Can Supplements Boost Sex Drive?
Powdered rhino horn. Tiger penis soup. Bufo toad venom. Baboon urine. While all of these substances from around the world are supposedly aphrodisiacs, they’re pretty extreme and, in some cases, illegal, because they’re derived from endangered animals that are either killed or maimed.
However, men who are looking to boost their libido do sometimes turn to supplements such as L-arginine, maca, ginseng, yohimbine and horny goat weed. Many of these have been used for centuries as cure-alls and, more specifically, for erectile dysfunction (ED) or low libido.
It’s important to say this up front: Despite the claims made by the makers of these widely available supplements, little clinical evidence indicates that they have an effect on sexual arousal or capability, or that they’re safe. And that’s according to multiple scientific papers, such as “Most top-selling, over-the-counter sexual treatments unproven, some could be harmful, review shows,” as published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Still, supplements may have a positive effect on men’s sex drive via a placebo effect. Dr. Michael O’Leary, a urologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, told Harvard Health Publishing that the placebo response in clinical trials for sildenafil (Viagra) was about 30 percent—meaning some men thought the placebo was giving them a boost. According to O’Leary, this makes the brain the most important sex organ. O’Leary added, however, that he believes most sexual supplements “are a phenomenal waste of money.”
Let’s take a look at the popular sexual supplements men are using today, and their possible side effects.
L-arginine is a naturally occurring amino acid that can be replicated in labs and is sold in powders and pills. It’s found in protein sources such as dairy products, red meat, fish and poultry. In the body, it is claimed that it converts to nitric oxide, which can open blood vessels wider to boost blood flow and lower blood pressure. As such, L-arginine may improve sexual function for men with ED. It is generally considered safe, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Horny goat weed
A Chinese herb that has been used for centuries to treat erectile dysfunction and low libido, horny goat weed (epimedium) is also used for pain, fatigue, osteoporosis and more. Icariin, an active component in horny goat weed, may have a similar effect as other drugs used to treat ED.
Though it’s considered relatively safe, horny goat weed may cause dry mouth and upset stomach. Other side effects may include low blood pressure, mood changes and irregular heartbeat.
Also known as man-root for its distinctive root system, ginseng varieties are found in North America and Asia. This root is dried and most often sold as powders and tinctures, and has been used for centuries. The active compounds in ginseng include ginsenosides and gintonin.
Ginseng is believed to treat erectile dysfunction in men by promoting the production of nitric oxide, relaxing the muscles in the penis and increasing blood flow. It is also claimed to support the immune system, improve energy and lower blood sugar.
Though considered relatively safe, its side effects can include insomnia, upset stomach and constipation.
This Peruvian plant grows in the Andes and has been used for thousands of years as a food supplement. In the United States, the root of the plant is generally dried and used in powder form.
Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is high in nutrient content, including protein, vitamins, fiber and minerals. Sellers claim it increases libido in both men and women and may increase fertility in men and reduce the symptoms of menopause in women. It’s also asserted to increase strength and boost performance.
While generally considered safe, it’s not recommended for people with thyroid and hormone conditions.
The bark of the West African yohimbe tree contains yohimbine, which is used in some prescription ED drugs, including Aphrodyne and Yocon in the United States. Yohimbine is purported to increase nerve impulses and blood flow to both the penis and vagina and, as such, is used to counteract the effects of antidepressants on sexual dysfunction in men and women.
While yohimbine is standardized in the manufacture of prescription drugs, it’s not standardized in most supplement forms, so dosages can vary wildly. Yohimbine, which has been recognized for its hallucinogenic properties, is also used to improve athletic performance, reduce obesity and treat low blood pressure.
However, yohimbine has a high potential for side effects, including irregular heartbeat, anxiety, upset stomach, high blood pressure, headaches and more.
While many men may be tempted at one time or another to find out whether a supplement can give a jolt to their sex life, they should proceed with caution. Little evidence exists to show that sexual supplements work, and even if a man does feel some benefit, he also may face side effects.
Tread lightly into the jungle of supplements, and always be sure to consult your doctor.
Giddy Notice: Our medical experts have informed us that few supplements of this nature have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That is to say that statements and claims made about the efficacy or possible health benefits of these unapproved supplements have neither been evaluated nor reviewed by the FDA for safety and effectiveness. Furthermore, any statements or claims regarding the supplements are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Our medical experts advise that before you use a supplement in any way, first consult with your healthcare provider to ensure you have full knowledge of appropriate dosages, if any, as well as any potential side effects or interactions with any prescription medications you’re already taking.