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.
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
Korean Red Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)
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 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.
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 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.
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 may help ED
in men with a zinc deficiency. However, too much zinc can cause harm to your
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.
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.