Do “natural” cures for ED actually work? We took a look at the claims. (Photo: Getty Images/Yahoo Health)
Erectile dysfunction can be a mystery, with no clear-cut cause. It can have vascular, neural, hormonal, and psychological components, depending on the man. Pharmacies sell a little blue pill that can help with performance, but sometimes you don’t want to rely on a drug — you want to find a natural “cure,” something that doesn’t shout “erectile dysfunction” when found in the medicine cabinet.
Type “natural ED cures” into your favorite search engine and you’ll pull up a bevy of herbs and natural remedies that supposedly help. But are they safe, and do they actually work?
“While the use of natural agents for erectile dysfunction goes back to ancient times, current scientific evidence is lacking for all of these treatments,” Jason J. Jameson, MD, a urologist with the Mayo Clinic Men’s Health Program in Arizona, tells Yahoo Health. “In fact, the American Urological Association Clinical Guidelines Panel recommends against herbal therapies for the treatment of erectile dysfunction.”
To make matters worse, some of these herbal remedies can actually do more harm than good, especially when combined with other medications. And some pills that claim to be all-natural can actually be laced with ingredients found in Viagra or are nothing more than a placebo, Jameson says. (Though there’s something to be said for the placebo effect, which works 25 percent of the time for men looking for a cure for ED, he adds.)
We rounded up some of the more popular “natural” remedies for ED, and asked the experts to break down their legitimacy with regard to treating the sexual condition. Here’s what they have to say:
Korean Red Ginseng
Korean red ginseng (Photo: Flickr/Morning Calm Weekly Newspaper)
While a study published in the Journal of Urology found that men taking Korean red ginseng saw significantly improved erections compared to their placebo-popping counterparts, the American Urological Association Clinical Guidelines Panel feels this trial group of 45 men is too small to validate its clinical efficacy. In addition, Korean red ginseng can cause added health issues for men who have heart disease, mood disorders, or immune system disorders.
Taking a supplement of this amino acid can help increase blood flow both to the penis and the heart, Harry Fisch, MD, FACS, a clinical professor of urology and reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College/New York Presbyterian Hospital, tells Yahoo Health. While there’s no medical guarantee it will work like Viagra, L-arginine is known to increase levels of nitric oxide, a gas that relaxes muscles and increases blood flow, and is involved in maintaining an erection.
“Zinc supplements are not shown to help, but a healthy lifestyle with an excellent diet — anything good for the heart — will be good for the penis,” says Fisch. “Vitamins like A and E won’t hurt, but I always say lose weight, exercise, and stop smoking. Don’t look for a magic bullet like zinc.”
Acupuncture, Hypnosis, and Yoga
Acupuncture (Photo: Getty Images)
“Anything that helps reduce stress and improves awareness of your body or calms you down is worth trying,” says Paul Nelson, a clinical sexuality educator for Maze Men’s Sexual and Reproductive Health. For some people, acupuncture can help in situations where stress, anxiety, or injury is the cause of ED, Nelson adds.
Horny Goat Weed
Pills, powders, and teas are made from an extract of this plant, also called Epimedium, which has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. “It’s called Horny Goat Weed after a Chinese goat herder who noticed increased sexual activity in his herd after eating these plants,” Jameson explains. Some animal-based studies show that it may increase nitric oxide, which is involved in maintaining an erection, but there is no conclusive scientific evidence that it has benefits in humans, Jameson adds.
Pomegranate juice (Photo: Getty Images)
Antioxidants in berries help nitric oxide last longer in the bloodstream, which is where the pomegranate myth began. However, there is no scientific proof that drinking this antioxidant-rich juice can actually help with erections. “Of course, it’s better to drink a glass of pomegranate juice than a soda, but it won’t help” with ED, Nelson says.
Stopping Visual and Physical ‘Stimulation’
Studies connecting pornography viewing and masturbation to erectile dysfunction are limited. “Most men are not adversely affected by viewing pornography or masturbation,” Jameson says. “However, there may be a small percentage of men who are affected if their body becomes conditioned to certain stimuli not present when having intercourse with a partner.” They can also become desensitized or no longer aroused without an added layer of visual stimulation. Jameson has seen some patients benefit from either limiting the use of visual stimulation and masturbation or seeing a psychological counselor.
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