The Science: Chemicals inside these plants called ginsenosides are thought to ramp up the physiological pathway that makes nitric oxide, the neurotransmitter that gets the blood flowing during penile erection. Some studies support that idea: one found that ginsenoside-rich ginseng berry extracts relaxed smooth muscle inside rabbit erectile tissue. But so far there haven’t been high-quality double-blind and randomized trials of the chemicals’ effect on humans. The jury’s still out on whether ginsenosides have any effect on people at all, or (if they do) whether they work as well as medications like Viagra.
Many products contain undocumented “fillers” that can cause allergic reactions. In recent years, the FDA has found over 300 herbal products that contain hidden, deceptively labeled, or dangerous ingredients4. And since 2015, the FDA has released public warnings on more than 160 ED supplements and “male enhancement” products found to contain dangerous ingredients and contaminants5 . An independent study of FDA data, conducted in 2018, found almost 800 herbal supplements that contained unlisted ingredients6.
Prescription drugs called “oral phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors” are considered the “first-line non-invasive treatment” options for patients with ED. These include the drugs that go by brand names: Sildenafil, Vardenafil or Tadalafil. They work by helping the smooth muscle cells lining the blood vessels that supply the penis with blood to work properly. This allows a man to maintain an erection more easily.
Erectile dysfunction supplements and other natural remedies have long been used in Chinese, African and other cultures. But unlike prescription medications for erectile dysfunction, such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), tadalafil (Cialis, Adcirca) and avanafil (Stendra), erectile dysfunction herbs and supplements haven't been well-studied or tested. Some can cause side effects or interact with other medications. And the amount of the active ingredient can vary greatly from product to product.