Sexual health issues are common complaints that affect both men and women. Unfortunately, these problems are part and parcel of aging—due to things ranging from hormonal fluctuations to actual physical changes in genitalia. While these concerns may be a normal part of the aging process, sexual health issues can be embarrassing and also detrimental to emotional and physical intimacy between partners.
Frustration and sadness over sexual health conditions and loss of virility is powerful and has given rise to a highly lucrative pharmaceutical industry focused on improving sexual performance. There is a wide range of pills to choose from; however, they are often rife with side effects and can cause complications for those suffering from other health issues. The good news is there are natural ways to increase your libido and support erectile function—many of which are time-tested, trusted traditional techniques from the oldest medical practices around the world.
Lift Your Libido Naturally
The most common recommendations for lifting libido in both men and women involve increasing hormone levels, particularly testosterone. However, hormone therapy is not without adverse side effects and health concerns, including cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, stroke, and a worsening of sexual performance due to erectile dysfunction. Before beginning hormone therapy, consider that safe, natural ways to boost libido do exist.
As I just mentioned, hormones are always tricky to work with. For example, for men who are of an age where prostate health is a concern, care should be taken when using testosterone or products that increase its production. Testosterone can increase the activity of cancer in the prostate gland. A natural alternative is royal jelly, a glandular secretion made by worker bees. It’s fed to a selected ordinary female bee, which causes her to transform into the queen. It turns out to be pretty miraculous stuff. On this diet alone, the new queen grows to 1½ times the size of ordinary bees and lives to over four years, compared to the normal bee life span of 40 days.
Royal jelly contains an abundance of minerals; essential amino acids; acetylcholine; and vitamins A, C, D, E, and most B vitamins (in fact, it’s the richest source of pantothenic acid or B5). Royal jelly also contains a small amount of testosterone, which may help explain its benefits for libido. The amount of testosterone in royal jelly is not enough to be of concern. I recommend 50–100 mg of royal jelly a day.
Have you ever felt more sensual while on vacation at the beach? If so, the sun is the reason. Melatonin is a hormone made in the human pineal gland that can affect sexual desire. Healthy, regular sun exposure decreases melatonin. Lower levels of melatonin increase ovulation in women and sperm production in men, and increase the sex drive in both.
Support Healthy Erectile Function
There are dozens of things that can interfere with erectile function. Stress, diabetes, prostate enlargement, multiple sclerosis, anemia, and nutritional deficiencies are just a few of the possibilities. One of the most overlooked culprits is the use of prescription medications. If you can rule these out as possible causes for you, then you may want to consider some of the natural options I’m about to share.
Poor erectile function is often an early warning sign of circulatory problems. Achieving and maintaining an erection is a complex process, but ultimately it all comes down to having adequate blood flow to the penis. That’s why a common natural supplement for supporting erections is the amino acid L-arginine. In fact, when it comes to erection problems and poor circulation, L-arginine gives new meaning to the phrase, “Just Say NO.” Why? Researchers have discovered an important messenger molecule in the body—nitric oxide (NO).
As I mentioned earlier, for an erection to occur, the muscles in the blood vessel walls of the penis must relax to allow blood to flood the organ. Researchers knew something had to trigger the muscle relaxation, and though they didn't’t know the exact mechanism, everyone agreed that blood vessels must contain a smooth muscle relaxing factor, or as it is more commonly known, an endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF). Based on the fact that nitroglycerin used by heart patients breaks down into nitric oxide, researchers surmised that the mystery EDRF might be nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide is constantly being produced in little puffs by the smooth muscles that line blood vessels. It enters the bloodstream where it is rapidly destroyed by the blood’s hemoglobin. The whole process lasts only two to three seconds, which makes it almost impossible for researchers to detect. By using the same machine that measures nitric oxide in automobile exhaust fumes, they found the cells were giving off the gas. When the muscles in the blood vessels were flooded with nitric oxide, they relaxed or dilated and blood flow increased dramatically. When they were prevented from making the gas, blood vessels constricted and blood pressure skyrocketed.
Interesting story, right, but how does it relate to erectile function, and more importantly L-arginine? Well, nitric oxide is produced from the breakdown of L-arginine. Increasing L-arginine levels can help relax blood vessels in the penis, greatly increasing the chance of erection.
I recommend a daily dosage of 4–5 grams of L-arginine, taken an hour or two before bedtime or making love. You should also consider taking two additional synergistic nutrients with L-arginine: choline (500–1,000 mg daily) and vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid (500–1,000 mg daily). Note: Don’t consume these high dosages of L-arginine and vitamins right from the start. To avoid possible nausea or stomachaches, begin with about one-fourth the recommended dosages and gradually, over several days, work up to the full amounts.
Similar to L-arginine, ginkgo has the unique property of being able to increase blood flow in small arteries. One study in the Journal of Urology showed that 30 of the 60 patients treated with ginkgo regained potency in only six months. The patients were selected because their problems were linked directly to a lack of arterial blood flow to the penis, and none of them had been helped by the standard medical treatment of injections with papaverine. (Papaverine is used to make small blood vessels dilate, or open up.) The patients were given 60 mg of a standardized extract per day. Noticeable changes in the penile blood flow came in as little as six to eight weeks.
If you and your doctor decide to try it to boost erectile function, be sure to use a product containing 24 percent flavonoid glycosides. All of the legitimate studies have been done with this “standardized” extract.
Address Nutritional Deficiencies
There are several nutrients that act as “hormone precursors” or play other roles in supporting sexual function, which means if you’re deficient in them, problems can arise. That’s why I recommend the following:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: 1,000 mg per day
- Niacin: 250 mg
- Vitamin E: 1,000 IU
- Zinc: 50 mg
Zinc especially plays a major role in prostate health, and deficiencies can cause a wide variety of prostate-related problems (and by extension, decreased libido and sexual performance since there is a link between prostate and sexual health). Zinc can help stop the conversion of testosterone into hormones that increase prostate growth. Pumpkin seeds are a good food source of zinc, but oysters are by far the best, packed with up to 150 mg of zinc per 100 grams.
Yohimbine (Corynanthe yohimbe) is an alkaloid from the bark of the Yohimbe tree in Africa. Studies have shown that for men with intermittent impotence problems yohimbine can be effective in more than 60 percent of the cases. Even with more severe impotence resulting from conditions such as diabetes, it can help as much as 25 percent of the time. Yohimbine works through the nervous system, which controls the dilation and contraction of the blood vessels supplying the pelvic region and the penis. It causes the blood vessels to dilate. At the same time, it shuts the small exit valves that would normally let the blood exit the penis.
The yohimbine product I recommend is a liquid extract made by Gaia Herbs (www.gaiaherbs.com) called Yohimbe Bark. An appropriate dosage for the liquid extract can vary from 15–30 drops. Twenty drops are usually sufficient for a man who weighs about 150 pounds. Those who are heavier may need to increase the dosage. If you don’t see any improvement after you have increased your dosage, yohimbine is probably not going to work for you. Also, you’ll get better results by taking the extract on an empty stomach, which significantly improves its absorption rate.
Caution: If you have high blood pressure or kidney or liver disease, you should not take yohimbine. Also, you should be aware that yohimbine has mood-enhancing and energizing capabilities, but these are mild and temporary effects. They should not frighten you away from this herb; however, since it does affect moods, yohimbine isn’t recommended for individuals on antipsychotic medication. Lastly, refined and concentrated yohimbine has been sold as a prescription drug for quite some time. It occasionally causes excessive sweating, nausea, and vomiting. However, I have never seen these problems with anyone taking the herbal extracts.
Supplements for Libido and Erections
If you’re looking to support both erections and libido, there are a few supplements that have been shown to benefit both of these areas.
Tongkat ali has been used in traditional Southeast Asian medicine for hundreds of years. It’s probably most famed for being an aphrodisiac. The coffee-like liquid made from the roots of this slender, red-stemmed jungle plant, is believed by locals in this region to increase male virility and sexual prowess.
Traditionally, the root of the tongkat ali plant is chipped into small pieces, boiled for about 30 minutes, and then discarded. The remaining liquid is much like coffee (except it is very bitter). I prefer the powdered extract of the tongkat root, which is far more convenient and pleasant to take. Many companies sell products containing powdered root, which is not the extract. Unlike the extract, it is not a concentrate of the active ingredients and won’t give the same effect. It contains a high degree of cellulose and other root components. I don’t recommend its use.
Caution: Although I haven’t seen or heard any reports of adverse reactions, it would be reasonable to assume that use of the herb would be contraindicated in any condition that might be adversely affected by increased testosterone levels. As such, it’s generally not recommended for pregnant or nursing mothers or men with prostate cancer.
Another Traditional Secret Worth Trying
In traditional Arab circles there are several ways to boost erectile function. They include dried ginger rhizome, white mustard, and almonds. Each of these contains volatile oils that can act as stimulants to the nervous system. For example, the oils contained in the rhizome of the ginger plant (the creeping horizontal stem that gives rise to the aerial shoots above and the roots below) are responsible for the hot sensation of ginger. The generally recommended dosage is 10–20 drops of the tincture in water taken with meals. Due to the hot burning sensation that it can create in the stomach, some people are unable to use it.
Brazilians are big fans of a common shrub that they call “potency wood.” Its proper name is muira puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides). Crude forms of the plant have been used as both an aphrodisiac and as a stimulant to the nervous system. At the First International Congress of Ethnopharmacology in Strasburg, France (1990), Dr. Jacques Waynberg reported using an extract of muira puama on over 250 patients with erection problems. Using 1 to 1.5 grams daily of that extract, the majority of the patients (62 percent) began to report an increase in libido. Erection problems were improved in 51 percent. No significant side effects were noted. The exact extract used by Dr. Waynberg was never commercially marketed to our knowledge; however, other muira puama products have become available. You can find them in health food stores or purchase them through online supplement retailers.
Testofen, a special extract of fenugreek, is another supplement that has been shown to help boost libido and sexual performance in men. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study, 60 men between the ages of 25 and 50 with low libido took either 600 mg of Testofen or a placebo for 6 weeks. Researchers evaluated sexual performance, desire, and satisfaction using the DISF-SR, a self-report/questionnaire designed to measure these markers. Three weeks into the study and at its conclusion, the men who had taken Testofen saw significant improvements in all three areas. Look for supplements containing Testofen and use as directed.
Supplements can offer temporary help but improving overall circulation by exercise is “the real cure.” Exercise doesn’t necessarily have to be overly strenuous but it should be regular and challenging, in order to make an impact on your circulatory health. An easy exercise to improve circulation in the relevant area is walking. Simply moving the muscles in the central area of your body increases the demand for oxygen, which results in better circulation. Studies have found that erectile problems are worse in men who spend most of their days in sitting positions.
Also consider trying different sexual positions. Stronger muscles in the back and buttocks can help maintain an erection by preventing a situation called “pelvic steal” in which blood rushes to muscles in the buttocks and legs during intercourse. In effect, these muscles “steal” the blood from the penis—causing it to go flaccid. A quick solution is to have intercourse with the woman positioned on top of the man. As you restore your circulation in the area the problem will eventually disappear.
In closing, everyone is different, so what works for one person might not work for the next. However, by addressing the underlying causes and using the lifestyle and supplement recommendations I’ve shared with you, there’s a very good chance that you will see improvements in your libido, sexual function, and overall sexual health.