A hard grip on a soft problem. How to tackle erectile dysfunction.

Dr. Carel-Piet van Eeden
September 6, 2022

It is no joking matter.  A growing number of men struggle with this affliction and because of societal pressure to be strong or not display what is perceived by some as weakness, they do not discuss it.  This means that many men struggle with erectile dysfunction unnecessarily.

What is erectile dysfunction?

Before we look at erectile dysfunction, let’s perhaps take a step back and look at how an erection is achieved.  There is a complex interplay of hormones, emotions, the brain, blood vessels and stimuli that causes an erection.  

The penis contains two spongy chambers called the corpora cavernosa.  No, saying those words three times does not make your magic wand stand upright.  Hogwarts would not allow that spell.

When stimulated, the arteries in these chambers fill with blood, causing pressure to build up and you have an erection.  

Erectile dysfunction means that something is preventing the blood to build up enough pressure to cause or maintain an erection. 

What causes erectile dysfunction?

Because of the complex interplay of components in the body that causes erectile dysfunction, there are many places where things can go wrong and cause erectile dysfunction.

We can separate this into two main groups.

Physical causes of erectile dysfunction

It is not just injury to the penis and the groin that can cause erectile dysfunction, there are many contributing factors to not being able to achieve or maintain an erection.

These include:

  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes 
  • Physical injury
  • Previous surgery
  • High blood pressure
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Neurological problems
  • Multiple sclerosis 
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol 
  • Medication
  • Drugs
  • Smoking
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Fatigue

Psychological causes of erectile dysfunction

Yes - performance anxiety is real!  There are other physiological factors that can also affect the ability to achieve or maintain a strong erection:

  • Mental disorders
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Unsatisfactory sex life
  • Relationship issues
  • Self-esteem issues

Is there a difference between erectile dysfunction and a loss of libido?

These two subjects are oftentimes intermixed, but it is worthwhile to mention that they are not always the same thing.  

Loss of libido means losing sexual interest or drive.  This can be caused by very much the same things that cause erectile dysfunction.  It is sometimes still possible to achieve an erection even with a low libido.

Finding the root cause for the problem is very important.

The far-reaching effects of erectile dysfunction

Those affected by erectile dysfunction (the people willing to admit to it) will attest that the inability to maintain an erection during intercourse has many effects in and out of the bedroom.  Because of the stigma involved, many men suffer from low self-esteem, guilt and anxiety.  These words seem familiar?  Yeah - they are part of what can cause erectile dysfunction and so we start with a soft cycle.

Of course, this can then spill over into daily life where men can start questioning their masculinity.  Yeah, we have been conditioned that erectile strength is a direct indicator of strength or power in the rest of the world.


Therapies for erectile dysfunction

Over the years many solutions for erectile dysfunction have come and gone.  Other than the trusty little blue pill, here are some of the therapies currently being used to treat erectile dysfunction (shoot us a message for referral to practitioners in South Africa):

Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)

Platelet-rich plasma involves the drawing of blood which is then spun down in a centrifuge to separate the red blood cells from the platelet-poor plasma and the platelets themselves. Part of the plasma is discarded and mixed with the concentration of platelets which then gives us the PRP. 

This is injected into the penis by a trained doctor.  This therapy is then followed up with the use of a penis pump to enhance the blood flow whilst working on erectile strength.

Stem Cell Therapy

Stem cells are extracted from patient fat through a process called sonification.  The stem cells are then mixed with PRP and injected into the penis.  This can assist with the regeneration of injured parts of the penis.

Shockwave therapy

Shockwave conjures up images of electrocution, but this is actually a mechanical shockwave that is used to cause microtrauma to the area and to promote blood flow.  One would usually do a series of 5 treatments, each with 2000 - 3000 shocks around the genital area.

Beware the penis strengthening advertisements on street lamps!

Many men, out of sheer desperation, put their health at risk by trying out all kinds of exotic tricks, potions and lotions.

While some of these might work, many can be dangerous.  Before calling the number on one of these miracle posters, make sure what you are going to be taking, injecting, ingesting of rubbing on before it leads to permanent injury!

The best advice is to get in touch with a medical doctor who has experience in the field of erectile dysfunction.

What are the lifestyle modifications I can make to treat erectile dysfunction?

We have seen that there are many external factors that have an influence on erectile functioning.  Let’s see what we can do with our lifestyles to help the process:

10 things to assist with erectile dysfunction

  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Do not use recreational drugs
  • Stop smoking
  • Get enough sleep
  • Manage obesity
  • Manage diabetes
  • Manage heart disease
  • Do more exercise
  • De-stress
  • Talk about your issues with your partner

Are there supplements to take for erectile dysfunction?

Let’s put the old wive’s tales to bed and look at some of the scientifically researched supplements that can help us treat erectile dysfunction.

5 supplements to treat erectile dysfunction

  • L-Arginine
  • L-Citruline
  • Beetroot extract
  • Ashwagandha
  • Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Erectile dysfunction is treatable

For many, this sentence seems like a pipe dream.  The fact of the matter is that through lifestyle management, supplementation and sometimes interventions, one can have a fulfilling sex life again.

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