Aug
2008

Beyond Viagra: The Secret to Staying Virile

Until Bob Dole appeared in TV ads about Viagra and erectile dysfunction, men's reproductive health was rarely discussed. Yet, problems such as impotency and enlarged prostate affect more than 50 percent of men during their lifetime. We spoke with Michael Murray, N.D., a leading naturopath and co-author of Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Prima, 1998) about men's reproductive health.

Natural Help for Erectile Dysfunction

The advent of Viagra has certainly made more people aware of erectile dysfunction.

Murray:Yes, and for good reason, since an estimated 10 to 20 million American men suffer from it. Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the term used for the inability of a man to attain and maintain erection of the penis during sexual intercourse, and it's different from impotence, which can also refer to loss of libido, premature ejaculation or inability to achieve orgasm.

The big surprise is that although the frequency of erectile dysfunction increases with age, aging itself is not the cause of impotence. It's true that the amount and force of the ejaculate and the need to ejaculate decrease with age, but men are capable of retaining their sexual virility well into their 80s.

So if it's not aging, what causes erectile problems?

Murray: In more than 90 percent of men over 50, the cause is physiological, not psychological. Physical problems can stem from vascular insufficiency, atherosclerosis, pelvic surgery or trauma, endocrine disorders, diabetes, hypothyroidism, decreased male sex hormones, or taking drugs such as antihypertensives, antidepressants, tranquilizers and even alcohol and tobacco. However, the chief cause is decreased blood flow to the penis due to atherosclerosis of the penile artery. This condition could indicate a serious condition, and it's critical that you have a physician, preferably a urologist, examine you to determine the underlying cause of ED.

There are a variety of medical treatments for erectile dysfunction, but each has drawbacks. The natural approach involves diet, exercise, supplements and herbs. You should also avoid smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. Develop a regular exercise program under your doctor's guidance.

What role does nutrition play?

Murray: Potency is largely dependent on adequate male sex hormones, sensory stimulation and blood supply to the erectile tissues, yet all of these depend on nutrition. A diet rich in whole foods - particularly vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes - is extremely important. Adequate protein is also a must, but get it from fish, chicken, turkey and lean cuts of beef (preferably hormone free) rather than from fat-filled sources such as hamburgers, roasts or pork.

Liver, oysters, nuts, seeds and legumes are often recommended to enhance virility. All these foods are good sources of Zinc, the most important nutrient for sexual function because it's concentrated in semen. Frequent ejaculation can actually diminish zinc stores, and if a zinc deficiency develops, the body responds by reducing sexual drive. Other key nutrients for sexual function include Essential Fatty Acids, Vitamin A, and Vitamin E, best taken in the form of a high-potency Multi Vitamin/Mineral formula.

What herbs do you recommend?

Murray: One of the best herbs for treating ED or lack of libido is muira puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides), also known as potency wood. This Brazilian shrub has long been used as an aphrodisiac and nerve stimulant in South American folk medicine. Although we don't understand the action of muira puama, a recent clinical study validated its safety and effectiveness in improving libido and sexual function in some people.

Ginkgo Biloba extract is another useful herbal medicine for impotence. In addition to increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain, recent evidence indicates it may also increase blood flow to the genitals. Take 80 mg. of a standardized Ginkgo Biloba extract (24% ginkgo flavonglycosides) three times a day. Chinese ginseng (Panax Ginseng ) can also help increase sexual stamina.

Oh, and one last word of advice: If you use the popular "aphrodisiac" herb called Yohimbe, use only products marketed by reputable companies that clearly state the level of yohimbine per dosage for safety.

Prostate Health

We've begun to hear more about the prostate problems, but few men actually know what the prostate is. Can you explain?

Michael Murray, N.D.: The prostate is a doughnut-shaped gland about the size of a walnut that lies below the bladder and surrounds the urethra. It secretes a milky fluid that increases sperm motility and lubricates the urethra to prevent infection. The problems start when the prostate becomes enlarged, because it pinches off urine flow, causing symptoms of bladder obstruction such as increased urinary frequency, nighttime awakening to empty the bladder, and reduced force and speed of flow of urination. This enlargement is called benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH for short.

How can a man be certain he has BPH

Murray: If you experience urinary symptoms, see a physician for proper diagnosis. He'll conduct a physical prostate exam and a blood test to rule out prostate cancer. This prostate exam is not high-tech, but it does involve a doctor inserting a gloved finger into the rectum and feeling the lower part of the prostate for any abnormality. A bit uncomfortable, yes, but it's necessary for monitoring prostate health. In fact, I recommend that men over age 40 have yearly prostate exams.

What causes BPH that it's so common?

Murray: It's largely the result of hormonal changes associated with aging. Testosterone levels increase in the prostate gland, causing prostate enlargement. However, there are things you can do to decrease testosterone and reduce the prostate size.

Such as...?

Murray: Such as simply eating a healthy diet. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods - whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. One prostate-healthy tip is to eat 1/4 cup of raw sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds every day. Also, try to eat plenty of soy foods like tofu for their hormone-regulating and cholesterol-lowering properties. And, studies show that a substance called Lycopene, found in vegetables like tomatoes, spinach, kale, mangos, broccoli and berries, can prevent prostate cancer. You should also eliminate alcohol, especially beer, caffeine and sugar from your diet.

Are there any supplements or herbs that are useful?

Murray: A high-potency Multi Vitamin/Mineral supplement is a good place to start. Make sure that it provides at least 30 to 45 mg. of zinc - a particularly important nutrient for the prostate gland that's been shown to improve BPH.

There are also several herbs to choose from. Those with the most scientific research include standardized Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens), Pygeum (Pygeumafricanum), Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica), and Cernilton, a flower pollen extract. All of these herbal medicines can be used as long as you have symptoms, even if that means indefinitely. Their safety profile is exceptional and there are no known adverse drug interactions.

What effect can a man expect with these herbal approaches?

Murray: Standardized Saw Palmetto extract and other herbs for BPH are most effective in mild to moderate cases. Success depends on the degree of obstruction as indicated by the residual urine content, which is measured by an ultrasound exam. For mild cases of BPH (residual urine levels less than 50 ml.), the results are usually excellent and noticeable within the first month of therapy. For moderate cases (residual urine levels between 50-100 ml.), the results are usually quite good within the first four to six weeks. For example, roughly 90 percent of men with mild to moderate BPH experience some improvement during the first four to six weeks after starting saw palmetto extract. If the residual urine level is between 100-150 ml., it may take two to three months before you notice improvements.

If the residual urine content is greater than 150 ml., saw palmetto extract and other herbal medicines aren't likely to help much on their own. In these cases, you may need to use the herbs in conjunction with drugs such as Hytrin or Cordura. In very severe cases a surgical procedure called TURP (trans-urethral resection of the prostate) may be needed to open the urinary passageway. However, this complex surgery should be avoided unless there are no other alternatives.

Laurel Kallenbach is a health and travel writer from Boulder, Colo.

Prostate Awareness

Watch this QuickTime movie to learn more about prostate health. Choose the version that's right for your Internet connection:

 

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