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There is no single cause for erectile dysfunction. Achieving an erection involves a complex series of physiological events; in order for an erection to occur, the body is required to coordinate nervous system responses with tactile sensations, emotional triggers, and signals from certain hormones. If any of these events are disrupted, impotence is likely to occur.
Generally, erectile dysfunction (ED) is a neurovascular condition directly involving the endothelium of the corpora cavernosal arterial blood vessels in the penis, and is indirectly linked to cardiovascular diseases. The underlying mechanisms of ED are, however, complex and involve psychogenic, neurogenic, hormonal and vascular factors. ED occurs in aging men, with a prevalence of 52% in men 40 to 70 years of age [1-3]. Conditions that may cause ED include hypertension, diabetes, diseases of the prostate and heart, and obesity. ED may also be caused by the effects of certain medications as well as physical injury or anatomical deformity of the penis [4], or may result from endocrine disorders such as low testosterone, hypogonadism, adrenal insufficiency and hypothyroidism. Changes in blood flow to the male reproductive organs as a result of hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia may result in ED. It is generally accepted that there are vascular and neuropathic components to the pathophysiology of the disease, and ED has been recognized as a potential indicator of underlying cardiovascular disease. Chronic infections and/or inflammation of the prostate and irritation of the bladder may contribute to the pathogenesis of ED.
The Science: There’s only been one double-blind placebo-controlled trial of the stuff: it found that men taking fenugreek extract reported that they felt more sexual arousal and experienced better orgasms. But testosterone levels in those same men didn’t change, and the study was also tiny–only 60 participants–so it’s not clear whether there’s actually a biochemical reason for the shift or whether it was all psychological. The experiment needs to be repeated with a larger group of people to find out whether those results can be reproduced.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) or male impotence is defined as inability of a man to achieve or maintain penile erection sufficient for sexual activity. It is primarily a neuronal and endothelial dysfunction of the corpus cavernosum of penile tissue, and is partly characterized by reduced production of nitric oxide (NO). Other factors that may contribute to the pathogenesis of ED include androgen deficiency in aging men, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, diabetes mellitus, diseases of the prostate and heart, and anatomical deformity of the penis. ED may also be caused by some medications, prostate surgery and spinal cord injury. Psychological and social conditions such as stress, depression and unhappy marital relationship may contribute to the problem. Chronic infections and inflammation can also contribute to the disease process. ED is linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Several orally active drugs (sildenafil, vardenafil, tadalafil, avanafil) are currently prescribed for treating ED to improve the arterial blood flow to the penile tissue. Medicinal plants and their extracts have been used in traditional medicine in southwest Asia and other countries to treat ED. The current review focuses on four medicinal plants that have been used as aphrodisiacs for enhancing sexual performance and for the treatment of ED. These plants include Eurycoma longifolia Jack (tongkat ali); Chlorophytum borivilianum (safed musli); Withania somnifera (ashwagandha); and Pausinystalia johimbe (formerly known as Corynanthe johimbe). Suggested mechanisms of action for each of the plant extracts will be discussed.
In the East, many herbal tonics and preparations are used to assist the aging male improve his ability to have sexual drive or perform penetrative sex by increasing sexual stimulation, erectile, ejaculatory, orgasmic and other responses for sexual function and satisfaction. Currently available herbals, tonics and therapies range from Tongkat Ali, Ginseng, Tribulus etc. Those that act as testosterone releasers have some value especially if the male has andropause and those containing some pick-me-ups II and energizers like ginseng help the tired and fatigued male and possibly those with asthenia. Deer horn contains growth factors and taking these may help improve nocturnal erections in the male with somatopause. Popular in historic Singapore were remedies such as “Penis Soup II” (Figure 2) and Snake Meat, whilst Surabaya was known for Cobra meat (Figure 3) and Cobra Blood which had claims of improving erectogenic prowess-these myths including that of taking dog, cow, wild boar, bull and ostrich testicles (Figures 10,​,11)11) are mainly Village doctor remedies still being practiced widely in the developing regions of Asia. In China, the horny goat weed (Figure 9) is currently still popular and may have some scientific merit (11) for enhancing sexual drive.
W somnifera (ashwagandha), also referred to as winter cherry (family Solanaceae), grows in Africa, the Mediterranean, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Congo and Jordan [36]. The roots of the plant contain steroid alkaloids and steroidal lactone, which are the main constituents of ashwagandha; these compounds are referred to as withanolides. Among the various alkaloids, withnine is the main constituent. The other alkaloids are somniferin, somnine, somniferine, withananine, pseudowithanine, tropine, pseudotropine, cuscohygrine, anferine and anhydrine. Two acyl steryl glucosides (sitoindoside VII and sitoindoside VIII) have been isolated from the root. The withanolides contain a C28 steroidal nucleus with a C9 side chain and six-membered lactone rings. Ashwagandha root also contains flavonoids and many ingredients of the withanolide class. It has several medicinal applications (aphrodisiac, liver tonic, anti-inflammatory agent, astringent), and is used to treat bronchitis, asthma, ulcers, insomnia, senility and dementia. Clinical trials and studies involving animal models support the use of ashwagandha for anxiety, cognitive and neurological disorders, inflammation and Parkinson’s disease. It also provides cryoprotective benefits to patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, and shows beneficial effects for nervous exhaustion. W somnifera is used as an aphrodisiac, sedative and rejuvenative, and is also used to treat chronic fatigue, dehydration, bone weakness, muscle weakness, loose teeth, impotency, premature ejaculation, debility, constipation, senility, rheumatism, nervous exhaustion, memory loss, drug withdrawal symptoms, anxiety and arthritis pain in the knee. Extracts from W somnifera inhibit transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB); thus, it acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. This has been attributed to its ability to interact with IKKB, a kinase that is responsible for the nuclear translocation of NF-κB and activation of inflammatory signalling pathways [37].
Many products contain undocumented “fillers” that can cause allergic reactions.  In recent years, the FDA has found over 300 herbal products that contain hidden, deceptively labeled, or dangerous ingredients4. And since 2015, the FDA has released public warnings on more than 160 ED supplements and “male enhancement” products found to contain dangerous ingredients and contaminants5 .   An independent study of FDA data, conducted in 2018, found almost 800 herbal supplements that contained unlisted ingredients6.
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Catuaba (Erythroxylum catuaba): in Brazil, Catuaba Extract is considered to be a central nervous system stimulant (5), without the side effects of caffeine. This is used in some Asian remedies for sexual weakness and lowered libido. European herbalists have found that Catuaba may have aphrodisiac properties and can be used to combat sexual weakness.
Do herbs work to rectify ED in the Aging Male? We will take some of these and discuss their properties. These herbals can be found throughout Asia and range from Eurycoma longifolia (Tongkat Ali), Ginseng and Tribulus etc. Those that act as Testosterone releasers have some value especially if the male has andropause and those containing some-pick-me-ups and energizers like Ginseng helps the tired and fatigued male and possibly those with asthenia. Deer horn contains growth factors and taking these do help improve nocturnal erections in the male with somatopause. Popular in historic Singapore was Penis soup and Snake meat (Figure 2), whilst Surabaya was known for Cobra meat and Cobra blood (Figure 3) which had claims of improving erectogenic prowess-the myths and realities concerning these and other Village doctor remedies are what they are—myths!
Extracts from medicinal plants have been used for considerable period of time in many parts of the world, particularly in Southwest Asia, to treat ED [16]. The current review focuses on four botanical medicinal plants, the roots of which are used in enhancing sexual performance and in the treatment of ED: Eurycoma longifolia Jack (tongkat ali); Chlorophytum borivilianum (safed musli); Withania somnifera (ashwagandha); and Pausinystalia johimbe (yohimbine, formerly known as Corynanthe johimbe).
A study published in May 2014 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that some men can reverse erectile dysfunction with healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight loss, a varied diet, and good sleep. The Australian researchers also showed that even if erectile dysfunction medication is required, it's likely to be more effective if you implement these healthy lifestyle changes.
Prescription drugs called “oral phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors” are considered the “first-line non-invasive treatment” options for patients with ED. These include the drugs that go by brand names: Sildenafil, Vardenafil or Tadalafil. They work by helping the smooth muscle cells lining the blood vessels that supply the penis with blood to work properly. This allows a man to maintain an erection more easily.

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.
Catuaba (Erythroxylum catuaba): in Brazil, Catuaba Extract is considered to be a central nervous system stimulant (5), without the side effects of caffeine. This is used in some Asian remedies for sexual weakness and lowered libido. European herbalists have found that Catuaba may have aphrodisiac properties and can be used to combat sexual weakness.
These medications don’t work for everyone but they are easy to use and work for around 60% of people who try them. They work by making it easier to get an erection by reducing the effect of (inhibiting) the chemical PDE-5. This chemical is used in the body to make sure there isn’t too much blood in the penis during an erection, but if you have erectile dysfunction then this chemical ends up over-compensating.
A plant like Cleome gynandra is a popular vegetable used all over Uganda and is on sale in most markets. Other medicinal plants that are food stuff include Allium cepa (onions), Allium sativum (garlic), Rhus vulgaris, Capsicum frutescens(red pepper) and Zingiber officinale (Ginger) are also on sale in most markets of Uganda and internationally. In addition, the roots of Mondia whiteii are used as an aphrodisiac for males and for improving female sexuality (women's Viagra) in most areas of Uganda11 particularly in urban centres and the Kampala City. To date, Mondia whiteii has been an old traded medicinal plant in most in Kampala. Recently the patented ‘Mulondo Wine’ a drink flavoured by the roots of Mondia whiteii has hit the national and international markets35. The Mulondo Wine is also believed to be an aphrodisiac for both men and women.
The Science: Some studies have implied that feeding maca to domestic cattle increases sperm production, but there is very little data about any sexual effect on humans. One very small randomized double-bind trial of men with erectile dysfunction found that men taking maca extract reported a small increase in their ability to get erections. But so did the control group. As with the fenugreek study, a similar study with a larger group of people is needed to see whether any differences between the controls and the maca-eaters are real.
The utilisation of ethnobotanical indigenous knowledge is vital in male sexual reproductive health care delivery in western Uganda. Reproductive health care is the second most prevalent health care problem in Africa. However, this concept of reproductive health care has been focusing mainly on women disregarding men. Thus, some diseases such as sexual impotence and erectile dysfunction that deserve mention are regarded as petty though important in economic productivity, family stability and sexually transmitted diseases control including HIV/AIDS.

The truth is medication or psychosexual counselling are the first treatments a doctor will suggest because they’ve been proven to work. If a doctor has approved a medication for you then it’s safe. If you would still like to see if herbal supplements work for you, then there is a list below of supplements thought to work for erectile dysfunction. Just before you invest your money in them, remember they aren’t proven to work:

Acupuncture. Acupuncture has been used for centuries to treat ED and impotence in China. A recent review of studies on acupuncture for erectile dysfunction was published in the British Journal of Urology International. After reviewing four studies, the authors concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to say that acupuncture worked. However, some experts believe it's worth trying. "Acupuncture can work," says Gilbert. "It probably works best to treat the psychological component of ED. There is very little downside to trying it."
If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.
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