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Who among us doesn't want stronger erections, especially those of us who struggle with erectile dysfunction? That's why the market for erectile dysfunction treatments is expected to reach 4.7 billion dollars in revenue by 2026.
Medications like Viagra and Cialis are popular, especially given how easy it is get them prescribed and delivered straight to your door thanks to telehealth companies like Hims and Roman. But you might also be curious about over-the-counter sex supplements you've seen advertised.
There's a breadth of supplements out there that claim to boost your erection, and many are dubious. If you go to a gas station and see something behind the counter with a name like "Boner Blaster 5,000," it's a surefire way to know it's not legit. There are major dangers when it comes to “herbal Viagra,” the term used to describe the natural supplements that are advertised to boost your erection, explains Jamin Brahmbhatt, MD, a urologist and sexual wellness expert at Orlando Health.
“Even if you buy them at a big retailer, and they seem to be made of ‘natural' ingredients, be cautious,” he says. “No one is regulating this stuff.”
Are any of these over-the-counter erection supplements safe and effective for your sex life? Surprisingly, yes. These four picks may help enhance your sex life and potentially increase your overall wellness, too. Here's what to know about four expert-approved sex supplements: omega-3s, L-arginine, L-citrulline, and vitamin D.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a known supplement for guys with heart issues. So how can that help you below the belt? If there’s a certain food or supplement that’s good for your heart, it’s likely to be good for your sex life, too, according to Brahmbhatt. That’s because heart-healthy changes are geared toward improving blood flow and increasing the size of blood vessels, he says.
Your penis has the smallest blood vessels in your body, meaning they’re easier to get clogged up. And impeded blood flow is bad for erections, so anything that improves blood flow is good down there.
The kicker is that many blood pressure medications list erectile dysfunction as a side effect, he adds. That’s because they modulate the way that blood vessels open and close, which can reduce flow overall, especially down south.
By contrast, omega-3 fatty acids can have the opposite effect because they lower inflammation that might be affecting blood vessels, while also reducing blood clotting. And that can help boost your blood flow.
Getting your omegas from foods like fatty fish is your best bet, but supplements—like Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega—can also be helpful.
Also a top pick for increasing blood flow, L-arginine is an essential amino acid that can be good for both heart health and erectile issues, Brahmbhatt says.
In fact, a new study in the journal Andrology found that patients with severe or complete erectile dysfunction had L-arginine levels that were significantly lower than that of men with milder forms of ED. L-arginine might help trigger the production of nitric oxide, a compound important in getting and maintaining erections.
According to Mayo Clinic, arginine is found in most protein-rich foods like red meat, poultry, beans, and dairy products. The Mayo Clinic has marked it as generally safe but cautions people who take blood pressure meds to talk to a doctor first.
This is good advice for any supplements if you’re on blood pressure medications, Brahmbhatt says. That’s because something like L-arginine can reduce your blood pressure—which is great if it’s a bit too high, but not if you’re already bringing it down with meds. In that case, you may see a sudden and dramatic drop in pressure that could cause you to faint, or in extreme cases, have a stroke.
If you’re not on those meds and want to try the amino acid, you can try taking the supplement. Start at a dose of about six grams a day to see how you tolerate it, Brahmbhatt says. In a select few, the supplement can cause side effects like nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bloating.
In addition to L-Arginine, L-Citrulline can aid in the production of nitric oxide.
For over two decades now, we've known the role that nitric oxide plays in aiding erections. A 1999 study in the journal Cardiovascular Research, notes "Nitric oxide (NO), which is produced both in cavernosal nerves and endothelium, has recently been recognized to play a key role in the physiology of penile erection."
A 2001 study published in Expert Opinion Pharmacotherapy notes, "NO is the principal agent responsible for relaxation of penile smooth muscle." (FYI, penile erection is a vascular phenomenon that directly results from smooth muscle relaxation along with arterial dilation and venous restriction.)
Vitaflux has both L-Arginine and L-Citrulline to increase the production of nitric oxide and has been clinically-shown to increase the strength of erections.
Blood flow boosts aren’t the only ways supplements can help sex: Mood also makes a huge difference, too. That’s where vitamin D can come in.
According to a 2014 meta-analysis, vitamin D supplements are effective ways to improve symptoms of depression, possibly because the compound helps regulate certain mood-related transmitters in your brain. That's important for your sex life since a decreased sex drive can be one of the earliest markers of depression. (Here are 5 other reasons your sex drive is shot).
Plus, Brahmbhatt notes that some studies have estimated that men with vitamin D deficiencies are more likely to have erectile dysfunction. That may be because low levels of the vitamin are associated with diseases like hypertension, coronary artery disease, and peripheral vascular disease. Basically, blood flow issues that affect your system can also raise your risk of ED.
Although you can get some vitamin D from foods like salmon and eggs, along with sunshine, most people in the U.S. are lacking the vitamin, especially if you live in the northern part of the country, says Brianna Elliott, R.D., a coach at nutrition counseling service EvolutionEat.
She adds that the longer you maintain low levels, the more effects you might see, including potential ED. But how much you should take is a moving target. The National Institutes of Health recommends 600 IU, while the Endocrine Society suggests much higher levels of up to 2,000 IU daily.
“This would be a good topic for your next doctor visit,” Elliott says, noting that it’s easy to test for vitamin D levels, and from there, you can get a recommendation about dosage amounts based on that information.
The bottom line on sexual supplements?
In general, here’s the best possible “supplement” you can take for your sex life: lifestyle changes. A healthy diet, regular exercise, good sleep habits, and lower stress levels all go a long way toward improving your health, as you’ve heard a million times.
When you’re in better shape, that has a big-time effect on your ability to get and maintain an erection, says Brahmbhatt.
“It’s definitely easier to stop at the gas station and get some shady supplement that makes promises about boosting your libido or increasing your girth,” he says. “But play it safe, skip that junk, and do what’s proven to help your sex life: healthy lifestyle habits.”
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