Dr. Niket Sonpal is the Associate Program Director of the Internal Medicine Residency at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn and an Associate Professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. He’s a practicing Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist with a focus on Men’s and Women’s Health, and a regular contributor to Women’s health, Shape and Prevention Magazine.
Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longiflora) (Figure 7): this native plant found through SE Asia is used as an Aphrodisiac since 1996 (5). It has to be used regularly and works by enhancing the testosterone and cGMP production. Benefits are felt gradually over a period of time, mainly because it enhances the natural biological synthesis of testosterone. When the level is increased, health and vitality are restored. In studies on Mice, Tongkat Ali increases the number of times and duration of sexual performance of the animals under study (8) with testosterone levels increasing up to 440% in some animals. In a recent study on humans, 62% of subjects showed an increase of the free testosterone index indicating it’s biostimulatory effect on steroidogenesis. It has also been shown to increase sperm concentration and motility and increases energy in the individual by enhancing ATP production by 60% thru oxidative phosphorylation.
The Science: Male rats with damaged penile nerves had better erectile responses after they were given large doses of purified icariin, but as of yet no one has done the experiments to see whether the compound works in humans. Still, as far as the herb goes, it doesn’t really matter: horny goat weed doesn’t contain enough icariin to get even the smallest rise out of a rat.
The Science: Chemicals inside these plants called ginsenosides are thought to ramp up the physiological pathway that makes nitric oxide, the neurotransmitter that gets the blood flowing during penile erection. Some studies support that idea: one found that ginsenoside-rich ginseng berry extracts relaxed smooth muscle inside rabbit erectile tissue. But so far there haven’t been high-quality double-blind and randomized trials of the chemicals’ effect on humans. The jury’s still out on whether ginsenosides have any effect on people at all, or (if they do) whether they work as well as medications like Viagra.
Ginseng. Korean red ginseng has long been used to stimulate male sexual function, but few studies have tried systematically to confirm its benefits. In one 2002 study involving 45 men with significant ED, the herb helped alleviate symptoms of erectile dysfunction and brought "enhanced penile tip rigidity." Experts aren't sure how ginseng might work, though it's thought to promote nitric oxide synthesis. "I would recommend ginseng [for men with ED]," says Espinosa. Discuss with your doctor before taking it since ginseng can interact with drugs you may already be taking and cause allergic reactions.
Red Ginseng — One small randomized trial found evidence that red ginseng may offer modest improvements in ED symptoms (as compared with placebo). A meta-anaylsis published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology states, “Traditionally red ginseng has been used to restore and enhance normal well-being, and is often referred to as an adaptogenic….Possible mechanisms of action of red ginseng include hormonal effects similar to those of testosterone. Others have postulated that red ginseng might induce relaxation of the smooth muscles.” (5)
According to Uganda's health policy priorities8,25, men's reproductive health is not given any mention. The national health policy focuses on services like family planning, diseases control like STI/HIV/AIDS, malaria, perinatal and maternal conditions, tuberculosis, diarrhoeal diseases and acute lower respiratory tract infections that are given priority8,25. The sexual and reproductive health rights in Uganda focus on maternal and child mortality, family planning and the like exclusive of men's sexual needs and rights8.
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.
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.
In this day and age, there is a wide spectrum of innovative drug and other methods of treatment including psychosexual therapy and counseling, topical and systemic drug therapy, device-assisted therapy, electromagnetic stimulation to improve nerve and vascular function of the pelvis and perineal muscles. Electro-ejaculation and the less often done surgical techniques are currently available. The simpler electrovibration can help create or maintain erection or stimulate ejaculation. Although we give so much emphasis on ejaculation, in the Chinese traditional medical teaching, there is reference to improving health by ejaculatory control and abstaining from ejaculating during sexual activity—hence the popular belief that EJACULATING TOO MUCH will lead to WEAKNESS and ILL HEALTH!
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.
The semi-structured interviews and discussions were held with the specialist resource users and other knowledgeable people on particular ailments by use of interview schedules for each respondent. Interviewed people were mainly the herbalists (both men and women) and TBAs. In this selection to some extent, ethnic groups were recorded where possible because different people use the same plants differently. The time and place of interviews were arranged according to the schedules of the respondent. Depending on where the interviews and discussions were held, recording was done immediately or afterwards or appointments were made for more details in a more convenient place arranged with the respondent. Key informants were identified and later interviewed separately and even followed for further details. Some of the key questions asked included, name of the respondents, the village or parish or sub-county he or she was coming from, diseases treated, plant local names used, parts harvested, methods of preparation and administration. In addition, ingredients and incantations with which the plants are used for preparation and where the herbal medicines were harvested were documented.
Cayenne: cayenne is also known as capsicum and plays a very large role in blood circulation. When cayenne is ingested, it acts to dilate blood vessels, allowing blood flow to increase to all areas of the body, especially major organs (5). The male penis benefits greatly from the ingestion of cayenne. It is a widely held belief that cayenne aids in longer lasting erections, with stronger ejaculations and more intense orgasms (5).
"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.
A list of 33 medicinal plants both cultivated and wild-harvested generated show that herbal remedies are greatly utilized by men for managing sexual impotence and erectile dysfunction in western Uganda. Erectile dysfunction and sexual impotence are old problem and traditionally the indigenous knowledge had ways of treating or managing these conditions associated with male reproductive system. These plants in the tables we are discussing have been in use for centuries in treating or managing conditions in male reproductive organs.
Much of the evidence shows high rates of vitamin D deficiency in patients with erectile dysfunction. In fact, one study of 3,400 participants found that men with vitamin D deficiency were 32% more likely to have trouble with erections when all other risk factors were controlled for. It’s a little on the nose that you need vitamin D for your “D,” but hey—science can be funny too.
Dr. Niket Sonpal is the Associate Program Director of the Internal Medicine Residency at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn and an Associate Professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. He's a practicing Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist with a focus on Men's and Women's Health, and a regular contributor to Women's health, Shape and Prevention Magazine.
Maca root (Lepedium meyenii W): this native Peruvian root has been cultivated for thousands of years. Considered an integral part of the diet, the Incans found maca root so potent (14), it was restricted to royal use only. Known for its energy enhancing abilities, maca root enjoys a special place amongst herbalists and health seekers. Like ginseng, this plant is employed to increase strength, libido and sexual function (14). Clinically its effects have been proved with experimental animals (5,15).
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.
3. Testosterone replacement. Before oral medications like Viagra, testosterone was routinely used to treat erectile dysfunction as it is central in the male sexual response, including the desire for sex and the process of getting an erection. Testosterone can be administered in a number of ways, for example orally, by means of an injection, skin patch, or subcutaneous (under the skin) pellet.
The Plant: A low-growing flowering annual that’s originally from southern Europe but is now an invasive weed in parts of the United States and Australia. The plant’s common names, like puncturevine or devil’s thorns, tells you exactly why most people hate it: it drops sharp, spiny seed pods that lie in wait for unsuspecting victims to step on them. It’s also toxic to grazing livestock like sheep.
Gingko biloba: this is an example of a tonic herb that equilibrates our body systems. When tired it energizes and when stressed it relaxes the individual. It increases blood circulation which better prepares the male for the heart-racing excitement of sex. Early reference to its medicinal use was in 2900 BC Chinese Materia medica which believed it increased sexual energy. Gingko’s circulation enhancer called terpene lactone increases cerebral as well as genital blood flow and its significantly increased production of dopamine, adrenaline and other neurotransmitters in the brain improves pleasure arousal and alertness (5).
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.
In addition, when research has shown a nutrient such as zinc or niacin to improve sexual function, it's usually in people who are deficient in it. So, before you stock up on over-the-counter nutritional supplements for ED, speak with your doctor. He can test you for deficiencies and steer you toward the most effective and safest way to treat your erectile dysfunction.
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There are so many potential reasons a man might develop erectile dysfunction (ED), it's nearly impossible to generalize the best ways to treat it. What works for one man may not work for another simply because they are having problems for different reasons. That said, it may encouraging to hear that there are a variety of options that may be considered, from psychological counseling to lifestyle changes, medications to treatments and devices.
A number of nonprescription products claim to be herbal forms of Viagra. Some of these products contain unknown amounts of ingredients similar to those in prescription medications, which can cause dangerous side effects. Some actually contain the real drug, which should be given by prescription only. Although the Food and Drug Administration has banned many of these products, some potentially dangerous erectile dysfunction remedies remain on the market.