The general topic of men’s health is quite broad and can include issues that
are part of women’s health too. Good examples here are cardiovascular health and
weight loss, as well as sexual wellbeing. Prostate health and conditions such as
erectile dysfunction (ED) are peculiar to men while in the older female,
sexual dysfunction nearly always centers on menopause. In younger women,
specific physiological disorders affecting sexual health seem to predominate.
In men, vascular health and sexual function are very closely related.
Erectile dysfunction not only adversely affects intimate relationships, but it
can also indicate potential cardiovascular health problems. In many cases,
erectile difficulties may be a sign of an underlying cardiovascular disorder.
Because vascular health reflects erectile function, it’s not surprising that
nutritional supplement ingredients that support healthy erectile performance
also contribute to cardiovascular health.
Supplements that are intended
to combat ED usually contain ingredients that will support optimal nitric oxide
(NO) levels in the body. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels to facilitate
improved blood flow. The amino acid arginine is well-known for its
cardiovascular benefits primarily because of its conversion to NO in the
endothelial cells that line the internal surfaces of arteries. Increased
vascular smooth muscle relaxation and the resulting improved blood flow to
erectile tissue are due to enhanced NO production. It has been shown that
oral arginine supplementation significantly supports erectile function when
compared with placebo (1).
Horny goatweed (Epimedium sagittatum) has been
used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries because of its aphrodisiac
effects and support of erectile health. Scientists have isolated and
characterized icariin and have shown this flavonoid derivative to be the major
Viagra-like active component (2). Recent research has demonstrated that
icariin selectively inhibits phosphodiesterase type 5 (PPE-5), an enzyme that
causes a rapid termination of male sexual activity. By blocking this enzyme,
sexual activity in men is sustained. Additionally, icariin enhances the
production of NO from arginine. As we now know, increased production of NO by
cells in the arterial wall results in dilatation of the penile blood vessels,
which increases blood flow and maintains erectile function. This mechanism of
action for natural icariin is amazingly similar to that of synthetic Viagra (3).
The enhanced NO production from arginine also underlines potential
Other natural ingredients have a long history of
safe and effective use in ED and complement the actions of arginine and horny
goatweed. These include Maca root or Peruvian Ginseng (Lepidium meyenii),
Yohimbe root bark (Pausinystalia yohimbe) and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). All
three of these ingredients act as aphrodisiacs and are noted for their erectile
and sexual health benefits in men. Interestingly, maca has recently been
suggested to benefit female sexual health and to support female sexual
Another health issue that is fairly widespread in men is
prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Keep in mind that BPH is not
prostatic cancer, but it can be bothersome. Men usually know when they encounter
BPH because of difficult urination and frequent nocturnal urination. The
currently accepted and most plausible theory supporting the etiology of BPH
centers on prostatic testosterone and its excessive conversion to the more
potent dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The enzyme 5-alpha reductase catalyzes this
conversion, and once formed, DHT stimulates the proliferation of prostatic
cells. It appears logical that high levels of DHT lead to excessive numbers of
prostatic cells, which can result in an enlarged prostate. Saw Palmetto (Serenoa
repens) is the most popular and best understood ingredient that provides benefit
in cases of BPH. The lipophilic (fat soluble) fraction from Saw Palmetto berries
is most active and it appears that fatty acids from this fraction inhibit
5-alpha reductase to lower prostate levels of DHT. The bark of the African Plum
Tree (Pygeum africana) and the root of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) have
shown significant benefit in cases of BPH (5,6). Also, anecdotal reports exist
of the carotenoid lycopene and the mineral zinc producing prostate health
Maintenance of men’s health is an important priority and should
not be ignored. Several nutritional approaches offer meaningful benefits. My
belief is that men should optimize the proper functioning of all body systems so
as to preserve the highest achievable health status.
Created by Dr.
William J. Keller
- Melman A. This month in investigative
urology. L-arginine and penile erection. Journal of Urology. 1997 Sep;158(3 Pt
- Dell’Agli M, et al. Potent inhibition of human
phosphodiesterase-5 by icariin derivatives. Journal of Natural Products. 2008
Sep;71(9):1513-7. Abstract available at:
- Xu, HB, Huang ZQ.
Icariin enhances endothelial nitric-oxide synthase expression on human
endothelial cells in vitro. Vascular Pharmacology. 2007 Jul;47(1):18-24.
Abstract available at:
- Brooks NA, Wilcox G,
Walker KZ, Ashton JF, Cox MB, Stojanovska L. Beneficial effects of Lepidium
meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in
postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content. Menopause.
2008 Nov-Dec;15(6):1157-62. Abstract available at:
- Levin, RM, Levin SS,
Zhao Y, Buttyan R. Cellular and molecular aspects of bladder hypertrophy.
European Urology. 1997;32 Suppl 1:15-21. Abstract available at:
- Jellin, J. 2010
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 12 ed. pp 1592-1595.