Impotence, also called erectile dysfunction (ED), can be a very frustrating problem. Some men are able to achieve an erection but are not able to maintain one. Others are not able to achieve one at all. Causes of impotence can be both physiological (affecting mostly the body and organs) or psychological (affecting the mind).
What Is Impotence?
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction (ED), is the inability for a man to sustain an erection long enough for normal, satisfying sexual intercourse. To understand the underlying causes of impotence, it helps to know the basics about how an erection develops, along with potential problems that get in the way. Erections begin in the brain with a thought related to sexual desire. Then a chemical message travels from the brain to the penis. Blood flow to the penis increases as blood vessels leading to the reproductive system relax and allow for increased circulation.
Blood essentially gets “trapped” inside the penis. This leads to it becoming erect. In order for this to all happen properly, and for the man to maintain his erection, there has to be no problem starting with the thought in the brain, the message sent to the blood vessels and penis, and blood flow.
How common is impotence? According to findings from several studies, including “The Massachusetts Male Aging Study,” overall prevalence for men between 40–70 years old is around 52 percent (or around 30 percent of all men between 18–60 years old). That’s right — nearly half of all men over 40 experience erectile dysfunction symptoms at some point. Not surprisingly, research demonstrates that impotence is increasingly prevalent with age. Around 40 percent of men in their 40s experience sexual dysfunction. Up to 70 percent of men in their 70s experience ED. (1) Every year more than 617,000 new cases of impotence occur in the United States alone.
Compared to impotence, what is “erectile dysfunction” exactly? And what about “sexual dysfunction”?
- Erectile dysfunction (ED) is commonly called impotence. The two are essentially the same thing and both involve trouble maintaining a normal, pain-free erection.
- You’re only likely to be diagnosed with ED or treated for the condition if symptoms last for more than several weeks. Due to things like stress and occasional alcohol consumption or fatigue, nearly every man experiences some sort of ED symptoms from time to time.
- Premature ejaculation is another common type of sexual dysfunction in which ejaculation happens sooner than the man would like or intends for it to. This can contribute to difficulty with the man’s partner achieving an orgasm, embarrassment, and other feelings related to performance anxiety or shame.
Symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction & Causes
Signs and symptoms of impotence (ED) can include:
- Inability to have or maintain an erection
- Lowered sexual desire
- Problems with normal ejaculation
- Difficulty having an orgasm
- Painful erections, or pain during sex (especially if you have a condition that affects blood flow)
- Sometimes relationship problems are also a secondary outcome of sexual dysfunction. The man’s partner may start to worry that he is not attracted to her anymore. Infidelity may be suspected, or lack of sexual desire may cause emotional separation.
What causes impotence and what are some of the leading risk factors?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “because erectile dysfunction is caused by a complex set of psychosocial, neurologic, and vascular factors, a specific cause in a patient may remain ambiguous.” The root causes are often related to a blockage or dysfunction of blood vessels. For example, ED can be due to conditions like atherosclerosis or diabetes, hormonal imbalances or problems related to mental health. It’s been found that common causes typically include one or more of the following factors: (2)
- Older age. A man’s risk increases past the age of 40, as age is the variable most strongly associated with impotence. This is due to changing hormones, higher risk for heart problems and those affecting circulation, and decreased sexual desire that often occurs with increasing age. For example, based on findings from the National Health and Social Life Survey, it’s been found that “men between 50–60 years old are more than 3 times as likely to experience erection problems and to report low sexual desire compared to men aged 18 to 29 years.” (3)
- Low levels of reproductive hormones, especially testosterone. Sexual interest in a man is largely dependent on having adequate testosterone levels. So low levels may significantly reduce desire for sex or ability to maintain an erection.
- Obesity, especially in conjunction with other risk factors
- A history of health problems including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, neurologic disease, stroke, or chronic liver or kidney disease. (4) The same study mentioned above found that “men with poor health demonstrated elevated risk for all categories of sexual dysfunction.”
- Use of certain medications that can impact blood flow or libido. This includes antihypertensive and psychotropic medications.
- Eating a poor diet, which can contribute to inflammation.
- Living a sedentary lifestyle (not enough physical activity), or on the other hand, over-training (too much exercise which can increase cortisol and lower testosterone).
- Suffering from other illnesses that affect the reproductive system (especially the penis), circulation or mental health.
- Feeling fatigued, very stressed, depressed or dealing with another mood-related issue that can lower libido. Sources of stress and diminished quality of life — such as “deteriorating economic position,” unhappiness with one’s job or other aspects that lower emotional health — are believed to be major causes for sexual dysfunction in both men and women
- Due to effects of heavy metal poisoning.
- Smoking cigarettes or using tobacco/nicotine products, which increases risk for heart disease and other health problems.
- Suffering from restless leg syndrome. Some studies have found that as frequency of restless legs syndrome symptoms increases, so do the risk for erectile dysfunction. Some research has found that men who experienced RLS symptoms up to 14 times monthly have an estimated 68 percent higher chance of dealing with erectile dysfunction symptoms.
- Genetics may also play somewhat of a role, although lifestyle factors are also almost always involved.
Conventional Treatments for Impotence & Erectile Dysfunction
- Prescription drugs called “oral phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors” are considered the “first-line non-invasive treatment” options for patients with ED. These include the drugs that go by brand names: Sildenafil, Vardenafil or Tadalafil. They work by helping the smooth muscle cells lining the blood vessels that supply the penis with blood to work properly. This allows a man to maintain an erection more easily.
- Other conventional treatments include: vacuum constriction devices, or intracorporeal injection and intraurethral suppositories of prostaglandins. These help with hormonal balance and allowing for proper blood flow to the penis.
- Your doctor may also choose to lower your dose of certain medications. Or your provider may switch the type of drug you’re taking if it’s interfering with your sex life. Some medicines used for managing blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, depression, seizures and prostate problems increase the risk for erectile dysfunction. Beta-blockers (for high blood pressure), SSRIs (often used to treat depression) and the class of drugs called benzodiazepines (like Ativan, Xanax, Librium and Valium) are commonly tied to ED. You may want to speak to your doctor about this.
What about surgery for ED?
Usually patients will try less invasive alternatives to treat impotence before opting for surgery. These alternatives may include supplements, herbs, lifestyle changes and even medications. In cases where other treatments do not work to resolve ED, surgery might be a last-resort option. Surgery involves implanting a penile prosthesis. This is a saline-filled silicone device or a malleable device. Although the likelihood of serious side effects is considered to be low, certain risks are associated with surgery to correct erectile dysfunction. These side effects may include: anesthetic risk, device infection, and device malfunction or mechanical failure. Some studies have found that five years following surgery around 10–20 percent of men experience device malfunction and failure. Infection rates are low. Around one percent of men who opt for this type of surgery get an infection.
5 Natural Remedies for Impotence
1. Diet to To Help Improve Libido
Obesity, nutrient deficiencies and eating inflammatory foods can also increase the odds of impotence. Of the natural remedies for impotence, this is one that can also help boost your health in other important ways. Here are foods that can help reverse some of these problems and promote better circulation, heart health and even mental well-being:
- High fiber diet — High fiber foods like nuts, seeds, fruit, and vegetables support hormones and detoxification which can improve impotence.
- Foods high in vitamin E — A diet rich in vitamin E, such as wheat germ and green leafy vegetables, will help improve blood flow.
- Foods high in zinc — Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, beef, lamb, and spinach are good sources of zinc that help improve testosterone.
- Nuts & seeds — Watercress and sesame seeds — Both can improve libido, so try to consume some every day.
- Brazil nuts — These nuts are high in selenium, which plays a role in maintaining healthy testosterone levels.
The following foods may make symptoms of impotence worse by increasing emotional stress or anxiety, raising inflammation and even causing gut trouble that interferes with nutrient absorption:
- Refined vegetable oils — These increase inflammation and can worsen underlying causes of impotence.
- Trans fats — Hydrogenated fats found in fried, fast or packaged foods increase inflammation. This inflammation can affect the underlying causes of impotence.
- Packaged, synthetic foods — Chemicals in these foods may affect sexual performance.
- Too much caffeine — Overindulgence in caffeine can affect sexual performance.
- Too much alcohol — Too much alcohol can cause fatigue, increase anxiety or depression and interfere with hormonal balance.
- 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)
- L-arginine (1,000 milligrams 2x daily) — Helps with blood vessel dilation and improves blood flow.
- Ginkgo biloba (120milligrams 2x daily) — May improve blood flow.
- DHEA (25–50 milligrams daily) Best when taken under the supervision of a doctor, this hormone can help improve testosterone levels.
- Maca root (500 milligrams 3x daily) — Research shows this adaptogen herb may act like an aphrodisiac to help increase sexual desire and balance hormones.
- Niacin (250 milligrams 3x daily) — Vitamin B3 (also called niacin) is a vasodilator that helps improve blood flow and supports energy levels.
3. Essential Oils for Impotence
What essential oils are good for erectile dysfunction? Essential oils that may help improve circulation and increase libido include:
- Ylang ylang
These natural remedies for impotence are not only effective at boosting libido, but they also smell lovely. You can inhale these from the bottle, rub them on your abdomen or legs mixed with a carrier oil like coconut oil, or diffuse them in the air. Considered to be natural aphrodisiacs, these plant-derived oils have been shown to naturally increase the libido of both men and women for hundreds of years. They may even be able to improve your mood and outlook on life thanks to the calming but uplifting effect they have on the mind.
4. Regular Exercise
Exercises that increase human growth hormone (HGH) — such as weight training and burst training (similar to high intensity interval training, or HIIT) — can greatly improve circulation, help with reducing stress and therefore be beneficial for lowering occurrence of impotence. Exercise is also a great way to manage stress, boost mental health and prevent obesity. Like eating a healthy diet, regular exercise is one of the natural remedies for impotence that will improve your overall health.
5. Stress Management & Rest
Physical and emotional stress — whether over-exercising, under-sleeping or just dealing with everyday stressors like work and a busy schedule — causes an increase in “stress hormones,” including cortisol and adrenaline. Stress can lower desire for sex. This is because stress can contribute to fatigue or preoccupation with other tasks. It can also significantly affect blood flow by increasing inflammation.
Other factors that “stress” the body can also increase your risk for ED. These include: substance abuse, using marijuana, smoking cigarettes, depression, anxiety and low self esteem. Cigarette smoking — or using nicotine — leads to constricted blood vessels, which has negative effects for sexual health. Other mental/emotional obstacles can cause less desire for sex and decrease testosterone. Several ways to help manage stress include:
- Decreasing alcohol consumption
- Quitting smoking and using nicotine or other drugs
- Sleeping 7–9 hours every night
- Taking time each day to rest, pray, meditate or even nap
- Spending more time outdoors to unwind
- Exercising for the mental health benefits
- Engaging in uplifting social activities like joining a sports team, volunteer group, church, etc.
Final Thoughts on Impotence
- Impotence, or erectile dysfunction (ED), is the inability for a man to sustain an erection long enough for normal, satisfying sexual intercourse. Natural remedies for impotence can help this condition.
- Risk factors include: obesity, too little or too much exercise, history of diseases that affect blood flow, low testosterone, certain medications that lower sex drive, high amounts of stress, high alcohol consumption or smoking cigarettes, and older age.
- Natural remedies for impotence (ED) include: eating an anti-inflammatory diet, using essential oils, lowering stress, taking certain supplements, exercising, resting enough and treating underlying health conditions.
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