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 | PubMed | Scopus (136) | Google ScholarSee all References Attainment and maintenance of a firm erection requires good arterial inflow of blood and efficient trapping of venous outflow. Therefore, disease processes that affect the function of the arterial and venous systems would be expected to negatively affect erectile function. Unfortunately, cardiovascular disease is also prevalent in the male population and is especially evident with increasing age. The interplay of cardiovascular health and sexual function includes the risk of cardiac events precipitated by the physical exertion of sexual activity and by some medications, such as sildenafil, on the cardiovascular system. An estimated 500,000 patients survive a myocardial infarction each year in the United States, and an estimated 11 million patients have existing cardiovascular disease, making the issue of sexual function and cardiac disease relevant to many patients.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
In an open-label study, 8 patients monitored with a Swan-Ganz catheter were given a total of 40 mg of sildenafil in 4 intravenous transfusions (the equivalent of 1 to 3 times the plasma concentration after an oral dose of 100 mg).62x62Jackson, G, Benjamin, N, Jackson, N, and Allen, MJ. Effects of sildenafil citrate on human hemodynamics. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 13C–20C
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (66) | Google ScholarSee all References Overall, sexual intercourse does not lead to an extremely exaggerated heart rate or blood pressure level when performed in a familiar setting with one's usual partner.82x82Hellerstein, HK and Friedman, EH. Sexual activity and the postcoronary patient. Arch Intern Med. 1970; 125: 987–999
Unfortunately, government agencies often are slow to respond to new scientific information and economic and political forces make it difficult for our population to receive clear information informing them that heart disease is nutritionally induced and totally avoidable with dietary excellence. Sadly, even the American Heart Association advocates a diet that has been shown to actually increase heart disease.

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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.
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References In study patients taking these medications compared with controls, significant decreases in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels were found, as well as significant increases in length of maximal tumescence per nocturnal penile tumescence testing at 2 weeks. Hypoglycemia secondary to the use of insulin or hypoglycemic agents may result in ED or orgasmic dysfunction.4x4Feldman, HA, Goldstein, I, Hatzichristou, DG, Krane, RJ, and McKinlay, JB. Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Urol. 1994; 151: 54–61
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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (24) | Google ScholarSee all References Erectile function relies on the arterial blood supply from the internal pudendal arteries, which are branches of the hypogastric arterial system (Figure 1). Substantial increases in internal pudendal arterial flow result in pressures within the penis that are comparable to systemic arterial levels.12x12Rampin, O and Giuliano, F. Central control of the cardiovascular and erection systems: possible mechanisms and interactions. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 19F–22F
There’s one more thing to remember: A visit to a physician can be helpful even if a man doesn’t want to go near Viagra or try one of the alternatives. In some cases, a treatable medical condition such as low testosterone or depression could explain a case of ED. “Sexual health should not be viewed as a luxury, but rather as an essential component to wellness,” said urologist Ryan P. Terlecki, MD, of Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Sildenafil is absorbed rapidly, and peak plasma levels of 127 to 560 ng/mL are seen in a fasting state approximately 1 hour (range, 0.5-2 hours) after ingestion.3x3Zusman, RM, Morales, A, Glasser, DB, and Osterloh, IH. Overall cardiovascular profile of sildenafil citrate. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 83: 35C–44C
If you’re taking medication to treat blood pressure, depression, pain, allergies, inflammation, seizures, or heart conditions, you’re one of the tens of millions of people at risk for medically induced erectile dysfunction. It’s just the nature of drug side effects. Yet erectile dysfunction is one of the least talked about side effects of prescription medication.
In particular, patients are classified into three categories (low, intermediate, high) depending on their CV risk profile. Individuals with controlled hypertension belong to the low-risk group where sexual dysfunction can be safely managed with the approved medical therapies regardless of the number or class (with the exception of b-blockers and diuretics) of agents of the patient’s antihypertensive regime. Moreover, patients of this group can safely initiate or reinstitute sexual activity without any need for additional cardiovascular evaluation.
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.

The study, which retrospectively tracked more than 43,000 men for an average of 3.3 years, found that men prescribed phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors—the type of erectile dysfunction drug sold under the names Viagra, Levitra, Cialis and others—after their first heart attack were 38 percent less likely to die from any cause. No survival benefit was seen among men taking alprostadil, another type of erectile dysfunction drug that works through a different mechanism.
In DM patients with a documented androgen deficiency, testosterone replacement may correct or facilitate the treatment of ED.7 A transdermal testosterone gel or patch, or intramuscular testosterone cypionate are the alternatives. Oral testosterone is contraindicated in the United States due to hepatotoxicity, but a new product has been developed that allows for buccal absorption of testosterone. Thyroid supplements rarely alleviate EDDM.
Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors. The cornerstone of first-line therapy is the PDE-5 inhibitor. No other class of oral agents approaches the efficacy of PDE-5 inhibitors. Yohimbine, trazodone, phentolamine, L-arginine, and OTC herbal remedies have been used with very limited success. The superiority of yohimbine over placebo in the treatment of organic ED is a matter of dispute.9 A recent trazodone study failed to detect any difference between trazodone and placebo on sexual function.10 Oral phentolamine, although available in Mexico, has not been approved by the US FDA for the treatment of ED. Apomorphine, a central dopaminergic receptor drug, has recently been voluntarily withdrawn from FDA consideration for the treatment of ED. The efficacy of ginkgo biloba and Korean red ginseng has yet to be demonstrated by randomized, placebo-controlled trials.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (272) | Google ScholarSee all References Between 1987 and 1989, the Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS), a community-based random sample observational study of 1709 men, used self-administered sexual activity questionnaires to gather information about noninstitutionalized men aged 40 to 70 years in cities near Boston.4x4Feldman, HA, Goldstein, I, Hatzichristou, DG, Krane, RJ, and McKinlay, JB. Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Urol. 1994; 151: 54–61

Preclinical and clinical trials of these oral agents have clearly demonstrated that they are well tolerated by most DM patients and have an efficacy rate superior to other oral agents. The ultimate result is an improved quality of life (QOL) in EDDM patients. With a greater willingness of DM patients to discuss and seek treatment for ED, it is highly probable that the use of these oral agents will continue to increase. The goal of this article is to provide the physician and pharmacist with a background and working knowledge of these oral agents and their present-day alternatives.
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (174) | Google ScholarSee all References This study concluded that patients who have stable coronary artery disease who can exercise to 4.5 metabolic equivalents (METs) with a negative or mildly positive stress test and without angina or hypotension can safely take sildenafil. Physicians who prescribe sildenafil should counsel their patients that, if they have chest pain or other cardiac symptoms with sexual intercourse, they should not take nitrates and should immediately call their physician.66x66Jackson, G. Sexual intercourse and stable angina pectoris. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 35F–37F

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.


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.

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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (53) | Google ScholarSee all References Coital position has not been shown to play a role in increased cardiovascular risk; similar peak heart rates and blood pressure levels are evident with either the man or the woman in the superior position during intercourse.90x90Nemec, ED, Mansfield, L, and Kennedy, JW. Heart rate and blood pressure responses during sexual activity in normal males. Am Heart J. 1976; 92: 274–277
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
The research is based on a Swedish national database of health records that includes all hospitals in Sweden. Researchers analyzed the records of men age 80 years or younger who were hospitalized for a first heart attack between 2007 and 2013. Tracking the men for an average of 3.3 years following this first heart attack, they compared outcomes among those who subsequently filled a prescription for a PDE5 inhibitor or alprostadil to those who did not. Overall just over 7 percent of men were prescribed an erectile dysfunction drug, 92 percent of whom were prescribed a PDE5 inhibitor and 8 percent of whom were prescribed alprostadil.
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
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
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.
Your doctor may also choose to lower your dose of certain medications. Or your provider may switch the type of drug you’re taking if it’s interfering with your sex life. Some medicines used for managing blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, depression, seizures and prostate problems increase the risk for erectile dysfunction. Beta-blockers (for high blood pressure), SSRIs (often used to treat depression) and the class of drugs called benzodiazepines (like Ativan, Xanax, Librium and Valium) are commonly tied to ED. You may want to speak to your doctor about this.
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
Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, six-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
An equally valuable observation though, is the fact that sexual dysfunction could indeed indicate asymptomatic CV disease. A solid amount of evidence accumulated over the last years has pointed out towards that trend moving, hesitatingly though, sexual dysfunction in the surface of scientific interest. As such, commonly under-reported, under-recognized and under-treated, sexual dysfunction could indeed play its role in cardiovascular risk assessment and stratification.
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.

Alcohol consumption, bad nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive stress, psychological issues, relationship issues, use of illegal drugs and overuse of prescribed drugs, poor sleep habits and excessive physical activity are all contributing factors to ED. Ailments like diabetes, as well as low and high blood pressure, in addition to prostate cancer, may also result in ED.

Table 3Metabolic Equivalent (MET) Values for Various Physical Activities56x56Wallis, 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
These drugs are safe for healthy hearts, but all men with cardiovascular disease should take special precautions, and some cannot use them under any circumstances. The problem is their effect on arteries. All arteries, not just those in the penis, generate nitric oxide, so any artery can widen in response to Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis, causing blood pressure to drop temporarily by 5-8 mmHg, even in healthy men.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (46) | Google ScholarSee all References The significant sympathetic discharge associated with sexual intercourse may contribute to the development of arrythmias in susceptible patients.81x81Drory, Y, Fisman, EZ, Shapira, Y, and Pines, A. Ventricular arrhythmias during sexual activity in patients with coronary artery disease. Chest. 1996; 109: 922–924
Oral medicines: The best known ED medications are the Big Three: Viagra (sildenafil citrate, made by Pfizer, Inc.), Levitra (vardenafil HCl, made by Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline), and Cialis (tadalafil, made by Eli Lilly). The three are chemically very similar, and all have proven very effective. Because they are effective, convenient, and relatively inexpensive (about nine dollars per pill), these medicines have become the treatment of choice for most men experiencing ED.
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