Erectile dysfunction (ED) concerns millions of men around the world. In the United States alone, over 30 million men suffer from ED. Men over 70 are more likely to have ED, but even men in their 20s can experience ED.
Types of Treatment
Many treatment options are available for ED management, including:
- oral medications
- injectable or suppository drugs
- medical devices
- penile implants
Three prescription medications listed as effective by the Mayo Clinic are:
- sildenafil (Viagra)
- tadalafil (Cialis)
- vardenafil (Levitra and Staxyn)
Potential OTC Treatments
Found naturally in some soy products and yams, dihydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) has shown safe and positive results in low doses. Notably, DHEA is also used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and can be used to help build muscular strength. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) site says DHEA is “possibly effective” for treating ED.
In addition to possibly helping ED in men, DHEA can help increase low libido in women. However, be wary of products that advertise that they contain “natural” DHEA. The human body can’t naturally produce DHEA from consuming sources that contain it, so any claim that a product can provide the body with “natural” DHEA is false.
L-arginine might treat ED by improving blood flow to the penis. However, it can also cause mild cramping and nausea.
Experiments that support the success of L-arginine as an ED treatment often combine L-arginine with other common ED drugs like yohimbine and glutamate. As a result, the true effectiveness of L-arginine as a treatment for ED is not very well understood. L-arginine has been proven successful for testing hormone levels and for treating individuals with metabolic alkalosis. However, more research needs to be done on its ability to treat ED before it can be approved by the FDA for ED treatment.
Limited research has been conducted on ginseng’s ability to treat ED symptoms. However, the Mayo Clinic notes that ginseng has shown some positive results in human studies, appearing “generally safe” when used in the short term.
The NIH says that yohimbe (also known by the name of its most active ingredient, yohimbine) is “possibly effective” for ED, but the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine 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. Because these are supplements and not prescription drugs, the FDA warns that they haven’t been proven to be completely safe or effective. Furthermore, the amount of active ingredients in products containing these supplements may not be consistent.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some herbs effective in treating animal ED haven’t been tested on humans. For example, Epimedium has caused improved sexual performance in animals, but hasn’t yet been tested on human subjects.
Potentially Harmful Side Effects
The unlisted ingredients may also cause harmful side effects in some users. These OTC treatments can interact with other drugs taken for ED, which could make the supplements unsafe. Ingredients in these OTC treatments can also have unsafe interactions with drugs taken for other conditions, too. Using an OTC that contains sildenafil at the same time as a drug that contains nitrates, such as drugs for diabetes or heart disease, can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure.
ED treatments like sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafi are often also used to treat pulmonary hypertension. Research shows that combining ED treatments containing these medications with nitrates or alpha-blockers can cause problems.