Houston, We Have Lift-Off. Top 3 Tips for Erectile Dysfunction
A satisfactory sex life can have a large impact on physical/mental well-being, as well as enhance intimacy in relationships. That’s why it’s so distressing, frustrating, and embarrassing for men when things start ‘acting up.’ However, Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is common. A 2010 Canadian study found that 50% of men over the age of 40 experience some form of erectile dysfunction. By definition, ED is “the inability to achieve and maintain a penile erection of sufficient rigidity to permit satisfactory sexual activity.”
An erection is a complex series of events. The parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for ‘rest and digest’) in the brain sends signals to the spinal cord, prostate, and penis. Mediators like nitric oxide are released, and in response, blood vessels relax, leading to increased penile blood flow and decreased drainage. Houston, we have lift-off.
Causes of ED
Vascular/Neurological disturbances - Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) are the big culprits here. Both conditions cause damage to blood vessels (and nerves) that impact flow to the penis. In fact, erectile dysfunction could be an early sign of heart disease. Diabetes and CVD are also associated with many other erection-unfriendly factors: obesity, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, alcohol use, etc. that impair erectile function and need to be addressed.
Psychological - As mentioned above, erections rely on parasympathetic activity. This part of the nervous system can be suppressed by excess stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s also common for men to experience performance anxiety when they have a new sexual partner later in life.
Hormonal - Testosterone is required in erectile function but the exact relationship is unknown. Testosterone levels naturally decrease with age and the ‘erection-unfriendly factors’ listed above also decrease levels.
Medication-induced - There are certain medications that have been known to interfere with erectile function, such as certain anti-depressants and blood pressure lowering medications.
Top 3 Tips
1. Exercise: Find a form of exercise that you enjoy - aerobic or resistance training (or ideally, both), since each have unique benefits! Overall, exercise improves integrity and health of blood vessels, benefits male hormones, aids in weight loss, and reduces anxiety.
—> Tip: Work those legs as this targets the larger muscles groups, quadriceps and gluteal muscles, which will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Don't go to the gym? That’s ok. Make wall sits (click here) part of your routine and see how long you can hold it for!
2. Adopt a Mediterranean-style diet: There’s endless research supporting this diet for overall health and reduction of CVD. A recent study has found that diabetics who followed this diet have better erectile function relative to the control diet over 8 years. Click here to learn what this diet entails.
—> Tip: This diet is all about healthy fats! Create trail mix for a morning/afternoon snack: handful of almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and pieces of dark chocolate.
3. Acupuncture - There are some great protocols that involve local points (don’t worry, not located on the penis) and a selection of constitutional points along the body depending on your Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis.
—> Tip: Click here to find a naturopathic doctor near you
Note: This is not an all encompassing list! Many herbs have been used for thousands of years and can be individually formulated by a naturopath. There are also use of nutritional supplements and addressing individual factors that are obstacles to optimal erectile health.
Health Centre. The Hard Facts. One Important Aspect of Sexual Health and What You Need to Know About it. ED Help. [Internet]. 2014. Available from: http://www.cssam.com/files/content/VIAG_5205_BetterSexBroch+EHS%20TO_E34.pdf
Brody S. The relative health benefits of different sexual activities. The journal of sexual medicine. 2010 Apr 1;7(4pt1):1336-61.
DERBY C. Modifiable risk factors and erectile dysfunction: can lifestyle changes modify risk?. Urology. 2000;56:302-6.
Mayo Clinic. Mediterranean Diet: A Heart Healthy Eating Plan. [Internet]. 2016. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801
Kraemer, William J., and Nicholas A. Ratamess. "Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training." Sports medicine 35.4 (2005): 339-361.
Maiorino MI, Bellastella G, Caputo M, Castaldo F, Improta MR, Giugliano D, Esposito K. Effects of Mediterranean diet on sexual function in people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes: The MÈDITA trial. Journal of Diabetes and its Complications. 2016 Dec 31;30(8):1519-24.