"The problem with alternative treatments for any medical problem, including erectile dysfunction, is that until you have about 20 well-controlled studies over several years, you really don't know what you are working with," cautions Richard Harris, MD, a urologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of the Loyola University Health System in Chicago.
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.
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.
Animal testicles: derived from bulls and wild boars, the orchic substance has been used as a way to possibly increase testosterone levels and sperm counts. In Singapore, testis soap was once very popular (Figure 2). It is still sold in parts of China and Japan. The dried Dog testis and penis (canis familiaris) is believed to tonify the kidneys and strengthen the yang II. Kidney deficiency is believed to be the cause of impotency in Chinese literature.
Ashwagandha’s reputation as a sexual enhancement herb is supported by research. One animal study showed that extracts of ashwagandha increased production of sex hormones and sperm, presumably by exerting a testosterone-like effect. In another clinical trial, the herb (taken at a dose of 3 gm per day for 1 year) was given to healthy male adults 50–59 years of age. Among benefits noted: serum cholesterol levels decreased, gray hair was reduced, and a vast majority (over 70%) reported improvement in sexual performance.
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The basis of ED herbal therapies is that they are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immunomodulatory, and can stimulate testosterone production. On the other hand, the synthetic drugs act via NO. The principal mediator of the relaxation of corporal smooth muscle of the penis has been shown to be NO, which is released mainly from parasympathetic nerves and endothelium . NO is believed to relax the corporal smooth muscle by activating soluble guanylate cyclase to increase cGMP content [14,15]. Penile rigidity depends on maximizing inflow of blood while minimizing outflow . The increased blood flow in the cavernous sinuses puts pressure on the walls of the surrounding veins, causing the lumen of the veins narrow, temporarily interfering with the flow of blood but causing tumescence. Normally, the parasympathetic nerve produces Ach. Ach acts on muscarinic receptors and nicotinic cholinergic receptors. When the parasympathetic nerve is stimulated, preganglionic neurons release Ach at the ganglion, which acts on nicotinic receptors on postganglionic receptors. Postganglionic neurons then release Ach to stimulate muscarinic receptors of the target organs. The muscarinic receptor M3, present in the endothelial cells and smooth muscle, is activated, and the M2 receptor in the heart may also be activated. This may result in the production of Ach, which can cause endothelial cells to produce NO. Ach released from postganglionic parasympathetic nerves acting through G-protein-mediated muscarinic receptors and nicotinic cholinergic receptors helps to release NO. Normally, M1, M2 and M3 receptors are found in secretory glands, heart, smooth muscle and endothelial cells, respectively. M1, M2 and M3 receptors cause activation of phospholipase C and generate inositol trisphosphate and diacylglycerol, which increase calcium. Activation of M4 may inhibit adenylate cyclase, decreasing the messenger cyclic AMP. This mechanism may be involved in the relaxation and contraction of cavernosal smooth muscle cells.
Just because a product claims to be natural doesn't mean it's safe. Many herbal remedies and dietary supplements can cause side effects and dangerous interactions when taken with certain medications. Talk to your doctor before you try an alternative treatment for erectile dysfunction — especially if you're taking medications or you have a chronic health problem such as heart disease or diabetes.