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.
Oral/buccal (by mouth). The buccal dose comes in a patch that you place above your incisor (canine or "eyetooth"). The medication looks like a tablet but you should not chew or swallow it. The drug is released over 12 hours. This method has fewer harmful side effects on the liver than if the drug is swallowed, but it may cause headaches or cause irritation where you place it.
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).
So what is this Big T, anyway? Derived from cholesterol, testosterone is a steroid hormone—called an androgen—that causes the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics. It's mainly secreted by the testicles in males, although the adrenal cortex and ovaries in females also secrete testosterone—though only about one-tenth the amount as in healthy males.
At the present time, it is suggested that androgen replacement should take the form of natural testosterone. Some of the effects of testosterone are mediated after conversion to estrogen or dihydrotestosterone by the enzymes aromatase and 5a-reductase enzymes respectively. Other effects occur independently of the traditional action of testosterone via the classical androgen receptor- for example, its action as a vasodilator via a cell membrane action as described previously. It is therefore important that the androgen used to treat hypogonadism is amenable to the action of these metabolizing enzymes and can also mediate the non-androgen receptor actions of testosterone. Use of natural testosterone ensures this and reduces the chance of non-testosterone mediated adverse effects. There are now a number of testosterone preparations which can meet these recommendations and the main factor in deciding between them is patient choice.
Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, associate professor of pharmacology and director of the industry watchdog group PharmedOut.org at Georgetown University School of Medicine, calls this kind of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising "evil." She likened the efforts to sell TRT to earlier campaigns to push hormone replacement therapy for post-menopausal women. "They stole the playbook," she said. "This hormone is being thrown around like sugar water."
The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of hims, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
One of the first steps is to distinguish between physiological and psychological ED. Determining whether involuntary erections are present is important in eliminating the possibility of psychogenic causes for ED. Obtaining full erections occasionally, such as nocturnal penile tumescence when asleep (that is, when the mind and psychological issues, if any, are less present), tends to suggest that the physical structures are functionally working. Similarly, performance with manual stimulation, as well as any performance anxiety or acute situational ED, may indicate a psychogenic component to ED.
Sexual dysfunction is highly prevalent in men and women. In the MMAS, 52% of the respondents reported some degree of erectile difficulty. Complete ED, defined as (1) the total inability to obtain or maintain an erection during sexual stimulation and (2) the absence of nocturnal erections, occurred in 10% of the respondents. Mild and moderate ED occurred in 17% and 25% of responders, respectively. 
Free testosterone (T) is transported into the cytoplasm of target tissue cells, where it can bind to the androgen receptor, or can be reduced to 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by the cytoplasmic enzyme 5α-reductase. DHT binds to the same androgen receptor even more strongly than testosterone, so that its androgenic potency is about 5 times that of T. The T-receptor or DHT-receptor complex undergoes a structural change that allows it to move into the cell nucleus and bind directly to specific nucleotide sequences of the chromosomal DNA. The areas of binding are called hormone response elements (HREs), and influence transcriptional activity of certain genes, producing the androgen effects.
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Testosterone is also important for maintaining bone strength and lean muscle mass in women, as well as contributing to overall well-being and energy levels. This hormone plays a key role in a woman’s sex drive and is responsible for enhancing sexual pleasure during intercourse. However, the levels of testosterone produced by females is still between ten and times less than the amount produced by men.
Knowing about your history of ED will help your health provider learn if your problems are because of your desire for sex, erection function, ejaculation, or orgasm (climax). Some of these questions may seem private or even embarrassing. However, be assured that your doctor is a professional and your honest answers will help find the cause and best treatment for you.
Dr. Wyne, in Houston, said, "When I hear a catchy little phrase, or someone is trying to get us to use a drug that is not based on clinical data, the cynical part of me asks where did it come from." She added, "There is a very important role for testosterone replacement therapy. It's wonderful that we have all these options, but we need to be using them appropriately, in a safe and efficacious manner."
A vacuum erection device helps draw blood into the penis by applying negative pressure. This type of device is sometimes referred to as penis pump and may be used just prior to sexual intercourse. Several types of FDA approved vacuum therapy devices are available under prescription. When pharmacological methods fail, a purpose-designed external vacuum pump can be used to attain erection, with a separate compression ring fitted to the base of the penis to maintain it. These pumps should be distinguished from other penis pumps (supplied without compression rings) which, rather than being used for temporary treatment of impotence, are claimed to increase penis length if used frequently, or vibrate as an aid to masturbation. More drastically, inflatable or rigid penile implants may be fitted surgically.
Attention, memory, and spatial ability are key cognitive functions affected by testosterone in humans. Preliminary evidence suggests that low testosterone levels may be a risk factor for cognitive decline and possibly for dementia of the Alzheimer's type, a key argument in life extension medicine for the use of testosterone in anti-aging therapies. Much of the literature, however, suggests a curvilinear or even quadratic relationship between spatial performance and circulating testosterone, where both hypo- and hypersecretion (deficient- and excessive-secretion) of circulating androgens have negative effects on cognition.
If you have low testosterone, your functional medicine or anti-aging physician will help you diagnose it. There are several different hormones your physician should measure, but the most important two are your free testosterone and estrogen levels, because converting too much testosterone to estrogen is a problem that’s different from not making enough testosterone in the first place. In my case, I wasn’t making very much testosterone, and what I was making my body converted to estrogen way too effectively.
Given the high risk of priapism during escalation of therapy for intracorporeal injection, it is recommended that the drugs be administered in a supervised office visit initially and that the patient be given a well-articulated plan for treatment of priapism if it occurs. Escalation guidelines for alprostadil alone vary, but a general guideline is to start at 2.5 mcg and increase by 2.5 mcg to a dose of 5 mcg and then in increments of 5 mcg to 10 mcg until an erection sufficient for penetration, not lasting more than 1 hour, is achieved. If there is no response to the initial 2.5-mcg dose, escalation dosing can be slightly more liberal.34 A European prospective trial of PGE1 alone found 91% of the 54 patients completing the 4 years of the study reported good or better tolerability and satisfaction with therapy.35
A large number of side-effects have been attributed to testosterone. In our clinical experience, the incidence of significant adverse effects with treatment producing physiological testosterone levels is low, and many side effects attributed to testosterone are mainly relevant to supraphysiological replacement. Some adverse effects are specific to a given mode of delivery and have already been described. Potential adverse effects concerning the prostate have also been discussed and require appropriate monitoring of symptoms, PSA and digital rectal examination. Other tumors which may be androgen responsive include cancer of the breast and primary liver tumors, and these are both contraindications to testosterone treatment
Of particularly concern are antihypertensive medications for CVD (eg, digoxin, disopyramide [Norpace], gemfibrozil [Lopid]), anxiety, depression (eg, lithium, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants), or psychosis (eg, chlorpromazine, haloperidol, pimozide [Orap], thioridazine, thiothixene). Antihypertensive drugs, such as diuretics (eg, spironolactone, thiazides) and beta blockers, may be associated with ED. Discontinuation or switching to alternative drugs, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or calcium channel blockers (eg, diltiazem, nifedipine, amlodipine), may reduce ED. The newer angiotensin II receptor antagonists may be less problematic with respect to ED, but long-term data is needed to evaluate this.
The neurovascular events that ultimately occur result in the inhibition of adrenergic tone and the release of the nonadrenergic, noncholinergic neurotransmitter, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is believed to be released from nonadrenergic, noncholinergic nerves and endothelial cells. It subsequently stimulates the guanylate cyclase enzyme system in penile smooth muscle. This results in increased levels of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) and ultimately in smooth muscle relaxation, enhancement of arterial inflow, and veno-occlusion, producing adequate firmness for sexual activity.
Testosterone may prove to be an effective treatment in female sexual arousal disorders, and is available as a dermal patch. There is no FDA approved androgen preparation for the treatment of androgen insufficiency; however, it has been used off-label to treat low libido and sexual dysfunction in older women. Testosterone may be a treatment for postmenopausal women as long as they are effectively estrogenized.
Hormone deficiency or hypogonadism, whether primary or secondary, has been thought to impact erectile function. Approximately a third of men in the European Male Aging Study demonstrated low testosterone, suggesting that hypogonadism is overrepresented among men with ED.11 Hormone deficiency, however, is less frequently the cause of ED than diabetes or vascular disease. Many entities with a strong relationship to ED also diminish bioavailable testosterone, including obesity, diabetes, and opioid use. Other hormones involved in testosterone metabolism or availability, like thyroid stimulating hormone and gonadotropins, also may impact erectile quality, presumably through regulating bioavailable testosterone. Understanding the relationship between testosterone and ED has been impaired by a lack of standardized measurement of this hormone and the cyclic nature of its release and consumption.
The hormone also plays a role in sex drive, sperm production, fat distribution, red cell production, and maintenance of muscle strength and mass, according to the Mayo Clinic. For these reasons, testosterone is associated with overall health and well-being in men. One 2008 study published in the journal Frontiers of Hormone Research even linked testosterone to the prevention of osteoporosis in men.
Male hypogonadism becomes more common with increasing age and is currently an under-treated condition. The diagnosis of hypogonadism in the aging male requires a combination of symptoms and low serum testosterone levels. The currently available testosterone preparations can produce consistent physiological testosterone levels and provide for patient preference.
The aim of treatment for hypogonadism is to normalize serum testosterone levels and abolish symptoms or pathological states that are due to low testosterone levels. The exact target testosterone level is a matter of debate, but current recommendations advocate levels in the mid-lower normal adult range (Nieschlag et al 2005). Truly physiological testosterone replacement would require replication of the diurnal rhythm of serum testosterone levels, but there is no current evidence that this is beneficial (Nieschlag et al 2005).
There is a negative correlation of testosterone levels with plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) (Glueck et al 1993; Phillips 1993), which is a major prothrombotic factor and known to be associated with progression of atherosclerosis, as well as other prothrombotic factors fibrinogen, α2-antiplasmin and factor VII (Bonithon-Kopp et al 1988; Glueck et al 1993; Phillips 1993; De Pergola et al 1997). There is a positive correlation with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) which is one of the major fibrinolytic agents (Glueck et al 1993). Interventional trials have shown a neutral effect of physiological testosterone replacement on the major clotting factors (Smith et al 2005) but supraphysiological androgen administration can produce a temporary mild pro-coagulant effect (Anderson et al 1995).
Trials of testosterone treatment in men with type 2 diabetes have also taken place. A recent randomized controlled crossover trial assessed the effects of intramuscular testosterone replacement to achieve levels within the physiological range, compared with placebo injections in 24 men with diabetes, hypogonadism and a mean age of 64 years (Kapoor et al 2006). Ten of these men were insulin treated. Testosterone treatment led to a significant reduction in glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C) and fasting glucose compared to placebo. Testosterone also produced a significant reduction in insulin resistance, measured by the homeostatic model assessment (HOMA), in the fourteen non-insulin treated patients. It is not possible to measure insulin resistance in patients treated with insulin but five out of ten of these patients had a reduction of insulin dose during the study. Other significant changes during testosterone treatment in this trial were reduced total cholesterol, waist circumference and waist-hip ratio. Similarly, a placebo-controlled but non-blinded trial in 24 men with visceral obesity, diabetes, hypogonadism and mean age 57 years found that three months of oral testosterone treatment led to significant reductions in HbA1C, fasting glucose, post-prandial glucose, weight, fat mass and waist-hip ratio (Boyanov et al 2003). In contrast, an uncontrolled study of 150 mg intramuscular testosterone given to 10 patients, average age 64 years, with diabetes and hypogonadism found no significant change in diabetes control, fasting glucose or insulin levels (Corrales et al 2004). Another uncontrolled study showed no beneficial effect of testosterone treatment on insulin resistance, measured by HOMA and ‘minimal model’ of area under acute insulin response curves, in 11 patients with type 2 diabetes aged between 33 and 73 years (Lee et al 2005). Body mass index was within the normal range in this population and there was no change in waist-hip ratio or weight during testosterone treatment. Baseline testosterone levels were in the low-normal range and patients received a relatively small dose of 100 mg intramuscular testosterone every three weeks. A good increase in testosterone levels during the trial is described but it is not stated at which time during the three week cycle the testosterone levels were tested, so the lack of response could reflect an insufficient overall testosterone dose in the trial period.