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If you’ve been having less-than-stellar erections, chances are the first visit you made was to Dr. Google. There’s a lot of information out there about dietary supplements that claim to give you better erections, help you last longer, and make sex better. Here’s the truth: a lot of it is B.S. Let’s take a look at what the science says about vitamins and supplements that actually can improve erections.
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Vitamins for ED
Erectile dysfunction (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 or aren’t as firm as you’d like.
ED can be distressing, but it is very common—the most common sexual dysfunction there is. In fact, nearly one in five men experience ED by the age of 30, and about half of all men experience ED by the age of 50 (Feldman, 1994).
And since there are many different things that can contribute to ED, there are many different things you can try to treat it. Among them are various vitamins and supplements.
Read everything you need to know about erectile dysfunction here.
One study found that men with vitamin D deficiency were 32% more likely to have trouble with erections than men without (Farag, 2016). More in-depth research has shown that the testicles have more receptors for vitamin D than other areas of the body, meaning the vitamin likely plays an important role there (Crafa, 2020).
Low vitamin D levels are pretty common. Between 2001–2006, one-third of the U.S. population had insufficient amounts of vitamin D, according to the Institute of Medicine (Looker, 2011). Your healthcare provider can test your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test.
To say for sure that vitamin D takes the “D” out of “ED,” we’d need more research. To date, there haven’t been any studies showing that treatment of vitamin D deficiency might restore erectile function. Still, if your levels are low, it’s a good idea to speak with your provider about supplementation.
According to the Institute of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is between 15 mcg (600 IU) and 20 mcg (800 IU) per day depending on your age. You can get the vitamin from foods you eat, but a supplement (like a pill, liquid drops, or vitamin D gummies) might be a better option if what you eat isn’t enough.
We all know that vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an important nutrient, but it may help your erections, too (Meldrum, 2010). Antioxidants like vitamin C boost a chemical in our bodies called nitric oxide (NO) and prevent its breakdown, which is actually very similar to how Viagra works (d’Uscio, 2003). Nitric oxide opens up our blood vessels and improves blood flow.
And while that might seem promising, there isn’t actually any research showing that vitamin C will get you hard. Still, if you have a deficiency, it probably won’t hurt. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, kale, cauliflower, berries, and more, so getting your daily dose has never been more delicious.
Vitamin C benefits: 9 you should know about
A single glass of orange juice will give you about twice what you need every day. But just because it’s nutritious doesn’t mean you should be downing extra. Your body doesn’t absorb it past a certain point, meaning you’ll just be peeing it out.
Speak with a provider to find out if you need to up your intake and explore ways to get the vitamin C you need.
Niacin (vitamin B3)
Vitamin B3 (a.k.a. niacin) is everywhere. It can be found in red meat, poultry, veggies, and fruits, meaning you likely get what you need already. But this handy vitamin can also be used to lower cholesterol in people with hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), which is a known contributor to erectile dysfunction.
But here’s the kicker: when it comes to niacin, there actually is research showing it helps. People with high cholesterol and moderate to severe ED showed improvements in their ED after treatment with niacin (Ng, 2011).
Now, that doesn’t mean you should head out and pop a bunch of B3. What it does mean is that you should head to your healthcare provider to make sure your cholesterol is in check. Also, keep in mind that if it isn’t, you probably won’t get a prescription for niacin. That’s because, while it may help with high cholesterol, it isn’t the best treatment available.
You can also make sure you’re eating a balanced diet and getting your daily dose of niacin from your food. Foods that contain niacin include turkey, avocado, and peanuts.
Folic acid (vitamin B9)
Another B vitamin, vitamin B9, has also been linked to erections. Also known as folate, this vitamin plays a vital role in a range of different processes in the body, including the formation of new blood cells, as well as in sperm development in men. One small study showed a correlation between folate deficiency and erectile dysfunction (Yang, 2014).
Taking a B complex supplement could raise your B9 levels, or you can consume more foods high in folic acid, including spinach, milk, and orange juice. Your healthcare provider can perform a simple blood test to see if you’re low on B9.
Herbal supplements for ED
Some people prefer taking an herbal route to addressing their health concerns. While most herbal supplements don’t have much research behind them, we do have at least some evidence about how a few herbal supplements may impact erectile function.
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 tests suggest that horny goat weed might help address ED by improving erections. Horny goat weed contains icariin, a substance that works the same way Viagra works (Dell’Agli, 2008). But studies on icariin have been conducted on animals and in test tubes; horny goat weed may not work the same way in the human body.
What is horny goat weed? Does it work?
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 that yohimbine was superior to placebo for the treatment of ED (Ernst, 1998). But researchers noted that studies had not directly compared yohimbine to medications like Viagra, meaning it hasn’t been confirmed just how effective this herb is compared to the tried-and-true erectile dysfunction drugs available on the market.
Red ginseng (aka Korean ginseng) has been touted for the treatment of erectile dysfunction for years. In one large meta-analysis that examined the results of 24 other studies involving 2,080 men with ED, researchers found that ginseng “significantly improved erectile function” and “may be an effective herbal treatment for ED,” although they cautioned that more studies would be needed before the herb could be recommended as a treatment (Borrelli, 2018).
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, which are small glands that sit on top of your kidneys. It’s a natural booster of hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Some studies have found that taking a DHEA supplement can boost testosterone levels, a measure associated with erectile function (Liu, 2013). Other studies found it doesn’t help (Brown, 1999).
Citrulline and arginine
Citrulline, an amino acid, may help increase blood flow, a lot like Viagra. The body can also convert it into arginine, another amino acid that may improve blood flow. Whether or not these supplements work as a treatment for erectile dysfunction is up for debate, though. It may break down too quickly for your body to use, and L-arginine deficiency doesn’t usually cause ED. But if you’re interested in trying it with very little risk, watermelon is one food that’s a rich natural source of citrulline.
Considerations for vitamins/herbal supplements for ED
A few things to keep in mind when you’re considering vitamins or supplements for the treatment of ED: Unlike prescription drugs, vitamins and supplements are not FDA-approved or regulated. So you can’t be absolutely sure of their potency or quality. Many of them also lack sufficient evidence regarding their effectiveness too.
Certain vitamins and supplements could affect other health conditions you have or interact dangerously with prescription medications you’re taking. You should always consult your healthcare provider before starting any vitamins or supplements.
8 natural remedies and treatments for erectile dysfunction
Other ED treatments
Oral medications for ED are highly effective. Several are available, including sildenafil (brand name Viagra; see Important Safety Information), tadalafil (brand name Cialis; see Important Safety Information), and vardenafil (brand name Levitra).
If low testosterone is responsible for your ED, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) can boost your testosterone levels via injection, a wearable patch, or gel applied to the skin.
Your erections will be best when you’re healthy. Making simple lifestyle changes, such as getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and limiting your alcohol consumption, might be enough to improve ED.
If you’re experiencing ED, it’s a good idea to talk with a healthcare provider. They’ll help you find the solution that’s right for you—and potentially nip any other contributing health problems in the bud.
- 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/
- Brown, G. A., Vukovich, M. D., Sharp, R. L., Reifenrath, T. A., Parsons, K. A., & King, D. S. (1999). Effect of oral DHEA on serum testosterone and adaptations to resistance training in young men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 87(6), 2274–2283. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1922.214.171.1244. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10601178/
- Crafa, A., Cannarella, R., Condorelli, R. A., La Vignera, S., & Calogero, A. E. (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://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7284343/
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