Myths About Erectile Dysfunction - by James Occhiogrosso, N.D.

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Studies show that more than half the male population over the age of fifty suffers from some degree of Erectile Dysfunction (ED) or impotence.  In a study done a little more than a decade ago, 1300 male subjects between the ages of forty and seventy were evaluated to determine the incidence of erectile dysfunction. [1]  The combined incidence (ranging from minimal to total) was 52 percent of all men in this age range.  Additionally, the prevalence of total ED tripled from 5 to 15 percent as subject ages neared seventy years.  It is estimated that the number of American men suffering from ED is from twenty-five to well over thirty million.  Thus, it certainly represents a significant problem and is a concern of every man.

Erectile dysfunction is defined as either an inability to reach sufficient penile hardness for vaginal penetration or inability to maintain an erection long enough to achieve satisfactory sexual intercourse.  Almost every man—at some point in his life—will encounter some transient erectile dysfunction.  This may occur randomly when young, and become more frequent with age.  In older men, ED often becomes the rule rather than the exception. 

The pharmaceutical industry would have us believe that ED is a simple problem easily fixed by Viagra, Cialis or Levitra.  And—the constant bombardment by related advertisements causes many men to fall victim to this simplistic view.

Unfortunately, ED, like many other health conditions, can be caused by chronic nutrient deficiencies that have been perpetuated for many years.  Contrary to what the pharmaceutical industry would have you believe, it is not a simple problem, easily fixed with a drug, but a complex chronic disorder involving several body systems—that is frequently an indicator of a more serious underlying disease.

Many men mistakenly believe that low testosterone is the only cause of ED.  However, while low testosterone does affect erectile ability, it is not usually the only cause.  Low testosterone typically results in little desire for sexual activity (low libido).  This by itself presents a problem.  If one has no desire for sex, it is also likely that one will have problems attaining an erection.  Low testosterone can also cause depression and is a risk factor for many chronic illnesses.

A man’s erection results from a complex combination of physical conditions, hormonal balance, nerve function, circulatory and overall health, as well as external stimuli to the brain.  Anything that interferes with any of these pathways can cause a problem.  ED is often a side effect of medical treatments.  Many medications, especially antidepressants, can cause or exacerbate it.  Thus, an unwary man can easily become trapped in a vicious cycle.  His low testosterone level causes depression and a decrease in libido.  If his depression is treated with antidepressants, his libido may decrease even more, and he may experience medication-related erectile dysfunction, further increasing his depression and compounding his problems. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]  The Association for Male Sexual Dysfunction recognizes over 200 drugs that may cause ED. [8]

Impaired blood circulation resulting from other underlying health conditions is also a major cause of ED.  Studies indicate a high prevalence of ED among men with high total cholesterol or trigliceride levels and low HDL/LDL ratios—which are also well known risk factors for numerous cardiovascular problems. [9]  [10]

Many other chronic conditions result from decreased blood flow in the body including high blood pressure (hypertension), hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis), or arteries clogged by cholesterol deposits (atherosclerosis).  These conditions all inhibit blood flow in the body, and can be grouped under the general term of vascular or cardiovascular dysfunction. 

ED is often the first symptom of a more serious problem.  In a large study of 9457 men, the data provided evidence of a strong association between erectile dysfunction and subsequent development of cardiovascular problems. [11]  The simple truth is that when blood circulation is poor in one area of the body—the penile arteries—it is very likely deficient in other parts of the body as well, including arteries that supply the heart (and the brain).  Thus, ED is often an early symptom of a compromised vascular system, with clogged arteries, poor blood circulation, and other cardiovascular problems. [12] 

The obvious conclusion is that conditions that impair blood flow throughout the body affect all organs.  And, when the blood supply to any organ in the body is diminished, the organs’ health deteriorates.  When blood flow to penile arteries is impeded, erectile dysfunction is inevitable. 

This is where our conventional medical system fails us.  When a man complains of ED to his doctor, he usually receives a prescription for Viagra, Cialis or Levitra.  This typically results in a happy patient but it does little to correct underlying problems.  It is a rare doctor indeed that carefully evaluates all possible causes of ED before reaching for a prescription pad. 

ED drugs are not risk-free—they carry their own set of undesired effects.  (See accompanying article on risks of ED drugs.)  Prescribing one without dealing with possible underlying issues is blindly treating a symptom while ignoring the problem.  ED drugs block a chemical that causes blood in penile arteries to drain back into the body resulting in a longer lasting, firmer erection.  However, they do not clear clogged arteries, nor do they correct hormone levels.  Thus, while they provide effective short-term relief from symptoms, they do nothing to rectify any underlying conditions.  A permanent solution for ED is best achieved by addressing the problem at its source. 

As we age, the health and vitality of the body deteriorates, particularly if we have a poor diet and its subsequent nutritional deficiencies.  Unfortunately, many men suffering from ED and/or loss of libido cannot (or will not) admit to a connection between their overall health and their sexual problems.  [13]

In my practice, I often see men with ED.  When I consult with them, I look for dietary and nutritional deficiencies, as well as lifestyle problems, medical problems, drug and supplement use, hormone levels, and a host of other parameters that may be affecting their health and causing their ED.  Often, after initiating a program aimed simply at improving their overall health, their ED is resolved without the need for drugs.  By resolving problems with erectile dysfunction early and naturally, you are dealing with the problem at its source.  And—you may also be preventing or ameliorating other cardiovascular problems. [14] [15] [16]

Erectile dysfunction can be quite debilitating for a sexually active man and his partner.  But it is often the first symptom of a more serious problem—one of clogged arteries, poor blood circulation, or hormonal imbalances.  There are many natural ways to reverse or eliminate ED including various nutrients, vitamins, amino acids, and herbs that mimic the actions of ED drugs without the nasty side effects.  I discuss many of them in my book and will discuss some of them in a future article here.  If you need immediate assistance, please either call me or go to the main page of my website and arrange a consultation.

Copyright © 2007-2016, James Occhiogrosso, N.D.,
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[1]  Feldman, H.A., et al, Massachusetts Male Aging Study, Journal of Urology, Vol. 151, No. 1:54-61, Jan 1994

[2] Bonierbale, M.; et al, The ELIXIR study: evaluation of sexual dysfunction in 4557 depressed patients in France Current Medical Research and Opinion, Vol. 19, No. 2:114-124, March 2003.

[3] Gregorian, R.,. et al. Antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction. The Annals of Pharmacotherapy, Vol. 36, No. 10:1577-89. Oct. 2002.

[4] Waldinger, M., et al, Effect of SSRI Antidepressants on Ejaculation: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study With Fluoxetine, Fluvoxamine, Paroxetine, and Sertraline. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, Vol. 18, No. 4:274-281, Aug. 1998.

[5] Nurnberg, H., Managing Treatment-Emergent Sexual Dysfunction Associated with Serotonergic Antidepressants: Before and After Sildenafil. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, Vol. 7, No. 2:92-108, March 2001.

[6] Labbate, L., et al. Antidepressant-related erectile dysfunction: management via avoidance, switching antidepressants, antidotes, and adaptation. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Vol. 64, No. 10:11-9, Aug. 2003.

[7] Kantor, J., et al. Prevalence of Erectile Dysfunction and Active Depression: An Analytic Cross-Sectional Study of General Medical Patients. American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 156, No. 11, Dec. 2002.

[8] James F. Balch, Phyllis Balch, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 3rd ed., Avery Books, 2000. pg 456

[9] Wei, M., et al, Total cholesterol and high density lipoprotein cholesterol as important predictors of erectile dysfunction, American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 140, No. 10:930-937, Nov. 1994.

[10] Saltzman, E., et al, Improvement in erectile function in men with organic erectile dysfunction by correction of elevated cholesterol levels: a clinical observation. Journal of Urology, Vol. 172, No. 1: 255-258, July 2004.

[11] Thompson, I., et al. Erectile Dysfunction and Subsequent Cardiovascular Disease, Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 294, No. 23, Dec. 2005.

[12] Kirby, M., et al, Is erectile dysfunction a marker for cardiovascular disease? International Journal of Clinical Practice, Vol. 55, No.9:614-618,. Nov. 2001.

[13] Bacon, C., et al. Sexual Function in Men Older Than 50 Years of Age: Results from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 139, No. 3:161-168, Aug. 2003.

[14] Billups, K., et al, Erectile Dysfunction Is a Marker for Cardiovascular Disease: Results of the Minority Health Institute Expert Advisory Panel, The Journal of Sexual Medicine, Vol 2, No. 1:40, Jan. 2005.

[15] Min, J., et al. Prediction of Coronary Heart Disease by Erectile Dysfunction in Men Referred for Nuclear Stress Testing. Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 166, No. 2:201-206, Jan 2006.

[16] Grover, S., et al. The Prevalence of Erectile Dysfunction in the Primary Care Setting. Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 166, No. 2:213-219, Jan 2006.