As if the pandemic hasn’t brought enough misfortunes to our lives already, a report shows that several male survivors of COVID-19 have complained about experiencing erectile dysfunction (ED). Although more thorough research and investigation are needed, COVID-19 infection might be yet another cause of ED. The lockdowns, social isolation and economic downturns have caused a lot of stress and anxiety, which can be felt in bed. But even without COVID-19, ED, according to 2 studies — Ab Rahman et al. (2011) and Fadzil et al. (2014) — reportedly affects 69.5% and 62% of Malaysian men, respectively. It’s also worth noting that this rate of incidence also varies among the 3 primary ethnic groups in the country — Malays, Chinese’ and Indians.
The only upside of ED being so commonplace is that there are various treatments available. Therefore, it’s important to understand why it happens in the first place, as other, more serious health problems might cause impotence. Read on to learn about erectile dysfunction and its underlying causes.
What is Erectile Dysfunction, Exactly?
According to the Urology Care Foundation, erectile dysfunction is “trouble getting or keeping an erection that’s firm enough for sex”. Although it’s not exactly a life-threatening disease, ED could cause relationship discord, loss of confidence, shame, anger, anxiety, and depression.
What Causes ED?
Several factors that cause ED include:
Obstruction of blood flow into the penis
Erections in male humans are unlike some other mammals, as they are generated through blood flow to the penis. When a disruption of blood flow occurs, it prevents the penis from erecting. Smoking and more serious illnesses like heart disease and diabetes can cause this issue.
Abnormalities in the penis
A penis that cannot trap blood during an erection or has an abnormal structure can also cause ED.
Problems with the nerve system
Nerve damage or a penis’ inability to receive nerve signals from the brain or spinal cord can impact its functionality.
Use of steroids, low male hormone production, increased pituitary hormone levels, abnormal levels of thyroid, and some other hormones can cause ED.
Diseases and their treatments
Cancer radiation and some drugs have been known to make patients suffer from ED. Chronic diseases or conditions such as heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity are known causes. Moreover, as mentioned above, COVID-19 has been linked to some ED cases in survivors.
Depression is the main cause of ED in men in their 30s or 40s, as they are more prone to workplace stress and financial problems. Other mental-related problems are related to social upbringing, as some men raised in culturally conservative environments perceive sex as something shameful. Their negative attitude toward sex could cause them to experience ED.
A disturbance in the kidney and liver
The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective sees the kidney and the liver as organs primarily responsible for erections, or the lack thereof. The kidney houses an essence called jing, which includes making a new life and controlling sexual instinct. That’s why, according to TCM, deficiencies of kidney jing, yin or yang will result in ED.
Together with the kidney, the liver also manages erections, as its meridians – pathways of energy – go around the external genitals. A disturbance or stagnation in the liver’s qi (energy) is one of the causes of ED.
Apart from the liver and kidney, the heart and spleen also play an essential role in male sexuality. Mental stress reduces heart blood or qi and causes difficulty in maintaining erections.
Obesity, cigarette smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, and recreational drugs like marijuana can cause health problems closely related to impotence.
How to Treat ED
In TCM, treating ED starts with correcting patterns of disharmony in the liver and kidneys. These include kidney yin or yang vacuity or binding depression of liver qi. For this reason, TCM practitioners have developed a comprehensive framework such as treatments and the use of herbal ingredients to help men overcome ED.
Running, lifting weights, and other forms of exercise stimulate the production of male hormones and improve libido. Exercise improves blood circulation in the body and boosts flow to the penis.
A healthy diet, particularly a Mediterranean diet, helps to improve sexual performance. The plan emphasises vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, beans, and legumes. It also recommends consuming fish, poultry, and virgin olive oil.
A premium herb that potentially strengthens the kidney meridians and enhances fertility, Cordyceps is present in essence of chicken – a nutritious supplement that uses select extracts from fresh chicken.
Specifically, a component of Cordyceps known as cordycepin can help to improve ED in men by increasing sexual stimulation, and erectile, ejaculatory, orgasmic and other responses. Cordyceps also possesses an abundance of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties. These properties help to regulate altered oxidative defence system, spermatogenesis-related factors and production of sex hormones.
In a 2012 International Journal of Impotence Research study and a 2018 systematic review of herbal supplements that help improve ED, ginseng’s potential in treating ED is scientifically proven. This TCM herb links to improved stamina, better libido, and helping men get and maintain erections.
Usually used as a supplement for athletes, maca root is most well-known for its ability to increase libido and boost men’s health. It promotes physical endurance and improves stamina.
Also known as Eurycoma Longifolia Jack or simply longjack, Tongkat Ali has long been used as a natural aphrodisiac. Studies have shown that Tongkat Ali provides support to male health, improves endurance, and increase muscle strength for sports performance.
Vitamin E increases the production of the male hormone testosterone and is found in vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, and goji berries.
It turns out this breakfast staple also works as an aphrodisiac. As a result, consuming oats can be beneficial for enhancing sex drive.
In most cases, erectile dysfunction is temporary and treatable. Therefore, consult a doctor before it’s too late. Recognising what triggers it is the key to finding an effective treatment. Once you realise this, you’ll find that treating erectile dysfunction is not that hard.
This is an adaptation of an article, “Erectile Dysfunction: Addressing the Hard Issues with TCM”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.
ResearchGate. 2011. Prevalence of erectile dysfunction in primary care setting, Malaysia. [online] Available at <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/241122403_Prevalence_of_erectile_dysfunction_in_primary_care_setting_Malaysia> [Accessed 24 August 2021]
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