Taking ED Medication Effectively
Several different medications are on the market that effectively treat erectile dysfunction (ED). Some of the most common, like sildenafil (Viagra) tadalafil, and vardenafil, can be optimally effective when taken under ideal conditions. Many factors can influence the effectiveness of your ED medications, such as diet, timing, mental state, and more. Understanding how ED drugs work under optimal conditions can help increase the efficient use of your medication, as well as mitigate any possible side effects. This comprehensive guide will help you understand the best times to take your ED medications and other things you can do to increase your medication’s effectiveness.
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How Does Erectile Dysfunction Medication Work?
Erectile dysfunction drugs like tadalafil, vardenafil, and sildenafil vary in their exact mechanism of action, but their job is the same: each relax the smooth muscles and arteries of the penis while increasing blood flow. The combination of relaxation and increased blood flow allows the penis to properly fill with blood, leading to an erection. Erectile dysfunction drugs only work when you are sexually aroused, so they won’t lead to inconvenient or spontaneous erections when taken responsibly.
How Can I Increase the Effectiveness of My ED Medication?
Like all medications, your actions can increase or detract from its effectiveness. To ensure that you are getting the most from your erectile dysfunction medications, observe some simple tips.
Watch What You Eat
Certain foods may minimize the effectiveness of your ED medication or make it take longer to work. For example, taking Viagra (sildenafil) with a high fat meal such as steak or fried foods may increase the time it needs to begin working. Large meals, and particularly fatty ones, slow down the rate of absorption and may even prevent your medication from working as intended.
As a general rule of thumb, ED medication manufacturers recommend waiting two hours after a meal before taking sildenafil or a similar medication. Avoid fatty meals altogether on those days if possible. If you cannot resist, then have your high fat meal in the morning, assuming that you plan on taking your medication in the evening hours. Some plant-based fats are fine, but minimize the amount of saturated fat (such as that found in animal fat) you have before taking your medication. Examples of foods to avoid before taking your medication include:
- Beef (Burgers, Steaks, Ribs, etc.)
- Pork (Sausage, Pepperoni, Ribs, Bacon, etc.)
- Deep Fried Foods (French Fries, Onion Rings, Donuts, Fried Chicken, etc)
- Cheesy Foods (Pizza, Lasagna, etc.)
- Desserts with Butter/Dairy and/or Coconut (Cakes, Cookies, Whipped Cream, Ice Cream, etc.)
Know How Long It Takes to Work
One of the biggest mistakes men make when taking their erectile dysfunction medication is not knowing how long it takes for the medicine to become optimally effective. For most ED medications, it takes 30-60 minutes for a medication to “kick in” and begin producing optimal effects. The active ingredient in Revatio and Viagra – sildenafil – takes between 20 and 60 minutes to become effective. The exact time frame will depend on personal factors such as diet and your rate of metabolism. The active ingredient in Cialis, tadalafil, can take up to 60 minutes for you to start noticing its effects. If you take your medication too soon before you want to have sex, it might not become effective when you need it the most. Be prepared and know how long it takes for your chosen medication to start producing the desired effect.
Don’t Panic If It Doesn’t Work the First Time
The physiological and psychological effects of erectile dysfunction can become deeply intertwined. If you take an ED drug such as vardenafil or tadalafil and do not notice any effects, don’t panic or assume the worst. Erectile dysfunction may occur as the result of physiological changes that make it difficult to achieve or sustain an erection or because of psychological factors such as performance anxiety. If you don’t achieve the desired effect from the first time you take a medication, your doctor can adjust the dose or prescribe you a new medicine that might be more effective.
Your body may also need more time to get used to taking the medication in question. You may notice stronger effects over time, so be patient. Your doctor prescribed you an ED medicine for a simple reason: they work. If you don’t see results right away, there could be a reason, such as inadequate dose. Work with your ED physician and don’t give up or panic.
Know Possible Drug Interactions
As with any medication, erectile dysfunction medicines can have interactions and side effects. For example, if you currently take any medications for high blood pressure, it may interact with sildenafil and affect how it works in your body. Additionally, the use of antiretrovirals such as efavirenz can prevent ED medications from working as they should.
If you have a heart condition and take a medication with nitrates, you should not take medicine for erectile dysfunction. Doing so can create a dangerous decrease in blood pressure.
Before beginning any new medication, talk to your doctor about any other medicines you are taking, including supplements and over-the-counter formulations. They and your pharmacist can advise you about any potential interactions that can occur, as well as how to address them.
Start With a Healthy Lifestyle
Erectile dysfunction medications are both safe and effective when used under the direction of a physician. At the same time, healthy lifestyle modifications can increase medication effectiveness and reduce risk factors that may lead to erectile dysfunction symptoms in the first place. For example, erectile dysfunction symptoms may occur or worsen if you have certain medical conditions, such as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
By making lifestyle modifications, such as incorporating regular moderate exercise and eating a healthful diet, you can improve your body’s natural ability to achieve and sustain an erection, which will make your ED medicines more effective. Remember to discuss all lifestyle changes with your primary care provider first.
Eat for Optimal Reproductive Health
So much of the health information out there focuses on heart health or how to decrease your waistline. However, what you eat may affect what goes on below your belt, as well. A healthy diet has a holistic effect and benefits the entire body, but there are certain foods that can specifically impact your penis health. Eating foods that improve your reproductive health can help make your ED medications maximally effective while addressing some of the conditions that lead to erectile dysfunction symptoms in the first place. Some of the best foods for penis health include:
An abundant natural source of folate, a blood flow-booting mineral, a single cup of cooked spinach can fulfill 66% of your daily folate requirement. Deficiencies in folate have been linked to erectile dysfunction. Spinach is also rich in magnesium, which can increase both blood flow and testosterone levels.
Java lovers, rejoice: your morning caffeine boost may actually help improve your penis health. Drinking two to three cups of the good stuff a day can naturally increase blood flow and relax your muscles and arteries, leading to a better erection.
They may keep the doctor away, but don’t throw away those apple peels. The outermost layer contains and important compound called ursolic acid. In cell studies, ursolic acid has been shown to stop the growth of prostate cancer cells.
This ubiquitous fruit provides a myriad of health benefits due to the density of its nutrition: they are a natural source of healthy fat, vitamins, and potassium, all of which are important for getting you in the mood. They are also an abundant source of vitamin E and zinc, both of which are essential for fertility. Vitamin E can improve sperm quality, while zinc can increase testosterone levels.
They don’t call them “hot peppers” for nothing. The active compound responsible for a pepper’s spiciness, capsaicin, can trigger a rush of endorphins, which also play an important role in libido. Don’t be shy with the hot sauce at dinner.
The humble grain might not be exotic, but this breakfast staple is a valuable source of L-Arginine, an amino acid that has been shown to be effective in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. L-Arginine works similarly to ED medications by helping the blood vessels in the penis relax and fill with blood, leading to an erection.
The nutrient responsible for giving carrots their orange hue – beta carotene –plays an important role in male fertility. Eat carrots to improve your sperm motility and quality.
One of the richest, natural sources of L-citrulline. Once in the body, it converts L-citrulline to L-arginine, which stimulates the production of nitric oxide. Nitric Oxide increases blood flow to the penis, creating stronger erections.
When filling your diet with healthy foods, it is important to eat with the whole body in mind. In other words, don’t eat as if your penis needs special attention. A healthy diet will have a synergistic effect and can help lower blood pressure, decrease stress and anxiety, improve mood, and have other positive benefits that will lead to improved reproductive and penile health. A well-balanced diet will naturally provide the vitamins and minerals your penis needs to function optimally.
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Be Familiar With Potential Side Effects
Like all other medications, erectile dysfunction medications can have side effects. Some of the most common include:
- Nasal congestion
- Back pain
- Muscle aches
- Flushing (of skin)
Long-term use of medications such as Cialis can also lead to respiratory infections, diarrhea, UTI, cough, and acid reflux. When the use of your ED medication affects your quality of life, it can also affect how it works and your willingness to take it. If you experience uncomfortable side effects from your current medication, talk to your doctor about switching to a different medication or dose. As always, talk to your doctor about any changes in medication, as beginning treatment for a heart condition or high blood pressure may necessitate changes in your prescription for erectile dysfunction medication.
Never Overdo It
One of the biggest mistakes people make when beginning an ED medication is taking too much when the first dose is not optimally effective. Taking too much of an erectile dysfunction medication can lead to a painful and potentially dangerous medical condition called priapism.
Erections cannot happen unless the body experiences proper flood flow to the penis. When a man experiences sexual arousal, the arteries around the penis relax and expand, which allows enough blood flow to the area to create an erection. To sustain the erection, vein valves close, effectively trapping the blood in the area. When the arousal ends, then the vein valves open, the blood flows back out, and the penis returns to its relaxed state. When the vein valves to do not reopen or the blood flows abnormally, a prolonged erection – or priapism – can occur. Erections lasting more than four hours can be painful and can lead to permanent damage if not treated promptly.
Taking too much erectile dysfunction medication can lead to priapism, which will require treatment in the form of needle aspiration to remove blood from the area. To avoid this uncomfortable condition, never take more ED medication than directed by a physician.
Making the Most of Your Erectile Dysfunction Medication
Your physician prescribed your medication for erectile dysfunction because they think the benefits outweigh any risks of taking it. When used correctly, it can help you achieve and maintain an erection, improving your sex life and overall life quality. To review, you can take several steps to improve the effectiveness of your medication for erectile dysfunction:
- Only take your medication as directed by a physician.
- Give it enough time to work.
- Be calm if the effects are not as great as you imagined when you first take it.
- Be aware of any potential side effects, and talk to your doctor about any you experience.
- Let your provider know about any other medications you are taking, as they may interfere with an ED medication’s effectiveness.
- Make simple lifestyle modifications that improve overall health and allow your medication to work more effectively.
- Eat for optimal penile and reproductive health.
- Never take more erectile dysfunction medication than directed.
Sometimes, finding the best erectile dysfunction medication for your lifestyle requires some trial and error, but compounding ED medications can also help. An open dialogue with your provider and pharmacist can help assure that your ED medication functions optimally for your lifestyle.
Chief Operating Officer, The Compounding Pharmacy of America
Matthew Poteet, Pharm.D. graduated with Honors from Lee University with a Bachelors of Science in Biological Science. After his undergraduate training, he completed the Doctor of Pharmacy program at Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy, graduating in 2004. Dr. Poteet has spent much of his pharmacy career on staff at two of the most prestigious academic teaching hospitals in the Southeast; Emory University in Atlanta and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. At these institutions he received extensive experience and training in sterile products compounding.
He returned home to East Tennessee in 2010, where he has held the position of Pharmacy Director at two sterile products pharmacies in Knoxville. Matthew lives in Knoxville with his wife, Chris. Dr. Poteet is Tennessee’s first Board Certified Anti-Aging Pharmacist by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.