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Nitric Oxide DeclineOne of the most important cellular signaling molecules involved in the process of achieving and maintaining an erection is a naturally produced gas known as nitric oxide (NO). Male sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction have been known to occur when the production of this chemical is decreased or somehow limited. The impairment of nitric oxide can sometimes be attributed to certain health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes and has also been observed as a side-effect of certain commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs.

Nitric Oxide and Erections

When sexual stimulation occurs, the sponge-like erectile tissues within the penis relax and fill with blood which increases pressure and volume and leads to an erection. This entire process is controlled by a number of biologically produced chemicals. Some of these chemicals cause a restriction of blood flow to prevent erections while others like nitric oxide lead to expansion when an erection is required.

While in a normal healthy system these factors are usually in balance, erectile dysfunction (ED) can develop when relaxing vasodilators such as nitric oxide are inhibited. This imbalance which prevents the erectile tissue from expanding and results in the penis remaining flaccid has been linked to the following conditions.

Cardiovascular Disease

Approximately 75% of men with cardiovascular disease also experience ED. This is believed to be a result of the reduced blood flow and impaired nitric oxide production caused by a hardening of the arteries (a buildup of plaques referred to as atherosclerosis).

In essence, the narrowing and hardening of the arteries that accompanies cardiovascular disease serves to both restrict blood flow to the penis and also decreases the amount of available nitric oxide. Without an adequate supply of nitric oxide an erection cannot take place.

Diabetes Mellitus

Since poor control of blood sugar levels can inhibit nitric oxide production, erectile dysfunction is also commonly reported among men diagnosed with diabetes. An inadequate amount of nitric oxide can prevent blood pressure within the penis from rising enough to close off the penile veins. This essentially allows blood to flow out of the penis instead of trapping it to produce an erection.

Another possible contributing factor to diabetes-related erectile dysfunction is a condition called "oxidative stress." Highly reactive oxygen species produced within the body (often referred to as free radicals) can react and interfere with the activity of nitric oxide molecules and damage nerves within the penis. If this happens then the damaged nerves will be unable to relay normally generated arousal signals for the penis to respond to and erections will not occur.

Antidepressants

Drugs prescribed to alleviate mood and anxiety disorders are among the largest groups of prescription medications in the United States today. The use of antidepressants has also been linked to many side-effects, one of the most commonly reported being sexual dysfunction. It has been estimated that somewhere between 10 and 15 million patients each year are likely to develop some form of sexual side-effect due to the use of these drugs, particularly those in the class of compounds known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

SSRI's are typically used in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders and function by increasing the level of serotonin in the central nervous system. While increasing serotonin does help treat depression, elevated levels of this neurotransmitter also effectively blocks the signalling pathway in the erection-generating center of the spine. This results in a decrease in the production of nitric oxide and reduces the amount available to the cells in the penis.

As we have seen, poor nitric oxide levels often correlate with sexual dysfunction issues in men. Fortunately there are ways to prevent this from happening. In our next article we'll look at ways to naturally boost nitric oxide production and neutralize the destructive effects of free radicals in order to help alleviate erectile dysfunction problems.

Posted by PRS
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012


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