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updated September 10, 2010

Erectile dysfunction herbs: A natural treatment for ED?

  • A number of erectile dysfunction herbs claim to help erectile dysfunction. Find out the facts before trying one.
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Filed under: Sexual Health

( Erectile dysfunction — difficulty maintaining an erection sufficient for sex — is a common problem. You've likely seen advertisements on the Internet or in magazines for erectile dysfunction herbs or supplements, and you may wonder whether they might work for you.

Erectile dysfunction herbs and other natural remedies have been used in Chinese, African and other traditional medicines for many years. But finding out whether erectile dysfunction herbs or supplements work, and if they're safe, can be tricky. Unlike prescription medications for erectile dysfunction such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis), most erectile dysfunction herbs and supplements haven't been well studied or tested. Some can cause side effects or interact with other medications.

Here's what's known about some of these erectile dysfunction remedies.

Herbal remedy or supplementDoes it work?Dangers and possible side effects
DHEA Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a building block for sex hormones. It may help some men if they have low testosterone (hypogonadism). DHEA can interfere with your natural balance of sex hormones. It can cause acne and may lower "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
Epimedium (horny goat weed) This traditional Chinese medicine may help erectile dysfunction. There's little evidence about the safety or side effects of epimedium. It may cause blood thinning and lower blood pressure.
Folic acid and vitamin E In some men taking sildenafil (Viagra), these vitamins seemed to help with erectile dysfunction. But more studies are needed to determine whether there's a clear benefit. Except in high doses, there's little risk of side effects from these vitamins.
Ginkgo Ginkgo may help erectile dysfunction by increasing blood flow to the penis. It may also help ease sexual side effects caused by antidepressants. Ginkgo may increase your risk of bleeding. This could be dangerous if you're going to have surgery or you take a blood-thinning medication.
Ginseng Asian (Panax) ginseng has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine for a number of conditions. A few studies show that ginseng may help with erectile dysfunction. This herb is generally considered safe. However, it may lower blood sugar levels, so use caution when taking ginseng if you have diabetes. In rare cases, ginseng has been linked to mania when taken with certain antidepressants.
Yohimbe Yohimbe is derived from the bark of the African yohimbe tree. A prescription form (yohimbine) may help with erectile dysfunction — especially if it's due to psychological causes. The prescription form of this herb has been linked to a number of side effects, including increased blood pressure, fast or irregular heartbeat and anxiety.
Zinc Zinc may improve erectile function in men who have a zinc deficiency. Don't take zinc in high doses. Too much zinc can harm your immune system and cause other health problems.
Be wary of 'herbal Viagra'

After the medication Viagra was introduced in the late '90s, it quickly gained a reputation as an effective treatment for the erectile dysfunction. A number of nonprescription products claiming to be herbal forms of Viagra soon followed. Some of these products contain unknown quantities of potent ingredients similar to those in prescription medications, which can cause dangerous side effects. Some actually contain the real drug that should be given by prescription only. Although the Food and Drug Administration has banned many of these products, some potentially dangerous erectile dysfunction remedies remain on the market.

Be cautious and talk to your doctor

Just because a product claims to be natural doesn't mean it's safe. Many herbal remedies can cause side effects and dangerous interactions when taken with certain medications. Talk to your doctor before you try an herbal treatment for erectile dysfunction — especially if you're taking medications or you have a chronic health problem such as heart disease or diabetes.

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