table of contents
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.
By and large, over-the-counter “male enhancement” products are the 21st-century version of snake oil. But in some studies, some natural treatments for erectile dysfunction (ED) have shown promise. Although more research is needed, some (potential) natural treatments for erectile dysfunction include ginseng, horny goat weed, and DHEA. Here’s what science says about a few of the most commonly touted natural remedies for ED (and some that are lesser-known but might be helpful).
What is ED?
Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when you can’t get or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfying sex. That might include erections that don’t last as long as you want or aren’t as firm as you’d like. ED is the most common sexual dysfunction. An estimated 30–50 million American men have erectile dysfunction (Sooriyamoorthy, 2022).
8 natural treatments for ED
If you’re experiencing ED, make an appointment with a healthcare provider. Frequent or worsening ED can be an early warning sign of a more serious health problem like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, stress, or a hormone imbalance. It’s important to address ED at the first signs of trouble. You might be able to make lifestyle changes that treat or prevent a potentially life-threatening medical condition.
Be aware that, unlike prescription drugs, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate supplements and vitamins—they can vary wildly in potency, quality, and safety. Many herbal remedies come with the risk of side effects and drug interactions, and they may be dangerous for people with certain health conditions or taking prescription medications. Always consult your healthcare provider before taking any new supplement.
Many “male enhancement” supplements contain Korean red ginseng, which has been used as a folk remedy for ED for decades—and studies show it may be effective. Studies suggest that ginseng may improve erectile function. However, more extensive clinical trials are needed to definitively assess its potential health benefits (Borrelli, 2018).
2. Horny goat weed
A traditional Chinese medicinal herb, horny goat weed, has been used to treat fatigue and low libido for thousands of years. Horny goat weed contains icariin, a mild inhibitor of PDE-5. Similarly, ED medications like sildenafil (brand name Viagra; see Important Safety Information) and tadalafil (brand name Cialis; see Important Safety Information) belong to a class of drugs called PDE-5 inhibitors. Animal studies suggest that icariin may improve erections; however, icariin may not work the same way in the human body, and more research is needed (Long, 2018).
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, is a natural booster of estrogen and testosterone levels. Some studies show that low testosterone and DHEA levels can be associated with ED and suggest that DHEA supplements may improve sexual function. However, other data do not show an improvement in ED with DHEA supplementation, so more research is needed (El-Sakka, 2018).
4. Citrulline and arginine
The amino acids citrulline and arginine (or L-arginine) help blood vessels relax, similar to how Viagra works. Studies suggest that citrulline and arginine may be beneficial in mild to moderate cases of ED (Rhim, 2019).
Yohimbine, the active ingredient in yohimbe bark, is frequently found in supplements sold as aphrodisiacs or male sexual enhancers—but it may be superior to snake oil. Animal research suggests that yohimbine may improve sexual function and blood flow to the penis (NIDDK, 2020).
6. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is made naturally by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Many of us don’t get enough, and that might affect your erections. Studies suggest that there may be a relationship between low vitamin D levels and ED, so vitamin D supplements may help with ED (Crafa, 2020).
7. Vitamin B3
Vitamin B3 (a.k.a. niacin) may improve erections by increasing penile blood flow. Niacin is naturally found in foods like turkey, avocado, and peanuts. Exercise caution when taking a niacin supplement, as too much niacin can cause problems like uncomfortable flushing, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, and arrhythmias (Ng, 2011).
8. Folic acid (vitamin B9)
Folic acid (vitamin B9) is linked to nitric oxide production and erectile response. Studies have found a possible correlation between folate deficiency and erectile deficiency. They also suggest that taking folic acid may help your ED. You can get folic acid from oranges, leafy green vegetables, bread and grains, cereals, pasta, rice, and beans, or by taking a B-complex supplement (Elshahid, 2020).
Lifestyle changes to help with ED
Dietary supplements are not the only options to treat erectile dysfunction naturally. Lifestyle changes can also help you achieve more satisfying erections and improve your sex life.
Regular exercise, especially moderate aerobic physical activity, can help you improve erectile function and restore sexual activity by affecting your blood pressure, blood flow, nitric oxide production, and hormonal changes (Duca, 2019).
Eat a healthy diet
A diet that’s good for your heart is also good for your erections. High-fat, fried, and processed foods can cause heart disease by raising blood cholesterol. Over time, that cholesterol builds up in the arteries, narrowing them and reducing blood flow throughout the body. The consequences can include cardiovascular disease, stroke, or ED (Sooriyamoorthy, 2022).
In addition to raising your risk of lung cancer, smoking drastically increases your chances of heart attack, stroke, or ED. Tobacco smoke contains many toxins, damaging blood vessels throughout the body—including in the penis. Quitting smoking may improve your erectile function (Sooriyamoorthy, 2022).
Chronic heavy drinking leads to an increased risk of developing erectile dysfunction. Scientists are unsure why, but it may be due to alcohol’s ability to damage blood vessels, including those in the penis (Sooriyamoorthy, 2022).
Stress causes mental and physical changes that can affect your sex life, sexual desire, sexual performance, ejaculation, etc. Stress can lead to a vicious cycle: you feel stressed, and your mind is elsewhere, so you have sexual performance troubles, which makes you more stressed, and the cycle continues. You can reduce stress with exercise, relaxation techniques, meditation, or mindfulness practice. If you have trouble managing stress on your own, talk with your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.
When to see your healthcare provider
Like many other bodily functions, erections may decline with age. Over time, you may notice that your erections are softer or don’t last as long as they used to. Stress, illness, and other natural disturbances can affect your sexual health—not being able to get an erection now and then is not the same as erectile dysfunction.
However, if you or your partner notice that you’re regularly having difficulty getting an erection, your erections aren’t as firm as you’d like, or they don’t last long enough for satisfying sex, then it’s time to talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms. Your provider can help you develop a safe and effective treatment plan to improve your sex life.
- Borrelli, F., Colalto, C., Delfino, D. V., et al. (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://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29633089/
- Crafa, A., Cannarella, R., Condorelli, R. A., et al. (2020). Is there an association between vitamin d deficiency and erectile dysfunction? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients, 12(5), 1411. doi:10.3390/nu12051411. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32422943/
- Duca, Y., Calogero, A. E., Cannarella, R., et al. (2019). Erectile dysfunction, physical activity and physical exercise: recommendations for clinical practice. Andrologia, 51(5), e13264. doi:10.1111/and.13264. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30873650/
- El-Sakka, A. I. (2018). Dehydroepiandrosterone and erectile function: a review. The World Journal of Men’s Health, 36(3), 183–191. doi:10.5534/wjmh.180005. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29756417/
- Elshahid, A., Shahein, I. M., Mohammed, Y. F., et al. (2020). Folic acid supplementation improves erectile function in patients with idiopathic vasculogenic erectile dysfunction by lowering peripheral and penile homocysteine plasma levels: a case-control study. Andrology, 8(1), 148–153. doi:10.1111/andr.12672. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31237081/
- Long, H., Jiang, J., Xia, J., & Jiang, R. (2018). Icariin improves SHR erectile function via inhibiting eNOS uncoupling. Andrologia, 50(9), e13084. doi:10.1111/and.13084. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29968380/
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). (2020). Yohimbine. LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548703/
- Ng, C. F., Lee, C. P., Ho, A. L., & Lee, V. W. (2011). Effect of niacin on erectile function in men suffering erectile dysfunction and dyslipidemia. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8(10), 2883–2893. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02414.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21810191/
- Rhim, H. C., Kim, M. S., Park, Y. J., et al. (2019). The potential role of arginine supplements on erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal Of Sexual Medicine, 16(2), 223–234. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.12.002. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30770070/
- Sooriyamoorthy, T. & Leslie, S. W. (2022). Erectile dysfunction. StatPearls. Retrieved on Oct. 12, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562253/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.