Mankind has looked for the magic elixir that will help a man obtain and maintain an erection adequate for sexual intimacy. Although there is little scientific evidence that these natural remedies work, there are some that may have a potential to help men with mild sexual problems. This article will review the natural remedies that may be beneficial.
An estimated 30 million American men have erectile dysfunction, and seven out of 10 cases are caused by a potentially deadly condition like atherosclerosis, kidney disease, vascular disease, neurological disease, or diabetes. ED can also be caused by certain medications, surgical procedures on the prostate gland and colon, and psychological problems. Here’s a look at the evidence for and against six of the most popular natural remedies or herbal remedies:
Acupuncture. Though acupuncture has been used to treat male sexual problems for centuries, the scientific evidence to support its use for erectile dysfunction is uncertain. In 2009 South Korean scientists conducted a systematic review of studies on acupuncture for ED. They found that “the evidence is insufficient to suggest that acupuncture is an effective intervention for treating ED.”
Arginine. The amino acid L-arginine, which occurs naturally in food, boosts the body’s production of nitric oxide, a compound that facilitates erections by dilating blood vessels in the penis. Studies examining L-arginine’s effectiveness against impotence have yielded mixed results. A 1999 trial published in the online journal BJU International found that high doses of L-arginine can help improve sexual function, but only in men with abnormal nitric oxide metabolism, such as that associated with cardiovascular disease. In another study, published in 2003 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Bulgarian scientists reported that ED sufferers who took L-arginine along with the pine extract pycnogenol saw major improvements in sexual function with no side effects.
One caveat: men with known cardiovascular problems should take it only with a doctor’s supervision; L-arginine can interact with some medications that can affect the heart.
DHEA. Testosterone is essential for a healthy libido and normal sexual function, and erectile dysfunction sufferers known to have low testosterone improve when placed on prescription testosterone replacement therapy. Similarly, studies have shown that taking over-the-counter supplements containing DHEA, a hormone that the body converts to testosterone and estrogen, can help alleviate some cases of ED. But DHEA can cause problems, including suppression of pituitary function, and its long-term safety is unknown.
Ginseng. Korean red ginseng has long been used to stimulate male sexual function, but few studies have tried systematically to confirm its benefits. In one 2002 study involving 45 men with significant ED, the herb helped alleviate symptoms of erectile dysfunction and brought “enhanced penile tip rigidity.” Experts aren’t sure how ginseng might work, though it’s thought to promote nitric oxide synthesis. Again, I suggest that men discuss with their doctor before taking it since ginseng can interact with drugs you may already be taking and cause allergic reactions.
Pomegranate juice. Drinking antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Does pomegranate juice also protect against ED? No proof exists, but results of a study published in 2007 were promising. The authors of this small-scale pilot study called for additional research, saying that larger-scale studies might prove pomegranate juice’s effectiveness against erectile dysfunction. Pomegranate juice may help ED but it has other health benefits.
Yohimbe. Before Viagra and the other prescription erectile dysfunction drugs became available, doctors sometimes prescribed a derivative of the herb yohimbe (yohimbine hydrochloride) to their patients suffering from ED. But experts say the medication is not particularly effective, and it can cause jitteriness and other problems. Evidence shows that yohimbe is associated with high blood pressure, anxiety, headache, and other health problems. Experts discourage its use.
Horny Goat Weed. Horny goat weed and related herbs have purportedly been treatments for sexual dysfunction for years. Italian researchers found that the main compound in horny goat weed, called icariin, acted in a similar way as drugs like Viagra.
Ginkgo biloba. Known primarily as a treatment for cognitive decline, ginkgo has also been used to treat erectile dysfunction — especially cases caused by the use of certain antidepressant medications. But the evidence isn’t very convincing. One 1998 study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that it did work. But a more rigorous study, published in Human Pharmacology in 2002, failed to replicate this finding.
Bottom Line: No matter what erectile dysfunction treatment or treatments a man ultimately decides upon, it’s important to eat healthy, to avoid smoking and to limit your alcohol consumption. A loving, receptive, and responsive partner is also a necessary ingredient. After all, it takes two to tango!