This is a conversation men find hard to bring up with anyone. But here we are again, talking about it. Erectile dysfunction, or ED. First of all, it’s likely not why you think. Second, yep, we can offer support for that too!
We are also aware that many of our readers are women. If you are going to talk to your significant other about this, be aware, this could be a touchy subject. Handle it delicately and as you would hope he would. Trust us when we say our doctors and practitioners have heard it all. This isn’t our first time supporting someone with ED, but it may be your partner’s, and we respect that.
It’s Not About His Manhood
Let’s head this off at the pass. There a few things men feel a bit defensive about. Usually this is because they view these situations in light of what society thinks about “manhood.” Testosterone, erectile dysfunction, and sperm count. Or: Are they motivated, can they do it, and will it work to do the job if they can? We’ve already discussed low testosterone, which can affect men at any age, and sperm count, which typically younger men looking to have a family are concerned with. Next up, ED. Or, in the case of ED, why isn’t it…up that is.
It isn’t All About the Big T
Testosterone is the dominant hormone in a man. Many men suffer who from low testosterone are facing other health conditions. From mental health to physiological issues, low testosterone can wreak havoc on a man’s body. And many feel ashamed because they believe it is because they are less of a man. The good news is that testosterone levels can be supported, and they can regain that sense of who they are, in a healthy way as they begin to restore health. This isn’t about his manhood, it’s about an interruption in the function of his body that affects him, as a man. To learn more about how low testosterone affects a man, check out this article in our series, When the Big T Isn’t.
In regard to erectile dysfunction, we can see how many would assume a link with low testosterone. In reality, low testosterone is one of the least likely reasons for ED. True, hormones affect nearly every physiological function, and could be a contributing factor. But likely, this situation starts somewhere else. First, we have to discuss what an erection is and how it happens.
Many are familiar with what an erection is, but what it is and how it physiologically functions are two different things. A little anatomy 101:
There are two chambers, the corpora cavernosa, that are what many would refer to as the shaft of the penis. These chambers are filled with tiny blood vessels that could be likened to a sponge. According to Cleveland Clinic, an erection occurs:
When the blood vessels of the corpora cavernosa relax and open up, blood rushes in through the cavernosus arteries to fill them. The blood then gets trapped under high pressure, creating an erection.
- An erection begins with sensory and mental stimulation. During sexual arousal, nerve messages begin to stimulate the penis. Impulses from the brain and local nerves cause the muscles of the corpora cavernosa to relax, allowing blood to flow in and fill the open spaces. The blood creates pressure in the corpora cavernosa, making the penis expand and creating an erection.
- The tunica albuginea (the membrane surrounding the corpora cavernosa), helps to trap the blood in the corpora cavernosa, sustaining the erection. Erection is reversed when muscles in the penis contract, stopping the inflow of blood and opening outflow channels.
Okay, so there’s a place where testosterone does affect erection. First thing in the morning, when his testosterone levels are at the highest, there’s often a part of him that wakes up before he does. This is common and normal. No shame, there’s no control here! And that’s okay. It’s kind of like your body waking you up and letting you know that all systems are a go and ready to face the day.
Here’s the thing, erections are controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. The system that is dominant at night for the “rest and digest” healing and restoration that takes place during rest. The “morning wood,” or nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) can assure a man that his vascular and nervous systems are in order and ready for the call to action.
There are reasons a man may be experiencing fewer of these morning wake-ups, including:
- Prescription medication
- Mental health or trauma
- Pressure on the sacral nerve
Pssst! Erectile Dysfunction is a Hint to a Bigger Problem!
Remember that anatomy lesson above? All those tiny vessels? That’s likely where the breakdown is occurring. Let’s take an even closer look at those tiny vessels, because they can make a big difference. Inside the blood cells is a single cell layer of endothelial cells that regulate exchanges made to surrounding tissue and act as a barrier. These cells rely on nitric oxide to regulate vascular dilation and protect the vessels from damage. Nitric oxide production decreases as we age and from certain lifestyle habits we’ll cover later.
If an erection is dependent on those blood vessels and the blood vessels are dependent on endothelial function, and endothelial function is dependent on nitric oxide for regulation, it seems we have a direction to look. But before we jump the gun, let’s realize something. Endothelial cells line other arteries, veins, and capillaries throughout the body. Let’s look at ED as a possible gift in the form of a hint!
How many guys are ready to switch gears and eat all the healthy, leafy greens and other foods that would support that nitric oxide production the body relies on for the sake of heart health? Or turn up the exercise habit to support their cardiovascular system? We’ve seen the population, unfortunately the line at the treadmill or gym is shorter than the one at the local fast-food drive through.
But do you know what will get a guy’s attention and cause him to make a significant change? ED. Yep, that’s right, erectile dysfunction is a symptom of a systemic vascular function interruption. If his vasodilation is interrupted and falls flat…so will other organs. That will get his attention!
And clearly the market is ripe if you watch TV for a minute or open a magazine. Think about all of the ads targeting men (and their ladies) to rekindle their sex life with a little pill. Psssst, those are temporary fixes for in the moment. They aren’t a solution to the situation that could ultimately lead to something much worse such as stroke or heart attack. You don’t want those when you can support the whole system, and not have to worry about a possible 4-hour erection!
So, What’s With the Bent Carrot Commercials?
There have been a few commercials for a new drug on the market for what may appear to be yet another sexual performance drug. While this isn’t ED specifically, it can certainly affect sexual function and cause erectile dysfunction. According to Mayo Clinic:
Peyronie’s (pay-roe-NEEZ) disease is a noncancerous condition resulting from fibrous scar tissue that develops on the penis and causes curved, painful erections. Penises vary in shape and size, and having a curved erection isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. But Peyronie’s disease causes a significant bend or pain in some men.
Peyronie’s disease is most commonly caused by an injury during sex but may also be a result of a sports injury or another accident. The scar tissue is caused by the body’s inability to heal properly. Maintaining proper function in the body will help it heal when it encounters an injury.
How to Support Endothelial Function
Remember that nitric oxide that supports the vascular system? It starts in the oral microbiome. That’s right, in your mouth! Here are few little lifestyle habits that can either make or break nitric oxide production in the body.
Studies have shown that antiseptic mouth wash significantly decreases the body’s ability to process nitric oxide through the delicate oral microbiome. We’ve all grown accustomed to that minty fresh breath but supporting the blood vessels is crucial. Ensuring oral health is a step toward all over health.
Antacids disrupt the stomach acid. Many people think the problem arises from too much stomach acid due to the heartburn and acid reflux. But what if we told you, it’s likely not too much acid, but not enough? When stomach acid is off, either due to an internal interruption, or the interruption you are causing by taking the antacids, that nitric oxide to support the endothelial cells won’t make it to where it has to go!
Mouth breathing is a huge disruption to the oral microbiome. Proper breathing techniques can also help support endothelial function!
Pulling Back the Covers
The tips above may not be enough. ED may be something that seems to be a disturbance in the bedroom, when, in reality, it’s a symptom of a possibly life-threatening situation. ED should not go on unsupported. Our clinicians and practitioners understand what some of the undercover causes of ED are that not only interrupting life between the sheets, but could lead to a heart attack, stroke, or another vascular concern. Reach out to one of our offices today to see how we can help you restore health, and maybe even some romance!