Erectile dysfunction (ED) concerns millions of men around the world. In the United States alone, over 30 million men suffer from ED. Men over 70 are more likely to have ED, but even men in their 20s can experience ED.
Fortunately, over-the-counter (OTC) treatments can help with this condition.
Many treatment options are available for ED management, including:
- oral medications
- injectable or suppository drugs
- medical devices
- penile implants
Three prescription medications listed as effective by the Mayo Clinic are:
- sildenafil (Viagra)
- tadalafil (Cialis)
- vardenafil (Levitra and Staxyn)
According to the Mayo Clinic, four herbal remedies have shown positive results in clinical studies:
Found naturally in some soy products and yams, dihydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) has shown safe and positive results in low doses. Notably, DHEA is also used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and can be used to help build muscular strength. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) site says DHEA is “possibly effective” for treating ED.
In addition to possibly helping ED in men, DHEA can help increase low libido in women. However, be wary of products that advertise that they contain “natural” DHEA. The human body can’t naturally produce DHEA from consuming sources that contain it, so any claim that a product can provide the body with “natural” DHEA is false.
L-arginine might treat ED by improving blood flow to the penis. However, it can also cause mild cramping and nausea.
Experiments that support the success of L-arginine as an ED treatment often combine L-arginine with other common ED drugs like yohimbine and glutamate. As a result, the true effectiveness of L-arginine as a treatment for ED is not very well understood. L-arginine has been proven successful for testing hormone levels and for treating individuals with metabolic alkalosis. However, more research needs to be done on its ability to treat ED before it can be approved by the FDA for ED treatment.
Limited research has been conducted on ginseng’s ability to treat ED symptoms. However, the Mayo Clinic notes that ginseng has shown some positive results in human studies, appearing “generally safe” when used in the short term.
The NIH says that yohimbe (also known by the name of its most active ingredient, yohimbine) is “possibly effective” for ED, but the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that it is unknown whether yohimbe helps ED. Yohimbe has been linked with a number of side effects, including high blood pressure and increased heart rate.
Because these are supplements and not prescription drugs, the FDA warns that they haven’t been proven to be completely safe or effective. Furthermore, the amount of active ingredients in products containing these supplements may not be consistent.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some herbs effective in treating animal ED haven’t been tested on humans. For example, Epimedium has caused improved sexual performance in animals, but hasn’t yet been tested on human subjects.
It’s important to note that OTC medicines for ED have often sparked controversy in the medical community. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned about the “hidden risks” of products sold online designed to treat ED. The FDA published a list of 29 online OTC products, generally referred to as “dietary supplements,” to be avoided. These products have not been approved for sale by the FDA, and many of these supplements contain harmful ingredients.
Some OTC treatments for ED may be effective, but the FDA warns that they may not be safe. Some dietary supplements sold online contain ingredients not listed on the label, and these ingredients could be dangerous for some people who ingest them.
Potentially Harmful Side Effects
The unlisted ingredients may also cause harmful side effects in some users. These OTC treatments can interact with other drugs taken for ED, which could make the supplements unsafe. Ingredients in these OTC treatments can also have unsafe interactions with drugs taken for other conditions, too. Using an OTC that contains sildenafil at the same time as a drug that contains nitrates, such as drugs for diabetes or heart disease, can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure.
ED treatments like sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafi are often also used to treat pulmonary hypertension. Research shows that combining ED treatments containing these medications with nitrates or alpha-blockers can cause problems.
Talk to your doctor before trying an OTC treatment for ED, and always be sure that an herbal or dietary supplement has been approved or at least tested by a trusted agency like the FDA or NIH. Some treatment options may help resolve ED issues, but without research or medical consultation, you may not find a successful treatment for ED issues.
You Asked, We Answered
- What is the most important thing to keep in mind when looking for an over-the-counter ED treatment?
First and foremost is safety. Make sure that the product or supplement has been proven to be safe before you even consider making the purchase. Secondly, you should consider effectiveness of the product. Does the product work? Does it do what the maker claims that it does? Thirdly, consider cost. Is the product cost-effective? Is it a wise purchase that makes sense? For all three points, it is advisable that you check with your doctor. They will give a professional opinion on whether the product is worth a try.- Dr. Steve Kim