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Last updated: Dec 10, 2021
6 min read

Can you treat ED with vitamins and natural supplements?

Several supplements on the market claim to benefit erectile dysfunction (ED) or improve sexual performance. The scientific evidence supporting those claims varies from promising to weak.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

You might have seen splashy ads online promoting products that promise bigger, harder erection, but before you run out to the pharmacy to stock up, here’s what you need to know about natural treatments for erectile dysfunction (ED)

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What is ED?

ED is when you can’t get or keep an erection sufficient for satisfying sex. That might include erections that don’t last as long as you want, aren’t as firm as you’d like, are less frequent, or you experience a lack of morning erections.

Although ED can be distressing, it’s very common. In fact, it’s the most common sexual dysfunction there is. Most guys deal with erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives, and it’s estimated that more than 30 million men in the United States experience it (Nunes, 2012).

Natural treatments for ED

If you’re considering taking a natural remedy for ED, you should know that these—like all herbal supplements—are not approved or regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means you can’t be 100% sure of the strength or purity of what you buy. 

Unlike prescription ED medication, natural treatments are not required to be proven clinically effective. That said, some studies have found that specific vitamins and supplements increase nitric oxide, which increases blood flow to the penis. 

Supplements and herbal remedies for ED

As we mentioned, it’s important to keep in mind that these natural treatments aren’t proven to work for ED. The good news is taking them is generally safe and can contribute to your overall health and wellness. Let’s look at eight popular vitamins and herbs used to improve ED.

1. Horny goat weed

Horny goat weed (also known as yin yang huo) is a medicinal herb that’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat fatigue and low libido. Some anecdotal reports and animal tests suggest horny goat weed might also address ED by improving erections. 

Horny goat weed contains icariin, a substance that inhibits enzymes called PDE5. Inhibiting PDE5 is how ED medications like Viagra and Cialis work. But studies on icariin have only been conducted on animals and in test tubes, so it may not work the same way in the human body (Dell’Agli, 2008). 

2. Yohimbe

Yohimbine, the active ingredient in yohimbe bark, is a common ingredient in supplements sold as aphrodisiacs or male sexual enhancers. A 2015 review of studies found that seven clinical trials determined yohimbine was superior to placebo for treatment of ED. However, the authors noted that no studies directly compared yohimbine to prescription ED medications (Cui, 2015). 

3. Red ginseng

Korean ginseng has been touted for the treatment of erectile dysfunction for years. In one meta-analysis of 24 studies involving over 2,000 men with ED, researchers found that ginseng significantly improved erectile function. Researchers concluded that ginseng could be an effective ED treatment, although they cautioned that more studies are needed (Borrelli, 2018).

4. DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA for short, is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands (which sit on top of the kidneys). DHEA naturally boosts hormones like testosterone and estrogen, and some studies have found that taking a DHEA supplement can increase free testosterone levels. Other studies found no difference (Lui, 2013).

5. Citrulline and arginine

Citrulline, an amino acid, causes blood vessels to relax. This is broadly similar to how Viagra works. Citrulline is the precursor of arginine, another amino acid that widens blood vessels. 

How effective arginine supplements are for ED is still up for debate, as they may break down too quickly for your body to use. Another important point is that an L-arginine deficiency doesn’t usually cause ED, so it’s not clear how well supplementing with arginine may help ED. If you want to try naturally boosting your levels, chow down on some watermelon––a rich natural source of citrulline. 

6. Vitamin D

It’s estimated that one-third of the United States population has insufficient amounts of vitamin D. One study found that men with low vitamin D levels were roughly 30% more likely to have trouble with erections (Farag, 2016). Your doctor can determine if you’re vitamin D deficient with a blood test.

7. Vitamin B3

Vitamin B3 (or niacin) is commonly used for vascular conditions. Niacin supplements may help your erections by increasing blood flow to the penis. Turkey, avocado, and peanuts are all foods rich in niacin. 

Exercise caution trying a vitamin B supplement: too much niacin causes problems like uncomfortable flushing (redness and warmth of the skin), gout, ulcers, heart arrhythmias, and increased risk of stroke (Ng, 2011).

8. Folic acid 

Folic acid (vitamin B9) is linked to nitric oxide production, and some studies have found a correlation between folate deficiency and ED (Yan, 2014). You can usually get enough folic acid from your diet. Foods with folic acid include oranges, leafy green vegetables, bread and grains, cereals, pasta, rice, and beans. Taking a B complex supplement is another way to raise B9 levels in the body.

Other treatments for ED

Whether they work for ED or not, natural supplements can be a nice way to boost your overall health when used safely. However, if you’re trying herbal remedies for ED, keep in mind that any results will be limited at best. It’s more effective to talk with a doctor about prescription ED medication and other medical strategies. These include:

Prescription medication

Oral medications for ED are highly effective. Several are available, including Viagra (generic name sildenafil; see Important Safety Information), Cialis (tadalafil; see Important Safety Information), and Levitra (vardenafil). 

Non-oral drugs

For men who can’t take an oral ED prescription or are bothered by the side effects, drugs like alprostadil can be used. Non-oral drugs are given as an injection or suppository. If low testosterone is responsible for your ED, testosterone replacement therapy can boost your levels. This treatment comes as a patch, gel, or injection.

Medical devices 

For some men with ED, using devices like a penis pump, cock ring—or in severe cases, a surgically placed penis implant—have been effective in restoring sexual function.

Lifestyle changes

Your erection works best when you’re healthy. Making simple lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol and smoking, might improve some ED cases.

But again, it’s best to talk with a healthcare provider at the first signs of ED. That’s because ED can also be an early sign of something more serious, including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. In young men, ED may be the only warning sign of cardiovascular disease. You owe it to yourself to face the issue head-on: your sex life and overall health are worth it.

References

  1. Borrelli, F., Colalto, C., Delfino, D. V., Iriti, M., & Izzo, A. A. (2018). Herbal Dietary Supplements for Erectile Dysfunction: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Drugs, 78(6), 643-673. doi: 10.1007/s40265-018-0897-3. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29633089
  2. Cui, T., Kovell, R. C., Brooks, D. C., & Terlecki, R. P. (2015). A Urologists Guide to Ingredients Found in Top-Selling Nutraceuticals for Mens Sexual Health. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12(11), 2105–2117. doi: 10.1111/jsm.13013. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283501632_A_Urologist’s_Guide_to_Ingredients_Found_in_Top-Selling_Nutraceuticals_for_Men’s_Sexual_Health
  3. Dell’Agli, M., Galli, G. V., Dal Cero, E., Belluti, F., Matera, R., Zironi, E., et al. (2008). Potent inhibition of human phosphodiesterase-5 by icariin derivatives. Journal of Natural Products, 71(9), 1513-7. doi: 10.1021/np800049y. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18778098
  4. Farag, Y. M. K., Guallar, E., Zhao, D., Kalyani, R. R., Blaha, M. J., Feldman, D. I., et al. (2016). Vitamin D deficiency is independently associated with greater prevalence of erectile dysfunction: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2004. Atherosclerosis, 252, 61-67. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2016.07.921. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27505344
  5. Liu, T. C., Lin, C. H., Huang, C. Y., Ivy, J. L., & Kuo, C. H. (2013). Effect of acute DHEA administration on free testosterone in middle-aged and young men following high-intensity interval training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 113(7), 1783–1792. doi: 10.1007/s00421-013-2607-x. Retrieved from https://mdanderson.elsevierpure.com/en/publications/effect-of-acute-dhea-administration-on-free-testosterone-in-middl
  6. Ng, C.-F., Lee, C.-P., Ho, A. L., & Lee, V. W. Y. (2011). Effect of niacin on erectile function in men suffering erectile dysfunction and dyslipidemia. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8(10), 2883-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02414.x. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21810191
  7. Nunes, K. P., Labazi, H., & Webb, R. C. (2012). New insights into hypertension-associated erectile dysfunction. Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension, 21(2), 163–170. doi: 10.1097/MNH.0b013e32835021bd. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4004343/
  8. Yan, W. J., Yu, N., Yin, T. L., Zou, Y. J., & Yang, J. (2014). A new potential risk factor in patients with erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation: folate deficiency. Asian Journal of Andrology, 16(6), 902–906. doi: 10.4103/1008-682X.135981. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25080932