By Douglas MacKay, ND
Throughout history, the erect penis has been a symbol of power and virility. For men, a rigid penis is not only the centerpiece of successful reproduction, but also provides pleasure, bolsters self-esteem and fosters intimacy. And, let's not forget the importance of sex in reducing stress and having fun too.
Raising the penis from a dependent position to an erect position is a complex event. Everything from mood, setting and company to the health of the heart, blood vessels and nerves are involved in becoming erect. Taking into consideration the general health status of the average adult male, it is no great surprise that most men can't get a rise.
An astonishing 50 percent of all men, ages 40-70, struggle with the ability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual function.
The complex nature of sexuality, taboos and cultural restrictions muddy the water when it comes to talking about sexual problems. Add to this the fact that people accept losing their sex life as a "normal" problem that comes with getting older.
The Pill-Shaped "Answer"
In 1998, the first effective oral drug treatment for erectile dysfunction, sildenafil (Viagra), took the world by storm. Viagra quickly elevated itself to a household word. For a while, not a day could go by without hearing a Viagra joke or seeing it plastered on the side of a racecar or sports stadium. Just when excitement around Viagra began to fade, knock-off drugs flooded the media to remind us that no matter what, at least we could still get a prescription for an erection.
What was once considered a taboo topic – not even shared with a doctor – became openly discussed among mature males. The marketing onslaught of various drugs used for erectile dysfunction quickly increased awareness and the number of patients seeking treatment.
Approximately 30 million males in the United States alone suffer from some degree of erectile dysfunction. What does this mean? This means lots of dollar signs for anyone claiming to have the magic bullet.
The success of Viagra and its counterparts continues to drive a feverish pursuit of other agents that can ultimately compete with these synthetic love drugs. There is a multi-million dollar market for treating for erectile dysfunction. The pharmaceutical giants are not the only ones trying to get a slice of this pie.
Any compound that promises sexual potency has the potential to be extremely profitable. Drug and health food stores are loaded with agents purported to alleviate male sexual problems. Much of the perceived benefit of available products is based on popular or cultural belief and personal testimonials. Adequate scientific evidence to support natural agents to help to treat erectile dysfunction is minimal. Compounds that have been scientifically researched appear to have a modest effect.
The Real Cure
Of course, when it comes to drugs there are no miracles. Like other pharmaceuticals, Viagra and the newer drugs are mere patchwork, providing short-term treatment but nothing in the way of a "cure." Plus, the drugs are expensive and their long-term risks are unknown.
Natural and non-prescription options are attractive, however, because they claim health benefits beyond those related to erectile dysfunction and are inexpensive compared to prescription medicine.
The amino acid L-arginine has a positive influence on blood vessel health and function, which indirectly improves the ability to achieve erection. Herbs like Panax ginseng and Lepidium meyenii (Maca) have been used for centuries as tonics to promote health and longevity. These herbs enhance physical performance, which includes sexual stamina.
Researchers have determined that unhealthy blood vessels found in heart disease underlie some forms of erectile dysfunction. Among men with heart disease 75 percent also have problems with erections. In addition, men with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes and smoking are substantially more likely not to be able to get erect.
It is becoming more evident that problems with erection are merely a symptom of an unhealthy lifestyle. Modern habits such as television and computers contribute to social isolation and a sedentary lifestyle. No exercise causes man's body to become soft and produces less testosterone. A poor diet high in processed food and refined carbohydrates reeks havoc on the circulatory system too. The nervous system is under constant attack by the buzz of cell phones, fax machines and other man-made stressors. It is no wonder most adult men have lost their mojo.
Just like most things in medicine the best "cure" for erectile dysfunction is prevention. You simply can't accept the notion that erectile dysfunction is a normal part of aging. To have a healthy love life until the golden years, we must take a look at our habits now!
Five simple and important factors in avoiding erection problems include:
- A healthy relationship
- Regular exercise
- Adequate sleep
- A healthful diet
- Positive self esteem
Losing the ability to get an erection is a sign of losing vitality. Do not ignore it. By addressing underlying heart disease, diabetes and unhealthy lifestyle factors, you can reverse the cause of erectile dysfunction.
Douglas MacKay, ND is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor who is committed to the advancement of natural and preventive medicine. A national lecturer, Dr. MacKay divides his time between practice, research and advocacy, and has had several articles published in peer review medical journals. He also has a thriving family practice in the New Hampshire Seacoast area. The Makai Naturopathic Center, located in Dover, N.H., combines Naturopathic, Chiropractic and Chinese Medicine under one roof for a new standard in family medicine. Contact him at
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