Erectile dysfunction (ED) is characterized by difficulty getting or maintaining an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. It affects up to 30 million men and can stem from a broad range of causes, including stress, limited blood flow to the penis, and underlying conditions such as high blood pressure. While addressing any existing health issues that could be contributing to ED is important, addressing ED itself is also critical to supporting sexual health and quality of life. You may be asking yourself can stem cell therapy treat erectile dysfunction?
Traditionally, treatments for ED have included PDE5 inhibitors such as Viagra. Yet, these drugs are among the most controversial on the market. They relax the blood vessel walls in certain areas of the body and, while typically effective in addressing ED, are linked to both minor and serious side effects. Common side effects include nasal congestion, vision impairment and light sensitivity, indigestion, and headaches. More serious side effects include painful and long-lasting erections, damage to the optic nerve, hearing loss, and heart attack, among others.
When oral medications fail, treatments such as injection therapy and penile implants may be explored as a last resort. Yet, these treatments also have their own set of potentially serious side effects. For this reason, experts have been exploring alternative options for treating ED.
Stem Cell Therapy for Erectile Dysfunction
One promising treatment for ED which has emerged recently is stem cell therapy. In one clinical trial, men who have experienced ED after prostatectomy for prostate cancer experienced improved erectile function, even after all previously attempted treatments showed no results. The treatment has also shown promise for improving erections in men whose ED is caused by underlying conditions such as diabetes.
Stem cells work to promote tissue regeneration and healing, due to their ability to either become new cells through self-renewal or give rise to virtually any other cell type in the body. No other cells have these remarkable capabilities. When administered strategically, they can, therefore, promote the repair of almost any type of damaged or injured tissue.
Researchers are encouraged by their findings and believe that the treatment offers a powerful alternative to traditional therapies for ED, as well as a viable solution for patients who have not responded to other treatments. Men experiencing the frustrations of ED may therefore once again be able to achieve and maintain spontaneous erections without invasive surgeries, injections, or medications, thereby improving their sexual satisfaction and relationships.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) may seem like an issue that exclusively affects sexual health, but it could actually be a telling indicator of larger issues with overall wellness. The issue could simply be a result of a lifestyle change, such as a new medication. For the majority of men, however, the underlying cause of ED is related to a physical issue, such as high cholesterol, clogged arteries, or high blood pressure.
The remedy for ED could, therefore, lie in making changes to promote better overall health. Here are some natural tactics you could try to improve both your wellness and your sex life:
Be Mindful of Heart Health
Your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels all
influence the arteries in the heart, brain, and penis. It’s therefore essential
to both your sexual and overall health that you monitor and control these
levels. Meet with your doctor regularly to discuss your vascular health, and if
needed, pursue lifestyle changes and medications to get on track.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
is a known cause of ED, so losing weight if needed and maintaining a
healthy body mass index (BMI) are some ways to combat the issue. Being
overweight also contributes to diabetes and vascular disease risk, which are
also causes of ED. Moreover, excess fat can alter hormone levels, which can
play a role in the condition. Set a goal to reach and maintain a healthy weight
to prevent or alleviate ED.
Men who exercise regularly are 20-30%
less likely to develop ED than their sedentary peers, according to a
Harvard Health study. While participants in the study either ran or completed
vigorous outdoor work, moderate and low-impact workouts can be beneficial, too.
In fact, walking just 30 minutes a day is linked to a 41%
drop in ED risk – proof that you don’t need to become a marathoner to enjoy
the health benefits of physical activity.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Diet influences many aspects of health, and sexual wellness
is no exception. According to the Massachusetts
Male Aging Study, men who follow a diet rich in natural foods including
vegetables, whole grains, and fish were less likely to experience ED than their
peers. Limiting or avoiding refined grains and red or processed meats is also
beneficial, according to the study.
Strengthen the Pelvic Floor
If you think Kegels are just for women, think again. Pelvic
floor strength is important for both men and women. Men, in particular, need
strength in this area to maintain rigid erections and prevent blood from
leaving the penis. One study in the UK
even showed that doing Kegels twice a day for three months, combined with
healthy habits like weight loss and smoking cessation, showed better results
than lifestyle changes alone.
Addressing ED isn’t always simple since it often involves a complex interplay of physical, hormonal, and psychological factors. Yet, trying these tactics can’t hurt, as their benefits will extend to your overall health while increasing your odds of combatting ED.
For some men with prostate cancer, surgery to remove the prostate gland can be curative. The surgery to remove the entire prostate gland, called radical prostatectomy, can improve survival. If performed early, radical prostatectomy can prevent metastatic prostate cancer. While men who qualify for this surgery often jump at a chance to cure prostate cancer, radical prostatectomy comes with a price—it almost always causes erectile dysfunction.
Even under the best surgical conditions, most men experience at least temporary erectile dysfunction after radical prostatectomy. While some men can regain erectile function by using oral ED treatments, as many as 3 out of 5 men continue to have poor erections and/or difficulty with orgasm months to years after radical prostatectomy.
In an attempt to find a way to treat this serious issue, researchers in France conducted a clinical trial to test whether mononuclear cells treatment could improve erectile function in men who had undergone radical prostatectomy and developed erectile dysfunction (INSTIN, INtra-cavernous STem-cell INjection clinical trial, NCT01089387). Mononuclear cells are a type of stem cell that can become many other cells, including nerve or blood vessels cells. The researchers collected mononuclear cells from the bone marrow of affected men and injected these cells into the patient’s own penile tissue (i.e. autologous stem cell infusion). The researchers then followed the men for 6 to 12 months to track whether the mononuclear cells helped improve erectile function.
The first phase of the phase 1/2 clinical trial was designed to assess the safety of the treatment. No patients in the trial experienced any side effects from treatment. Likewise, prostate cancer did not return any of the men within one year after treatment (and perhaps longer, the men were only followed for one year at the time of the report).
Within six months of treatment, men treated with the bone marrow stem cells had a significantly better erectile function and satisfaction with sexual intercourse. While the benefit was still present after the 12 months, the erectile function was not quite as good as it was at six months after treatment. This suggests injections may need to be repeated every six months to maintain maximal benefit.
These results are incredibly encouraging for men with erectile dysfunction caused by radical prostatectomy. While future clinical trials should contain a control group and larger numbers of men, these phase 1/2 clinical trial results pave the way for such research. These findings also suggest men who have life-saving prostate cancer surgery may be able to regain erectile function after surgery through stem cell treatment.
Reference: Yiou, R. et al. (2017). Intracavernous Injections of Bone Marrow Mononucleated Cells for Postradical Prostatectomy Erectile Dysfunction: Final Results of the INSTIN Clinical Trial. European Urology Focus. 2017 Dec;3(6):643-645.
Prostate cancer is quite common among men in the United States. The main treatment options for prostate cancer include:
External beam radiation – Radiation is applied to the prostate gland through the skin (noninvasive)
Brachytherapy – Radioactive pellets the size of grains of rice are placed within the prostate gland (invasive)
Radical prostatectomy – The entire prostate gland and some surrounding tissue is removed
About one-quarter of all men with prostate cancer ultimately choose to have a radical prostatectomy. Unfortunately, this procedure often leaves men with chronic problems afterward, such as urinary incontinence (i.e., the inability to hold or control urine) and erectile dysfunction (i.e., the inability to achieve and maintain a penile erection suitable for sexual intercourse). Almost 90% of men who undergo radical prostatectomy to treat prostate cancer develop erectile dysfunction. Drugs and penile injections are not always effective in treating this type of erectile dysfunction. Consequently, as many as three-quarters of men must live with permanent erectile dysfunction. While prostate cancer is essentially cured after radical prostatectomy, affected men have substantially worse quality of life, which also negatively affects their sexual partners.
In an effort to combat this difficult problem, researchers conducted a Phase 1 clinical trial in which they took stem cells from the patient’s own fat tissue (autologous stem cells), purified them, and injected them into the penile tissue of radical prostatectomy patients with erectile dysfunction. Eight of the 17 men who volunteered for the clinical trial regained erectile function and were able to engage in sexual intercourse after just one stem cell injection.
Importantly, stem cell treatment was only effective for men who had not developed urinary incontinence. Eight of 11 men who still could control their urine after radical prostatectomy regained their ability to achieve and maintain erections. Conversely, no man with urinary incontinence after radical prostatectomy had erectile function restored.
The researchers noted that the stem cell treatment was very well tolerated by all men, and described the procedure as safe.
While larger clinical trials are needed to confirm these results, autologous stem cells taken from a patient’s own fat tissue were able to restore erectile function in most of the men treated. This research suggests that men who do not lose urinary function may benefit from this procedure. On the other hand, men who become incontinent after radical prostatectomy may not benefit from this particular stem cell therapy. Randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials will help clarify this issue. In the meantime, these results are encouraging news to thousands of men who suffer from permanent erectile dysfunction as a result of their radical prostatectomies.
Reference: Haahr, MK et al. (2016). Safety and Potential Effect of a Single Intracavernous Injection of Autologous Adipose-Derived Regenerative Cells in Patients with Erectile Dysfunction Following Radical Prostatectomy: An Open-Label Phase I Clinical Trial. EBioMedicine. 2016 Jan 19;5:204-10.
The little blue pill brought erectile dysfunction from out of the shadows and into our shared awareness. Erectile dysfunction affects millions of men and, in turn, their sexual partners. The condition can undermine a man’s sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and masculinity. While the little blue pill has been instrumental in getting men with erectile dysfunction to ask their doctors about treatment, that same pill does not work for every man. Indeed, countless men fail to achieve successful erections even after taking oral erectile dysfunction medication.
In one of the first clinical studies of its kind, urologists at a medical practice in Florida tested the effects of mesenchymal stem cell treatments in men with erectile dysfunction. They selected eight men with erectile dysfunction who could not achieve erections even after oral medications. The men received mesenchymal stem cells that were derived from human placenta (also known as afterbirth). The urologists then followed the men for six months after treatment, testing blood flow, penile size, and erectile function.
The men treated with mesenchymal stem cells had a statistically significant increase in penile blood flow at six weeks, three months, and six months after treatment. Three men were able to achieve erections within three months of treatment without oral erectile dysfunction medication. After stem cell treatment, four other men were able to achieve erections with low-dose oral erectile dysfunction medication (which had previously been ineffective).
Importantly, the treatment was well-tolerated by all men in the study, which is an important milestone for continuing this research.
The study is potentially groundbreaking as it opens the door to larger clinical studies in men with erectile dysfunction. Indeed, nearly two dozen clinical trials are now studying the effects of stem cell treatment for erectile dysfunction. These early results are exciting, and offer hope to men with erectile dysfunction, especially those for whom oral medications have failed.
Reference: Levy, JA (2016). Determining the Feasibility of Managing Erectile Dysfunction in Humans With Placental-Derived Stem Cells. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 2016 Jan;116(1):e1-5.
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