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“Herbal” or “natural Viagra” is a name given to a variety of supplements by their manufacturers. They’re sold for the purpose of improving erectile function or sexual desire in people with a penis.
Some of these supplements contain ingredients that may be beneficial for erectile function and erectile dysfunction (ED). However, despite labeling, you may not know what is in the supplements you’re taking.
Many of these supplements contain hidden ingredients or contaminants. Unlike prescription medications for ED such as Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra, these supplements are not Food and Drug Administration approved for ED.
The FDA also doesn’t test supplements for purity or quality like it does for drugs. Supplements have not gone through rigorous human trials, either.
ED is often a symptom, instead of a condition. An erection is a result of complex multisystem processes in the body. Sexual arousal involves interaction between your:
- nervous system
A health condition like diabetes or stress can affect these parts and their functions in the body, causing ED. Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries) is a leading cause of ED, especially in men over 50.
According to claims from some supplement manufacturers and health food store owners, certain herbal supplements and health foods may increase sexual potency with fewer side effects than prescribed medications. They may also be less expensive.
Herbal treatments for ED have little scientific research to back up the claims, and there’s no uniform method for testing their effectiveness. Most results from human trials rely on self-evaluation, which can be subjective and difficult to interpret.
Always talk with your doctor before trying supplements, as they may interact with medications you’re already taking. Many supplements are also known to interact negatively with alcohol. Your doctor will be able to make recommendations based on your condition.
You should also talk with a licensed or certified herbal medicine specialist, such as a doctor of oriental medicine (DOM) or acupuncturist, before taking certain supplements. They’ll be able to help you choose the most appropriate supplement and dosage for you.
In some instances, products labeled as “herbal” or “natural Viagra” may help ED by relaxing the walls of blood vessels, which improves blood flow.
But since the dosage of the herbs they contain is not prescribed, these supplements can cause very low blood pressure to occur. This can be dangerous, especially for people who take prescription nitrate.
There’s also the risk of ingesting dangerous, unlisted ingredients or contaminants that can cause gastric distress and other side effects.
In some instances, herbal Viagra has been found to contain undisclosed prescription medications and substances like amphetamines. These may cause side effects or interactions with drugs your doctor has prescribed to you.
For example, the FDA has issued a
That said, there are herbs that may have benefits for reducing or eliminating ED. Read on to find out about specific herbs which may work for you.
The search for a cure for erectile dysfunction (ED) dates back way before the introduction of Viagra in the 1990s. Natural aphrodisiacs, from ground rhinoceros horn to chocolate, have long been used to increase libido, potency, or sexual pleasure. These natural remedies are also popular because they’re said to have fewer side effects than prescribed medications.
- Panax ginseng
- Mondia whitei
Read on to discover what studies say about these herbs and how they might treat ED.
Panax ginseng, a Chinese and Korean herb
Panax ginseng has a 2,000-year history in Chinese and Korean medicine as a tonic for health and longevity. People take the roots of this ginseng, also called Korean red ginseng, for treating ED symptoms.
While studies are limited, the results of a
In addition to possibly treating ED symptoms, taking P. ginseng may improve:
- overall well-being
It could also improve:
- penile rigidity
- duration of erection
- improved libido
- overall satisfaction
Panax ginseng works as an antioxidant, releasing nitric oxide (NO) that helps erectile functions. Some people use a P. ginseng cream for premature ejaculation.
This plant is considered a safe treatment but should only be used on a short-term basis (6 to 8 weeks). Your doctor can confirm the length of time you should use it with you. The most common side effect of ginseng is insomnia.
Ginseng can interact negatively with alcohol, caffeine, and some medications. Ask your doctor about how often you can take Panax ginseng if you’re planning to use it.
Maca, the root vegetable from Peru
For overall health benefits, maca is a great addition to your diet. Maca, or Lepidium meyenii, is rich in:
- amino acids
There are three types of maca: red, black, and yellow. Black maca may alleviate stress, which can cause ED.
The health claims for maca are not supported by
Men who took
While maca is generally safe, studies do show elevated blood pressure in people with heart conditions who took 0.6 grams of maca per day.
Yohimbine, a West African tree bark
Yohimbine comes from the bark of a West African evergreen tree. People have used yohimbine as a treatment for ED because it’s believed to:
- activate the penile nerves to release more NO
- widen the blood vessels to increase blood flow in the penis
- stimulate the pelvic nerve and boost adrenaline supply
- increase sexual desire
- prolong erections
Studies on the effects of yohimbine have mixed results. One
A combination of yohimbine and L-arginine is shown to significantly improve erectile function in people with ED. L-arginine is an amino acid that helps expand blood vessels. It’s regarded as safe and effective for ED but can cause side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Avoid taking L-arginine with Viagra, nitrates, or any high blood pressure medications.
If you have hypertension, coronary artery disease, diabetes, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or renal/liver disease and you would like to take yohimbine, discuss with your doctor so that they can monitor you.
While some tests have shown positive results, yohimbine’s adrenaline effects can cause side effects that include:
Talk with your doctor before taking yohimbine, especially if you’re also taking antidepressants or stimulant medications.
Mondia whitei, roots of an African plant
Mondia whitei, also known as White’s ginger, is particularly popular in Uganda, where medicinal plants are more common than medication. It’s used to increase libido and manage low sperm count.
- sexual desire
- human sperm motility
- testosterone levels
- nitric oxide production and erections
Ginkgo biloba, herb from a Chinese tree
Ginkgo biloba may increase blood flow to the penis. An
But some studies also report no improvement or differences after taking ginkgo. This may mean that ginkgo is better for ED management than as a treatment or cure.
In the study where men reported a positive response, the participants took 40- or 6- milligram capsules twice a day for 4 weeks. They were also on antidepressant medication.
Talk with your doctor if you’re considering ginkgo supplements. It can cause stomach upset. Your risk of bleeding may increase, especially if you’re on blood thinning medications like warfarin.
Other herbs believed to treat ED
These herbs have shown a pro-erectile effect in animals like rabbits and rats:
- horny goat weed, or epimedium: This herb acts as a natural phosphodiesterase inhibitor to dilate the blood vessels in the penis, much like prescription medications to treat ED.
- musli, or Chlorophytum borivilianum: This herb is believed to have an aphrodisiac effect to increase sexual desire, as well as anti-inflammatory effects that help to reduce inflammation.
- saffron, or Crocus sativus: Researchers don’t exactly know how saffron may affect ED, but
small studieshave found that saffron can improve some sexual dysfunction and overall sexual satisfaction.
- Tribulus terrestris: In some animal studies, Tribulus terrestris increased the amount of nitric oxide in the cavernous tissue of the penis of rats with type 2 diabetes. Nitric oxide helps widens arteries to improve blood flow.
Always talk with your doctor before trying a new herbal supplement. These herbs in particular have little scientific evidence, if any, supporting their effects on people.
They may also negatively interact with your medications or cause unintended side effects.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any of these herbs as a medical treatment.
Many herbs come from other countries and may be contaminated by pollutants from soil or poor factory conditions. They also aren’t as well-studied or tested as prescription medications like Viagra. Always buy your supplements from a reputable source.
The FDA also warns men against purchasing supplements and creams that advertise themselves as the “herbal Viagra.” Herbal Viagra is banned because it can contain undeclared prescription medications or harmful ingredients that may cause severe side effects. In most cases, the harmful substances aren’t listed in the ingredients.
Consult your doctor before purchasing any over-the-counter or online ED treatments.
Your doctor can help identify the underlying cause and prescribe the appropriate treatment. Treating an underlying condition is the first step to treating your ED.
Treatments your doctor may prescribe if your ED persists include:
- prescription medication or injections
- penis suppository
- testosterone replacement
- a penis pump (vacuum erection device)
- a penile implant
- blood vessel surgery
Lifestyle treatments include:
- sexual anxiety counseling
- psychological counseling
- maintaining a moderate weight
- eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids
- avoiding processed foods
- reducing stress
- reducing tobacco and alcohol use
- avoiding exposure to pesticides, chemicals, and endocrine disruptors
Viagra and other ED medications are generally safe to take unless you have cardiovascular disease. This is because ED medications cause the arteries throughout the body to expand. Low blood pressure can result, even in people without heart disease.
Viagra comes in multiple strengths. You and your doctor will discuss the benefits and risks of taking ED pills, as well as the dosage that’s safe for you. Always take your medications according to their directions, and do not share your meds with others.
Viagra can cause other side effects that range from mild to serious. These include:
- erections that last for more than 4 hours (priapism)
- changes in color vision
- sudden vision loss
- sudden hearing loss
- chest pain
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have other symptoms accompanying ED, or if your ED is affecting your quality of life. It’s important to mention any supplements you’re interested in during your visit.
Don’t forget to tell your doctor about any symptoms that you may be experiencing or feeling due to ED. These details can help your doctor find the right treatment, especially if there’s an underlying condition causing your ED. If this is the case, you may not need herbal supplements.
Can you treat erectile dysfunction naturally?
The answer to this question depends on the underlying causes of your ED. If you have significant blood vessel or nerve damage that causes your ED, you may not be able to treat ED naturally.
However, you may find that natural interventions like eating a healthy diet, refraining from smoking, and even taking steps to reduce stress in your life, can help ease your ED symptoms.
You shouldn’t be afraid to talk with your doctor if you find that natural interventions are not working as well as you would hope.
What diet can help with erectile dysfunction?
A healthy diet can also help you maintain a moderate weight, which can also reduce ED risk factors.
Those who had the lowest incidence of erectile dysfunction followed a diet most similar to the Mediterranean diet. This diet involves eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and lean cuts of meat with an emphasis on seafood.
People have used herbal remedies for thousands of years to treat a number of medical conditions, including erectile dysfunction.
Researchers have studied many of these herbs for their safety and effectiveness, while some herbs are still understudied as ED medication alternatives. It’s important to remember that there’s still more research that needs to be done before these herbs can be approved as effective ED treatments.
Talk with a doctor about any herbs or natural supplements you may be taking — or are interested in taking — to make sure they don’t interfere with any other medications you’re prescribed or conditions you have.