Q: Dr. Scott, I’m 55 years old and my sexual life has really declined. I have something my doctor calls erectile dysfunction. What are my options from a natural health care perspective?
A: As everyone sees on TV, other than trucks, beer, and chronic arthritis/joint/muscular pain ads, the most common direct-to-consumer ads are for sex-related issues, specifically, the very suggestive ads for erectile dysfunction such as Viagra, which in 2013 had revenues of $1.88 billion, with $133 million spent on advertising this drug. We’ve all seen these TV and magazine ads with gorgeous female models wearing provocative lingerie speaking seductively about erectile dysfunction while the background announcer warns, “If you have an erection lasting more than 4 hours, call your doctor.” Jeff Foxworthy quipped about these ads that “If I had an erection for 4 hours, I’d call everyone I know.”
Among the litany of “common, infrequent, and rare side-effects” from Viagra listed on WebMD.com, these advertisements purposely cite the rare side-effect of priapism, or prolonged erection. Since sex sells, every other warning after hearing “4 hour erection” falls on deaf ears!
What the Viagra ads don’t highlight are the other serious side-effects:
- Cardiovascular side effects like heart attacks.
- Ophthalmic side effects like ischemic optic neuropathy and retinal hemorrhage.
- Side effects such as decreased hearing, and sudden hearing loss.
- Reproductive side effects such as priapism, which is that prolonged erection.
- Dermatological side effects such as erythema, or flushing.
- Gastrointestinal side effects such as indigestion.
- Neurological side effects such as headache and insomnia.
- Ophthalmic side effects such as visual disturbance.
- Respiratory side effects such as nose-bleeds, nasal congestion and rhinitis.
For most men, replacing testosterone does improve sexual function – both desire and erections – but for others it doesn’t help. Some of those who don’t respond may be suffering from atherosclerosis of the blood vessels that supply the penis and facilitate erection. Good, healthy nutritional practices and supplementation with aged garlic can reverse atherosclerosis.
Natural Options for Erectile Dysfunction
There are natural approaches and nutritional supplements that improve blood flow to the penis and really give your erections their old stamina. A dependable clinical tool is L-Arginine (inexpensive, in the powdered form) that works by dilating the arteries through which blood flows into the penis (Institute of Metabolic Disease at Baylor Research Institute, 2016).
When I recommend 5 to 8 grams (a single tablespoon) of arginine before sex, they regularly report waking up with firm erections in the morning. Arginine is inexpensive and non-toxic. Arginine is not only useful for erectile dysfunction, but also for angina and high blood pressure. It boosts nitric oxide levels in the blood vessels of the penis, making erections stronger and longer. Nitroglycerine, the traditional medication to relieve chest pains, is simply a drug form of nitric oxide. As we age we make less nitric oxide and this deficiency permits blood vessels to constrict and lose their flexibility, contributing to vessel stiffness, inflammation and plaque buildup, producing hypertension around the body and less engorgement of the penis during sex. Viagra does the same thing as arginine, it also promotes the action of nitric oxide to help relax blood vessels and vascular smooth muscle tissue in the penis. The result: increased blood flow and a harder erection.
Treating several other conditions that impair blood flow to the penis should be done if present, including atherosclerosis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, and alcohol abuse. Men who smoke have an increased risk of erectile dysfunction. Asian Ginseng (900 mg of concentrated extract) two or three times a day can improve libido and the ability to maintain an erection. Psychological issues can be a cause, or an effect, of erectile dysfunction, so counseling might be appropriate in this scenario. A standardized extract of Ginkgo (250 mg/day) can also increase blood flow to the penis. Vitamin B6 and zinc deficiencies also impair penis strength and function.
Saw Palmetto and Pygeum can improve urinary flow in cases of prostate enlargement, and have been shown to improve sexual performance in men.
A recent study found that elderly men who regularly used arginine saw their erectile dysfunction significantly improve – without the complications common to testosterone hormone use. I would initially advise taking 2,000 to 3,000 mg. of arginine a day, and about 8 grams (one full tablespoon) before sex.
Although DTC ads have been profitable for Viagra, drug marketing has had a tremendously negative influence on the care of chronic health problems and pain across the United States. Aggressive drug marketing has been a major driver of the opioid overtreatment, addiction, and mortality crisis that we are experiencing all over Southern Colorado. The ceaseless drug company advertisements to treat chronic pain with opioids have tragically played a role in up to 400,000 deaths across the country. Instead of referring patients to functional medical doctors and chiropractors as well as other nondrug providers, people have grown to expect prescription painkillers as the standard of care, not realizing the long term damage, addiction and ineffectiveness of these drugs.
Erectile dysfunction is angina of the reproductive organs…lifestyle and dietary improvements that help your heart will also improve your strength and stamina in bed.
Dr. Scott Cuthbert is the chief clinician at the Chiropractic Health Center in Pueblo, Colorado, as well as the author of two new textbooks and over 50 peer-reviewed research articles. PuebloChiropracticCenter.com.