How Erectile Dysfunction Is Treated
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common sexual disorder for which there are several treatment options.1 These range from taking medication or using a device to counseling, lifestyle changes, and natural remedies.
After a careful assessment of the pluses and minuses of each therapy (and often, a trial and error process), you and your doctor can choose the treatment or combination of treatments that is uniquely right for you.2
A variety of personal habits and lifestyle choices have been linked to ED. In some ways, this is a good thing, since habits can be altered and choices reconsidered.3
What’s more, many of the lifestyle factors that contribute to sexual problems are ones that affect overall health and well-being, both physical and mental. Addressing these factors, therefore, can have benefits beyond improving erectile dysfunction.
Get More Exercise
Regular physical activity improves blood circulation and decreases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, all of which can have an impact on sexual function.4
In fact, research shows that men who exercise more in midlife have a 70% lower risk of erectile dysfunction than sedentary men.5 In addition to preventing ED, physical activity has been found to improve ED.
Shed Extra Weight
Excess body fat may play a role in erectile dysfunction by promoting inflammation and converting testosterone to estrogen. According to one study, a third of obese men with erectile dysfunction regained sexual function after participating in a two-year weight loss program.6
Smoking affects circulation in ways that can inhibit blood flow to the penis and affect the ability to achieve or sustain an erection.7 This is why male smokers are at an increased risk of developing ED, regardless of their age or underlying medical conditions.
That said, it remains unclear whether stopping smoking once a person has started will necessarily improve ED. Research suggests this may be only true in younger men who have a limited smoking history.8
Regardless, smoking cessation has many other health benefits, such as reducing heart disease and diabetes—two major causes of ED.
People who eat diets rich in whole-grain foods, vegetables, and fruits and low in red meat, full-fat dairy products, and sugary foods and drinks have a reduced risk of ED.
Similar to smoking, adopting healthy eating habits has other health benefits too, especially with regards to improving your heart health.9
Moderate Alcohol Consumption
Research has found that moderate alcohol intake (less than 21 drinks per week) may protect against ED—possibly because, in the long-term, alcohol can raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good cholesterol”).9 There is still debate about whether excessive alcohol consumption negatively impacts ED.
Take Care of Your Teeth
Perhaps a less obvious lifestyle strategy is to see your dentist for regular teeth care. This is because, according to a review article of five studies involving more than 200,000 men, chronic gum disease (periodontitis) might be associated with a more than twofold increase in the risk of erectile dysfunction.10
The oral medications for erectile dysfunction—phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors—work by enhancing the effects of nitric oxide, a naturally-occurring substance that relaxes blood vessels to allow blood to flow into the penis.11 With this effect in place, it’s possible to get an erection in response to sexual stimulation and to sustain it.