Important If True 12: Once You Start, You Can't Stop
Sorting Through the Hype About Male Enhancement Products
There are alternatives to prescription drugs and medical approaches to erectile dysfunction, but be wary of outlandish claims.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Men seeking help for erectile dysfunction are bombarded with everything from ads for medications that fight ED or promise male enhancement through supplements. The latest: a "Viagra condom," which contains a special gel meant to help men maintain an erection while wearing protection. Called the CSD500, the product, from a British biotech company, is still in development and not ready for prime time just yet.
Such breakthroughs call to mind the myriad of alternate products — some legit, many not — that men attempt to use before they take traditional erectile dysfunction medications or undergo erectile dysfunction surgery. So how do you discern the truth from the hype when it comes to non-medical erectile dysfunction treatments? We asked experts to weigh in on what works and what's a waste.
Male Enhancement Products: Too Good To Be True?
The marketplace is full of products that promise amazing results, guaranteed to give you an erect penis. But if a claim seems too good to be true, it probably is, warns naturopathic doctor Dean Neary, ND, chair of physical medicine at Bastyr University, a natural medicine university in Seattle.
“You’ve got all these products out there that sound like they’ll not only make your erections work, but make it bigger,” says Dr. Neary. “Making it larger is a no-go — you only have limited tissue. There may be some hope of fixing a weak erection by stimulating blood flow, but the tissues aren’t going to magically grow an inch.”
Alternative Erectile Dysfunction Treatments That Can Work
Neary prefers to treat erectile dysfunction in the context of a man’s overall health.
“My approach usually is more holistic. I am looking at getting weight off and increasing exercise, which can kick up testosterone levels,” explains Neary. He cautions that if you try to self-medicate with alternative treatments, you might miss an opportunity to learn about a more serious health problem, such as heart disease, that could be causing your erectile dysfunction.
Related: 10 Healthy Ways to Manage Erectile Dysfunction
Here are some of the alternative approaches you could try with the help of a trained health professional:
- L-arginine.“Probably the only thing that I’ve seen some results with is a high dose of sustained release L-arginine, which works like Viagra and Cialis,” Neary says. L-arginine is an amino acid that stimulates nitric oxide, part of the chemical chain reaction that gets blood pumping into the penis during an erection.
- Acupuncture.This alternative treatment, involving placement of thin needles into the skin at strategic locations, has been practiced for thousands of years in China. There are several sites on the body that practitioners believe can be stimulated to help ease erectile dysfunction.
- Exercise.Being more physically active can help erectile dysfunction in many ways, including improving heart function and boosting testosterone levels.
- Ginkgo biloba.Besides its purported use as a memory aid, this herb is said by some to improve sexual function.
- Ginseng.Ginseng is often recommended as an herbal treatment for erectile dysfunction. According to a recent scientific review of the results of seven clinical trials of red ginseng for ED treatment, the herb may be better than a placebo.
- Iodine supplements.If you’re low in iodine, you and your erection could benefit from iodine supplements, says Neary. There is a simple test your doctor can order to help you find out if you are lacking iodine.
- Nutritional supplements.Along with a balanced, varied diet low in fat, you may want to take supplements to ensure that you are getting all your vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A, B, and E are particularly helpful, as are omega-3 fatty acids.
- Homeopathy.Homeopathy is a form of treatment that takes a holistic approach to health problems while stimulating the immune system to fight the causes of specific conditions, such as erectile dysfunction. Although homeopathy claims to offer more than 200 possible remedies for erectile dysfunction, the effectiveness of these treatments has not been supported by clinical studies.
- Traditional Chinese medicine.This holistic treatment approach involves changing a man’s environment as well as identifying herbs that can treat ED, and may be particularly effective in combination with acupuncture.
- Yohimbine.An extract of the bark of theCorynanthe yohimbetree found in Africa, this herbal remedy for erectile dysfunction is said to be effective. But also has strong side effects and many people do not like the way they feel when they take it, notes Neary.
Related: Should You Get a Penis Implant?
Open Up About Erectile Dysfunction
Open communication is the key to success in treating erectile dysfunction. Neary says most of his time with ED patients is spent educating them and their partners about how the penis works and how the ability to have erections is tied to their overall health. That leads naturally to a discussion of what can be done to improve the situation.
If you want to try alternative treatments, always make sure that you keep your urologist and primary care provider informed so that there are no conflicts with medications you may be taking. Likewise, your alternative medicine practitioner should know which traditional medications you have been prescribed.
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