Unsurprisingly, the two online outlets are fully stocked with sketchy solutions for the age-old issue of reinvigorating the male libido. Regardless of their packaging and marketing, when you read the fine print, you can see that these products contain alternative medicine staples like Cordyceps, Ashwagandha, and Maca. But do any of these herbs actually work?
Most importantly, herbal supplements are not well regulated in the United States. Studies have shown that 40-50% of herbal supplements do not even contain the supposed main ingredient, and many contain substances that are not listed which may have dangerous side effects2. Another study found that over two thirds of the products tested had substituted other plant species for the plants listed on the label, and a third of products also contained other fillers or contaminants3. A study by the New York State Attorney General of herbal products sold at GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart found that four out of every five products didn’t contain the ingredient they claimed! Fourteen US states and territories have petitioned Congress to regulate the herbal supplements industry.
A recent study tested whether ginseng extract would influence exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation responses. Male college students took either ginseng or a placebo, and then performed a high-intensity uphill treadmill running task. In those taking ginseng, inflammation markers were significantly decreased during recovery, suggesting that ginseng could reduce exercise-induced muscle damage.
In addition, when research has shown a nutrient such as zinc or niacin to improve sexual function, it's usually in people who are deficient in it. So, before you stock up on over-the-counter nutritional supplements for ED, speak with your doctor. He can test you for deficiencies and steer you toward the most effective and safest way to treat your erectile dysfunction.
By doing Kegels, it’s actually possible to tone up the bulbocavernosus muscle. This muscle is extremely important for men. Thus, it lets the penis to fill with blood in order an erection could occur. The muscle also pumps during the process of ejaculation. In addition, it allows emptying the urethra after you urinate. The study has indicated that it’s necessary to perform Kegel exercises 2 times per day for at least 3 months to achieve considerable results.
Currently, there are four orally active drugs are available to treat ED. These include: sildenafil citrate (Viagra [Pfizer, USA]), vardenafil hydrochloride (Levitra [Bayer, Germany]), tadalafil (Cialis [Eli Lilly, USA]) and avanafil (Stendra, Spedra [Vivus Inc, USA]). These drugs inhibit the enzyme phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5), which is responsible for the hydrolysis of cGMP. PDE-5 inhibitors and cGMP act as effectors of dilation of smooth muscle of cavernosal bodies. PDE-5 inhibitors are contraindicated in patients taking any kind of nitrate therapy for angina, and may not be appropriate for men with certain health conditions, such as severe heart disease, heart failure, history of stroke or heart attack, uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes, and patients with pigmental retinopathy. PDE-5 inhibitors are less effective in men with diabetes and men who have been treated for prostate cancer. PDE-5 inhibitors are also not effective in men with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease involving PDE-5 deficiency. The common side effects of PDE-5 inhibitors include gastrointestinal upset, headache, nasal congestion, back pain and dizziness. The PDE-5 inhibitors may interact with other medications including antihypertension drugs. Nonetheless, the PDE-5 inhibitors are generally safe and effective for most men. The primary mechanism of action of these drugs is through the mediation of NO. NO is one of the key molecules involved in ED. It is a short-lived, highly permeable, pleiotropic, gaseous molecule, secreted from the postganglionic cavernosal parasympathetic nerves, endothelium of the cavernosal blood vessels, platelets in the cavernosal sinuses and phagocytic cells (monocytes, macrophages and neutrophils). NO acts on platelets to inhibit platelets adhesion and aggregation. NO causes relaxation of the smooth muscle of the cavernosal blood vessels of the penis, leading to vasodilation, tumescence and stimulation. Release of NO in the corpus cavernosum of the penis during stimulation activates the enzyme guanylate cyclase, which results in increased levels of cGMP, producing smooth muscle relaxation in the corpus cavernosum and resulting in increased blood flow (5). NO is mainly produced from cavernosal nerves, which are nonadrenergic, noncholinergic nerves within the penis, and acting via its second messenger cGMP. It has been suggested that maintaining normal body weight and mild exercise, as well as dietary supplementation of folic acid, zinc, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin E and L-arginine, a precursor of NO, can support the biochemical pathway leading to NO release . NO is an effector molecule that is involved in a number of intracellular functions such as vasorelaxation, endothelial regeneration, inhibition of leukocyte chemotaxis and platelet adhesion . A small proportion of autonomic nerves do not release either Ach or norepinephrine . For example, the cavernous nerves predominantly release NO in the penis. The exact mechanism is not known, but it is believed to be through increased intracellular calcium. Another gaseous molecule produced in the corpora cavernosa is hydrogen sulphide (H2S), which is also known to be involved in erectile function . H2S activates ATP-sensitive potassium channels in smooth muscle cells. Some reports indicate that NO acts in large vessels and H2S in small vessels. A high level of tumour necrosis factor-alpha has been shown in ED patients . Although current ED therapies using PDE-5 inhibitors are safe and effective, approximately 40% of ED patients do not respond to currently available treatment [11,12]. For these patients, herbal therapy may be useful.
"The problem with alternative treatments for any medical problem, including erectile dysfunction, is that until you have about 20 well-controlled studies over several years, you really don't know what you are working with," cautions Richard Harris, MD, a urologist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of the Loyola University Health System in Chicago.
However, you might actually be better off going one step back in the chain reaction and taking an L-citrulline supplement. While your body converts L-arginine to nitric oxide, it also metabolizes it too fast when the amino acid is taken in an oral supplement, according to a 2011 study from the University of Foggia in Italy. L-citrulline, which the body converts to L-arginine, is actually a better option to follow the same metabolic pathway and serve as a treatment for ED, the same study found.
Ginkgo biloba. Ginkgo is an herb that is used in Chinese medicine that’s thought to improve blood flow. "Any ED treatment that improves blood flow may help," explains Dr. Harris. "An erection is just blood in and blood out." However, the evidence that ginkgo can improve blood flow in ED is limited, and most experts say the jury is still out. In addition, ginkgo can increase the risk for bleeding problems if combined with certain medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin).
*all photos are models and not actual patients.If you are interested in a prescription product, Hims will assist in setting up a visit for you with an independent physician who will evaluate whether or not you are an appropriate candidate for the prescription product and if appropriate, may write you a prescription for the product which you can fill at the pharmacy of your choice.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.