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Coping with erectile dysfunction

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Erectile Disfunction

Many men find this an uncomfortable topic to talk about, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Erectile dysfunction is a very common condition and, according to the NHS, around half of men aged 40-70 will experience erectile dysfunction to some degree (i).

Sarah Barber is a Brighton and Hove based nutritional therapist. Her Pure People clinic provides dietary programs for weight loss, detox, expectant mothers and babies and children. More from this expert.

  • What is erectile dysfunction?

    “Erectile dysfunction or impotence is the inability to attain and maintain an erection,” explains nutritional therapist Sarah Barber.

    Erections occur when sexual stimulation triggers the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters. This promotes the production of another chemical, cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), which increases blood flow into the penis causing it to become erect. When a man experiences erectile dysfunction, he is unable to achieve an erection sufficient enough for sexual intercourse.

  • Causes of erectile dysfunction

    There are a number of causes for erectile dysfunction; these can be broken down into physical and psychological factors.

    “Low testosterone is a common cause of erectile problems which is affected by obesity, smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking recreational and prescription drugs such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs),” says Sarah. “Hormone disorders such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, diseases or traumas to sexual organs, neurological diseases, vascular insufficiency, nutrient deficiencies and poor diet could also affect testosterone levels.

    “Atherosclerosis of the penile artery, which is a fatty, cholesterol type deposit in the main artery to the penis, is the primary cause of erectile dysfunction in men over 50,” adds Sarah.

    It is common for men suffering from stress, anxiety or depression to also experience erectile dysfunction. A study published by Psychosomatic Medicine investigated the relationship between depression and erectile dysfunction in a cross section of men aged 40-70 (ii). The results revealed a significant connection between the two conditions with 95% of men with depression also reporting symptoms of erectile dysfunction.

  • What is the libido?

    A loss of libido is not to be confused with erectile dysfunction. The libido, or sex drive, refers to a person’s sexual desire. Both men and women can experience a loss of libido. Men with low libidos are still able to maintain an erection for sexual intercourse but they lack the desire.

    The libido is affected by a number of factors including unbalanced hormone levels, psychological state, age and alcohol consumption. Pregnancy can also affect a woman’s libido. Erectile dysfunction can have a direct effect on the libido and sufferers often refrain from becoming involved in sexual situations to avoid embarrassment.

  • How can you treat erectile dysfunction?

    There are medications available which could help alleviate symptoms of erectile dysfunction; however, it is often necessary to treat the underlying conditions which cause them.

    1. Watch the pounds

    Obesity has been strongly linked with erectile dysfunction as it raises blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which reduces blood flow to the penis.

    “It is important you improve your diet and keep a regular exercise routine to help combat symptoms of erectile dysfunction associated with obesity,” says Sarah.

    A study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association tested the effect of lifestyle changes on erectile dysfunction in 110 obese men (iii). Results showed by reducing calorie intake and increasing physical activity, one third of patients saw improvements in their sexual function.

    2. Improve your mood

    Depression can affect every aspect of your life and is closely linked to both erectile dysfunction and loss of libido. Performance anxiety could also prevent you from maintaining an erection. Reducing stress levels could help you feel more comfortable and confident during sexual intercourse. Staying active, socialising with friends and regularly taking time to relax could help improve your mood.

    3. Avoid drugs and alcohol

    Drinking high levels of alcohol inhibits parts of the central nervous system and lowers sexual response. Smoking and taking drugs could have a similar effect and cause erectile dysfunction in the short-term. Alcoholism or prolonged drug use could have a serious impact on the liver and cause a hormone imbalance, leading to long-term impotence.

    4. Add a supplement to your diet

    “There are supplements available such as vitamin C, vitamin E, tribulus and Flaxseed oil which could reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction,” says Sarah.

    Vitamin C increases levels of nitric oxide in the body which supports the cardiovascular system. This means a daily dose of vitamin C could improve blood flow to the penis and help alleviate erectile dysfunction. Flaxseed oil also contains high levels of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega 3 fatty acid, which could improve blood circulation as well as reduce cholesterol levels.

    5. Get help from medications

    There are certain medications available known as Phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. They work by temporarily increasing the blood flow to the penis during sexual activity to help maintain an erection. Usually they should be taken 30 minutes before sexual intercourse and no more than once a day. It is important you don’t take PDE-5 inhibitors if you are taking any medicines containing nitrates as this could lower blood pressure. Other possible side effects include headaches, indigestion and dizziness.

  • References and links

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