Health Research Topics

Men's Sexual Health

Last month we covered the latest research regarding female sexual health. This month we will be focusing on men’s sexual health.

Even though more women than men suffer from sexual dysfunction, research has seemed to focus more on men's sexual health. Before Viagra® came onto the scene, the only recourses for men suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED) were vacuum pumps or an injection of alprostadil. Now, the drugs, Cialis®, Levitra® and Viagra® offer hope to those who suffer from ED--and to the many healthy men taking it to "jumpstart" their sex lives. That is, if the numerous possible side effects--such as the potential for heart attacks--are worth the benefits.

Most ED therapies center on the workings of the male erection. An erection first begins with sensory or mental stimulation, or both, which make the brain and nerves around the penis send impulses to the corpora cavernosa, the two chambers that run the length of the penis. As the corpora cavernosa relaxes, blood flows into and fills up the chambers, causing the penis to expand. The tunica albuginea, a membrane that surrounds the chambers, helps trap the blood in the chambers, which sustains the erection. It is only when muscles in the penis contract to stop the flow of blood to the penis and allows the blood to leave the penis that an erection begins to go away.

ED can occur when any of these steps is disrupted, including the nerve pulses to the brain and the response of veins and arteries in and near the corpora cavernosa. ED can then lead to repeated failures in having or keeping an erection that is firm enough for sexual intercourse. The risk for ED increases when there is damage to nerves, arteries, smooth muscles and fibrous tissues, resulting from such conditions as diabetes, chronic alcoholism, cardiovascular disease and neurological problems. Such conditions are behind approximately 70 percent of ED cases, according to National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

According to NIDDK, ED should not be confused with "impotence." Impotence covers other problems that interfere with sexual intercourse and reproduction, such as lack of sexual desire, problems with ejaculation and the inability to orgasm. It is estimated that 15 million to 30 million men are affected by ED, depending on which definition is used.

There are many ways to treat ED, including psychotherapy, drug therapy, vacuum devices and surgery. However, on the nutraceuticals front, there are many options that may also aid this problem. Even NIDDK reported, "Most physicians suggest that treatments proceed from least to most invasive."

Yohimbe is one herb FDA has found to be promising, calling results from preliminary animal studies "encouraging" because of its effects at stimulating nerve centers along the spine that control erection.

Yohimbe has been shown to have very male-specific effects in a clinical setting. These include preventing the decrease in ejaculatory capacity by blocking the central alpha2-adrenoceptors that have stimulatory effects on ejaculatory function.

To stay away from pharmaceutically enhanced sexual health, researchers have investigated the nitric oxide-promoting nutraceutical, L-arginine.

However, one experiment conducted in Sri Lanka indicated that L-arginine, when administered in amounts of 200 mg/kg in a rat model, had no effect on sexual arousal or performance.

Another herb helping out in this area is an extract from the Tribulus terrestris L plant, which produces protodioscin, a component that has been shown to convert to the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which has been shown to enhance erections.

DHEA supplementation may be of particular benefit to patients suffering from ED as well as hypertension. After giving 27 patients with hypertension and ED 50 mg/d of DHEA for six months, frequency of penetration was reported to have increased.

Ginseng, both American and Asian, are also having an impact in the area of penile function. Researchers from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, reported that ginseng's ginsenoside components aid sexual function by benefiting the central nervous system and gonadal tissue rather than acting on hormonal deficiencies.

Korean red ginseng may also aid ED, according to researchers out of Seoul, Korea. 23 After 45 patients with chronic ED took Korean red ginseng for eight weeks at 900 mg three times per day, erection and penile tip rigidity showed significant improvement over placebo.

Sexual dysfunction comes with a similar yet separate set of problems for each gender. Good sexual health is about following a combination of nutrition, diet and exercise.