Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to get an erection or to keep one that's firm enough or that lasts long enough for a man to have a satisfying sexual experience. Occasional bouts of ED aren't unusual. In fact, as many as one in five men deal with erectile dysfunction to some degree. Symptoms, of course, are rather obvious. And while age can be a risk factor, so can medication use, health conditions, lifestyle factors (like smoking), and other concerns. Treatment is available and may involve prescriptions, habit changes, or other options.
Important future developments will include selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs). These drugs will be able to produce isolated effects of testosterone at androgen receptors. They are likely to become useful clinical drugs, but their initial worth may lie in facilitating research into the relative importance of testosterone’s action at the androgen receptor compared to at other sites or after conversion to other hormones. Testosterone will remain the treatment of choice for late onset hypogonadism for some time to come.
Psychosocial problems are important and may cause erectile dysfunction by themselves or together with other causes of erectile dysfunction, such as diabetes and heart disease. Relationships are complicated and many factors cause tensions, which can affect sexual relations. For some men, these problems can become ongoing and it can help to talk through the issue with a skilled counsellor. It is important to know that the longer erectile dysfunction is left untreated, the greater the effect on relationships. This is another reason why early treatment of erectile dysfunction is important.
For obvious reasons, ED can be a sensitive subject, one that until relatively recently men were more likely to try to hide than to deal with. Fortunately, a deeper understanding of the variety of causes of erectile dysfunction has led to medications, therapies, and other treatments that can be more individualized and more likely to be effective—and more open discussion about addressing the concern.
It doesn’t get more natural than getting a good night’s sleep. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that lack of sleep can greatly reduce a healthy young man’s testosterone levels. That effect is clear after only one week of reduced sleep. Testosterone levels were particularly low between 2 and 10 p.m. on sleep-restricted days. Study participants also reported a decreased sense of wellbeing as their blood testosterone levels dropped.
There are, as you listen to all of the advertisements, if your erection lasts for more than four hours, there are very, very unusual cases where that can happen. There are very rare cases of visual problems. There are even rarer cases of hearing problems. But with every medication, there always a potential downside. But the absolute contraindication is an unstable medical condition, an unstable cardiovascular condition, being on nitrates.
I’m telling you all of this because no matter who you are, keeping your testosterone levels balanced is more important now than ever before. Modern living has not been kind to our hormones. In American men, serum testosterone levels have declined by about 1% each year for the past 30 years [5], and you can make a few educated guesses about why. Hormone-disrupting chemicals are more prevalent than ever before, physical activity is less and less common, veganism is popular (I was a raw vegan for a while), and many doctors insist on pushing a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet for health (by the way, the concept of a low-fat diet began in the mid-70s, shortly before the nationwide testosterone decline. It could be a coincidence, but I doubt it).
Some of the effects of testosterone treatment are well recognised and it seems clear that testosterone treatment for aging hypogonadal men can be expected to increase lean body mass, decrease visceral fat mass, increase bone mineral density and decrease total cholesterol. Beneficial effects have been seen in many trials on other parameters such as glycemic control in diabetes, erectile dysfunction, cardiovascular risk factors, angina, mood and cognition. These potentially important effects require confirmation in larger clinical trials. Indeed, it is apparent that longer duration randomized controlled trials of testosterone treatment in large numbers of men are needed to confirm the effects of testosterone on many aspects of aging male health including cardiovascular health, psychiatric health, prostate cancer and functional capacity. In the absence of such studies, it is necessary to balance risk and benefit on the best available data. At the present time the data supports the treatment of hypogonadal men with testosterone to normalize testosterone levels and improve symptoms. Most men with hypogonadism do not have a contraindication to treatment, but it is important to monitor for adverse consequences including prostate complications and polycythemia.
When I first started TRT, my physician prescribed a cream that you rub into your skin. The cream version of TRT is not too convenient, because if someone touches you while you have the cream on, the testosterone can rub off on him/her. This can be really bad around kids or pregnant women. If you’re sleeping next to someone, the cream can get on the sheets and transfer over that way, too. The cream can be annoying, but it works. There’s also a gel version called AndroGel; I skipped it because it doesn’t absorb as well as the cream does.
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