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Last updated: Dec 21, 2021
6 min read

What is natural Viagra? Does herbal Viagra work?

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.

Whether at your local corner store or some not-so-far corner of the internet, you’ve likely seen a product or two claiming to be natural or herbal Viagra. They may be marketed as treating erectile dysfunction (ED) naturally, all without the need for a prescription. 

And if you have ED, it’s tempting to look for over-the-counter options or other alternatives to prescription drugs. But do these natural remedies for ED work? The science is scarce, but there may be some natural alternatives, like red ginseng, that could potentially increase your libido or help improve erectile function.

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What is natural Viagra?

When someone uses the term “natural Viagra,” they’re referring to a supplement or ingredient that treats ED similarly to how medications like Viagra (generic name sildenafil; see Important Safety Information) would. 

In order to understand what natural Viagra does (or what it’s supposed to do), let’s look at how the prescription medication works. To keep it brief: Viagra works by stopping the chemical reaction that causes blood to leave an erect penis. In other words, it helps you stay hard. 

Natural Viagra supplements make similar claims. But, like all supplements, those claiming to be a form of herbal Viagra aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means you can’t be sure of their purity or strength. Not only could these products be ineffective, but they can also even be dangerous for some people. 

However, some natural remedies for ED have shown promise in early scientific studies.

Natural alternatives to Viagra 

If you’re looking to try a drug-free ED remedy, there are some supplements and herbs that may mimic the effects of their prescription counterpart Viagra.

Horny goat weed

Horny goat weed is a medicinal herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat fatigue and low libido. 

Some anecdotal reports and animal experiments suggest horny goat weed might help address ED by improving erections. How so? Horny goat weed contains icariin, a substance that is a mild inhibitor of PDE5, which is exactly how Viagra works (Dell’Agli, 2008). 

But studies on the effects of icariin have only been conducted on animals and petri dishes, meaning it might not work the same way in the human body. No clinical trials on horny goat weed’s effect on ED in humans has been conducted yet.

Korean red ginseng

Korean ginseng has been touted as an ED treatment for years, and unlike some other natural products, studies have found it may actually be effective at alleviating symptoms of ED. 

In a meta-analysis involving over 2,000 men with ED, researchers found that red ginseng improved erectile function in participants. While results are promising, they did caution that more studies are needed before red ginseng is touted as the next herbal Viagra (Borrelli, 2018).

Yohimbe

Yohimbe is a dietary supplement made from the bark of an African evergreen tree. Yohimbine, the active ingredient in yohimbe bark, is a common ingredient in supplements sold as aphrodisiacs and male sexual enhancers. 

A 2015 review of studies determined that yohimbine was superior to placebo for treatment of ED, but it has yet to be compared to PDE5 inhibitors like Viagra (Cui, 2015).

DHEA

One of the causes of ED is low testosterone. Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA for short, is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys. In our bodies, DHEA boosts certain hormones, like testosterone. 

Studies on the use of DHEA supplements to boost testosterone have been mixed though. While some research shows that testosterone levels go up, others found the supplement had no effect (Liu, 2013). And either way, there’s no clear evidence that DHEA will boost testosterone in a way that has any meaningful effect on symptoms of ED (Morales, 2009).

L-citrulline and L-arginine

Some researchers believe that L-citrulline, an amino acid, can cause blood vessels to relax similarly to how Viagra works. It’s the precursor of L-arginine, another amino acid that has been shown to improve blood flow (Cormio, 2011). 

A large study that looked at ten different studies including 540 participants found that there was potential for L-arginine to help with ED. The researchers found that dosages between 1500 mg and 5000 mg offered significant improvements in ED over placebo and participants had higher self-reported scores of sexual satisfaction and erectile function (Rhim, 2019). 

Other Viagra alternatives

If herbal Viagra alternatives aren’t of interest to you, there are other options here that have been shown to help ED (Sooriyamoorthy, 2021):

Medical devices

Several medical devices can be helpful for ED, including penis pumps and cock rings. A penis pump works by drawing blood into the penis, giving you harder erections. 

A cock ring is placed around the base of penis (or around the penis and testicles), keeping blood from flowing out once it has entered. This can help your erection last longer. 

Penis implants—which include a rod, semi-rigid implant, or one that can be inflated before sex—are also an option. These devices are typically reserved for extreme cases of ED.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes like exercising regularly, eating a heart-healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol and smoking (both of which can damage blood vessels and nerves that produce a healthy erection) can also help. Regardless of whether you’re taking Viagra or a natural supplement, these lifestyle changes can have a significant effect on your ability to get and maintain an erection.

Other alternatives to Viagra

Aside from the herbal and natural alternatives to Viagra, there are other medications you can take. These include other PDE5 inhibitors––like Cialis (generic name tadalafil; see Important Safety Information) and Levitra (generic name vardenafil)––as well as non-oral ED medications like alprostadil, which is injected into the penis or placed in the urethra as a suppository (Sooriyamoorthy, 2021). 

If low testosterone is the cause of your ED, testosterone replacement therapy may be used. This treatment comes as a patch, gel, or injection (Sooriyamoorthy, 2021).

Natural Viagra: the bottom line

As you can see, when it comes to natural alternatives to Viagra you do have options. But, before taking any supplements that claim to be a natural form of Viagra, it’s best to speak with a healthcare provider. 

If you’ve just started experiencing symptoms of ED, reach out to a medical professional. This is important not only to improve your sex life, but make sure nothing else is going on behind the scenes. ED can be an early warning sign of serious health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and low testosterone. You owe it to yourself to get to the core of the issue and receive effective treatment as soon as possible.

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://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29633089/ 
  2. Cormio, L., De Siati, M., Lorusso, F., Selvaggio, O., Mirabella, L., Sanguedolce, F., et al. (2011). Oral L-citrulline supplementation improves erection hardness in men with mild erectile dysfunction. Urology, 77(1), 119–122. doi: 10.1016/j.urology.2010.08.028. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21195829/ 
  3. 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://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26531010/ 
  4. 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), 1513–1517. doi: 10.1021/np800049y. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18778098/ 
  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://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23417481/ 
  6. Morales, A., Black, A., Emerson, L., Barkin, J., Kuzmarov, I., & Day, A. (2009). Androgens and sexual function: a placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind study of testosterone vs. dehydroepiandrosterone in men with sexual dysfunction and androgen deficiency. The Aging Male : The Official Journal of the International Society for the Study of the Aging Male, 12(4), 104–112. doi: 10.3109/13685530903294388. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19883295/
  7. Smith, B. P. & Babos, M. (2021). Sildenafil. [Updated June 29, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32644404/ 
  8. Sooriyamoorthy, T., & Leslie, S. (2021). Erectile Dysfunction. [Updated Aug. 12, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32965924/
  9. Rhim, H. C., Kim, M. S., Park, Y., Choi, W. S., Park, H. K., Kim, H. G., et al. (2019). The Potential Role of Arginine Supplements on Erectile Dysfunction: A Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 16(2), 223-234. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.12.002. Retrieved from https://www.jsm.jsexmed.org/article/S1743-6095(18)31362-6/pdf