Underlying Causes of Erectile Problems
There are a surprising number of things that can impact your sexual performance negatively, including stress, lack of sleep, and even dietary imbalances. However, the main factor that causes your sex life to become "meh" at best is erectile difficulties.
Here's a scary statistic: up to 40% of men over the age of 40 suffer from erectile problems. That number increases to 70% by the age of 70. It's estimated up to 52% of men will have erectile dysfunction in their lives.
What causes these erectile problems?
- High cholesterol, high blood pressure, clogged arteries, and other cardiovascular diseases and disorders
- Diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome, all of which reduce and impair blood flow to the genitals
- Prescription medications, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption
- Sleep disorders, depression, stress, and mental health problems
- Prostate cancer and other prostate treatments
The vast majority of supplements used to improve sexual performance are aimed at these primarily the first two underlying causes of erectile difficulties. By improving cardiovascular function and decreasing obesity and metabolic diseases, the supplements send more blood flow to the genitals. This increases testosterone production as well as provides the blood required for stiffer, harder, longer-lasting erections.
Supplements that Improve Sexual Performance
Here are some of the supplements scientifically proven to improve sexual performance, combat erectile difficulties, and enhance your sex life:
L-Carnitine – Carnitine is produced by your body and plays a role in your metabolic functions. It has been proven effective at improving blood flow, and WebMD states that it could enhance the effectiveness of Viagra.
L-Arginine – Arginine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning it's not used by the body to build new muscle tissue. It is used, however, for the production of nitric oxide, which is needed for the dilation of blood vessels. Poor vasodilation plays a role in erectile problems, as a lack of blood flow through the body means less blood flowing to "non-critical body parts". By increasing arginine intake, you can increase your body's natural production of nitric oxide. This will lead to better dilation of the blood vessels, which ultimately leads to better blood flow to your genitals.
Niacin – Niacin, also known as Vitamin B3, is a supplement used to combat high cholesterol. Niacin raises the levels of HDL cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol that helps to keep "bad" LDL cholesterol in check. If your erectile problems are the result of high cholesterol, niacin may be a good option to consider.
DHEA – According to recent studies, DHEA is one of the safest sex-booster supplements, as it has not been proven to negatively affect your hormone levels. Taking daily DHEA supplements may help to enhance your sex drive and increase your libido, but there is minimal evidence proving that it's highly effective. Mainly, it's just a "safe" supplement that has the potential to work!
Maca Root – Maca root has undergone a good deal of animal testing, but not many studies have examined its effects on humans. However, in animal tests, taking maca was associated with an increase in sexual behavior. Maca root is fully natural, making it a decent option to consider.
Ginseng – The Chinese have used ginseng as a remedy for many things, including sexual performance. One animal study found that red ginseng had the potential to be effective for treating erectile dysfunction. More studies discovered that it could improve sexual satisfaction, increase libido, and enhance erections. The scientific data may be scant, but it's there!
Yohimbine – This supplement, made from the bark of an African evergreen tree, has been proven effective at improving vasodilation and decreasing blood pressure. Both of these can improve sexual performance and combat erectile difficulties. Studies have indicated a positive outcome of taking yohimbine in up to 46% of cases.
SAM-e – For those suffering from erectile difficulties caused by depression, anxiety, and stress, SAM-e (S-adenosyl methionine) may be an option to consider. It is a chemical produced in your body, and it may be effective at improving depression-related erectile problems.
These supplements are considered the "most effective" due to the fact that they have scientific evidence backing up their claims. Putting aside the marketing hype surrounding these supplements, they are the few that have been proven in studies, clinical trials, and meta-analyses to actually offer benefits, however small.
Warning: DO NOT take these supplements without checking with your doctor first. This is doubly important if you are currently taking medication for depression, cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other medical conditions. The risk of negative interaction is VERY high!
Natural Supplements vs. Vitamins vs. Herbs
When it comes to buying "sex-boosting supplements", it can be tough to know what's worth the money. Sadly, the FDA does not regulate supplements, meaning there is very little control or oversight. Manufacturers can get away with a lot of underhanded and deceitful practices. In some cases, supplements can actually be more dangerous than you'd think!
The term "dietary supplement" refers to any product that is intended to supplement the diet. The supplements will contain one or more ingredients important to the diet, including herbs, vitamins, minerals, botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, probiotics, and the list goes on. All these fall under the umbrella of "dietary supplements".
The FDA regards these supplements as food, not medicine. They do not require the manufacturers to prove the safety or efficiency of the products. Understanding the differences between the various supplements, herbs and herbal extracts, vitamins, and minerals is the key to being smart and safe with your supplementation!
Vitamins/Minerals – We all know how important vitamins and minerals are for our health. Vitamin C keeps our immune systems functioning, Vitamin A protects our eyes, iron produces red blood cells, and calcium is needed for our bones.
In regards to sexual performance, there are a few vitamins and minerals you want to get a lot more of:
- Vitamin C, which can enhance sperm count and motility, and can reduce the risk of damaged genetic material.
- Vitamin E, which can prevent high blood pressure and high cholesterol, leading to healthier blood flow to the genitals.
- Vitamin D, which can boost libido and is necessary for the production of testosterone.
- Folic acid, a B vitamin that plays a role in healthy sperm production.
- Selenium, a trace mineral that improves sperm health, decreases oxidative stress in the cardiovascular system, and boosts fertility.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, which can prevent cardiovascular conditions and enhance blood flow.
- Calcium, which is vital for sperm motility.
- Iron, manganese, magnesium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, and copper, all of which play a role in a healthy reproductive system.
Obviously, the best way to get more of these vitamins and minerals is via the food you eat. According to the NIH, it's possible to get enough in your daily diet simply by adding more fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes to your meals.
However, multivitamins are another option to supplement your health diet. They can give you more of specific vitamins and minerals to boost your reproductive health.
The problem with these vitamin supplements is that they are usually made with synthetic vitamins and minerals. Chemically-produced nutrients mimic the way natural nutrients act in our bodies, but they tend to be less bio-efficient (harder for your body to use).
In many cases, your body won't be able to use them at all because they lack the co-factors and transporters needed for their uptake. For example, Vitamin E is fat-soluble, so taking a Vitamin E supplement without fat renders the antioxidant useless. Your body may even need to access existing minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients to absorb the supplements, leading to a deficiency of some minerals and an abundance of others.
(Global Healing Center has a great list of synthetic vitamins to avoid.)
In a perfect world, you should get more sex-boosting vitamins and minerals from your food. Eating more vitamin and mineral-rich foods is the best way to enhance sexual performance. However, if you're going to take supplements, try to find vitamins derived from natural sources.
(See THIS Food Label article on how to find natural vitamins…)
Herbals and Botanicals
The terms "herbals" and "botanicals" refer to any supplement made from a plant, herb, or flower. Herbal therapies have been used for millennia, thanks to the fact that plants have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties as built-in defense mechanisms.
Herbal and botanical medicines, treatments, and supplements are becoming highly popular in this modern day and age when people are looking for alternatives to medications. The problem is that many manufacturers are using this popularity as a means to sell low-quality and even potentially dangerous herbal and botanical supplements.
Herbals and botanicals are usually categorized in one of two ways:
- Herbal extracts are made using ingredients extracted from an herb. The extract will contain a specific amount of the component (a %), but usually ONLY that component. Many of the other components of the plants will go to waste, leaving only the specific extract.
- Whole herbal products are made using the whole herb rather than a specific extract. The chemical makeup of the herbs can change according to their origin, soil quality, and many other factors. This can lead to a less-than-standardized percentage of herbal ingredients, but potentially a more balanced product.
The debate over herbal extracts versus whole herbs will rage on unchecked for years to come. Proponents of herbal extracts will cite the standardization and consistency in quality, while critics will insist that whole herbs are the only way to ensure maximum efficiency and bioavailability.
Natural Sex Boosters
Vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts aren't the only way to enhance your sex life! Try these natural sex boosters to improve your performance, stamina, erections, and overall sexual function without the need for supplements:
- Exercise. Exercise speeds up your metabolism, combats obesity and metabolic disease, and keeps testosterone levels stable. Exercise will also improve your stamina and help you last longer in bed.
- Reduce chemical exposure. Xenoestrogens can mimic the effects of estrogen in your body, decreasing testosterone levels and reducing your libido. Try Alive's list of things to avoid in order to reduce exposure to these xenoestrogens.
- Improve your diet. Weight loss isn't the only thing to consider; you also have to factor in a balanced intake of the fiber, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that will improve your cardiovascular, metabolic, endocrine, and reproductive health. Get more raw ingredients in your diet, and cut back on refined, processed, and artificial foods.
- Cut back on drinking and smoking. Alcohol and nicotine both will have a negative effect on your sex drive—nicotine more so than alcohol. Impotence is twice as common among heavy smokers, due to the vasoconstriction caused by smoking. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can reduce testosterone levels and increase your risk of impotence.
- Fight stress and anxiety. Your mind plays a role in your sexual health just like your body does. Excessive stress and anxiety can decrease sexual function and increase your risk of performance issues.
- Spend more time in the sun. When you spend more time outdoors, your body's production of melatonin increases. This not only leads to better sleep at night, but also a more active libido.
- Enjoy it more. Stop worrying so much about how long you last (or don't last!). Enjoy the time you spend having sex with your partner, and focus on making them happy. Worrying about finishing sooner or not being able to get an erection will just make the problems more likely to occur.
- Masturbate more. As if you needed a reason! Masturbation can help you to last longer and improve your stamina in bed.