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Erectile Dysfunction Explored

Causes and treatments of a hard problem


Erectile Dysfunction Explored

Many men struggle with erectile dysfunction. Thankfully, there are many natural strategies that can help.

Most men don’t want to discuss difficulties “down under.” Yet these problems are far more common than you may think. Around half of Canadian men between 40 and 88 are affected by erectile dysfunction (E.D.), while one in five men experience low sex drives.

Struggling with low libido or ED feels like a hit against your masculinity. Thankfully, once you understand the common causes and treatments, you likely won’t need to put up with not getting it up.

Let’s get physical

Erections kick in after a complex series of events involving the brain, nerves, muscles, circulatory system, and more. When just one connection in the chain breaks, the end result goes awry.

“Various medical conditions are the most common cause of sexual dysfunction,” says Peter Ahlering, MD. Before you tackle problems with your tackle, he advises reviewing your medical history with your physician to see if a physical health issue is behind your bedroom blues.

Cardiovascular or circulation problems can sabotage your sex life. Case in point: up to 75 percent of diabetic men and 30 percent of guys with high blood pressure are affected by ED.

Improve your body’s ability to pump blood where it needs to go, and you’ll often see bigger, firmer results where you want.

Hit the gym

Ahlering says exercise should be your number-one priority. “A good regimen of regular exercise, accompanied by a healthy diet, can make a huge difference for men,” he reports. Several studies found regular aerobic exercise had a significant effect on erections. Hitting the gym doesn’t just improve cardiovascular and sexual health; it may also boost testosterone levels.

Drop a few pounds

Love handles sabotage your love life. Not only is obesity linked to poor cardiovascular health, but that extra weight also lowers testosterone and may contribute to low sperm counts. In a 2011 study, obese men with type 2 diabetes who lost just 5 percent of their weight saw quick improvements in their sex drive and erections.

Clean up your lungs

Smoking leads to poor blood flow and damages your blood vessels. In a 2012 study of male smokers, 75 percent of those who had ED no longer experienced it after quitting smoking. Quitters also had wider, harder erections.

Watch the drinks

Drink alcohol in moderation. High consumption of alcohol is linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and nerve damage.

Head over feels

Great sex is as much about what happens in your head as it is what happens in your bed. “Stress is the number-one psychological cause of ED,” says Philip Werthman, MD.

Stress and anxiety are also linked to poor sex drive. Stress cuts your ability to produce a hormone needed for testosterone production while stimulating another hormone that reduces available testosterone.

Stress about ED or anxiety about performance is often the problem itself. “Men will, for various reasons, at some point experience a loss of erection,” says Daniel Stickler, MD. “This gets into a loop in their brain. It’s all they can think about during sex and notoriously will lead to a loss of erection.”

Depression is another concern. Up to 61 percent of depressed people experience low sex drive and similar problems. Depression messes with the chemicals that tell the brain when to send blood to your nether regions and reduces your ability to feel pleasure. Common antidepressants may also hamper your ability to have sex.

Fortunately, there are ways to achieve mind over flaccid matter.

Switch medications

“Blood pressure medications and antidepressants are the most common medications to lead to ED,” says Stickler. “In my clinical practice, this is second only to stress as the primary cause.” If you’re experiencing these side effects, ask your health care practitioner if there are better alternatives.

Sweat it out

“Exercise helps to naturally reduce stress and anxiety,” says Werthman. Canadian researchers found that just 20 minutes of daily exercise may be enough to boost moods and prevent depression. Exercise even increases libido by raising your body’s endorphins and improves self-image, confidence, and pride, further beating away any anxiety and stress you may feel.

Get some shut-eye

Statistics Canada reports that men sleep less than women and that working full time and doing shift work can lead to loss of sleep. “Chronic sleep deprivation is the number-one cause of stress in our society,” says Stickler. Lack of sleep is linked to low interest in sex. “Getting less than seven to eight hours of sleep each night will cause weight gain, hormonal disruption, and anxiety,” warns Stickler.

Talk about it

Men with ED and libido problems often feel too embarrassed to discuss it, but support is necessary. Researchers say talking about it with a doctor or partner helps guys feel supported and relieved and gives them hope.

Ditch the comparisons

Performance anxiety can hit when you worry about your equipment size or compare yourself to your younger self. Setting realistic expectations empowers you to win the mental battle.

Spice up your life

Herbal remedies and supplements may benefit you, but only after you’ve figured out the underlying problem and talked to a health care practitioner, especially since some supplements may interact with your existing medications. “See a licensed naturopathic doctor to do testing to find the root cause so that you don’t take supplements that treat the wrong cause,” recommends John Pidutti, ND.

Low testosterone

Pidutti says Tribulus terrestris—long used as a fertility booster in Chinese medicine—may improve diminished libido and ED caused by low testosterone. Studies suggest vitamin D may also increase testosterone, while the herbs damiana, oat seed, and licorice may provide additional hormone support.

Circulation and cardiovascular problems

Omega-3s, when combined with a healthy lifestyle, may improve men’s sexual health, reports Ahlering. The fats improve blood pressure, lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, and improve the management of diabetes—good news if any of these conditions affects your sex life.

Depression, stress, and anxiety

Try vitamin D or cod liver oil for symptoms of depression. Magnesium and vitamin C may reduce stress and fatigue, while soothing cups of valerian, camomile, or barley tea have also been shown to help.

Friction fiction about E.D.


ED only affects older men

False. Doctors start seeing ED more frequently in men who are around age 40. This increases dramatically with age, but thousands of guys in their 20s also experience ED. A 2013 study found that a quarter of first-time patients seeking medical help for new onset ED were younger than 40.

ED means my partner isn’t attracted to me

False. Erections aren’t synonymous with desire. Men can have them without being aroused, or be attracted to someone yet still need help achieving physical arousal.

Watching porn causes ED

Probably false. Of the hundreds of ED studies that have been done, no conclusive evidence has linked the two.

I can treat ED myself

False. ED may be linked to bigger health issues, and over-the-counter products may contain unproven or dangerous ingredients. Talk to your health care practitioner first.



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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD