Do herbs rise to the occasion in treating erectile dysfunction?

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Do herbs rise to the occasion in treating erectile dysfunction?

Way before Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis were introduced, the search for a cure for erectile dysfunction had been ongoing for centuries.  A step back in time reveals there were some rather unusual natural aphrodisiacs - grinding up baby crocodile hearts to rub on the penis, believing demons were the cause of erectile dysfunction or scientists considering transplanting monkey testicle tissue into men could help solve the problem. 

Fast forward to today, up to 30 million men still suffer from the age-old problem of erectile dysfunction (ED).  ED is when a man repeatedly can’t get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. Even though the modern ED medications of today - Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis - have proven to be very helpful for many men, occasionally some doctors sometimes suggest the use of herbs as a means of helping a man be able to perform sexually.  Do these natural remedies actually work and are they safe?

Many men may have concerns with taking a prescribed medication such as Viagra. If a man is concerned with side effects of prescribed medications like this, he may want to resort to herbal supplements for help. 

Here are herbal supplements that have been used to treat ED – some have been used for centuries.  As with any herbal supplement, a man should always consult with his doctor before taking these as some do have negative interactions with other medications.

Herbs associated with helping ED

·      Epimedium or horny goat weed

Appropriately named, this herb has been used for years in China for treating sexual dysfunction.  It contains a compound called icariin that acts similar to drugs like Viagra.  It can be found in capsule form in health food stores.  One beneficial side effect is it has been found to reduce the effects of fatigue and joint pain. 

Side effects associated with horny goat weed can be nosebleeds, dizziness, and a rapid heartbeat.  It can also interact negatively with certain medications. 

·      Yohimbe

This herb was occasionally prescribed by doctors before Viagra and other similar-like prescriptions drugs became available.  This sexual enhancer from South Africa shows some promise in correcting impotence.  The purified form of this herb has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

However, some doctors do have concerns with this herb for treating ED as they feel it is not that effective and yohimbe has been associated with high blood pressure, anxiety, and headaches.

·      Ginseng

There is some evidence showing Panax ginseng to improve sexual function in men.  Another form called Korean red ginseng has shown good results from a 2002 study involving 45 men with ED who used Korean red ginseng and were able to achieve an erection.  It is believed ginseng may work by improving nitric oxide synthesis. 

The downside of Korean red ginseng is that it has not been approved by the FDA for treating ED and it can interfere with some medications and increase the effects of caffeine.

·      DHEA

DHEA is a hormone naturally converted to testosterone and estrogen, alleviating some causes of ED.  For a healthy libido, testosterone is essential for normal sexual functioning.  Often men suffering from ED have low testosterone and when place on prescription testosterone replacement therapy, do show signs of improvement.

This over-the-counter supplement however, can cause problems of acne, hair loss, suppression of the pituitary gland and the long-term safety is not known.

·      L-arginine

 There may be some evidence of L-arginine, an amino acid, improving ED by stimulating blood vessels to open wider for improved blood flow. A study done in 1999, showed that 31 percent of men using L-arginine had improvements of their impotence within six weeks of taking the supplement.  It can boost the body’s production of nitric oxide, a compound necessary for a man to be able to achieve an erection by dilating blood vessels in the penis. 

Another study conducted in 2003, showed L-arginine along with pine extract pycnogenol had good improvements in sexual with no side effects.  The one problem associated with it is men with heart issues should take it only under a doctor’s care.

·       Ginkgo biloba

This herbal supplement is commonly used for memory improvement and dementia but it does not get rave reviews for improving ED. In fact, most doctors will say this herb doesn’t do much and studies have shown ginkgo biloba to not be of much use for ED. 

Be wary of herbal supplements for ED

 If a man resorts to using an herbal supplement for treating ED, he is taking a chance there could be unpleasant side effects and their efficacy may not be as successful as a prescribed ED medication.  He should consult with his doctor before taking any herbal supplement for ED before trying to treat ED on his own.

An important consideration for any man experiencing ED is that before they resort to herbs, they should check to make sure there is no underlying medical condition that may be the cause and that could possibly be corrected.  Of the 30 million men who have ED, it is estimated up to 70% of those men have a potentially serious condition such as heart disease, kidney disease, or diabetes that could be the real reason for ED.  Also, certain medications, surgical injury, and psychological problems could be a factor. 

Another factor a man needs to consider is that there are many unproven herbal and natural remedies for ED including panax, propionyl-L-citrulline, pomegranate, rhodiola rosea, golden root, Indian ginseng, zinc supplements, and ashwagandha.  Until they can be proven through rigorous scientific studies for treating ED, it would be prudent not to use them. 

Other “natural” ways a man should consider to possibly helping achieve an erection and bring back his sex life is to eat a healthy diet, exercise, lose weight if overweight or obese, stop smoking, practice stress reduction, and get adequate sleep.  Having an understanding partner who is responsive and loving, can be a man’s biggest asset in finding the support he needs for ED.