Health24.com | 7 foods that may help relieve erectile dysfunction

There are many men who need help with erectile dysfunction (ED). Some only struggle to achieve or maintain an erection on the odd occasion while others have a more permanent problem.  

There are a number of radical treatments available, but if you only experience occasional erectile dysfunction and want to treat it without any medical intervention, you could do it at home – with food.

Healthy diet

“A healthy diet and an avoidance of highly processed unhealthy food will go a long way towards relieving symptoms of erectile dysfunction,” said Dr Zakariyya Patel of Pelonomi Hospital Complex in Bloemfontein.

Although certain foods may assist with ED, cases are not well documented and evidence is only anecdotal – based on individual accounts, said Dr Patel. These foods can be labelled as aphrodisiacs, and although some people may swear by their effects, there is no medical evidence that any one specific food can cure ED.

“The reason for this is that ED is a complex condition that may have complicated aetiology (causes). So, certain foods may increase sexual desire to a certain extent but it does not mean that it will change the ED if the underlying cause is not addressed,” added Dr Patel.

Foods that may increase your sexual desire:

  • Berries (as well as citrus fruits) contain chemicals that are associated with a decreased risk of ED.
  • Dark chocolate increases levels of dopamine, the “pleasure” hormone, in the body.
  • Oysters contain more zinc than other foods and assists with sperm mobility.
  • Cayenne pepper raises the heart rate and releases endorphins.
  • Red wine relaxes the arteries and increases blood flow to the genitals. (Red wine contains the same biochemicals found in berries and citrus fruits.)
  • Pistachios contain the protein arginine, which relaxes the blood vessels, increasing blood flow throughout the body.
  • Coffee. A study suggests that caffeine relaxes certain muscles and arteries in the penis, increasing blood flow and helping to maintain an erection.

Your lifestyle has an impact

Owing to the fact that physiological factors like blood flow and hormone levels may affect erectile dysfunction, a good diet with the right vitamins and minerals will optimise the patient’s sexual health, according to Dr Patel.

It does, however, not mean that there is a “silver bullet” that will “magically” solve the problem. 

And as the world population struggles with obesity and cardiovascular disease, there is a significant increase in diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, which have a direct impact on blood flow – consequently increasing the severity of ED, Dr Patel added.

Exercise may help

Studies have shown that men who exercise more have better sexual and erectile function. Better sexual function was reported by men in the study who engaged in either two hours of strenuous exercise, 3.5 hours of moderate exercise, or six hours of light exercise a week.

And although there is no specific exercise men need to do in order to achieve better sexual health, any form of exercise is better than none at all. 

Health24.com | Is stem cell injection the cure-all miracle?

Stem cell therapy has been claimed to cure cancer, improve chronic conditions such as headaches, and even make your skin look younger. How can that not be a good thing?

You’ve probably heard about stem cell research before, but what exactly are stem cells, and how can stem cells injected into the body treat various diseases and conditions?

There has been enormous progress in this field over the last few decades, so let’s take a look at how stem cell injections work.

What exactly are stem cells?

Stem cells are the body’s building blocks – the reserve cells that the body is made up of. These cells are able to produce multiple different cells, each performing a specific function. Stem cells can be divided into two main categories:

  • Embryonic stem cells (ES cells) – derived from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst (an embryo in the earliest stage of conception)
  • Induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS cells) – derived from human bone, cartilage, fat and blood after embryonic formation

What is stem cell therapy?

Stem cell therapy can be categorised as regenerative medicine. Stem cells used in medical treatments are currently harvested from three sources: umbilical cord blood, bone marrow and blood. These are treatments that restore damaged tissue and regenerate new cells in the case of illness or injury.  

While there are other forms of stem cell therapy, these are still in the early stages and regarded as research. 

How is stem cell therapy performed?

Adult stem cells are derived from a blood sample and injected back into the patient’s blood. The surrounding cells are then activated, stimulating rejuvenation in the area. 

infographic of stem cell treatment

Why the controversy?

In 2004 South Africa became the first African nation to open a stem cell bank. This involved embryonic stem cells for cloning research and not the “adult” stem cells used in treatment. 

Embryonic stem cells are often viewed as problematic, as they are derived from very young foetuses. It is thus viewed as a form of “abortion” to use embryonic stem cells for treatment. But in most cases of stem cell therapy adult stem cells are used, which causes few ethical problems. Stem cells derived from the umbilical cord are not the same as from the embryo.

What does science say?

Prof Jacqui Greenberg from the University of Cape Town stated that although stem cells can potentially treat various diseases, they should be treated with extreme care.

She has no doubt that in time (in medical science particularly, progress is slow and measured in blocks of 10 years), stem cells will be the solution for many things. “But right now we have to strike a balance of not creating too much hype and raising hope too soon. Stem cells are the future, but the future is not now,” Greenberg states. 

The reason for this is that stem cells derived from an adult are too volatile at times. Researchers are not clear on how many of these stem cells will actually “survive” and “activate” to treat the condition at hand. Therefore it can’t be predicted how many cells will survive and become functional.

There is as yet little proof that stem cells can actually fight disease when injected back into the host. Despite the success of IPS cell technology up to date, there are still challenges with regard to the purity of stem cells before their use in therapy. 

Availability and cost in South Africa

Stem cell therapy is available at various treatment centres in South Africa. One of the most prominent is the South African Stem Cell Institute in the Free State. Here, various treatments, such as regenerative skin treatments and prolotherapy (regeneration of the joints), are offered.

Therapy starts with an initial consultation. During the second consultation vitals are checked, followed by either the fat harvest procedure under tumescent anaesthesia or bone marrow aspiration under local anaesthesia. 

The stem cells are then cryopreserved and injected into the patient as needed. Prices of the treatment vary from R500 (for a once-off treatment in a small area, such as the hand) to R22 500 (a comprehensive process), depending on the condition being treated and length of treatment needed. This excludes the initial consultation fee and after-care. 

There are also stem cell banks in South Africa, such as Cryo-Save, where stem cells can be stored at an annual fee (excluding initial consultation, testing and harvesting) and used for treatment.

Do your own research

If you do want to go the stem cell route, make sure that the medical programme being offered is legitimate and that the projected outcome is based on real evidence.

There are a number of private institutions banking on the promise of curing any number of diseases with stem cells from a patient’s own blood. The truth, however, is that there is no conclusive proof that the majority of these diseases can be cured with the person’s own stem cells – annihilating the claim that stem cell therapy is the solution to all diseases.

Health24.com | ‘I gave up sugar for 14 days and this is what happened’

With the South African government’s decision to implement a sugar tax, the adverse health effects of consuming too much sugar are currently in the spotlight.

According to the SA National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average South African now consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar and similar sweeteners a day – on par with global consumption, which has increased by 46% over the past 30 years.

But just how difficult is it to completely give up sugar – especially if you are a self-confessed sugar-holic?

We introduce Stefni Herbert, a Health24 content producer who consumes more sugar per day than almost the entire team combined!

“I can’t live without chocolates and sweets, and some days I will eat a slab of chocolate, drink about eight cups of coffee with three teaspoons of sugar in each and maybe add an ice-cream,” says Stef. “I know it’s not good for my health, but my vices make me feel less stressed.”

So we decided to challenge her to give up sugar for two weeks and take note of all the changes she experienced. Dietitian Ria Catsicas was right beside her during the journey, giving advice on what she should and shouldn’t eat. 

After examining Herbert’s food diary for two weeks, Catsicas had some advice: “Her sugar intake is too high, but she should see changes after abstaining for two weeks. She needs to cut out chocolates, sweets, and eat way less carbohydrates.” 

The journey

We checked in with Herbert’s progress at various stages of the sugar challenge. She did experience some improvements. “I knew miracles weren’t going to happen, but I expected to have more energy and lose a bit of weight.” 

Watch Herbert struggle through her first day of the challenge:

Initially things didn’t go too well and on the third day of the challenge she she caved in front of a slice of delicious vanilla cake:

And here she is just before the end of the challenge:

The changes

Herbert was required to keep a food diary for the two weeks before the challenge and for the two weeks the challenge lasted. See her diary here and how things changed. She was not allowed any sugar or honey and had to be careful to not consume sugar that doesn’t naturally occur in food. 

“She can have fresh fruit as the amount of fructose/glucose in fruit is not high. It’s also bound in a food matrix, and with the fibre it contains it doesn’t get absorbed like white granulated sugar,” Catsicas said. “It does not cause high blood sugar and a corresponding insulin response. The portion size is important, though: only 100 to 150g fruit at a time and, as mentioned, only 1–2 portions per day.” 

Mood

Herbert’s mood was assessed on 10 different days. She was required to score her own mood on a scale of 1–10; the Health24 team also gave her a score; and at home family members had to rate her as well. The three scores were added to obtain an average per day. Her overall average before the challenge was 7.1 and during the challenge it was 5.9.

Catsicas predicted that Herbert’s mood would improve as the two week period progressed, but it seems she experienced the opposite. “It’s very difficult to give up something that you are so used to,” says Herbert. “It’s not a small change and there were days where I was grumpy and frustrated. Chocolate and sweet coffee were my vices and suddenly I had no crutch to lean on during stressful times.

Sleep

“I’m a terrible sleeper and I can function on little sleep,” says Herbert. Before the challenge she slept an average of seven hours per night and during the experiment her average dropped to 6.1 hours. “I don’t think the challenge itself made a difference to my sleeping pattern, but it did take more time to prepare healthy, sugarless food. That’s probably why I slept less during the challenge.” sugar, 14 day sugar challenge, no sugarsugar, 14 day sugar challenge, no sugar

Bowel movements

Before the challenge Herbert had regular bowel movements 86% of the time, and experienced no bowel movements for 14% of the time. However, during the two weeks of the challenge there weren’t any days she didn’t release stool. “I definitely felt lighter, and my stool was softer,” says Herbert. 

sugar, 14 day sugar challenge, no sugarsugar, 14 day sugar challenge, no sugar

Herbert had softer stool for all the days of the challenge, and on seven out of the 14 days she went to the bathroom more than once. “This is not normal for me, but everything was ‘smoother’. I started using Xylitol [a sweetener] towards the end, but it upset my stomach. This was a side-effect that made it more difficult to sustain the challenge.”  sugar, 14 day sugar challenge, no sugar

Weight

Although Herbert was hoping to lose some weight, Catsicas quickly shattered that dream, “We cannot measure fat loss daily as 60% of our bodies consists of water, and a daily scale reading will reflect only water changes,” she said. “Unfortunately fat cells do not disappear overnight.” sugar, 14 day sugar challenge, no sugar

Exercise

“I am very dedicated to exercise. I usually do about 20 minutes of cardio, followed by 60 minutes of strength training,” says Herbert. “I did not necessarily have more energy during the challenge, but I did have more willpower. Because I couldn’t have any sugar, I kept myself busier than usual to take my mind off things.” 

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Blood sugar

Herbert’s blood sugar was measured on seven different days before and during the challenge. Her average before was 6.0 and while consuming zero sugar it was 5.4. Catsicas says, “It seems cutting sugar out of the diet significantly improves average blood glucose levels. Maintaining lower blood glucose levels is beneficial as it places less stress on the beta cells in the pancreas to produce insulin.

“Research has also found that maintaining lower blood glucose levels has a beneficial effect on our nervous system; it keeps our arteries healthier and also decreases our risk for developing inflammation.”

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Blood pressure

According to Harvard University, a systolic pressure under 120 (the first number) and a diastolic pressure under 80 (the second number) is considered normal. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is indicated by a systolic pressure of 140 or higher and/or a diastolic pressure of 90 or higher. Before and during the challenge Herbert had normal numbers and there was no reason for concern. 

sugar, 14 day sugar challenge, no sugar

Final thoughts

“I cannot believe how quickly these 14 days have flown by… Actually I’m joking – these two weeks felt like the longest two weeks of my life.

“It has been quite a roller-coaster ride and it presented many, many challenges.

“If you decide to cut down on sugar or go off of it completely, you’ll have to face the task of preparing every last thing you eat. You’ll need to develop a minimalist mentality rather quickly. You’ll also need to start forcing yourself to read food labels.

“Something else I cannot get away from is the fact that I do love chocolate. Milk chocolate. Dark chocolate. White chocolate. And seeing that sugar-free chocolate is not an option – because of the sugar alcohols (xylitol) – I’m not giving up ‘normal’ chocolate.”

sugar challenge, no sugar, 14 day sugar chellenge

Changes she wants to make

“A few things that I will change, though, is that I won’t be drinking as much sugar in my coffee as usual. I also plan to incorporate a lot more water into my eating plan, because I know I don’t drink as much water as I should.

“I am also looking into other beverages. One thing I do have going for me is that I don’t drink any soft drinks or juices – I’ve never really been a soft drink person and I do actually consider fruit juices too sweet for my liking.

“As for my carbs, I have gradually been cutting down for some time now. I try not to eat potatoes and rather go for sweet potatoes. I hardly eat bread, but pasta has been my weakness for the longest time. I don’t think I will cut out pasta completely.

“You need balance and you need to do things in moderation, like most things in life, and although there are many things I won’t give up, I won’t consume as much. You can’t expect your body to function optimally when you keep putting in the wrong fuel. I guess everyone needs to figure out what works for them, create a plan and stick to it – and on the odd occasion, spoil yourself and indulge a little.”

Challenge yourself! Do the 14 day no-sugar challenge by yourself and share your experience. Email Joshua at Joshua.Carstens@24.com

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