The Truth About Supplements for Erectile Dysfunction

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older male shopping for medication

Your email’s spam folder may be filled with advertisements for “dietary supplements” that claim to treat erectile dysfunction (ED) or boost your sexual performance. These ads also appear on TV and radio. You may even see supplements for male enhancement at your local drug store. But are these products effective—or even safe? 

Dangerous Secret Ingredients

According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), many of these products sold on the internet contain potentially harmful compounds. And they aren’t listed on the label. In an investigation, the FDA found that one-third of these online supplements were laced with undisclosed ingredients. This includes sildenafil—the active ingredient in Viagra. Doctors prescribe Viagra to some patients, but it’s not safe for everyone. The drug could interact with other medications and lower your blood pressure to dangerous levels. This makes ordering supplements online risky. You don’t know whether they contain sildenafil or other ingredients that could harm your health. 

You may be embarrassed about your ED, but it’s important to talk about any sexual problems with your doctor—for both your health and your safety. Always consult your doctor before taking any supplements or medications for ED. 

Which Supplements Are Safe for ED?

Although you should steer clear of supplements advertised online, research shows certain vitamins and herbs can help ED. They may help improve the health of your blood vessels, increase blood flow to the penis, and boost erectile function. If other treatments have failed, you’re not a candidate for ED medications, or you’re looking for a more natural approach, ask your doctor whether these supplements could be right for you. Here are three to discuss with your doctor:

  • Niacin. A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine looked at niacin. The study included men with high cholesterol and moderate to severe ED. The men took 500 to 1,500 mg of niacin daily for 12 weeks. Results showed that these men experienced an improvement in erectile function.

  • Ginseng. A study in the International Journal of Impotence Research studied Korean ginseng berry extract. Men in this study had mild to moderate ED. They took 1,400 mg of the extract—also called Panax ginseng—daily for eight weeks. The men who took the extract experienced an improvement in ED symptoms compared with those who took a placebo.

  • L-citrulline. The journal, Urology, published a study on the supplement L-citrulline. Men with mild ED took 1.5 grams of the supplement each day for a month. Fifty percent of these men experienced an improvement in erection hardness, compared with just 8% of men who took a placebo.

Although you can find these supplements in your local drug store or health food store, talk with your doctor before starting any of them. Over-the-counter products can still cause drug interactions and side effects that can be harmful. And remember that talking to a clerk in a health food store is not the same as consulting a healthcare provider.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Aug 20

  1. Choi, YD, Park CW, Jang J, Kim SH, Jeon HY, et al. Effects of Korean ginseng berry extract on sexual function in men with erectile dysfunction: a multicenter, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical study. Int J Impot Res. 2012;35:45-50.

  2. Cormio, L, De Siati M, Lorusso F, Selvaggio O, Mirabella L, et al. Oral L-citrulline supplementation improves erection hardness in men with mild erectile dysfunction. Urology. 2011;77(1):119-22.

  3. Erectile Dysfunction: Treatment. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://www.familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/erectile-dysfunction/treatment.html

  4. Hidden Risks of Erectile Dysfunction ‘Treatments’ Sold Online. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048386.htm.

  5. Management of Erectile Dysfunction. American Family Physician. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/0201/p305.html

  6. Ng, CF, Lee CP, Ho AL, Lee VW. Effect of niacin on erectile function in men suffering erectile dysfunction and dyslipidemia. J Sex Med. 2011;8(10);2883-93. 

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