Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common problem that affects approximately 30 million men in the United States. The condition, which is marked by difficulty achieving and sustaining an erection firm enough for intercourse—sometimes accompanied by a lack of sexual desire—can affect men of all ages. And while medications are available to treat this common men’s health issue, these drugs can lead to serious side effects, including erections that won’t go away as well as hearing and vision loss. However, there are a number of natural remedies out there that may work just as well, and without all the nasty side effects. So come with us as we explore some of these natural cures for ED and take a look at how they can help you put a little pep back in your sex life.
ED and Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide (NO) is a colorless gas produced by the lining (endothelium) of the blood vessels. Although NO is actually considered a toxin, surprisingly, it also performs several important roles in the body, including acting as a vasodilator.
The vasodilation effect of NO lowers blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels and also improves blood flow, which means greater levels of oxygen and nutrients are able to reach the cells.
Levels of NO can be increased naturally by engaging in activities that improve heart health, like exercise, and by consuming antioxidants and healthy forms of nitrates, such as those found in vegetables.
Keeping levels of NO in the healthy range not only improves overall health but also reduces the risk of developing both vascular disease and heart disease.
If the endothelium’s ability to produce NO is compromised, a vicious cycle can set up in which conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol are more likely to develop, which leads to even lower levels of NO and a greater risk of disease.
What does all this have to do with erections?
A lot, as it turns out.
As mentioned earlier, nitric oxide relaxes the blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely. Without this unencumbered blood flow, an erection can’t occur. Moreover, NO relaxes the penile smooth muscles so that the different chambers of the penis can fill with blood and become erect.
ED medications like sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra) help improve erectile function by boosting the production of NO. However, these ED drugs also come with side effects that can range from mild to severe.
Thankfully, for those who prefer a more natural approach, there’s a variety of natural treatments out there for ED—so let’s take a look at a few of them now.
Improving Sexual Health: 5 Natural Cures for ED
Of the many dietary supplements available for treating ED, several have been shown in clinical trials to be both effective and safe. These are:
- Panax ginseng
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
L-arginine is an amino acid precursor of nitric oxide, which means it helps boost NO levels in the blood. And some studies have suggested that supplementing with high doses of L-arginine can help improve blood flow to the penis, thus improving symptoms of ED.
For example, a study of 50 men with erectile dysfunction found that supplementing with 5 grams of arginine daily for 6 weeks improved sexual function in 31% of participants. All men who showed improvement had low levels of nitric oxide at the beginning of the study, and L-arginine led to a doubling of levels by the end of the trial.
In addition, a recent meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials concluded that L-arginine is effective for mild to moderate cases of ED.
Pycnogenol is an extract derived from the bark of the French maritime pine tree. Pycnogenol stimulates the endothelial cells to release more NO, thereby contributing to better erections.
A 2003 study of men with sexual dysfunction found that a combination of L-arginine and pycnogenol was able to reduce the number with ED by over 90%.
Similarly, a study from 2015 found that a combination of pycnogenol and L-arginine led to significant improvements in symptoms of ED. Moreover, participants had increased concentrations of sperm at the end of the study period.
L-citrulline is an amino acid that converts to L-arginine in the kidneys. While L-arginine is quickly metabolized when taken as a supplement, the conversion process means it takes longer for the body to break down L-citrulline.
Interestingly, L-citrulline actually causes blood levels of L-arginine to rise higher than those seen when taking L-arginine supplements. Moreover, unlike L-arginine, L-citrulline doesn’t cause gastrointestinal upset.
A 2011 study published in the journal Urology looked at the effects of L-citrulline on ED compared with placebo and found that supplementation with L-citrulline safely improved erections in 50% of participants.
In addition, a study from 2017 found that a significant proportion of men with erectile dysfunction have low levels of both L-arginine and L-citrulline.
Several herbal remedies are also available for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. One of these is panax, or red, ginseng. While its mechanism of action is still unclear, a number of studies have suggested that red ginseng may be useful as an ED treatment.
A 2008 review of seven randomized controlled trials concluded that panax ginseng may be effective for ED, though the researchers recommended that additional studies be conducted.
Moreover, a 2012 study found that a standardized extract of red ginseng was both well tolerated and improved all domains of sexual function in men with mild to moderate ED.
In 1994, the Massachusetts Male Aging Study found that men with ED tended to have low circulating levels of DHEA—a hormone produced in the adrenal glands. And a 1999 study concluded that oral DHEA may be beneficial for erectile dysfunction treatment and warranted further study.
In addition, a 2018 review noted several studies that found a positive correlation between DHEA supplementation and improvement in symptoms of ED.
If you’re suffering from ED and considering natural alternatives to medications or wish to augment your current medical therapy, it’s important to first speak with your health care provider—especially if you have other medical conditions. Some dietary supplements can interact with medical treatment for common health problems, so be sure to seek professional medical advice before beginning a supplement regimen.