Erectile dysfunction is a sensitive subject, but it’s much more common than you think. Estimated to affect over 30 million men in the U.S., with 332 million cases worldwide by the year 2025, erectile dysfunction (ED) doesn’t discriminate.
What Is ED?
Erectile dysfunction, once referred to as impotence, is a condition in which a man has trouble consistently achieving or maintaining an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. While that’s bad enough, ED can not only affect your sex life; it can have a huge impact on your relationships and overall quality of life. It can cause low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression, which in turn exacerbate sexual dysfunction. Even worse, it can lead to an avoidance of intimacy and a lack of desire altogether.
The Many Causes of ED
ED is typically a consequence of cardiovascular problems like atherosclerosis or high blood pressure, which results in diminished blood supply to the penis. Normally, when you’re aroused, blood flows quickly into the penis, filling up the chambers to increase length, width, and firmness. But if your cardiovascular system is already underperforming, your ability to get an erection can be compromised.
Diabetes is another big contributor. In fact, diabetic men are two to three times more likely to develop ED. Other factors such as low testosterone, some prescription medications, smoking, alcohol abuse, illegal drugs, or being overweight, stressed out, or sedentary can also set you up for erectile dysfunction.
There’s no shortage of treatments claiming to solve your erectile frustrations. Quick fixes like Viagra and Cialis improve blood flow by inhibiting an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) in the smooth muscle cells of penile blood vessels. This action relaxes the vascular smooth muscle and widens the blood vessels to allow for better blood circulation. But there’s a catch—these drugs only work if you’re sexually aroused; they won’t put you in the mood on their own. That could be a challenge since it’s recommended that you take these pills an hour before intercourse, which could kill the romance.
What’s more, these “miracle” pills also have other, more serious drawbacks. PDE5 inhibitors have been shown to cause headaches, heartburn, back pain, muscle aches, flushing, stuffy nose, vision problems, and indigestion. And if you’re already taking medication like nitrates to treat a heart condition, these pills can be life threatening. In fact, Viagra has been shown to cause a sudden and unsafe drop in blood pressure if taken with certain other medicines. This can make you feel dizzy, faint, or worse—it can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Fortunately, there are plenty of natural ways to rectify ED without having to go down the pharmaceutical path. First, it’s important to address any bad habits and focus on eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. Not only will your body feel better, but you’ll feel better about your body. You can also incorporate supplements clinically shown to improve erectile function so you can get back on track in the bedroom.
Korean Red Ginseng
This ancient herb improves blood circulation and normalizes blood pressure, which are important for maintaining an erection. In a recent review of seven trials on ginseng’s effectiveness for ED, researchers found that erection quality was significantly improved after taking the herb and the participants reported improved desire, erectile function, erection maintenance, and overall satisfaction.
But make sure that your supplement is the Korean variety. Other types, such as American and Siberian, don’t possess the same benefit to sexual function. It’s also important to choose a supplement that provides a specially cultivated type of Korean red ginseng called HRG80, which contains seven times more rare, noble ginsenosides than ordinary ginseng supplements.
A well-known adaptogen, ashwagandha has been shown to address two of the underlying causes of ED—stress and low testosterone. In one eight week study in the American Journal of Men’s Health, supplementing with ashwagandha increased testosterone levels by nearly 15 percent and DHEA-S (a precursor to testosterone) by 18 percent. You can maximize this botanical’s bedroom benefits by checking the label for Ashwagandha EP35, a proprietary formula that provides seven times more withanolides—the active compound in the herb—as ordinary ashwagandha supplements.
Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed extract is loaded with beneficial polyphenols that can increase nitric oxide and thus provide powerful protection against ED. In one randomized, controlled study, a natural polyphenol extract improved erectile function by 22 percent in all subjects and by a whopping 45 percent for subjects with diabetes. To get the most from this polyphenol-rich botanical, however, opt for a specific type of French grape seed extract known as VX1.
Saffron can do more than spice up your meals; it can spice up your love life. This was shown after a six-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in which participants with an average age of 41 were given either 15 mg of saffron or a placebo twice daily. The results showed that saffron was effective at improving erectile function without posing any of the harmful side effects of PDE5 inhibitors.
Zinc is a mineral that’s essential for male fertility. In fact, a deficiency can negatively affect proper sperm function and serum testosterone levels. A review published in the Journal of Reproduction & Infertility showed zinc to be critical for maintaining the lining of the reproductive organs while protecting against heavy metals and cigarette inflammatory agents. Supplemental zinc, particularly if it’s in a highly absorbable chelated form, can also boost serum testosterone levels.