Men have been searching for a miracle substance for thousands of years that will provide them with longer and harder erections and increased libido. Science has recently discovered nitric oxide’s role in sexual health and developed treatments to address men’s virility deficiencies. Most erectile dysfunction (ED) treatments manipulate some part of the nitric oxide system. This article will discuss the role of nitric oxide in erectile dysfunction, some of the treatment methods including the popular ED drugs, and alternative treatments which also address the nitric oxide system.
Nitric Oxide is an incredibly simple molecule. But as simple as a single nitrogen atom couple with a single nitrogen atom is, nitric oxide (NO) is an incredibly powerful signaling molecule in the body. Science has only known about this natural chemical’s role for about 20 years now. In fact, most people, when they hear the term “nitric oxide” think of automobile derived air pollution or laughing gas at the dentist’s office. Nitric oxide is neither. Among all of it’s myriad of benefits including building muscle, helping withweight loss, and improving mental performance, nitric oxide has an astonishing ability to address the one of the main physiological causes of erectile dysfunction (ED) or impotence. These benefits, especially the fitness and sexual dysfunction related ones, have spawned multi-billion dollar industries and blockbuster drugs and supplements that have helped millions around the world.
Nitric oxide, or NO was discovered as scientists were studying nitroglycerin’s effects on the heart. What they discovered is still the subject of literally thousands of pieces of research annually. They discovered that this little, simple, molecule, nitric oxide signals the blood vessels to expand. The results of this vasodilation include a reduction in blood pressure and an improvement in the way blood moves through the body.
As we age, our body produces less and less nitric oxide and thus our blood flow becomes less than optimal. The side effects of poor blood flow become very apparent to those over the age of 40, especially those who struggle with wound healing, hair loss, fatigue, certain types of memory loss and erectile dysfunction or ED. However nitric oxide related drugs and supplements can address these issues. Nitric oxide allows the blood to carry more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, tissues and organs AND helps the body remove waste products like carbon dioxide, lactic acid and toxins from these cells. Better blood flow leads to a healthier body and it also means that blood can move to the places it is supposed to during certain activities like exercise and sex.
How Nitric Oxide Works
Nitric oxide is produced by three main enzymes called nitric oxide synthase (NOS). The NOS that has to do with erectile dysfunction is found in the endothelial cells of blood vessels in the penis. This enzyme breaks down L-arginine to create NO, nitric oxide, which stimulates the cells to produce cyclic guanosine monophosphate. Wow, that’s a mouthful! Luckily scientists refer to it as cGMP. The cGMP, through regulating the movement of ions, is what signals the smooth muscle in the blood vessels to relax. Phosphodiesterases, or PDE, degrade the cGMP, which causes the blood vessels to constrict.
Now that we now what nitric oxide’s role in vasodilation is and how the cycle works, let’s look at some of the ED treatments in a little more detail.
Viagra or Sildenafil citrate, the grand-daddy of erectile dysfunction drugs, was introduced in 1998 by Pfizer. Viagra acts by inhibiting the PDE-5 from degrading the cGMP in the penis, thus allowing the blood vessels to stay relaxed longer,leading to longer and harder erections in men. PDE-5 is most concentrated in the lungs and penis, so Viagra is designed to select for those locations and not other parts of the body.
Cialis, or Tadalafil, is one of Viagra’s main competitors. Approved in 2003, Cialis, discovered by GlaxoSmithKline and ICOS, is famous for its longer lasting effects. Tadalafil also works by inhibiting PDE-5, thus allowing the cGMP to keep the blood vessels relaxed. Called the weekend pill, Cialis has a much longer half-life than Viagra or Levitra and can improve blood flow to the penis for up to 36 hours. As with all PDE-5 inhibitors, sexual stimulation of the penis is what causes the nitric oxide/cGMP cycle to start. In 2011, Tadalfil was also approved for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension.
Levitra, or Vardenafil, is an erectile dysfunction drug co-marketed by Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline and Schering-Plough. It too was approved by the FDA in 2003, slightly before Cialis. Also a PDE-5 inhibitor, Levitra may last a little longer than Viagra and may also aid in the treatment of premature ejaculation.
Viagra, Cialis and Levitra all pretty much work the same way, by slowing down the degradation of cGMP after it has been “woken up” by nitric oxide. The big drawback on these drugs in their cost.
A single pill of any of these three erectile dysfunction drugs can cost between $8 and $30!
You might be asking yourself if there are any other alternative erectile dysfunction treatments available. Thank goodness, there are and here are a few of them:
Nitric Oxide Supplements
Since nitric oxide stimulates cGMP to keep the blood vessels open, then it makes sense that nitric oxide boosters may also address some erectile dysfunctions. Men have reported success in dealing with erectile dysfunction with nitric oxide supplements containing L-Arginine and L-Citrulline, and Agmatine. These supplements either increase the materials your body needs to create nitric oxide, increase the amount of NOS in your body, or stimulate NOS activity. The benefit of these nitric oxide boosters is that they don’t just target your penis, but they increase blood flow to all of your organs, including your brain. And no, blood flow to the brain is NOT mutually exclusive to blood flow to the penis! Increased blood flow to the whole body, including the brain, can lead to a sense of well being, and an increase in libido, which are also related to sexual dysfunctions.
Horny Goat Weed
There are numerous other substances on the market that can address erectile dysfunction besides drugs and nitric oxide supplements, although, ultimately they affect the same systems. One of them is Horny Goat Weed (Best Plant Name Ever) or Epimedium, also called Randy Cow Grass … I kid you not. The name Horny Goat Weed was apparently coined from the activity of sheep after eating the substance. The legend is that the herder who noticed how amorous his sheep were after consuming the plant, began selling it as an aphrodisiac. However, there is something to Horny Goat Weed. The plant has a chemical called Icariin in it. Icariin has been found to act as a PDE-5 inhibitor AND it enhances the production of nitric oxide! Furthermore, it also mimics testosterone!
I am sure there are other herbs on the market that can act as erectile function treatments, but none can follow Horny Goat Weed.
Both herbal supplements like HGW and other nitric oxide supplements like Nitrix and HemaVol much more affordable than the common ED drugs. They are not as targeted, but they may have more overall positive effects and you won’t need to take out a mortgage to pay for them.
Diet and Exercise
But if you really want to improve your sex life, may I suggest starting with exercise. Not only will you feel better about yourself, but the right kinds of exercise will increase the production of nitric oxide naturally! High Intensity Interval Training and the intense training found in home programs like P90X can do wonders for your nitric oxide levels, your libido and your partner’s libido 😉
Try the Mediterranean Diet for a natural boost of nitric oxide as well. Increase your intake of lean proteins, dark leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. Increase dairy and nuts. Try watermelon and beetroot juice. You can also find a list of foods that increase nitric oxide on this site.
Before engaging in any course of treatment, consult your physician.
Erectile Dysfunction affects millions of men around the world. There are numerous ways to address some of the causes of ED. Changes in diet, increases in exercise and the addition of certain types of natural herbs and supplements may improve the quality of your sex life. In other cases, erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra may help. All of these methods of improving physiologically one’s sex life are connected to nitric oxide, which is one of the reasons they call it the “Miracle Molecule”.