As recently as two decades ago, doctors tended to blame erectile dysfunction on psychological problems or, with older men, on the normal aging process. Today, the pendulum of medical opinion has swung away from both notions. While arousal takes longer as a man ages, chronic erectile dysfunction warrants medical attention. Moreover, the difficulty is often not psychological in origin. Today, urologists believe that physical factors underlie the majority of cases of persistent erectile dysfunction in men over age 50.
Like other steroid hormones, testosterone is derived from cholesterol (see figure). The first step in the biosynthesis involves the oxidative cleavage of the side-chain of cholesterol by cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme (P450scc, CYP11A1), a mitochondrial cytochrome P450 oxidase with the loss of six carbon atoms to give pregnenolone. In the next step, two additional carbon atoms are removed by the CYP17A1 (17α-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase) enzyme in the endoplasmic reticulum to yield a variety of C19 steroids. In addition, the 3β-hydroxyl group is oxidized by 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase to produce androstenedione. In the final and rate limiting step, the C17 keto group androstenedione is reduced by 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase to yield testosterone.
Testosterone does a lot more than you’d think, whether we’re talking about male or female biology. It’s the hormone that helps you burn fat, build muscle , and increase your sex drive , and its power doesn’t stop there. Keeping your testosterone levels in a normal range can make you happier, too , and testosterone can even improve your cardiovascular health and decrease your risk of mortality (from all causes!), according to a study of 83,000 older men who underwent testosterone replacement therapy .
Talk with your doctor before trying supplements for ED. They can contain 10 or more ingredients and may complicate other health conditions. Asian ginseng and ginkgo biloba (seen here) are popular, but there isn't a lot of good research on their effectiveness. Some men find that taking a DHEA supplement improves their ability to have an erection. Unfortunately, the long-term safety of DHEA supplements is unknown. Most doctors do not recommend using it.
Replacement therapy may produce desired results, such as greater muscle mass and a stronger sex drive. However, the treatment does carry some side effects. Oily skin and fluid retention are common. The testicles may also shrink, and sperm production could decrease significantly. Some studies have found no greater risk of prostate cancer with testosterone replacement therapy, but it continues to be a topic of ongoing research.
If a young man's low testosterone is a problem for a couple trying to get pregnant, gonadotropin injections may be an option in some cases. These are hormones that signal the body to produce more testosterone. This may increase the sperm count. Hedges also describes implantable testosterone pellets, a relatively new form of treatment in which several pellets are placed under the skin of the buttocks, where they release testosterone over the course of about three to four months. Injections and nasal gels may be other options for some men.
In rare cases, the drug Viagra ® can cause blue-green shading to vision that lasts for a short time. In rare cases, the drug Cialis® can cause or increase back pain or aching muscles in the back. In most cases, the side effects are linked to PDE5 inhibitor effects on other tissues in the body, meaning they are working to increase blood flow to your penis and at the same time impacting other vascular tissues in your body. These are not ‘allergic reactions'.
The diagnosis of late-onset hypogonadism requires the combination of low serum testosterone levels with symptoms of hypogonadism. Questionnaires are available which check for the symptoms of hypogonadism. These have been validated for the assessment of aging patients with hypogonadism (Morley et al 2000; Moore et al 2004) but have a low specificity. In view of the overlap in symptoms between hypogonadism, aging and other medical conditions it is wise to use a formal method of symptom assessment which can be used to monitor the effects of testosterone replacement.
A number of research groups have tried to further define the relationship of testosterone and body composition by artificial alteration of testosterone levels in eugonadal populations. Induction of a hypogonadal state in healthy men (Mauras et al 1998) or men with prostate cancer (Smith et al 2001) using a gonadotrophin-releasing-hormone (GnRH) analogue was shown to produce increases in fat mass and decreased fat free mass. Another experimental approach in healthy men featured suppression of endogenous testosterone production with a GnRH analogue, followed by treatment with different doses of weekly intramuscular testosterone esters for 20 weeks. Initially the experiments involved men aged 18–35 years (Bhasin et al 2001) but subsequently the study was repeated with a similar protocol in men aged 60–75 years (Bhasin et al 2005). The different doses given were shown to produce a range of serum concentrations from subphysiological to supraphysiological (Bhasin et al 2001). A given testosterone dose produced higher serum concentrations of testosterone in the older age group (Bhasin et al 2005). Subphysiological dosing of testosterone produced a gain in fat mass and loss of fat free mass during the study. There were sequential decreases in fat mass and increases in fat free mass with each increase of testosterone dose. These changes in body composition were seen in physiological and supraphysiological treatment doses. The trend was similar in younger versus older men but the gain of fat mass at the lowest testosterone dose was less prominent in older patients (Bhasin et al 2001; Bhasin et al 2005). With regard to muscle function, the investigators showed dose dependent increases in leg strength and power with testosterone treatment in young and older men but there was no improvement in fatigability (Storer et al 2003; Bhasin et al 2005).
Lifestyle choices that impair blood circulation can contribute to ED. Smoking, excessive drinking, and drug abuse may damage the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the penis. Smoking makes men with atherosclerosis particularly vulnerable to ED. Being overweight and getting too little exercise also contribute to ED. Studies indicate that men who exercise regularly have a lower risk of ED.
Cosgrove et al reported a higher rate of sexual dysfunction in veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than in veterans who did not develop this problem.  The domains on the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) questionnaire that demonstrated the most change included overall sexual satisfaction and erectile function. [43, 44] Men with PTSD should be evaluated and treated if they have sexual dysfunction.
In a recent study of male workers, men with low testosterone levels had an increased chance of severe erectile dysfunction (Kratzik et al 2005), although such a link had not been found previously (Rhoden et al 2002). Certainly erectile dysfunction is considered part of the clinical syndrome of hypogonadism, and questions regarding erectile dysfunction form part of the clinical assessment of patients with hypogonadism (Morley et al 2000; Moore et al 2004).
Dr. Ronald Swerdloff, chief of the endocrinology division at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and a professor of medicine at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, served on the panel of experts who developed the Endocrine Society's guidelines. He is also the principal investigator for one of the 12 sites of The Testosterone Trial in Older Men, a nationwide study funded mainly by the National Institute on Aging. The study of 800 men over age 65 with low testosterone is looking at whether men using AndroGel for one year, compared to placebo, will show improvements in walking speed, sexual activity, vitality, memory, and anemia. The study will be completed in June 2015.
^ David KG, Dingemanse E, Freud JL (May 1935). "Über krystallinisches mannliches Hormon aus Hoden (Testosteron) wirksamer als aus harn oder aus Cholesterin bereitetes Androsteron" [On crystalline male hormone from testicles (testosterone) effective as from urine or from cholesterol]. Hoppe-Seyler's Z Physiol Chem (in German). 233 (5–6): 281–83. doi:10.1515/bchm2.1935.233.5-6.281.