These oral medications reversibly inhibit penile-specific PDE5 and enhance the nitric oxide–cGMP pathways of cavernous smooth muscle relaxation; that is, all prevent the breakdown of cGMP by PDE5. It is important to emphasize to patients that these drugs augment the body’s natural erectile mechanisms, therefore the neural and psychoemotional stimuli typically needed for arousal still need to be activated for the drugs to be efficacious.
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.
Qaseem, A., Snow, V., Denberg, T. D., Casey, D. E., Forciea, M. A., Owens, D. K., & Shekelle, P. (2009). Hormonal testing and pharmacologic treatment of erectile dysfunction: A clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Annals of internal medicine, 151(9), 639-649. Retrieved from http://annals.org/aim/article/745155/hormonal-testing-pharmacologic-treatment-erectile-dysfunction-clinical-practice-guideline-from
Once a complete sexual and medical history has been completed, appropriate laboratory studies should be conducted. In the initial evaluation of ED, sophisticated laboratory testing is rarely necessary. For example, serum testosterone (and sometimes prolactin) is typically only useful when the patient demonstrates hypogonadal features or testicular atrophy, or when clinical history is suggestive. Additional hormonal evaluation may include thyroid stimulating hormone in those with a clinical suspicion of hypothyroidism or appropriate diabetes screening in those presenting with a concern for impaired glucose metabolism. If the patient has not been evaluated with a lipid panel and hyperlipidemia is suspected, measurement and appropriate referral to internal medicine or cardiology is recommended. In most cases, a tentative diagnosis can be established with a complete sexual and medical history, physical examination, and limited or no laboratory testing.
The doctor regularly measured my levels to be sure they were within the normal range for a male my age. In other words, I wasn’t taking ‘roids to get big; I was getting control of hormones that were not functioning well. This is how you should look at testosterone therapy – it is a gentle nudge to help you be in normal ranges, not a big push to get you huuu-yge. If you’re like me, you want “normal ranges” of a 27-year-old, not of a 60-year-old. It’s my plan to keep my testosterone where it is now (around 700) no matter what it takes. Right now, the Bulletproof Diet and the other biohacks I’ve written about do that! I’m 43.
I think that a very powerful argument to young men who want to perform at the highest level is to point out the destructive nature of what they’re doing. If they’re having 18 drinks per week, if they’re having three, four, five drinks at any one time, they’re going to guarantee that their erections are not going to be at the highest level. I can’t tell you the number of men who come in saying, they went out, they had a date, they had a big dinner– which, by the way, is also not a great thing for erections, because all the blood is now going to your gut instead of to the genital area. And how important lifestyle changes are to improving your performance, as well, if not better, than the medications. So make certain that you exercise modestly, not excessively. Make certain that you have a smaller meal on an evening or a day that you want to have a sexual encounter, because you want the blood to go, once again, to the penile area and not to your gut. And really, the whole idea of stress– if you’re stressed out, if you’re worried about a lot of things, if you’re distracted, you can’t initiate that psychic stimulus to your spinal cord and then ultimately to your penis. So stress management is incredibly important.
Sleep apnea is another frequently listed contraindication to testosterone treatment. There have been a few reports of the development, or worsening, of sleep apnea during testosterone therapy (Matsumoto et al 1985) but sleep apnea is actually associated with lower serum testosterone levels (Luboshitzky et al 2002). The reduction in fat mass during treatment with testosterone could potentially be beneficial for sleep apnea, so many specialists will still consider patients for treatment with appropriate monitoring. It is wise to take a clinical history for sleep apnea during testosterone treatment in all men and perform sleep studies in those who develop symptoms.
A related issue is the potential use of testosterone as a coronary vasodilator and anti-anginal agent. Testosterone has been shown to act as a vasodilator of coronary arteries at physiological concentrations during angiography (Webb, McNeill et al 1999). Furthermore men given a testosterone injection prior to exercise testing showed improved performance, as assessed by ST changes compared to placebo (Rosano et al 1999; Webb, Adamson et al 1999). Administration of one to three months of testosterone treatment has also been shown to improve symptoms of angina and exercise test performance (Wu and Weng 1993; English et al 2000; Malkin, Pugh, Morris et al 2004). Longer term studies are underway. It is thought that testosterone improves angina due its vasodilatory action, which occurs independently of the androgen receptor, via blockade of L-type calcium channels at the cell membrane of the vascular smooth muscle in an action similar to the dihydropyridine calcium-channel blockers such as nifedipine (Hall et al 2006).
Treatment depends on the underlying cause. In general, exercise, particularly of the aerobic type, is effective for preventing ED during midlife. Exercise as a treatment is under investigation.:6, 18–19 For tobacco smokers, cessation often results in a significant improvement. Oral pharmacotherapy and vacuum erection devices are first-line treatments,:20, 24 followed by injections of drugs into the penis, as well as penile implants.:25–26 Vascular reconstructive surgeries are beneficial in certain groups.
Organic ED involves abnormalities the penile arteries, veins, or both and is the most common cause of ED, especially in older men. When the problem is arterial, it is usually caused by arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, although trauma to the arteries may be the cause. The controllable risk factors for arteriosclerosis--being overweight, lack of exercise, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cigarette smoking--can cause erectile failure often before progressing to affect the heart.
"The hard part," said Dr. Anawalt, "is the man who is 50 pounds overweight and sedentary, who sees a TV ad and goes to see his doctor. Let's say he has a thoughtful doctor who does the right test, at the right time of day (morning), and the test comes back low. Many of these guys will have low or slightly low testosterone. We have no evidence for whether or not it's a benefit to give these guys testosterone." He added that concern about their testosterone level could be a good thing if it spurs men to lose weight and exercise. "A low testosterone level can be a marker of poor health," he said.
Over a 2-year period, a third of the men randomized to a weight loss program demonstrated resolution of erectile dysfunction.10 A Mediterranean diet and nutritional counseling reported increased erectile quality.18 Little evidence supports that increased physical activity alone improves erectile quality; however, the strong association between physical activity and lower BMI is well described, and therefore recommended for men with erectile dysfunction and without a contraindication to physical activity.
Falling in love decreases men's testosterone levels while increasing women's testosterone levels. There has been speculation that these changes in testosterone result in the temporary reduction of differences in behavior between the sexes. However, it is suggested that after the "honeymoon phase" ends—about four years into a relationship—this change in testosterone levels is no longer apparent. Men who produce less testosterone are more likely to be in a relationship or married, and men who produce more testosterone are more likely to divorce; however, causality cannot be determined in this correlation. Marriage or commitment could cause a decrease in testosterone levels. Single men who have not had relationship experience have lower testosterone levels than single men with experience. It is suggested that these single men with prior experience are in a more competitive state than their non-experienced counterparts. Married men who engage in bond-maintenance activities such as spending the day with their spouse/and or child have no different testosterone levels compared to times when they do not engage in such activities. Collectively, these results suggest that the presence of competitive activities rather than bond-maintenance activities are more relevant to changes in testosterone levels.
Studies show that high cholesterol and obesity are linked to erectile dysfunction, and both can be improved through diet. "A heart-healthy diet that prevents cardiovascular disease and maintains a healthy weight is also good for erectile functioning," says Feloney. An ideal diet plan involves eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and having frequent servings of fruits, vegetables, and plenty of whole grains.
The availability of phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors—sildenafil, vardenafil, tadalafil, and avanafil—has fundamentally altered the medical management of ED. In addition, direct-to-consumer marketing of these agents over the last 15 years has increased the general public’s awareness of ED as a medical condition with underlying causes and effective treatments.
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.
Low-intensity extracorporeal shock wave therapy has been proposed as a new non-invasive treatment for erectile dysfunction caused by problems with blood vessels. Shock wave therapy machines are now available in some medical practices in Australia. Although there is some evidence that it may help a proportion of men with erectile dysfunction, more research is needed before clear recommendations on its use can be made.
Medications for erectile dysfunction don't work for everyone and may cause side effects that make a particular drug hard to take. "Work with your doctor to find the right treatment. There are still options for people who fail at medical treatment," advises Feloney. Alternatives to erectile dysfunction drugs include vacuum pump devices, medications injected into the penis, testosterone replacement if needed, and a surgical penile implant.
Stanley A Brosman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association for Cancer Research, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Urological Association, Society for Basic Urologic Research, Society of Surgical Oncology, Society of Urologic Oncology, Western Section of the American Urological Association, Association of Clinical Research Professionals, American Society of Clinical Oncology, International Society of Urology, International Society of Urological Pathology
The brain is also affected by this sexual differentiation; the enzyme aromatase converts testosterone into estradiol that is responsible for masculinization of the brain in male mice. In humans, masculinization of the fetal brain appears, by observation of gender preference in patients with congenital diseases of androgen formation or androgen receptor function, to be associated with functional androgen receptors.
Alteration of NO levels is the focus of several approaches to the treatment of ED. Inhibitors of phosphodiesterase, which primarily hydrolyze cGMP type 5, provided the basis for the development of the PDE5 inhibitors. Chen et al administered oral L-arginine and reported subjective improvement in 50 men with ED.  These supplements are readily available commercially. Reported adverse effects include nausea, diarrhea, headache, flushing, numbness, and hypotension.
Between 10 and 88% of patients diagnosed with cancer experience sexual problems following diagnosis and treatment. The prevalence varies according to the location and type of cancer, and the treatment modalities used. Sexuality may be affected by chemotherapy, alterations in body image due to weight change, hair loss or surgical disfigurement, hormonal changes, and cancer treatments that directly affect the pelvic region.
Erectile dysfunction is known to be associated with general health status, thus, lifestyle modification improves erectile function and decreases the rate of decline of function with aging. One year after discontinuation of smoking, patients were found to have a 25% improvement in erectile quality.16 In addition, multivariate analysis found obesity is associated with erectile dysfunction with an approximately 50% increase in ED in obese men as compared with normal weight men.17
In males, testosterone is required for the development of male sex organs such as increased penis and testes size. The hormone also promotes the development of sexual male characteristics during puberty such as voice deepening and the growth of armpit, chest and pubic hair. Testosterone plays an important role in maintaining sex drive, sperm production, muscle strength and bone mass. A healthy level of testosterone is also protective against bone disorders such as osteoporosis.
Patients receiving penile prostheses should be instructed in the operation of the prosthesis before surgery and again in the postoperative period. The prosthesis usually is not activated until approximately 6 weeks after surgery, so as to allow the edema and pain to subside. The prosthesis is checked in the office before the patient begins to use it.
Epidemiological studies have also assessed links between serum testosterone and non-coronary atherosclerosis. A study of over 1000 people aged 55 years and over found an inverse correlation between serum total and bioavailable testosterone and the amount of aortic atherosclerosis in men, as assessed by radiological methods (Hak et al 2002). Increased intima-media thickness (IMT) is an early sign of atherosclerosis and has also been shown to predict cardiovascular mortality (Murakami et al 2005). Cross-sectional studies have found that testosterone levels are negatively correlated with carotid IMT in independently living men aged 74–93 years (van den Beld et al 2003), diabetic men (Fukui et al 2003) and young obese men (De Pergola et al 2003). A 4-year follow up study of the latter population showed that free testosterone was also inversely correlated with the rate of increase of IMT (Muller et al 2004).
In my late 20’s, I visited an anti-aging doctor who was one of the pioneers of what we now call functional medicine. I got a full hormone test. Shockingly, my testosterone was lower than my mother’s. No wonder I felt crappy and was overweight. My other sex hormones were out of whack too, especially my estrogen levels. They were high because the little testosterone I did make my body converted into estrogen. I went on a mix of topical replacement testosterone cream, plus small doses of pharmaceuticals like clomid and arimidex in order to keep my other sex hormones functioning properly.
There is increasing interest in the group of patients who fail to respond to treatment with PDE-5 inhibitors and have low serum testosterone levels. Evidence from placebo-controlled trials in this group of men shows that testosterone treatment added to PDE-5 inhibitors improves erectile function compared to PDE-5 inhibitors alone (Aversa et al 2003; Shabsigh et al 2004).
However, a review of a United Kingdom medical record database found no evidence that the use of 5-alpha reductase inhibitors independently increase the risk for ED. In 71,849 men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), the risk of ED was not increased with the use of finasteride or dutasteride only (odds ratio [OR] 0.94), or a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor plus an alpha blocker (OR 0.92) compared with an alpha blocker only. In addition, the risk of ED was not increase in 12 346 men prescribed finasteride 1 mg for alopecia, compared with unexposed men with alopecia (OR 0.95). The risk of ED did increase with longer duration of BPH, regardless of drug exposure. 
Due to the risk of hypotension, caution should be used in patients using alpha blockers for prostate hyperplasia and patients using other antihypertensive medications and alpha blockers, which should not be co-administered with PDE5 inhibitors. In patients who take 50 mg of sildenafil or more and use alpha blockers, sildenafil dosing should be avoided for at least 4 hours after the dose of the alpha blocker. In patients who take 25 mg of sildenafil, use of any alpha blockers is considered safe.
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."