Nitric oxide. The chemical doesn’t sound particularly sexy, but it plays a singular role in triggering male erections, a fact that’s been known for 20 years. But figuring out how to treat erectile dysfunction and help men maintain erections has been far trickier to nail down.
That may be changing, thanks to recent research from John Hopkins Medicine. Researchers have discovered the biochemical process necessary to stay erect, a discovery that may lead to new treatments for erectile dysfunction, an issue that affects 15 to 25 perfect of 65-year-old men long-term, according to WebMD.
In a study of mice, researchers “found a complex positive feedback loop in the penile nerves that triggers waves of nitric oxide to keep the penis erect,” a release stated. After the initial release of nitric oxide, the nerve impulses that begin in the brain or from physical stimulation are sustained, thanks to a biochemical process called phosphorylation. This process ensures that nitric oxide continues to be released, maintaining the erections of both mice and men.
And just what exactly does nitric oxide do? Blood vessels use the chemical as a signal to surrounding muscles to relax, which increases blood flow — a necessity for staying erect.
Now that researchers have found this biochemical loop, new treatments targeting phosphorylation can help “intervene earlier in the arousal process than current medicines approved to treat erectile dysfunction,” the release stated. One treatment researchers are looking into is an herbal compound named forskolin, which can keep nitric oxide pumping.
The search for an erectile dysfunction panacea has been on for years, with other researchers targeting nitric oxide as well.
“Age-associated erectile dysfunction involves a decrease in nitric oxide availability and impaired relaxation,” wrote scientists who found a potential treatment for erectile dysfunction in spider venom, a toxin that boosts available nitric oxide.