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.
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (58) | Google ScholarSee all References Theoretically, the risk of a cardiac event during sexual activity should be increased. Sexual activity is associated with an elevated heart rate, blood pressure level, and myocardial oxygen demand, and this increase in hemodynamic stress may result in myocardial ischemia.79x79Kimmel, SE. Sex and myocardial infarction: an epidemiologic perspective. Am J Cardiol. 2000; 86: 10F–13F

Treatments might be slightly different for different people, depending on their risk factors, but in general all treatment plans have similar elements: diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary (see the Table). Diet and exercise are the cornerstones of the treatment of atherosclerosis. Every diet should include low salt (especially for high blood pressure), low fat and cholesterol (especially for high cholesterol), and limited total calories (especially for patients who are overweight). People with diabetes mellitus should limit their intake of sugars and carbohydrates. Exercise helps to limit atherosclerosis. The more exercise, the better, but every little bit helps. The general recommendation is 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. Check with your doctor to be sure that an exercise program is safe for you. Cigarettes cause a variety of health problems, including atherosclerosis, so cigarette smoking should be stopped. If diet and exercise are not enough to control your atherosclerotic risk factors, then your doctor will prescribe medications. Heart attacks are prevented by controlling atherosclerotic risk factors, which means diet, exercise, and medications if necessary.
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
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

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.
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.
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DHEA is a hormone made by the human body. It’s a building block for testosterone. According to a study published in Urology, this supplement may be able to help men whose ED is related to having low testosterone. However, there’s no definitive evidence of this benefit. It’s clear that DHEA can cause various side effects, including liver damage and acne. Long-term use of DHEA can also cause hormonal imbalances.
I have cared for hundreds of men with erectile dysfunction that have reversed their condition with a Nutritarian diet and the judicious use of dietary supplements. I have cared for hundreds of heart patients with angina and advanced heart disease, who have turned their backs on invasive cardiac procedures, recovered from angina and opened up the closed blood vessels in their diseased hearts. Out of thousands of men with advanced heart and erectile problems who have followed my nutritional advice, I have never had a patient suffer a heart attack or cardiac related death.
But closer questioning often revealed a very different story—men would admit that struggles to achieve an erection usually preceded a heart attack or other cardiac event by one, two, or three years. Back then, the pattern of erectile dysfunction and cardiac disease was so widespread, that most in the medical profession attributed it to simple “aging,” as common as wrinkles and constipation.
While a widely held perception is that CVD drugs cause ED, data attest towards the contrary and some agents may be even beneficial.41 Only thiazide diuretics lead clearly to ED, while some older beta-blockers also do so, but the side-effect of ED was very low (∼3%) when the patient was blinded for the drug administration.42 In fact, the vasodilating nebivolol may even improve erectile function.35,43 ACE-inhibitors, angiotensin-receptor blockers, and calcium-channel blockers are reported to have neutral or even a positive effect on erectile function35,41,43 but more evidence is needed. Regarding statins, the largest body of evidence point towards a beneficial effect.44 A negative effect has been reported in high statin doses, possibly related to a potential reduction in serum testosterone levels, but this dose dependency warrants further investigation. In terms of patient management, when ED onset and therapy initiation are linked and a cause-and-effect association is presumed, a short period of drug withdrawal with monitoring for ED resolution for verification may be an option. In patients who developed ED long after the initiation of CV drug treatment, sexual dysfunction is less likely to be drug associated and PDE5 inhibition therapy may be initiated.

When antihypertensive medication comes to the fore, certain issues need to be carefully addressed. This is due to the fact that medically induced erectile dysfunction is one of the major reasons for non-adherence and treatment discontinuation, a reality that could have deleterious consequences on patient’s cardiovascular profile and health quality in the long term[38,39].

The physical exam should focus on femoral and peripheral pulses, femoral bruits (vascular abnormalities), visual field defects (prolactinoma or pituitary mass), breast exam (hyperprolactinemia), penile strictures (Peyronie’s disease), testicle atrophy (testosterone deficiency), and asymmetry or masses (hypogonadism). A rectal exam allows for assessment of both the prostate and sphincter tone, abnormalities that are associated with autonomic dysfunction. Sacral and perineal neurological exam will help in assessing autonomic function.

When these drugs don't work, there are other options. Medications that dilate blood vessels, such as alprostadil, can be injected or deposited in the penis; they work in more than 80 percent of men with diabetes. Beyond that, penile implants can be an effective surgical solution. Implants are either malleable rods, which can be manually adjusted to the desired position, or inflatable cylinders that fill with fluid when a pump under the skin of the scrotum is pressed.
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.

Some commonly prescribed cardiovascular drugs (beta-blockers, diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, etc.) contribute to ED.18 Previous studies have shown a strong association between ED and diuretics in patients treated with hydrochlorothiazide or chlorthalidone.19,20 It has also been shown that patients treated with first-generation non-selective beta-blockers, such as propranolol, had more frequent ED than those treated with a placebo.21
Crossref | PubMed | Google ScholarSee all References Regular exercise can significantly decrease the patient's risk of having a myocardial infarction during sexual intercourse by increasing the patient's functional reserve, decreasing the heart rate, and increasing the stroke volume.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 Phosphodiesterase type 5 is primarily responsible for the breakdown of cGMP in cavernosal tissues. The inhibition of PDE-5 by sildenafil therefore causes continued activation of the NO-cGMP pathway in the cavernosal tissue, thereby improving erectile function.10x10Kloner, RA and Zusman, RM. Cardiovascular effects of sildenafil citrate and recommendations for its use. Am J Cardiol. 1999; 84: 11N–17N
The most important way to protect your heart is to eat a Nutritarian diet and that means eating your G-BOMBS: greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds. Natural plant foods have numerous cardio-protective effects. For example, greens activate the Nrf2 system, which turns on natural detoxification mechanisms and protects blood vessels against inflammatory processes that lead to atherosclerotic plaque buildup.9
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).
The EDDM patient has a variety of firstline options. The risk factors for vascular disease are the risk factors for ED. First-line therapy begins with attempts to minimize or eliminate these factors. These include smoking cessation, regular exercise, tighter glycemic control by attention to dietary restrictions, addition of statin drugs to correct dyslipidemia, and moderation of alcohol ingestion. Although there is very limited evidence that these modifications will dramatically reverse ED, they certainly will sponsor improved general health.4
Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References, 73x73Rajagopalan, P, Mazzu, A, Xia, C, Dawkins, R, and Sundaresan, P. Effect of high-fat breakfast and moderate-fat evening meal on the pharmacokinetics of vardenafil, an oral phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. J Clin Pharmacol. 2003; 43: 260–267
Diabetes mellitus is associated with both decreased erectile function and increased cardiovascular risk. The MMAS found that the age-adjusted probability of complete impotence was 3 times higher in patients with diabetes mellitus than in those without the disease.6x6Kloner, RA. Erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular risk factors. Hosp Pract (Off Ed). 2001; 36: 41–44 (49-51.)
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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (95) | Google ScholarSee all References Another contraindication is the use of recreational drugs (“poppers”) that contain amyl nitrate. The guidelines also caution use in patients who have a high risk of cardiovascular effects, including patients with active coronary artery disease who are not taking nitrates, patients with congestive heart failure with a borderline low blood pressure level and low blood volume, or those with complicated multidrug antihypertensive regimens.

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Ginkgo is an herb that’s been used medicinally for thousands of years to treat a variety of ailments. This supplement may improve penile blood flow. Additionally, some reports suggest that ginkgo can increase bleeding risk. This makes it particularly dangerous for people using blood thinners. Other studies, including one from 2011, found no evidence of increased bleeding while using ginkgo.
The vacuum device is approved by USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of ED since 1982. Vacuum therapy (VT) works by creating a negative pressure environment around the penis through the use of a cylindrical housing attached to a pump mechanism, which can be manually-operated or battery-operated. Vacuum draws mixed arterial and venous blood into the corporal bodies and distends the corporal sinusoids to create an erected penis. If a pre-loaded constriction band is applied over the base of the penis to prevent outflow of blood and maintain tumescence for intercourse, it is considered a vacuum constriction device (VCD). It is recommended that the constriction band be removed within 30 mins to return the penis to its flaccid state, as prolonged application of the constriction band can compromise both arterial and venous blood flow (7). Some minor side effects associated with VCD are penile discomfort, coldness, numbness, bruising and pain on ejaculation. Major side effects such as penile skin necrosis, gangrene, urethral injury and Peyronie’s disease are very rare (8).

Getting frequent exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are, of course, also important. Plus, avoiding or minimizing risky dietary factors such as salt, alcohol, caffeine, and too much animal products is crucial. Animal protein elevates insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in the blood, a growth-promoting hormone that is associated with increased risk of several cancers and cardiovascular disease.19, 20

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
A limitation of the study is that the researchers did not assess the effects of untreated erectile dysfunction, or conversely, the effect of having an active sex life without taking erectile dysfunction drugs. The researchers also were unable to account for socioeconomic status; as a next step, they are planning a larger study that will include more health records and complete information on marital status, educational level and disposable income. They are also pursuing a separate analysis of outcomes from erectile dysfunction drugs in men with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
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
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text PDF | PubMed | Scopus (37) | Google ScholarSee all References It has been postulated that regular exercise can decrease or possibly eliminate the small risk of myocardial infarction associated with sexual intercourse in most 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
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
If you bike a lot and have a very narrow saddle on your bicycle, consider switching to a "no-nose seat" which is wider at the back than a conventional saddle, allowing more of your weight to be distributed to the sitting bones. Make sure the seat is level or angled slightly downward and at a height that allows your knee to be just slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal cycle. Raising the handlebars on your bike so that you're sitting upright may also help.
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].
Diabetic damage doesn’t stop with these small vessels, he said. “You really have two parallel situations: You need blood flow that feeds the muscle of the penis, and you need an artery dedicated to bringing blood rapidly when a man becomes aroused and wants to be sexually active,” he said. “That artery is also affected by diabetes. They’ll say ‘I can get a partial erection, but I can’t maintain it.’ ”
And diabetes affects more than the blood system. “Diabetes also results in nerve dysfunction and, in the penile shaft, [eventually] the muscle starts to atrophy and is replaced by scar tissue or collagen rather than smooth muscle. That’s the ultimate end result in men,” explains urologist Ajay Nehra, MD, professor of urology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. That scenario — damage to all the tissues that support your penis — is what could happen if you do not get and keep your diabetes under control.
Heart disease and erectile dysfunction can be related. In fact, ED and heart disease are considered two signs of the same disease process. The smaller arteries in the penis are affected by atherosclerosis sooner, perhaps three or more years before they cause heart disease symptoms.11 A large international study found that men with ED were more likely to die from heart causes; have a heart attack, stroke or be admitted to the hospital with heart failure than men with no or mild ED.12
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
One study the authors reviewed measured these changes in middle-aged men with and without coronary artery disease. This study found that the peak heart rate during intercourse was lower than heart rates measured during the patients' normal daily activities. The study participants' peak oxygen consumption levels during intercourse were moderate -- comparable to their oxygen consumption levels during moderate activities such as walking on level ground at 3 to 4 miles per hour, climbing stairs slowly or doing general housework such as vacuuming.
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

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (23) | Google ScholarSee all References Vardenafil has been shown to be significantly more effective than placebo in the treatment of ED secondary to diabetes mellitus and after radical retropubic prostatectomy.69x69Goldstein, I, Young, JM, Fischer, J, Bangerter, K, Segerson, T, Taylor, T, and Vardenafil Diabetes Study Group. Vardenafil, a new phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, in the treatment of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes: a multicenter double-blind placebo-controlled fixed-dose study. Diabetes Care. 2003; 26: 777–783


Cavallini, G., Modenini, F., Vitali, G., & Koverech, A. (2005, November). Acetyl-L-carnitine plus propionyl-L-carnitine improve efficacy of sildenafil in treatment of erectile dysfunction after bilateral nerve-sparing radical retropubic prostatectomy. Urology, 66(5), 1080-5. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090429505006515
ED almost always has an organic or mixed etiology in diabetic men. This often results in diabetic men reporting more severe ED when they present for treatment of this condition. It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that diabetic men's responses to standard therapy for ED differ from those of the general population of men with ED.38 We, therefore, will now briefly review the literature regarding effectiveness of various ED therapies specifically in diabetic men.
Quassinoids isolated from Tongkat Ali have been reputed to be anti-tumor, anti-malarial, anti-amoebic and anti-inflammatory. Its leaves are used for washing itches, its fruits for the treatment of dysentery, its bark used as a vermifuge, the taproots used for treatment of hypertension and the root bark for treatment of diarrhea and fever. The roots extracts are used for sexual dysfunction, aging, malaria, cancer, diabetes, anxiety, aches, constipation, exercise recovery, fever, increased energy, increased strength, leukemia, osteoporosis, stress and syphilis. Animal studies done on middle age sex rats showed enhancement of the sexual qualities in terms of hesitation time among middle aged rats (46).

Treatments might be slightly different for different people, depending on their risk factors, but in general all treatment plans have similar elements: diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary (see the Table). Diet and exercise are the cornerstones of the treatment of atherosclerosis. Every diet should include low salt (especially for high blood pressure), low fat and cholesterol (especially for high cholesterol), and limited total calories (especially for patients who are overweight). People with diabetes mellitus should limit their intake of sugars and carbohydrates. Exercise helps to limit atherosclerosis. The more exercise, the better, but every little bit helps. The general recommendation is 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. Check with your doctor to be sure that an exercise program is safe for you. Cigarettes cause a variety of health problems, including atherosclerosis, so cigarette smoking should be stopped. If diet and exercise are not enough to control your atherosclerotic risk factors, then your doctor will prescribe medications. Heart attacks are prevented by controlling atherosclerotic risk factors, which means diet, exercise, and medications if necessary.
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
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