Most men don’t feel comfortable talking about health in general and find it even harder to discuss their sexual health. Prostate function can start to change as early as 25 years of age with increased risks in men over 50. When the prostate function starts to change it can lead to sexual problems such reduced sex drive, decreased sexual satisfaction and erectile dysfunction (ED) (the inability to attain and maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse at least 25% of the time). ED affects up to 3 million Canadian and 30 million American men over the age of 40.
Some of the causes and risk factors for ED and other sexual problems include:
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) and high blood pressure. Men with ED should be screened for CVD which accounts for up to 80% of ED cases. Atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), impedes blood flow to the penis and is the most common vascular disease.
Hormonal imbalance Low testosterone is often associated with ED and lack of sex drive. Men with ED should consider having a blood test for total and free testosterone. Aging causes a decline in male hormones, namely testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
Obesity nearly doubles the risk of ED.
Medication including antihistamines, benzodiazepines, some antidepressants cause reduced sex drive and ED in many men.
Diabetes interferes with blood flow and damages nerves in the penis.
Psychological factors such as depression, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem are often to blame for intermittent ED especially in younger men.
Maintaining sexual function
Sexual health depends foremost on general health and consuming a healthy diet (ie. The Mediterranean diet), regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and learning to manage stress. However, the single most important factor in preventing ED is maintaining healthy blood flow.
Supplements that May Help to Increase Blood Flow and benefit ED
L-arginine is an essential amino acid that plays a significant role in erectile function by helping form nitric oxide, a vasodilator. L-arginine has been shown to restore erectile quality and increase sexual satisfaction. L-arginine, in combination with Pycnogenol, has also been shown to improve overall male sexual function.
Panax ginseng several clinical studies have shown ginseng supplementation improved erectile function and overall sexual satisfaction among men with ED.
Maca studies suggest maca enhances the production of sex hormones and increases libido.
Ginkgo biloba contributes to increased blood flow by increasing nitric oxide bioavailability to vascular smooth muscles of the penis.
Muira Puama is an herb used to enhance erectile function and orgasm in aging men. One study reported that over 60% of men who used the supplement saw improvement.
Vitamin D insufficiency affects over 75% of the United States population. Vitamin D deficiency may be a risk factor for ED, since it contributes to arterial stiffness and vascular dysfunction.
Maintaining balanced hormone levels is essential to men’s overall health and as with women, men’s hormones levels decrease with age. Most men know that testosterone is important for sexual function, but research indicates that normal testosterone levels are associated with preservation of cognitive function, healthy body weight and more. and more.
Natural Ways to Boost Testosterone Levels
Aside from hormone replacement therapy there are natural approaches to support testosterone levels and healthy male hormone balance:
Zinc is essential for many aspects of male reproductive function, from testosterone metabolism to sperm motility. 60 mg daily
Tribulus terrestris (puncture vine), may convert to DHEA in the body. It has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, and animal studies seem to confirm its ability to boost sexual function. One study showed that when men with reduced sex drive consumed 750–1,500 mg of Tribulus terrestris daily for two months, their sexual desire increased by 79% and 67% of women with very low libidos experienced increased sexual desire after they took supplements of 500–1,500 mg for 90 days.
Muira puama may improve sexual performance in men who have loss of libido.
Panax ginseng has been shown to help with low testosterone levels, reduced sex drive, and low energy.
Antioxidants. Another reason testosterone production may decline with advancing age is due to oxidative damage in the tissues that produce testosterone. A study examining the role of antioxidants in male hormone imbalance in aging men noted that antioxidant supplements (including vitamins A and E, zinc, and selenium) all supported testosterone production.
It is also important to have your health care practitioner test your testosterone levels (free testosterone and testosterone) especially if you are over 40 and experiencing any of these sexual health concerns. Some men may require testosterone hormone replacement.
Speak to the knowledgeable staff at the Vitamin Shop about individual products and combined formulas to help men’s sexual health.
Stay tuned in November for more information on overall prostate health including suggestions for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and nocturnal bladder problems.
KAREN JENSEN, ND
Karen Jensen was in clinical practice for 25 years and although she is retired, she continues to write books and educate on the naturopathic approach to wellness. She is author or co-author of seven books, her most recent is Women’s Health Matters: The Influence of Gender on Disease.