The availability of prescription medications to treat erectile dysfunction in men hasn’t led to a decrease in advertisements for herbal male enhancement supplements, many of which are marketed online. The “all natural” aspect of these pills–which are treated as dietary supplements by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–may suggest that they are perfectly safe. However, consumer watchdog organizations, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), say they probably aren’t.
Male enhancement pills to treat impotence and other sexual concerns are simply another form of health fraud designed to give false hope to consumers, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which first issued a consumer alert about these products in October 1998. The supplement so sensually marketed to increase male arousal or inspire sexual libido can contain any number of vitamins, minerals and herbs. In an October 2004 “Nutrition Action Newsletter,” writer David Schardt mentions yohimbe, tribulus terrestris, maca, ginseng, horny goat weed and ginkgo biloba as some of the herbs featured in male enhancement supplements, many of which purportedly enhance sexual performance based merely on how they’ve been used traditionally.
According to Schardt, one of CSPI’s senior nutritionists, there’s either little good evidence–or no evidence at all–from clinical trials (studies that use human subjects) to suggest that most herbal remedies have any influence on sexual desire or sexual performance. There’s slight evidence to indicate that Korean ginseng may be beneficial to men with erectile dysfunction, but only in large amounts and if it’s derived from the herb using a steaming method, Schardt writes. What’s important to remember about natural male enhancement pills is that they don’t go through the same rigorous FDA-approval process as do prescription medications for erectile dysfunction. There’s no guarantee that the product you are using is effective–or even safe.
Dangerous Side Effects
Botanicals by virtue of their “all-natural” appeal, can seem like a gentle, nonthreatening way to address your health concerns, but they are not necessarily safe to use. For example, yohimbe can be hazardous, Schardt points out, causing side effects such as heart arrhythmia, heart attack and a sudden spike in blood pressure. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) urges you to remember that natural male enhancement supplements can interact with the medications and other dietary supplements you take. They may also have undesirable side effects, particularly if you have an existing medical condition.
An Even Bigger Danger
Male enhancement supplements can pose a danger to your health when they contain undeclared ingredients (those not listed on the product’s label). In July 2006, the FDA issued a consumer warning that some male enhancement supplements contained analogues to prescription medications for erectile dysfunction, such as Viagra and Levitra. The problem, Schwartz writes, is that many men enticed by these supplements have erectile dysfunction for a reason, such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure. Many men also take nitroglycerin for their conditions. The supplements discovered by the FDA contained a synthesis of these prescription erectile dysfunction drugs that interacts negatively with nitrates, causing a precipitous and sometimes life-threatening drop in blood pressure, says the FDA.
What to Do
The CSPI indicates that a safer, more effective and far less expensive way to address erectile dysfunction is to exercise and eat a healthy diet. According to Schardt, bedroom-performance problems may signal a bigger health problem, such as heart disease, especially in men 40 to 50 years of age. This population is twice as likely to have a heart attack than those men without erectile dysfunction. A frank talk with a physician about erectile dysfunction may be more daunting than ordering an herbal supplement online with hopes that it will live up to its marketing claims. The FDA urges any man who is using male enhancement supplements as a means of self-treating erectile dysfunction to stop taking them and contact a health care provider instead.
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