5 Effective OTC Treatments for Erectile Dysfunction

Written by The Healthline Editorial Team | Published on February 10, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on February 10, 2014

Find out if OTC meds for ED work.

Can You Treat ED with OTC?

Erectile dysfunction (ED), or impotence, is a concern for millions of men around the world. In the United States alone, over 18 million men suffer from ED, according to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. While men over age 70 are more likely to have ED, even men in their 20s can experience the problem.

Are there over-the-counter (OTC) treatments that can help with this condition? Read on to find out.

ED Treatment Options

A wide range of treatment options exist for ED management. These options include:

  • oral medications
  • injectable or suppository drugs
  • medical devices
  • penile implants
  • surgery

There are three prescription medications that the Mayo Clinic lists as effective for many men:

  • sildenafil (Viagra)
  • tadalafil (Cialis)
  • vardenafil (Levitra and Staxyn)

But what about OTC options, such as drugs or supplements? OTC medicines for impotence have been met with some controversy in the medical community.

FDA Warning: “Hidden Risks”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted a warning on its website about the “hidden risks” of products designed to treat ED that are sold online.

On its website, the FDA published a list of 29 online OTC products to be avoided. These products are generally referred to as “dietary supplements.”

The FDA has not approved these products for sale. The regulatory agency notes that these supplements many contain harmful ingredients.

What’s Wrong with OTCs for ED?

While some OTC treatments for ED may be somewhat effective, the aforementioned FDA statement warns that they may not be safe.

Some dietary supplements available on the Internet have been found to contain ingredients that aren’t included on the label. These ingredients may be dangerous for people who take them.

The unlisted ingredients may cause harmful side effects in some users. These OTC treatments may also interact with other drugs that someone with ED is taking, which could make the supplements unsafe.

Potentially Helpful OTC Treatments

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are four herbal remedies that have shown positive results in clinical studies:

  • DHEA
  • L-arginine
  • ginseng
  • yohimbe

They note that since these are supplements and not prescription drugs, they have not been thoroughly tested or proven to be safe and effective.

What’s more, the amount of active ingredients in products containing these supplements may not be consistent.

DHEA and L-arginine

The Mayo Clinic states that dihydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) has shown generally safe and positive results in humans when taken in low doses. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) site says DHEA is “possibly effective” for treating ED.

In addition to possibly helping ED in men, DHEA may also help increase low libido in women.

The Mayo Clinic also says that L-arginine might improve ED by allowing for improved blood flow to the penis. However, it can cause mild side effects, such as cramping and nausea.

Ginseng and Yohimbe

There has only been limited research into ginseng’s ability to help improve ED symptoms. But the Mayo Clinic notes that ginseng has shown some positive results in human studies. It appears “generally safe” when used short-term.

The NIH says that yohimbe is “possibly effective” for ED.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) 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.

More Studies Needed

Not all herbs that may be effective in ED have been studied in humans, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Epimedium, for example, has shown improved sexual performance in animal studies. But it hasn’t been tested in humans.

The bottom line is: do your research and talk to your doctor before trying an OTC treatment for ED. Otherwise, you may do more harm than good.

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