Alternative Treatments for Erectile Dysfunction

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on August 27, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on August 27, 2014

Addressing Erectile Dysfunction

Many men with erectile dysfunction (ED) have trouble discussing their condition with their doctors. This is part of why there is a strong interest in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies for ED. Unfortunately, there is little more than anecdotal evidence to support the use of most CAM therapies for ED. In addition, some therapies may actually be dangerous for your health.

Talk to your doctor before you take any supplements or alternative therapies for your ED. Many supplements can interact dangerously with medications. Remember: just because a product is herbal or “natural” does not mean that it’s safe.

Alternative Therapies for Erectile Dysfunction

A number of herbs and supplements have been tested for use in men with ED. However, the overall quality of the studies has been low. Therefore, evidence for these therapies is limited. Furthermore, many of these therapies have risks. These risks may not yet be fully known. CAM therapies, like other treatments, should always be used with caution.

Korean Red Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)

Several studies have suggested that ginseng may be able to help ED in some men. However, ginseng can cause low blood sugar and can be dangerous for diabetics. It may also interact badly with some antidepressants.

L-Arginine

L-arginine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is found in certain foods. It is important for nitrous oxide (NO) synthesis.

Good NO synthesis is important for erectile function. It increases penile blood flow by relaxing muscles and vessels. Viagra and similar medications work by altering NO levels.

There is mixed evidence that L-arginine supplements may be able to help with ED. Some studies have found positive results, while others have not.

Yohimbe

There is some evidence that bark from the yohimbe tree can help with ED. The bark contains a substance called yohimbine, and has been traditionally used in Africa as an aphrodisiac. Today, a pharmaceutical form of yohimbine (called yohimbine hydrochloride) is being studied to treat erectile dysfunction in men. However, it can cause severe side effects, including high blood pressure, tremors, and anxiety in some patients.

Ginkgo

Ginkgo is an herb that has been used medicinally for thousands of years to treat a variety of ailments. It has been investigated as an ED treatment in multiple studies. However, the results have been inconsistent. This supplement is purported be able to improve penile blood flow. Additionally, some reports suggest that ginkgo can increase bleeding risk potentially making it particularly dangerous for people using blood thinners. A study recently published in Pharmacotherapy found no evidence for increased bleeding with use of ginkgo.

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

DHEA is a hormone made naturally by the human body. It is a building block for testosterone. According to a study published in Urology, this supplement may be able to help men whose ED is related to having low testosterone, but definitive evidence of this benefit remains elusive. However, it is clear that DHEA can cause various side effects, including liver damage and acne. Long-term use of DHEA can also cause hormonal imbalances.

Folic Acid and Vitamin E

There is limited evidence to suggest that these vitamins may help with ED in some men who are also taking sildenafil (Viagra). Regardless of their efficacy for ED, these vitamins are usually safe in small doses. 

Zinc

Zinc may help ED in men with a zinc deficiency. However, too much zinc can cause harm to your immune system.

Acupuncture

This traditional Chinese treatment is performed with fine needles. The needles are inserted into specific parts of the body to stimulate various pressure points. Practitioners believe that this can correct imbalances in qi (energy), and can be used to treat illness. Acupuncture is generally considered safe.

There is a small amount of research to show that acupuncture may be able to treat ED. However, the quality of the studies has been low, and little scientific evidence exists to support the use of acupuncture for ED.

Herbal Viagra

A number of over-the-counter herbal supplements claim to treat ED. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, products labeled as “herbal Viagra” should be avoided. These supplements can increase blood flow, and can also cause dangerous drops in blood pressure. Risk may be particularly high for men who are using nitrates. Herbal Viagra can also interact with other prescription drugs.  Herbal Viagra products may also contain potentially toxic compounds that are not listed on the label. 

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