towards this direction, several sufficiently powered studies have demonstrated a higher incidence of erectile dysfunction in patients with coronary artery disease, either asymptomatic or overt. At the same time, patients with erectile dysfunction are more prone to have established coronary artery stenosis of more than 50% and consequently evident CV disease. This is in conformity with the “artery size hypothesis” according to which smaller arteries (e.g., penile arteries) are the first to undergo a vascular lesion prior to the larger ones (e.g., coronary arteries). Moreover, in such patients erectile dysfunction is connected to the number of occluded vessels and more interestingly occurs over three years before coronary artery disease becomes apparent[76-80].
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection for satisfactory sexual performance. The prevalence of ED has been estimated as nearly 40% of men >40 years of age1 although these figures are contested.2 ED increases in frequency with age and is estimated to affect 15% of men aged 40–50 years, 45% of men in their 60s and 70% of men older than 70 years.3 Successful erection is a complex system involving reflex action (peripheral nerves and spinal cord), the limbic system (psychogenic stimuli) and the release of nitric oxide. Adequate levels of testosterone are required, and hence an intact hypothalamic/pituitary/testicular axis. Hence, ED can result from disease or treatment that produces hormonal deficiency, neurological impairment, problems with penile blood flow, disorders of tissue mechanics, psychological factors or any combination of these.
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).
There are currently two models of the inflatable penile prosthesis (IPP), namely, the two-piece IPP vs. the three-piece IPP. The three-piece IPP consists of a pair of corporal cylinders, a scrotal pump and an abdominal reservoir filled with saline. Owing to the presence of the reservoir, the corporal cylinders can be completely deflated to give the patient the physiological flaccid state when not in use, and likewise a maximally turgid state when inflated (21). The two-piece IPP lacks an abdominal reservoir and is often offered in patients with whom placement of reservoir is challenging or not possible such as following radical cysto-prostatectomy with orthotopic ileal neobladder creation, or patients who had previous open book fracture of the pelvis with metal implants. The concept of ectopic reservoir placement has allowed many of these men the option for three-piece IPP placement (22). Technological advances have improved mechanical reliability, reduced prosthesis infection risk and offered excellent patient and partner satisfaction rate (23).
Inflatable prostheses are complex mechanical devices that imitate the natural process of erection. Parts are inserted surgically into the penis and scrotum, and activated by squeezing. When erection is no longer desired, a valve on the pump is pressed, and the penis becomes flaccid. Self-contained single-unit prostheses are similar to the inflatable types, but more compact. The entire device is implanted into the penis. When erection is desired, the unit is activated by either squeezing or bending, depending on which of the two types of self-contained prostheses is used.
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.