The search for a cure for erectile dysfunction (ED) dates back way before the introduction of Viagra in the 1990s. Natural aphrodisiacs, from ground rhinoceros horn topa chocolate, have long been used to increase libido, potency, or sexual pleasure. These natural remedies are also popular because they’re said to have fewer side effects than prescribed medications.
"Just because there is evidence doesn't mean it's good evidence," says Andrew McCullough, MD, associate professor of clinical urology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, and one of the original clinical investigators for the ED drug Viagra (sildenafil). "And before men with ED start down the naturopathic route, it's smart to make sure that there isn't some underlying medical condition that needs to be corrected." Moreover, it is estimated that 30 million American men have erectile dysfunction, and 70% of cases are a result of a potentially deadly condition like atherosclerosis, kidney disease, vascular disease, neurological disease, or diabetes. Additionally, ED can also be caused by certain medications, surgical injury, and psychological problems.
A 2011 study of 160 men with moderate or severe erectile dysfunction divided the group in two—80 men were given niacin supplements, and 80 a placebo. The group given niacin reported improved ability to “maintain an erection versus the control group.” It’s not exhaustive research, but still promising. The best part about niacin is that it’s naturally found in foods like turkey, avocado, and peanuts (yum). If you’re not a turkey sandwich fan, you can supplement with a vitamin B complex.
Ginseng (Figures 4,,55): this is an adaptogenic herb touted to have boosted the potency of Ottoman sultans. It increases the body’s ability to handle environmental stresses and combat biochemical imbalances. It energizes when one is fatigue and calms when overanxious. It also increases sex related hormones like testosterone and enhances sexual responses in men and women. It thus acts as a tonic, stimulant and aphrodisiac (4,5).
The neurovascular mechanism of erection is complex and involves multiple factors including hormones, neurotransmitters, elements of the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic) and vasodilators such as NO. The common causes of ED include psychogenic disturbance with failure to relax cavernous smooth muscle, arterial insufficiency as a result of atheromatous disease, damage to the parasympathetic nervous system, spinal cord injury, diabetes or following pelvic surgery such as radical prostatectomy, radical cystectomy or bowel resection . It is important to note that cavernous nerves are unique in that although they belong to the autonomic nerves system they do not release either acetylcholine (Ach) or norepinephrine; however, they release NO in the penis. NO relaxes the smooth muscle of the corpora cavernosa via cyclic GMP (cGMP), allowing expansion of the cavernosal lacunar spaces, blood flow and erection. Thus, NO is not a direct dilator of the smooth muscle of cavernosal bodies, but it is an important mediator in this process. Erectile function may also be adversely affected by cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption, obesity and systemic diseases such as mononucleosis, hepatitis, HIV and cancer. Some men are prone to develop an erection that fails to subside after ejaculation (ie, priapism). The condition is associated with sickle-cell disease and leukemia, or may be a result of intracavernosal injection of drugs such as prostaglandin E1 . Peyronie’s disease causes a physical bend in the erect penis and also contributes to ED.
Many stores sell herbal supplements and health foods that claim to have sexual potency and fewer side effects. They’re also often cheaper than prescribed medications. But these options have little scientific research to back up the claims, and there’s no uniform method on testing their effectiveness. Most results from human trials rely on self-evaluation, which can be subjective and difficult to interpret.