For patients who failed oral medical therapy or unable to tolerate the side effects, intracavernosal injection of vasoactive agents can often provide effective alternative. Various vasoactive agents such as alprostadil, papaverine or phentolamine have been used either as single agent or combination agents to potentiate the NO release and cavernosal smooth muscle vasodilation. However, intracavernosal injection therapy has high attrition rate and can be associated pain especially with alprostadil injection (2). The practice of isolating compounds and understanding its pharmacological attributes before using it as a drug therapy has been a strength of Western medicine.


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).
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (1528) | Google ScholarSee all References After sexual intercourse, this risk increases approximately 2-fold, to 2 chances per million per hour, but only for the 2 hours after intercourse. For low-risk patients with no history of cardiovascular disease and an annual myocardial infarction risk of 1% per year, the risk increases to 1.01% with weekly sexual activity.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

Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (395) | Google ScholarSee all References The maximum decrease in blood pressure level was noted at 1 hour after the oral dose was taken and was correlated with peak plasma levels. The blood pressure level in these patients returned to baseline within 4 hours.56x56Wallis, RM, Corbin, JD, Francis, SH, and Ellis, P. Tissue distribution of phosphodiesterase families and the effects of sildenafil on tissue cyclic nucleotides, platelet function, and the contractile responses of trabeculae carneae and aortic rings in vitro. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 3C–12C


However, sildenafil should be used carefully with nitrates because their combination can result in severe hypotension and death.68 Both short- and long-acting nitrates are commonly prescribed to treat angina, but they have no prognostic benefit. In addition, there are numerous alternatives to treat angina, such as ranolazine and ivabradine, which do not interact with PDE5 inhibitors. As a result, patients with ED wishing to take PDE5 inhibitors can safely discontinue their nitrates and replace this treatment with the other anti-anginal agents.68
Logically, ED secondary to testosterone deficiency should be treated by testosterone replacement. Testosterone levels in men decrease with age.4 Both epidemiological and observational studies have demonstrated that reduced testosterone is associated with increased cardiovascular risk. One meta-analysis showed lower testosterone and higher 17β oestradiol as significant risk predictors despite adjustment for age and body mass index.4 Patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) have been found to have lower testosterone levels than controls, and there is inverse correlation between testosterone and the incidence of major cardiovascular disease (CVD).4 A significant negative correlation has been reported between total testosterone levels and Framingham risk score.4 However, it has been pointed out that ‘It is unclear if this is a causal association or due to low testosterone being a biomarker of poor health’.4 Testosterone replacement as a treatment for …

For centuries, men have tried all sorts of natural remedies for erectile dysfunction (ED) -- the repeated inability to get or maintain an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. But do they really work? It is simply not scientifically known at this point. Furthermore, you take these remedies at your own risk, because their safety profiles have not been established. What follows are commentaries by experts and reviews in the field of alternative treatments that are available over the counter for erectile dysfunction and impotence.


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 (72) | Google ScholarSee all References This study found that the mean PSV was a better predictor of the presence of cardiovascular disease than stratification by standard cardiac risk factors such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, obesity, and smoking. The researchers recommended that persons with no history of prior perineal trauma and with a PSV lower than 35 mL/s should undergo exercise testing before receiving treatment of ED because these patients had a 42% risk of having ischemic heart disease. However, other investigators questioned the utility of using penile arterial flow to predict the presence of ischemic heart disease.18x18Chiu, AW, Chen, KK, Chen, MT, Chang, LS, and Chang, MS. Penile brachial index in impotent patients with coronary artery disease. Eur Urol. 1991; 19: 213–216
“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.”
Second-generation cardioselective beta-blockers (atenolol, metoprolol, bisoprolol, etc.) can also lead to ED. Atenolol was shown to cause significant reduction of sexual activity compared with placebo in a double-blind, parallel-arm study.22 The same study also showed a significant reduction in testosterone levels with atenolol versus valsartan. An open, prospective study of hypertensive men treated with atenolol, metoprolol and bisoprolol for at least 6 months showed high prevalence of ED – approaching 66 % – in these patients.23
Stem cell therapy is an attractive treatment modality and an appealing option for tissue regenerative therapy for ED. Stem cells are pluripotent cells that can be produced from multiple regions within the body. They have the potential to divide and differentiate into numerous kinds of human cells, such as endothelial cells and smooth muscle.79 The efficacy and safety of gene and stem cell therapy in patients with ED and IHD need to be extensively investigated because both seem to have the potential to correct underlying abnormalities in ED. This would be a huge development in terms of management options for patients with ED and IHD.
SOURCES: American Urological Association, "AUA Guideline on the Management of Erectile Dysfunction: Diagnosis and Treatment Recommendations." Barksdale, J. Pharmacotherapy, May 1999; vol 19: pp 573-581. Ferrario, C. Journal of Clinical Hypertension, November/December 2002; vol 4: pp 424-432. Fogari, R. American Journal of Hypertension, January 2001; vol. 14: pp 27-31. Grimm, R. Hypertension, January 1997; vol 29: pp 8-14. Llisteri, J. American Journal of the Medical Sciences, May 2001; vol. 321: pp 336-341. WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic: "Hypertension: Treatment With ACE Inhibitors."
The first step in the process is always to reevaluate if the medication that’s causing the problem is even necessary in the first place. Do you still need the medication(s) that you’re taking? When you’re experiencing medically induced ED, this has to be your starting point. Obviously you shouldn’t make this decision on your own. However, reevaluating your need for medication can be a simple conversation with your doctor. Remind your healthcare provider of the medications you’re taking, and explain any symptoms or side effects—like ED. Going off of medication might sound like an extreme step, but I’ve seen many examples of this in practice.
L-arginine, an amino acid that is naturally present in the body and helps make nitric oxide, supports a successful erection. Nitric oxide is responsible for making the blood vessels relax, which helps sustain an erection for men. A 1999 study, observed the effects of six weeks of high-dose (5 grams/day) orally administered nitric oxide (NO) donor L-arginine on men with organic ED. Thirty-one percent of those who took 5 grams/day of L-arginine experienced significant improvements in sexual function. Burns told Medical Daily, “l-arginine and deer antler velvet” have been the most popular go-to natural treatments for men.
Crossref | Google ScholarSee all References Other investigators have suggested these medications may exert a hormonal effect. β-Blockers have been associated with decreased free and total testosterone levels in placebo-controlled trials.39x39Rosen, RC and Weiner, DN. Cardiovascular disease and sleep-related erections. J Psychosom Res. 1997; 42: 517–530
Several drugs can produce erectile difficulties, but blood pressure drugs are near the top. ED is an occasional side effect of BP drugs like thiazide diuretics, loop diuretics, and beta-blockers, all of which can decrease blood flow to the penis and make it difficult to get an erection. However, other BP drugs, such as alpha-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and angioten-sin-receptor blockers, rarely cause ED.
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
Despite physician’s inexperience and patient’s reluctance to disclose sexual dysfunction problems, attempts to estimate the magnitude of this clinical condition have predicted that over 150 million men worldwide experience some degree of erectile dysfunction. Several studies have demonstrated a wide range regarding the prevalence of erectile dysfunction, which is even higher in patients with essential hypertension where the relative risk is approximately two times higher than in normotensive individuals[6-11]. The etiology can be found in the structural and functional abnormalities of the penile arteries induced by high blood pressure. Smooth muscle hypertrophy, stenotic lesions due to atherosclerosis and impaired blood flow are among the prominent structural alterations whereas endothelial dysfunction and the defective nitric oxide-induced vasodilatory mechanism belong to the main functional abnormalities induced by increased blood pressure[12,13]. As a matter of fact, sexual dysfunction is encountered more frequently that it is indeed believed underlining the need for a more proper and concrete assessment.

Mechanical therapy is also effective and is especially well-accepted in men with stable partners. Vacuum-assisted erection devices are effective in creating erections in as much as 67% of cases. Vacuum pressure encourages increased arterial inflow, and occlusive tension rings discourage venous outflow from the penile corpus cavernosae. The penis placed inside the cylinder, a pump is used to produce a vacuum that pulls the blood into the penis. After the tension ring is slipped onto the base of the penis, the cylinder is removed. Erection lasts until the rings are removed. The one-time expense of this therapy is $120–300.


Montorsi P,  Ravagnani PM,  Galli S,  Rotatori F,  Veglia F,  Briganti A,  Salonia A,  Dehò F,  Rigatti P,  Montorsi F,  Fiorentini C. Association between erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease. Role of coronary clinical presentation and extent of coronary vessels involvement: the COBRA trial, Eur Heart J , 2006, vol. 27 (pg. 2632-2639)https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehl142
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.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (47) | Google ScholarSee all References Because of this perceived increase in risk, many couples are concerned about resuming sexual activity in the setting of cardiac disease. A study that monitored male patients after coronary artery bypass grafting found that 17% of patients and 35% of their partners were afraid of resuming sexual activity.1x1Muller, JE. Sexual activity as a trigger for cardiovascular events: what is the risk?. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 2N–5N
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (171) | Google ScholarSee all References Incidence increased notably with age in this patient cohort: only 1.1% of diabetic men aged 21 to 30 years had ED compared with 47.1% of all diabetic patients older than 43 years. Diabetic patients often have other cardiovascular risk factors that may play a role in the development of ED. However, in an analysis of the PBI in 441 patients with ED and various cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, tobacco use), diabetes was the only risk factor that was significantly and independently associated with a decrease in the PBI.7x7Virag, R, Bouilly, P, and Frydman, D. Is impotence an arterial disorder? a study of arterial risk factors in 440 impotent men. Lancet. 1985; 1: 181–184

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.
"If you have an active sex life after a heart attack, it is probably safe to use PDE5 inhibitors," said Daniel Peter Andersson, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm and the study's lead author. "This type of erectile dysfunction treatment is beneficial in terms of prognosis, and having an active sex life seems to be a marker for a decreased risk of death."
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (3562) | Google ScholarSee all References The 9-year follow-up MMAS study also found that self-reported increased cholesterol and unsaturated fat intake correlated positively with the development of ED.5x5Feldman, HA, Johannes, CB, Derby, CA et al. Erectile dysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Prev Med. 2000; 30: 328–338
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In the general population, the estimated relative risk of experiencing a myocardial infarction within 2 hours after sexual intercourse is approximately 2.5 times higher than the baseline infarction risk of that individual, which itself is extremely low8x8Muller, 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

Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction, including over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies, get your doctor's OK. Medications for erectile dysfunction do not work in all men and might be less effective in certain conditions, such as after prostate surgery or if you have diabetes. Some medications might also be dangerous if you:
Another risk factor is that men with type 2 diabetes may produce less than normal amounts of testosterone, a condition called hypogonadism. A 2007 study found that one-third of men with type 2 diabetes had low testosterone levels. Those men were also more likely to have ED, though the link may have to do with weight, not diabetes per se. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for hypogonadism.
Yohimbine is an indole alkaloid derived from the bark of the African yohimbe tree (33). Yohimbine has been noted to treat fatigue, depression, diabetes, and sexual dysfunction. A meta-analysis of seven placebo-controlled trials (34) deemed yohimbine superior to placebo for the treatment of ED with rare adverse events. The proposed mechanism of action (35) is via the inhibition of central alpha-2-adrenergic receptors, decreasing central inhibition of arousal, and increasing penile nerve stimulation resulting in increased NO. Common side effects include headache, sweating, agitation, hypertension and insomnia. Contraindications include patients on tricyclic antidepressants, anti-hypertensives and central nervous system stimulants.

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.
Yohimbine: The main component of an African tree bark, yohimbine is probably one of the most problematic of all natural remedies for ED. Some research suggests that yohimbine can improve a type of sexual dysfunction that is linked with a drug used to treat depression. However, studies have linked yohimbine to a number of side effects, which can include anxiety, increased blood pressure, and a fast, irregular heartbeat. Like all natural remedies, yohimbine should only be used after advice and under supervision from a doctor.
DHEA. Testosterone is essential for a healthy libido and normal sexual function, and erectile dysfunction sufferers known to have low testosterone improve when placed on prescription testosterone replacement therapy. Similarly, studies have shown that taking over-the-counter supplements containing DHEA, a hormone that the body converts to testosterone and estrogen, can help alleviate some cases of ED. But DHEA can cause problems, including suppression of pituitary function, acne, hair loss and its long-term safety is unknown, says McCullough. For this reason, many experts discourage use of the supplements.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (697) | Google ScholarSee all References Subsequent in vitro electrical stimulation of these tissue samples showed decreased neurogenic and endothelium-dependent smooth muscle relaxation in the tissue from the patients with diabetes. These effects persisted even after controlling for smoking and hypertension. Other studies have shown a heightened smooth muscle tone in patients with diabetes mellitus.24x24Christ, GJ, Stone, B, and Melman, A. Age-dependent alterations in the efficacy of phenylephrine-induced contractions in vascular smooth muscle isolated from the corpus cavernosum of impotent men. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1991; 69: 909–913
*** High-risk patients include those with unstable or refractory angina pectoris, uncontrolled hypertension, congestive heart failure (NYHA class IV), recent myocardial infarction without intervention (<2 weeks), high-risk arrhythmia (exercise-induced ventricular tachycardia, implanted internal cardioverter defibrillator with frequent shocks, and poorly controlled atrial fibrillation), obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with severe symptoms, and moderate to severe valve disease, particularly aortic stenosis.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (46) | Google ScholarSee all References The Princeton Consensus Panel provided guidelines (Table 4) for physicians regarding patients who are being evaluated for their level of risk in resuming sexual activity.51x51DeBusk, R, Drory, Y, Goldstein, I et al. Management of sexual dysfunction in patients with cardiovascular disease: recommendations of the Princeton Consensus Panel. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 62F–68F
Abstract | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (29) | Google ScholarSee all References After controlling for diabetes mellitus, tobacco use, and hyperlipidemia, hypertension was not found to be an independent predictor of vasculogenic ED in 440 impotent men as measured by the PBI.7x7Virag, R, Bouilly, P, and Frydman, D. Is impotence an arterial disorder? a study of arterial risk factors in 440 impotent men. Lancet. 1985; 1: 181–184
Diabetes is one of the most common causes of ED. Men who have Diabetes are three times more likely to have Erectile Dysfunction than men who do not have Diabetes. Among men with ED, those with Diabetes are likely to have experienced the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without Diabetes. A recent study of a clinic population revealed that 5% of the men with ED also had undiagnosed Diabetes. The risk of ED increases with the number of years you have Diabetes and the severity of your Diabetes. Even though 20% to 75% of men with Diabetes have ED, it can be successfully managed in almost all men.
Despite all the options and alternatives, sometimes there’s no suitable alternative to a prescription that contributes to ED. You might have an adverse reaction to an particular medication or an alternative is unavailable in your state, health insurance plan, or your budget. There are good reasons you were prescribed your original medication in the first place.

Both erectile dysfunction and heart disease have been linked with impaired activity of nitric oxide, the body’s most powerful vasodilator. An endogenous (produced by the body) compound called asymmetric dimethylarginine is an L-arginine analog, which interferes with the production of nitric oxide and may increase the risk for erectile dysfunction and heart disease.


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

While additional investigation is usually necessary, the medical and sexual history is essential and frequently the most revealing aspect of the ED assessment process. Questionnaires are an integral part of the history. The International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF), a 15-item, self-evaluation questionnaire is a validated instrument for assessing erectile function, orgasmic function, desire and satisfaction after sexual relations.8 An abridged version of the IIEF is a 5-item questionnaire the Sexual Health Inventory for Men (SHIM) or IIEF-5 (Table 2). Responses to the five questions range from 1 (worst) to 5 (best). Questions 2 to 4 may be graded 0 (if there is no sexual activity, or no sexual intercourse attempt) and the final score ranges from 1 to 25 points; a descending score indicates worsening of erectile function, with values ≤21 being diagnostic of ED.8 Importantly, validated questionnaires correlate with the extend of CAD9 and improve the predictive value of ED for total cardiovascular events compared with a single-question ED diagnosis.5 It cannot be overemphasized that the SHIM can be effectively used not only by andrologists and urologists but by a wide array of medical specialists, such as cardiologists, diabetologists, primary care physicians, etc.
Another common reason for failures of oral therapy is the absence of sexual or genital stimulation prior to attempting sexual intercourse. These medicines facilitate an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis, but they do not act as an aphrodisiac or as an initiator of the erection. A man who is not “in the mood” or does not have adequate physical stimulation will not respond with an erection.
×