Erectile dysfunction means that a man is not able to have sex because he cannot get or keep an erection. Erectile dysfunction affects >30% of men between 40 and 70 years of age. There are several different causes of ED, including depression, low testosterone, nerve problems, and some medications, but the most common cause is a problem with the blood vessels called atherosclerosis.
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A collection of risk factors that strongly predict heart disease—termed the metabolic syndrome—is also associated with erectile dysfunction. An increasingly prevalent condition, this syndrome includes low HDL, increased triglycerides, high blood sugar, and heightened inflammation and causes a three-fold or greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. It is largely attributable to excess weight, poor diet, and inactivity and afflicts at least 47 million Americans, signaling that an epidemic of erectile dysfunction is sure to follow. Indeed, a survey of 2,400 men participating in a health screening revealed that metabolic syndrome increases the likelihood of erectile dysfunction by 48%.10
After getting a diagnosis of ED, most patients can begin treatment right away, but treatment may be delayed for some patients until the health of the heart is more fully assessed or improved. The most common treatment for ED is a pill (phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor; PDE5-I): Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), or Levitra (vardenafil). Each of these pills improves erections when taken before sexual activity; alternatively, a low dose of Cialis can be taken once a day. These medicines work by allowing the blood vessels that supply blood to the penis to dilate better during sexual stimulation. The PDE5-Is decrease blood pressure a little bit, but they are safe with most other medications and with other blood pressure pills. The PDE5-Is are not safe with nitrate medications like nitroglycerin, Nitrostat, Nitro Paste, Imdur, isosorbide mononitrate, and Isordil. Mixing a PDE5-I with a nitrate medication could result in severely low blood pressure and even death. Inform all medical professionals (including the ambulance or emergency department) about your most recent ED pill ingestion so that nitrates can be avoided. If you have high blood pressure or benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlarged prostate) and take medicines called α-blockers, your doctor may need to start you on the lowest dose of the PDE5-I.
 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 | 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
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
Table 1 offers elements for distinction between organic and psychogenic disease.7 Of note is that in cases of organic origin, a psychogenic component may co-exist. The most common organic aetiology of ED is vasculogenic (see below ‘ED and CAD: common pathophysiology’).2,3 Co-existence of vascular disease, advancing age, and the presence of CVD risk factors and metabolic disorders increase the likelihood that ED is of vasculogenic aetiology.
The discovery in 1992 of the second messenger of cavernosal smooth muscle relaxation was the critical step that led to the era of nonhormonal oral drug therapy for ED. In 1998, the multicenter trial of sildenafil in the treatment of ED was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the era of the phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitor began.1 For 5 years, sildenafil was the primary therapy for men with EDDM. Recently, 2 new PDE-5 inhibitors, vardenafil and tadalafil, were introduced.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References This study found that, although hypertensive patients had more coronary artery disease, no direct evidence supported an association between hypertension and arteriogenic impotence, as measured by the PBI, peak systolic velocity, and resistive index, in patients with mild to moderate hypertension.

The initial step in evaluating ED is a thorough sexual history and physical exam. The history can help in distinguishing between the primary and psychogenic causes. It is important to explore the onset, progression, and duration of the problem. If a man gives a history of “no sexual problems until one night,” the problem is most likely related to performance anxiety, disaffection, or an emotional problem. Aside from these causes, only radical prostatectomy or other overt genital tract trauma causes a sudden loss of male sexual function.
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).

Now that we better appreciate the complex sequence of events necessary for erections to occur, it’s no surprise that testosterone alone yields less than perfect results. Erectile dysfunction represents more than just low testosterone, which is just one facet of the spectrum of dysfunctional phenomena that cause sexual dysfunction. Nonetheless, when testosterone is combined with popular drugs like Viagra®, success is enhanced to an even greater degree—orgasmic function improves, along with erectile capacity and libido.20 Testosterone also activates penile nitric oxide; ultrasound studies have demonstrated a 27% increase in arterial blood flow into the penis with testosterone supplementation.23
David F. Penson, MD, MPH, is an associate professor of urology and preventive medicine in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Hunter Wessells, MD, is an associate professor of urology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and chief of urology at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Wash.
Abstract | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Other candidate mechanisms linking ED and cigarette smoking include hypercoagulability and increased platelet aggregation, increased release of free fatty acids and catecholamines, changes in NO synthetic pathways, and a possible direct toxic effect on vascular endothelium.13x13Chung, WS, Shim, BS, and Park, YY. Hemodynamic insult by vascular risk factors and pharmacologic erection in men with erectile dysfunction: Doppler sonography study. World J Urol. 2000; 18: 427–430
A study conducted by Prince Henry’s Institute in Melbourne Australia published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that men over 20 years of age with erectile dysfunction (ED) have twice the risk of cardiovascular incidents than those of men with normal sexual health. It was also found out that 2% of men aged 55 and older experienced major stroke and cardiac arrest after the initial episode of ED, within a year; 11% experienced something within five years.  Experts from Prince Henry’s Institute warned men with these failures to seek advice on erectile dysfunction and high blood pressure. This may indicate a missing vital warning sign of impending heart disease. Why is this happening? Do men with ED predispose themselves to have cardiovascular diseases and strokes or just the other way around?
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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
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.
Ginseng is the most common ingredient among top-selling supplements for men’s sexual health (36). The English word ginseng derives from the Chinese term renshen. Ren means “person” and shen means “plant root”. This plant has been named in this manner as its roots resemble the lower limbs of a human, Traditionally, ginseng has been used to restore and enhance the normal well-being of the body. The effects are due to ginseng’s reactions with the central nervous system, metabolism, immune function and cardiovascular system. The principal active compounds are triterpene saponins known as ginsenosides. Animal studies have suggested that specific ginsenosides may be responsible for ginseng-mediated effects on copulatory behavior (37). Ginsenoside induces smooth muscle relaxation by hyperpolarizing the smooth muscle membrane via activation of large-conductance KCa channels (38).
Few simple laboratory tests can help identify obvious causes of organic ED. Initial labs should include HbA1c, free testosterone, thyroid function tests, and prolactin levels. However, patients who do not respond to pharmacological therapy or who may be candidates for surgical treatment may require more in-depth testing, including nocturnal penile tumescence testing, duplex Doppler imaging, somatosensory evoked potentials, or pudendal artery angiography.
A penile prosthesis is another treatment option for men with erectile dysfunction. These devices are either malleable (bendable) or inflatable. The simplest type of prosthesis consists of a pair of malleable rods surgically implanted within the erection chambers of the penis. With this type of implant the penis is always semi-rigid and merely needs to be lifted or adjusted into the erect position to initiate sex. Today, many men choose a hydraulic, inflatable prosthesis, which allows a man to have an erection whenever he chooses and is much easier to conceal. It is also more natural.
The choice is yours. You do not have to die of a heart attack, and you do not have to have erectile dysfunction. Both are the result of dietary choices, and you can make a choice right now to protect your life. Do you want to die of a heart attack or don’t you? If you don’t, then are you willing to do what it takes to reduce your risk almost 100 percent? I don’t know about you, but for me, just dropping my risk 20 to 40 percent with medical care is not enough. I want maximum protection.
Oral medications (Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™) are a common first step to treat ED, but they don’t work for everyone – especially men with heart disease. Men taking nitrates for heart disease or those taking alpha blocking agents for blood pressure are generally not candidates for oral ED medication.13 In addition, some medications simply do not work for certain men. When ED medication is not the answer, there are other options.

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.


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.
Erections are extremely complicated and surprisingly fragile. Erections involve chemical signals, nerve impulses, complicated blood pressure changes, and overall fitness in systems ranging from your heart and hormones to your mood. When medication changes how one of these factors works—like blood pressure drops or depression medication—ED is a common side effect. The problem with these completely predictable medically induced side effects is how people react.
The body’s source for nitric oxide production is the amino acid L-arginine, which is naturally found in many foods. The average American ingests about 3,000–5,000 mg of L-arginine per day, as it is an amino acid naturally contained in many foods. Meats of all varieties, nuts, and dairy products are rich in L-arginine, so the body is accustomed to intake levels of several thousand milligrams every day.
Low intracavernosal nitric oxide synthase levels are found in people with diabetes, smokers, and men with testosterone deficiency. Interference with oxygen delivery or nitric oxide synthesis can prevent intracavernosal blood pressure from rising to a level sufficient to impede emissary vein outflow, leading to an inability to acquire or sustain rigid erection. Examples include decreased blood flow and inadequate intracavernosal oxygen levels when atherosclerosis involves the hypogastric artery or other feeder vessels and conditions, such as diabetes, that are associated with suboptimal nitric oxide synthase activity.
Relaxation of erectile tissue requires nitric oxide from nonadrenergic-noncholinergic neurons and the endothelium.21 Penile tissue from diabetic men with ED demonstrates impaired neurogenic and endothelium-mediated relaxation of smooth muscle,22 increased accumulation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs),23 and upregulation arginase, a competitor with nitric oxide synthase for its substrate L-arginine.24 Normal responses to direct smooth muscle relaxants in most of these studies implies that the impairments are due to decreased synthesis, release, or activity of nitric oxide. The fundamental mechanisms mediating these changes are thought to be the same as for other diabetic complications: increased polyol pathway flux, intracellular accumulation of AGEs, activation of protein kinase C, and increased flux through the hexosamine pathway.25
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References The risk after sexual activity in these patients is unknown, although vasodilators should be avoided because they may increase the intraventricular gradient.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
bike seats erectile dysfunction boston medical group BP Cholesterol depression Diabetes diet discussion doctor ed ED Best Treatment BMG erectile dysfunction erectile dysfunction and prostate cancer fish oil men Heart Diseas Heart Disease High Blood Pressure Hypertension medications Men's Health Obesity prostate cancer scrotal temperature SDB sexual desire sexual dysfunction sexual foods sexual function sexual health Sleep apnea sleep disordered breathing Tips Treatment vegetables yoga
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
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
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.
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."
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.
Another study showed a forty percent increase of blood flow to the heart within one year of starting a dietary program designed similar to the one described in my book, The End of Heart Disease. Of pertinent note is that, in the same study, the patients following a high-protein Atkins’ diet decreased blood flow to the heart by forty percent in one year.8 These dangerous high-protein diets are a certain path to erectile impotence and a premature cardiac death.
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.
PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Postulated mechanisms of effect on sexual function with these centrally acting medications have included increased prolactin levels and a direct effect on α2-adrenergic receptors in the central nervous system.36x36Wein, AJ and Van Arsdalen, KN. Drug-induced male sexual dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am. 1988; 15: 23–31
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References Aside from the economic costs, ED can have severe psychological effects, resulting in poor self-image, decreased self-esteem, depression, and mental stress, and negative effects on personal relationships.2x2NIH Consensus Development Panel on Impotence. NIH Consensus Conference: impotence. JAMA. 1993; 270: 83–90
According to the Mayo Clinic, oral medications are usually the first-line treatment for ED. Those medications include Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis) and avanafil (Stendra). They operate by helping relax muscles in the penis by strengthening the effects of nitric oxide, a naturally occurring chemical in the body. The drugs increase blood flow to allow patients to get an erection.
“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.”

PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References As with sildenafil, use of nitrate or NO-donor medications is contraindicated while taking tadalafil because of the potential for marked hypotensive interactions.74x74Gresser, U and Gleiter, CH. Erectile dysfunction: comparison of efficacy and side effects of the PDE-5 inhibitors sildenafil, vardenafil and tadalafil—review of the literature. Eur J Med Res. 2002; 7: 435–446
Few simple laboratory tests can help identify obvious causes of organic ED. Initial labs should include HbA1c, free testosterone, thyroid function tests, and prolactin levels. However, patients who do not respond to pharmacological therapy or who may be candidates for surgical treatment may require more in-depth testing, including nocturnal penile tumescence testing, duplex Doppler imaging, somatosensory evoked potentials, or pudendal artery angiography.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (30) | Google ScholarSee all References Increased cGMP levels cause intracellular calcium levels to decrease, resulting in relaxation of the corporeal smooth muscle, active dilatation of the penile arteries, arterioles, and sinusoids, and finally, increased arterial inflow and passive compression of penile venous outflow.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N

ED is a common disease affecting men with IHD. Endothelial dysfunction is the link between ED and IHD and both diseases share the same aetiology, risk factors and pathogenesis. Aggressive control of these risk factors – along with lifestyle modification – is recommended to improve symptoms of ED and reduce cardiovascular risk. PDE5 inhibitors remain the first-choice treatment for ED in IHD patients and they have been shown to be safe and effective. However, PDE5 inhibitors can potentiate the hypotensive effect of nitrates so concomitant administration of sildenafil and nitrates is contraindicated. Gene and stem cell therapy are being investigated as a future therapies for ED.


The use of penile support device such as penile cast worn externally during intercourse has been tried to provide length and rigidity to the penile shaft (24). Each device can be customised to the patient’s penile size and provided an option for patients who are seeking non-pharmaceutical/non-invasive treatment, or have end-organ failure who may not be candidates for, or unable to afford, penile prosthesis implant.

Qigong is a form of breathing exercises commonly practised in Asia to maintain health (53). In a cross-sectional population-based comparison study in Taiwan, individuals practising Qigong demonstrate higher SF-36 scores in the domains of physical functioning, role limitations due to physical problems, bodily pain, general health and vitality (54). Techniques to concentrate the energy or qi in the pelvis or genitals are regularly practised, but the effects of Qigong on ED have not been studied.
Diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), elevations in blood lipids or cholesterol are considered blood vessel problems and have all been associated with Erectile Dysfunction. The blood vessel abnormalities caused by these diseases affect vessels throughout the body and often produce other symptoms of vascular diseases. Diabetics and patients with hypertension frequently have heart disease. These conditions typically interfere with the ability of the penile vessels to work properly and ultimately cause ED.
"We think that if you have an active sex life it's probably an indicator of a healthy lifestyle, especially in the oldest quartile—those 70 to 80 years old," Andersson said. "From the perspective of a doctor, if a patient asks about erectile dysfunction drugs after a heart attack and has no contraindications for PDE5 inhibitors, based on these results you can feel safe about prescribing it."

Men with diabetes are at a higher risk of erectile dysfunction or impotence, especially if their diabetes is not well controlled. Erectile dysfunction means you cannot have an erection that is sufficient to perform sexual intercourse. Many men experience short-term episodes of erectile dysfunction but, for about one in 10 men, the problem may continue.
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