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Herbal Options For Erectile Dysfunction

July 02, 2021
4 mins

Humans have been using various herbal supplements as medicines since before recorded history.

Modern medicine was built on the information gathered by our ancestors, who first noticed that certain plants and herbs could help to treat various conditions and medical injuries. 

While medicine has obviously changed since the days of nomadic human tribes, many traditional remedies and herbal supplements are still being used today. It's hard to beat the effectiveness of modern prescription ED medications, but here are some of the herbal remedies and alternative treatments used for ED over the centuries.

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Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) 

Found in yams and soy products, but also produced naturally in the adrenal glands, this steroid hormone plays a precursory role in the creation of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. It also plays a role in strengthening the immune system and building bones and muscles. 

The production of DHEA peaks in most people's mid-20s, and as they continue to age natural levels of DHEA will decrease, leading to reduced sex hormones. Implementing DHEA as a supplement may help to restore these levels and improve sexual function and energy as a result. Research has yet to precisely demonstrate DHEA supplement's overall effectiveness in treating erectile dysfunction though. Some studies have concluded that it can help to improve users' sexual performance, but other studies have suggested it's not an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction. 

As a supplement, a 20 to 75 milligram daily dose of DHEA is generally considered safe. In larger doses, however, it may elicit side effects. Acne is the most common, but fatigue, headaches, and an irregular heartbeat have been reported by DHEA users. 

Ginkgo Biloba 

Derived from the maidenhair tree located in China, ginkgo biloba has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Most commonly, ginkgo biloba is used to treat various conditions related to the brain, such as preventing altitude sickness, dementia, dizziness, and memory loss. 

Due to the fact that ginkgo biloba has the ability to dilate blood vessels, which helps to improve blood flow, it may be beneficial for erectile dysfunction. In fact, several studies  suggest that it could be one of the better treatments for sexual dysfunctions that occur as a result of taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a common medication prescribed for depression. 

Due to its effect on blood flow and the increased risk of bleeding, those taking blood thinners are advised not to take ginkgo biloba. Other side effects include nausea, headache, constipation, dizziness, and upset stomach.

Ginseng 

Also known as panax ginseng, this Korean herb has long been used in traditional medicine as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. It’s not yet clear as to how ginseng reduces the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, but leading theories are that it influences the production of sex hormones or may increase nitric oxide levels. 

When compared to a placebo, ginseng was shown to be more effective at treating erectile dysfunction, but there is not enough evidence to support definitive conclusions. Ginseng is generally safe when taken on a short term basis, but in large amounts can result in insomnia, anxiety, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

Horny Goat Weed 

Otherwise known as epimedium or barrenwort, this popular herb has been used as an erectile dysfunction treatment in traditional Eastern medicines for ages. It's commonly used to reduce the pain that women experience during sex, boost libido, and treat osteoporosis. It’s unclear how exactly this herb helps with these various sexual functions, but it is a mild PDE5 inhibitor, similar to Viagra® (sildenafil).

No studies have precisely described horny goat weed's overall effect in humans, but studies in rats have shown some interesting results. When given a purified extract of epimedium, rats experienced a substantially increased blood flow.

Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, dry-mouth, thirst, nosebleeds, and an irregular heartbeat.  

L-arginine 

Found naturally in various nuts, seeds, meats, and whole grains, L-arginine is an essential amino acid that's used in the creation of proteins. Another primary function of L-arginine is in the production of nitric oxide. 

This neurotransmitter can help blood vessels relax and expand, increasing the flow of blood throughout the body. Nitric oxide is one of the most important parts of the erection process.

In a study involving 40 men experiencing erectile dysfunction, L-arginine was evaluated over a three-month treatment period in combination with pycnogenol. Combined, over 90% of the treated men were able to achieve an erection, but alone, L-arginine offered almost no benefit. Another study notes a potential link between low blood levels of L-arginine and erectile dysfunction.

Some potential side effects of l-arginine include cramping, diarrhea, upset stomach, nausea, headaches, and flushing in the face or body. 

Yohimbine 

Extracted from the bark of an evergreen tree in Africa, yohimbine was sometimes recommended by professional healthcare providers before the creation of Viagra. By triggering the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine, yohimbine may help to block compounds known to constrict blood vessels and reduce blood flow. 

While research has shown that yohimbine does seem to have a positive effect on erectile dysfunction, it's not often recommended due to the potential for side effects. Yohimbine has been associated with an increased rate of heart attack and seizures as well as increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, and anxiety. 

Alternative Treatments 

While these herbal medicines may help in some cases, they're unlikely to be as effective as prescription ED medications like Viagra or Cialis. For people looking for other alternative options to treat erectile dysfunction, there are some options.

Vacuum Pumps 

These handheld devices create erections by forming a vacuum around the penis, drawing blood into the member. A constriction band is placed around the base of the penis, trapping the blood in and maintaining the erection.

For individuals that cannot take prescription medications for health reasons, or for those experiencing erectile dysfunction due to a psychological issue, vacuum pumps are typically a good treatment option.

Lifestyle Changes 

The best way to treat a condition is to prevent it in the first place. While making a few lifestyle changes isn’t guaranteed to eliminate erectile dysfunction, these changes can help to reduce risk factors associated with ED. Some of these changes include:

  • Eat a more balanced diet by increasing fruit and vegetables. Cut back on sodium and saturated fats to promote improved cardiovascular health.

  • Get more exercise to improve heart health. As little as 30 minutes of exercise daily can dramatically improve the strength of the cardiovascular system and blood flow.

  • Find healthy ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Stress, depression, and anxiety are some of the primary contributors to psychological erectile dysfunction. 

  • Quit smoking and drink less alcohol. Both of these vices are significant risk factors for erectile dysfunction, as they affect blood flow and volume. 

  • Make sure you're getting enough sleep. A lack of sleep can create a ripple effect on physical and psychological health. By giving your body and mind enough time to rest and repair nightly, you can reduce the odds of experiencing erectile dysfunction. 

The Takeaway

Several herbal options are available for erectile dysfunction, though none have proven to be consistently effective. While some may have an impact on sexual function, the potential for side effects and some unclear benefits make spending considerable time or money on these alternative herbal remedies not ideal for most people. 

Research into most herbal supplements for ED has yet to definitively prove that any one of them adequately treat the symptoms of erectile dysfunction.

While there are clearly connections to blood flow and hormone production, they're not likely to be as effective as prescription medications, which have been designed and throughly vetted as quality treatments for erectile dysfunction. 

The good news is: ED medications are now more accessible than ever thanks to telemedicine providers like Rex MD. Click here to get started with an assessment of your own, all done online.

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