Though a number of things can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED), most cases boil down to inadequate blood flow to the penis. The upside of this? Because both physical and mental factors can trigger poor circulation, several natural remedies may help improve your blood flow and erections without medication.
In this article, I’ll describe why blood flow is essential to get and maintain erections, the causes of ED, how to get diagnosed, and natural and medicinal methods to increase blood flow to the penis. Since ED can be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition, I’ll also explain when it’s important to talk to your doctor to determine the cause of your ED and which treatment options might be right for you.
What Is Erectile Dysfunction and What Does It Have to Do With Blood Flow to My Penis?
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common medical condition that primarily affects men older than 40. The most common symptom of ED is difficulty getting and maintaining erections firm enough for satisfactory sexual intercourse.
Though erections may seem straightforward, the science behind them is complicated. At a basic level, erections happen thanks to a balance of blood flow into and out of the penis. When vascular, hormonal, nerve, or other physical or psychological changes disrupt blood flow, it’s harder to get and keep erections.
Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
Because a man’s brain, heart, nerves, muscles, emotions, and more all factor into his ability to get an erection, many things can cause ED. This includes:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Low testosterone
- Stress and anxiety
- Relationship challenges
These causes of ED can be categorized into two types: psychogenic (mental) and organic (physical).
- Psychogenic causes include depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and negative feelings about sex.
- Organic causes account for about 80 percent of ED cases and can be further classified as endocrine or non-endocrine. Endocrine-related causes are often connected to low testosterone levels, though more research is required to fully understand how the two intersect. Of the non-endocrine related causes of ED, vasculogenic causes, which affect blood supply and flow, are the most common.
How to Get Diagnosed With Erectile Dysfunction
A medical professional, such as a doctor or urologist, can officially diagnose ED. To do so, they will assess your medical and sexual history and conduct mental and physical health exams.
Though it can be difficult to discuss this intimate subject with someone, the more your doctor knows about your health, lifestyle, and history, the more likely they can help determine the cause of your ED and the right course of treatment.
Natural Methods to Increase Blood Flow to Penis
Several non-pharmaceutical methods may help increase blood flow to the penis naturally. You can try these alone or in conjunction with medication.
The Massachusetts Male Aging Study linked a healthier lifestyle, including a healthy diet, to a reduced risk for ED as well as diseases that can contribute to ED such as type 2 diabetes and obesity. A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, and low in processed foods, sugar, and red meat may be particularly healthful.
Other research also supports eating more plants. In one study, about one-third of men who cut back on their consumption of cholesterol and saturated fat (both of which are found mainly in animal products) and increased their intake of fiber (found in plants) recovered their normal sexual function.
Though several vitamins may help with blood flow and general circulation, few have been proved to increase blood flow to the penis. Some evidence suggests that many men with ED are also deficient in vitamin D. For them, taking supplements may help. However, other studies find no connection between levels of D and ED.
If you think vitamin D may be an issue for you, talk to your doctor. They can do blood work to check your levels and, if necessary, recommend a supplement.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) supplements may help increase blood flow to the penis and mitigate the symptoms of ED. Keep in mind that because the FDA doesn’t monitor or approve these supplements, you may not get a consistent dose. Additionally, the supplements may not always contain the ingredient advertised, or they may contain other unlisted ingredients.
- Ginseng: A small number of studies suggests that red ginseng, or Korean red ginseng, may increase penile blood flow and help treat ED.
- L-arginine: Some men with ED appear to have low levels of this amino acid. When combined with tadalafil (Cialis) or pycnogenol (a compound found in pine bark), it may help improve ED, but more research is necessary because the studies have been small.
- Horny goat weed: This herb has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine in the treatment of ED and sexual dysfunction. However, one study from 2017 found that while there is some evidence that it helps increase sexual activity in castrated rats, there is little to no direct evidence it increases penile blood flow in human males.
While there aren’t any stretches proven to increase penis blood flow, research suggests that some exercises may help strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. These muscles are crucial to sustaining blood flow to the penis and facilitating erections.
In particular, pelvic floor exercises improve blood flow to the genitals and may help treat erectile dysfunction when used alone or with other treatments. An experienced pelvic floor therapist can teach these exercises and ensure you’re performing them correctly so that you benefit.
Medicinal Methods to Increase Blood Flow to Penis
Several FDA-approved phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitor medications exist to treat ED in men. These medications work by enhancing the effects of nitric oxide to relax the penile muscles, expand blood vessels that go into the penis, and improve penile blood flow. This helps improve the ability to get and maintain erections.
Designed to be taken as needed shortly before sexual activity, Viagra can take 30 minutes to an hour to take effect. It can last in your system for up to 4-5 hours and help you become erect anytime during that window. The most common dose is 50 milligrams (mg), and it should not be taken with food. Instead, Viagra is most effective when taken on an empty stomach.
Sildenafil is the generic version of Viagra, the first-line medication offered by many doctors because it’s been on the market longest and its side effects and drug interactions are well known. Sildenafil works exactly as Viagra does and can cause the same side effects, including dizziness, nausea, rash, pain in the arms or legs, and abnormal vision.
Unlike sildenafil or Viagra, Cialis can stay in the body for up to 36 hours and can help men become erect anytime during that window. It can be taken on demand or at a lower daily dose. Unlike Viagra or sildenafil, you can take Cialis with or without food.
Tadalafil is the generic version of Cialis. It can cause the same side effects, including headache, indigestion, back pain, nasal congestion, flushing, muscle aches, and pain in the arms or legs.
Risk Factors and Complications of Erectile Dysfunction
Because ED often indicates a systemic disease, the condition has several risk factors, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Diabetes mellitus
- Tobacco use
- Lower urinary tract symptoms
- Metabolic syndrome
Complications of ED can arise when the root cause is not identified or addressed and the ED is left untreated. These complications can include:
- Anxiety or stress
- Low self-esteem
- An unsatisfying sex life
- Relationship problems
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease
- Higher risk of heart attack
- Higher risk of stroke
- Higher risk of premature death if the ED is left untreated
When to See a Doctor
If you’re experiencing symptoms of ED, it’s important to talk to a medical professional to help identify the cause. They can then help determine which, if any, natural treatment method, medication, or combination of the two is right for you.
How K Health Can Help
Working with erectile dysfunction doesn’t have to be a solo journey. Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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