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Natural Viagra: Are There Alternatives that Work?

February 22, 2023
4 mins

Today, the terms erectile dysfunction and Viagra® are common vernacular, but they weren't always so ubiquitous in pop culture.

That was thanks to Viagra (sildenafil) becoming the first and only FDA-approved medication for erectile dysfunction in 1998, when it was approved by the FDA and launched in the U.S.

It's true that Viagra remains one of the most popular treatments for erectile dysfunction, along with generic forms of the drug sildenafil, even after 20 years and more than four mainstream competitors on the market.

Obviously, erectile dysfunction has been happening for far longer than these solutions existed. So what natural solutions for E.D. were people using hundreds of years ago? Was E.D. untreatable? Were there natural alternatives to Viagra? 

Read on to learn about the most effective herbs and remedies billed as natural Viagra alternatives – long ago AND today.

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What To Know About Natural Viagra Alternatives

  • While herbs and natural remedies are often billed as compelling alternatives to Viagra (sildenafil), none have proven as effective as Viagra (sildenafil) and the other PDE5 inhibitors, including Cialis® (tadalafil) and Levitra® (vardenafil).

  • The most common natural Viagra alternatives you'll see online and in research are: arginine, ginseng, yohimbe, ginkgo biloba, and epimedium (horny goat weed). 

  • These traditional and herbal E.D. remedies do contain substances that may have an effect on E.D. symptoms and underling causes, but they're generally not powerful enough to have a significant impact on E.D.

First, What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?

Before discussing the best Viagra alternatives, it’s helpful to understand what exactly causes erectile dysfunction. 

First, you should know that there is no “cure” for erectile dysfunction. 

E.D. is often the symptom of an underlying physical or mental health condition. The most common physical causes of erectile dysfunction are related to blood flow. Heart disease, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are all known to contribute to poor or inconsistent blood flow that can result in erectile dysfunction. 

The only way to stop erectile dysfunction entirely is to treat and resolve the underlying medical condition. Medications like Viagra and other PDE5 inhibitors do a great job of managing the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, but they won't permanently eliminate it. Viagra and other medications for erectile dysfunction are also most effective when E.D. is due to blood flow problems.  These medications work by expanding blood vessels and providing a stronger and more consistent flow of blood into the penis, which can contain 5 to 7 times as much blood as normal during an erection.

Mental health conditions are another common cause of erectile dysfunction. Anxiety, stress, and depression have all been linked with impaired sexual function. They can make it harder to become aroused, achieve an erection, or keep the erection firm throughout sex.

Since these issues are mental and often have no other physical symptoms, they can be more difficult to diagnose and treat. However, E.D. medications can still play a role in helping; for instance, someone with performance anxiety might be able to move past their concerns after experiencing a strong erection aided by a prescription E.D. medication. 

The Top Natural Viagra Alternatives For Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction has been happening to men since the beginning of time, with a variety of traditional medicines tried over the years. Depending on the root cause, here are a few “herbal Viagra alternatives” that are rumored to help treat erectile dysfunction, and why.

But first, recognize that evidence is lacking for most of these, as described below, and healthcare professionals recommend sticking with thoroughly-researched prescription E.D. medications in most cases. Viagra and Cialis have been used by millions of men for more than two decades, meaning how they work (and how well they work) is well-understood.

Arginine for E.D.

L-arginine is an amino acid that's naturally produced by the body and is involved in the creation of various proteins. It's also found in some foods including red meat, fish, poultry, and dairy. 

Along with acting as a building block in proteins, L-arginine is also known to boost your body’s production of nitric oxide. This chemical compound is released when you're aroused and helps to dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow into the penis. 

It’s possible that your erectile dysfunction is the result of an inadequate amount of nitric oxide, one of the key messengers involved in erections. One study, for example, found that the oral administration of L-arginine in high doses could be effective in reducing the symptoms of erectile dysfunction in men with a nitric oxide deficiency.  However, the effects seemed to be negligible in men that have normal levels of nitric oxide. 

Ginseng for E.D.

Ginseng is a herbal dietary supplement derived from the roots of various plants belonging to the Panax genus.

Ginseng has been used for centuries in traditional Eastern medicines and contains two important compounds: ginsenosides and gintonin. Several health benefits are believed to be associated with these chemical compounds, including boosting energy levels, lowering blood sugar, improving brain function, and reducing inflammation. 

In addition, ginseng may be able to help reduce the symptoms of erectile dysfunction. A review of seven separate studies found evidence that ginseng could be effective for treating erectile dysfunction; however, the sample size in these studies was much too low to make a definitive conclusion about efficacy, and more research on ginseng for E.D. is needed.  

Yohimbe

Yohimbe comes from the bark of the evergreen Pausinystalia yohimbe tree found in central and western Africa. 

It’s been used in traditional African medicine for centuries as an aphrodisiac and sexual performance enhancer. Before Viagra and other oral medications hit the market in the late 1990’s, doctors would sometimes use yohimbine hydrochloride to treat erectile dysfunction.

Due to the effects that yohimbe derivatives can have on your blood, this herbal remedy has also been prescribed to treat high blood pressure, angina, and help with weight loss. 

According to a systematic review of several clinical trials, yohimbe has been shown to have a positive impact on erectile function in men, especially those with diabetes. However, several health risks have been associated with taking yohimbe, including heart attacks, seizures, high blood pressure, anxiety, and stomach problems. 

Ginkgo Biloba 

Ginkgo biloba is an herbal supplement derived from a tree species native to China that's been around for over 290 million years. 

Several health benefits have been associated with taking ginkgo biloba due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties. Although primarily used to treat cognitive decline, ginkgo biloba has also been used to treat anxiety, allergies, eye problems, tinnitus, and arterial disease. 

Studies have shown that ginkgo biloba might be a potential treatment option for erectile dysfunction resulting from other prescription medications. Certain antidepressants (specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can cause erectile dysfunction as a known side effect. According to one study, ginkgo biloba was found to be 84 percent effective.) in treating SSRI-induced erectile dysfunction. 

However, these results have yet to be replicated in a large study, and ginkgo biloba hasnt been proven to have much of an effect in men that experience erectile dysfunction for reasons other than SSRIs.

Epimedium / Horny Goat Weed for E.D.

Known as horny goat weed, epimedium is a plant that contains trade amounts of icariin, a substance that is a known phosphodiesterase type-5 inhibitor, much like Viagra. 

Studies have proven that horny goat weed can have an impact on blood flow and possibly erection strength as a result. But the amount of icariin necessary to produce meaningful effects on erectile strength isn't well-understood. Icariin and horny goat weed are simply not a powerful source of this PDE-5 inhibiting effect. 

The Takeaway on Natural Viagra 

Only in the last twenty years have we had access to highly effective prescription medications to mange the symptoms of E.D.

Dozens of traditional remedies have been tried as alternatives to Viagra over the centuries, but none of these herbs or derivatives have come close to being as effective as the active ingredients in PDE5 inhibitors today. Natural ingredients like l-arginine or epimedium may help reduce some symptoms of erectile dysfunction, but none of them have had the definitive and proven results of pills such as Viagra® (sildenafil), Cialis® (tadalafil), Levitra® (vardenafil), and others.

For the best results, our physicians recommend sticking with modern medicine when it comes to effective E.D. treatments.

Sources

FDA approves Viagra | History.com.

Symptoms & Causes of Erectile Dysfunction | NIDDK

Erectile dysfunction: A sign of heart disease? | Mayo Clinic

Erectile dysfunction. | NCBI

Arginine | C6H14N4O2 | PubChem

Effect of oral administration of high-dose nitric oxide donor L-arginine in men with organic erectile dysfunction: results of a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study | PubMed

Yin and Yang of ginseng pharmacology: ginsenosides vs gintonin | PubMed

Red ginseng for treating erectile dysfunction: a systematic review | NCBI

Yohimbe | NCCIH

Yohimbine for erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials | PubMed

Ginkgo | NCCIH

Sexual dysfunction in selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and potential solutions: A narrative literature review. | NCBI

Ginkgo biloba for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction). | PubMed

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