By Dr. Mercola
Healthy sex cannot be underestimated as a factor for reducing stress, bolstering self-esteem, and fostering feelings of intimacy and bonding between partners. This goes for both men and women, although men tend to be encouraged to use sexual-enhancement drugs like Viagra when their virility starts to peter out.
An estimated 30-40 percent of adults experience a lack of interest in sex for at least several months in any given year.1 The reasons for low libido are complex and run the gamut from stress and other emotional difficulties to physical problems, including erectile dysfunction.
Most men, however, really do not need drugs to address such issues. What they probably DO need is a lifestyle adjustment. Your sexual health has a lot to do with your lifestyle, and a variety of all-natural strategies can be helpful in this area.
Pelvic Exercises Can Address Premature Ejaculation
For example, according to recent research presented at the European Congress of Urology in Stockholm, men with chronic premature ejaculation can benefit from pelvic exercises,2 commonly used to treat incontinence. According to the American Urological Association, premature ejaculation affects about one in five American men below the age of 60.
Forty men between the ages of 19-46 were included in the study. All had lifelong premature ejaculation, defined as ejaculation occurring within one minute. The men were instructed to perform pelvic exercises three times a week for 12 weeks; 20 minutes per session. As reported by the featured article:3
"At the start of the study, the men's average time to ejaculation was about 32 seconds. That improved to almost 2.5 minutes -- a more than fourfold increase -- by the end of the three-month pelvic exercise program. Only five men in the study had no significant improvement..."
The exercises are similar to, but a bit more complex than regular Kegel exercises. More women than men might be familiar with the term "Kegel exercise," or "Kegel squeeze." It's performed by drawing your lower pelvic muscles up and holding them up high and tight.
The action you're performing is similar to trying to stop urinating in the middle of the flow. This can help to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic exercises used in this study were designed to re-educate to either contract or lengthen, on demand.
According to lead researcher Dr. Antonio Pastore, you need at least 12 sessions'-worth of training to learn the proper techniques. Ideally, you'll want to see a trained pelvic rehabilitation practitioner. For an online directory of practitioners, see the Herman and Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute's website.4
Impotence Can Be Reversed Through Simple Lifestyle Changes
Erectile dysfunction, another increasingly common problem among men, can be successfully addressed through lifestyle alterations involving weight management, proper diet, increasing your activity levels, avoiding alcohol, and improving your sleep. All of these factors contribute to impotence, according to recent research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.5, 6
It's well worth noting that among men with heart disease, 75 percent also have problems with erections. In fact, impotence can be an early warning sign of coronary artery disease, since your penis is more sensitive to slow-downs in blood flow than your heart. In addition, men with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking are substantially more likely to have trouble getting erections. As reported by Health24:7
"Erectile dysfunction and low sexual desire is often linked to the development of heart disease. The researchers discovered that a large proportion of men were able to naturally overcome erectile dysfunction with heart-healthy changes – no pharmaceutical help necessary... What's the connection between impotence and heart health?
'An erection is a hydraulic event dependent on the dilation of blood vessels that carry blood to the penis,' explained [lead author Dr. Gary] Wittert... 'Although other issues such as nerve damage and hormone abnormalities can also lead to erectile dysfunction, the failure of the blood vessels to dilate properly is one of the more common causes,' Wittert said. 'This is an early abnormality in the pathway to more serious heart disease'...
One expert said the study carries valuable lessons for men worried about their sexual health. 'As we get older, there are some natural things we just can't change. The message from this study is, don't get a prescription, but get exercise. Get rid of the fat. Work on the depression,' said Dr. David Samadi, chairman of the department of urology at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York."
Heart-Healthy Strategies That Will Promote Sexual Health
The following list summarizes the key lifestyle strategies you'll want to incorporate in order to protect your heart and improve your sexual function.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Key dietary considerations include avoiding sugar, fructose, grains, and processed foods if you are insulin and leptin resistant. It doesn't matter if they are conventional or organic, as a high-sugar diet promotes insulin and leptin resistance, which is a primary driver of heart disease. Eat a healthful diet of whole foods, ideally organic, and replace the grain carbs with:
- Large amounts of vegetables
- Low-to-moderate amount of high-quality protein (think organically raised, pastured animals).
- As much high-quality healthful fat as you want (saturated and monounsaturated). Most people need upwards of 50-85 percent fats in their diet for optimal health. Good sources include: avocados, coconuts and coconut oil, butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, raw dairy, raw nuts, organic pastured egg yolks, and grass-fed meats.
- Exercise regularly. Be sure to incorporate high intensity interval training (HIIT), as this type of exercise promotes your body's natural ability to optimize hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH)—both of which are important for sexual performance and male vigor. Weight training also helps boost testosterone naturally.
- Try intermittent fasting. An effective strategy for enhancing weight loss and promoting both testosterone and HGH release is intermittent fasting. It helps boost testosterone by improving the expression of satiety hormones, like insulin, leptin, adiponectin, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), cholecystokinin (CKK), and melanocortins, which are linked to healthy testosterone function, increased libido, and the prevention of age-induced testosterone decline.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally through appropriate sun exposure as this will allow your body to also create vitamin D sulfate — a factor that may play a crucial role in preventing the formation of arterial plaque that is linked to erectile dysfunction. Vitamin D also increases levels of testosterone, which may boost libido. In one study,8 overweight men who were given vitamin D supplements had a significant increase in testosterone levels after one year.
- Get plenty of high-quality, restorative sleep.
- Learn to deactivate stress. Stress can dampen your libido and make sex the last thing on your mind (a catch-22, since sex will help to reduce your stress levels significantly). Taking control of your emotions by learning the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can help in this area. EFT is a psychological acupressure technique that can help you effectively address your stress-related thoughts, leaving you feeling calmer and more able to face your challenges, whatever they may be, so you're able to focus on more enjoyable pursuits.
- Avoid medications, as many can cause or exacerbate impotence. Top offenders include antidepressants (SSRIs and tricyclics), 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors (used to treat enlarged prostate), antihistamines, opioid painkillers (Vicodin, Oxycontin, and Percocet), blood pressure medications, and others.
Other Natural Alternatives That Can Help with Sexual Dysfunctions
Addressing lifestyle factors like diet and exercise should be at the top of your list if you're experiencing any kind of sexual difficulties. That said, there are a few natural alternatives that can be helpful, in addition to the basics listed above. This includes (but is not limited to) the following:
- Panax ginsengand Maca root have been used for centuries as libido-boosting tonics.
- L-arginine. This amino acid has a beneficial influence on blood vessel health, which indirectly can benefit erectile dysfunction by improving cardiovascular function. It appears to help with erectile dysfunction by enhancing the action of nitric oxide, which in turn helps relax your blood vessels, including those supplying blood to your penis. As blood vessels in your penis dilate, it increases blood flow, which helps maintain an erection. (This is also how drugs like Viagra work.) It's not a magic potion in and of itself, however. Some studies have found its effectiveness alone is on par with a placebo. But several studies have concluded that L-arginine in combination with other herbs is a remarkably effective treatment for mild to moderate ED.
- L-arginine combined with pycnogenol (a plant extract from the bark of a French maritime pine tree) provided "significant improvement in sexual function in men with ED without any side effects," according to one study.9
- The combination of six grams of L-arginine with six milligrams of yohimbine was found to be "a promising addition to first-line therapy for ED," according to a pilot study published in the journal European Urology.10 In combination with yohimbine, it's also been found to increase sexual arousal in postmenopausal women with sexual arousal disorder.
- Choline and vitamin B5 supplements. The neurotransmitter that triggers the sexual message, in both men and women, is acetylcholine (ACH). With too little ACH, sexual activity goes down. One way to safely and effectively enhance ACH levels in your body is to take choline supplements (1,000-3,000 mg) and vitamin B5 (500-1,500 mg).
Kick Your Sex Life Into Gear Without Pills
Ensuring your hormone levels (including testosterone and human growth hormone) are balanced and optimized will go a long way toward boosting your libido and sexual performance. Again, high intensity exercise and intermittent fasting are the two most effective ways to do this. Certain pelvic exercises have also been found to be helpful for men experiencing premature ejaculation.
Do keep in mind that a heart-healthy lifestyle, summarized above, is paramount for treating impotence, as erectile dysfunction is actually an early warning sign of impending heart disease. Again, about 75 percent of men with heart disease also have problems achieving or maintaining an erection. Besides boosting your sexual health, you'll also reach a whole new level of overall health that can add years to your life.