L-arginine: L-arginine is an amino acid present in the proteins of all life forms. Also, referred to as arginine, this amino acid is required to carry out the synthesis of nitric oxide, which relaxes the blood vessels and allows more blood to flow through arteries (13). L-arginine has shown promise in the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease and in the treatment of male infertility (13). With its anti-oxidant properties, L-arginine can be an integral part of any sexual wellness supplement.
The Science: There’s only been one double-blind placebo-controlled trial of the stuff: it found that men taking fenugreek extract reported that they felt more sexual arousal and experienced better orgasms. But testosterone levels in those same men didn’t change, and the study was also tiny–only 60 participants–so it’s not clear whether there’s actually a biochemical reason for the shift or whether it was all psychological. The experiment needs to be repeated with a larger group of people to find out whether those results can be reproduced.
Currently, there are four orally active drugs are available to treat ED. These include: sildenafil citrate (Viagra [Pfizer, USA]), vardenafil hydrochloride (Levitra [Bayer, Germany]), tadalafil (Cialis [Eli Lilly, USA]) and avanafil (Stendra, Spedra [Vivus Inc, USA]). These drugs inhibit the enzyme phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5), which is responsible for the hydrolysis of cGMP. PDE-5 inhibitors and cGMP act as effectors of dilation of smooth muscle of cavernosal bodies. PDE-5 inhibitors are contraindicated in patients taking any kind of nitrate therapy for angina, and may not be appropriate for men with certain health conditions, such as severe heart disease, heart failure, history of stroke or heart attack, uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes, and patients with pigmental retinopathy. PDE-5 inhibitors are less effective in men with diabetes and men who have been treated for prostate cancer. PDE-5 inhibitors are also not effective in men with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease involving PDE-5 deficiency. The common side effects of PDE-5 inhibitors include gastrointestinal upset, headache, nasal congestion, back pain and dizziness. The PDE-5 inhibitors may interact with other medications including antihypertension drugs. Nonetheless, the PDE-5 inhibitors are generally safe and effective for most men. The primary mechanism of action of these drugs is through the mediation of NO. NO is one of the key molecules involved in ED. It is a short-lived, highly permeable, pleiotropic, gaseous molecule, secreted from the postganglionic cavernosal parasympathetic nerves, endothelium of the cavernosal blood vessels, platelets in the cavernosal sinuses and phagocytic cells (monocytes, macrophages and neutrophils). NO acts on platelets to inhibit platelets adhesion and aggregation. NO causes relaxation of the smooth muscle of the cavernosal blood vessels of the penis, leading to vasodilation, tumescence and stimulation. Release of NO in the corpus cavernosum of the penis during stimulation activates the enzyme guanylate cyclase, which results in increased levels of cGMP, producing smooth muscle relaxation in the corpus cavernosum and resulting in increased blood flow (5). NO is mainly produced from cavernosal nerves, which are nonadrenergic, noncholinergic nerves within the penis, and acting via its second messenger cGMP. It has been suggested that maintaining normal body weight and mild exercise, as well as dietary supplementation of folic acid, zinc, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin E and L-arginine, a precursor of NO, can support the biochemical pathway leading to NO release . NO is an effector molecule that is involved in a number of intracellular functions such as vasorelaxation, endothelial regeneration, inhibition of leukocyte chemotaxis and platelet adhesion . A small proportion of autonomic nerves do not release either Ach or norepinephrine . For example, the cavernous nerves predominantly release NO in the penis. The exact mechanism is not known, but it is believed to be through increased intracellular calcium. Another gaseous molecule produced in the corpora cavernosa is hydrogen sulphide (H2S), which is also known to be involved in erectile function . H2S activates ATP-sensitive potassium channels in smooth muscle cells. Some reports indicate that NO acts in large vessels and H2S in small vessels. A high level of tumour necrosis factor-alpha has been shown in ED patients . Although current ED therapies using PDE-5 inhibitors are safe and effective, approximately 40% of ED patients do not respond to currently available treatment [11,12]. For these patients, herbal therapy may be useful.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Reiter, W. J., Pycha, A., Schatzl, G., Pokorny, A., Gruber, D. M., Huber, J. C., & Marberger, M. (1999, March). Dehydroepiandrostone in the treatment of erectile dysfunction: A prospective, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study [Abstract]. Urology, 53(3), 590-594. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0090429598005718
If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.