Buying Effective Supplements for ED

Close-up of dry ginseng slices, capsules and roots
beemore / Getty Images

Why does it seem as though there are hundreds of male sexual enhancement supplements out there? Because there are. Because there always has been. And always will be. We want to believe fixing our health problems is as easy as taking a pill. And better than a prescription, how about an over-the-counter fix? Especially in sexual matters where people may be reluctant to talk with their doctors about their sex lives. So in comes an ad for supplements better than prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction. Now you avoid the hassle and embarrassment of seeing a doctor to get a pill that works better than prescriptions. Is that wrong? Not wrong for you but shame on the hucksters.

1:32

6 Lifestyle Changes to Treat Erectile Dysfunction

There are herbal supplements that may work for male sexual dysfunction and we’ll get to those. How do we know they work? Scientific studies where subjects are divided into research treatment arms where one group of subjects takes a sugar pill, a placebo, and the other group takes the investigational medicine. Most supplements being advertised have never gone through randomized-placebo-controlled studies. The food and drug administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements—only prescription drugs. Someone selling you a supplement can claim the product can do anything from enlarging penises to breasts to shrinking waistlines—all without any science to support the claim. Meanwhile, a ​prescription drug has to go through years of research, starting in the laboratory, moving to animal studies and finally to highly monitored human trials. This takes around 12 years and costs millions of dollars; one reason why prescription drugs cost so much.

Here’s the wild thing about placebo. If you look at the initial clinical trials that brought sildenafil, better known by its brand name, Viagra, to market, 30% of the men in the placebo arm reported better erections! 30%. No active ingredient, just the hope that the pill that man takes is going to improve his erections. So, if a supplement has a similar effect, 30% of the men taking it are going to report a good effect and probably tell their friends and provide testimonials.

Does Anything Actually Work?

So what's effective? There are a few supplements that have stood up to clinical trials and shown some improvement. Most supplements improve blood flow—just like prescription medications like Viagra or Stendra or Cialis. L-citrulline is an amino acid that the body converts into nitric oxide, the hormone that causes improved blood flow to the penis. Korean Panax ginseng is an additional supplement that opens up blood vessels and may help improve erections.

What else works? Pycnogenol and L-arginine also may show positive effects on penile blood flow. Remember, if a supplement works, it has side-effects and interactions with other drugs. Check with your doctor if you take other medications, especially heart and blood pressure medicines prior to starting any supplements.

Which Supplements Are Bogus? 

The list is too long to go into which supplements are bogus but the short list is tribulus, DHEA, fenugreek, gingko, and zinc. Zinc deserves special mention because of how many people swear by it without any data! There is a lot of zinc in semen and therefore, it stands to reason, more zinc equals more semen and more punch in the sack. Unfortunately, that's not the case and zinc supplementation has been linked to a possible higher risk of prostate cancer.

The Best Supplement

What’s the best supplement for improving sex? Exercise. Exercise improves blood flow everywhere, and a healthy diet and exercise can improve testosterone (link to low T on very well) levels and increase libido. Boring, I know, but there you have it. Weight loss and nutrition go a long way to improving overall health and wellness.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Tignol J, Furlan PM, Gomez-beneyto M, et al. Efficacy of sildenafil citrate (Viagra) for the treatment of erectile dysfunction in men in remission from depression. Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 2004;19(4):191-9.

  2. Koolwal, A, Shivananda MJ, Sathyanarayana Rao TS, Koolwal GD. L-arginine and erectile dysfunctionJournal of Psychosexual Health. 2019;1(1):37–43. doi:10.1177/2631831818822018

  3. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Can supplements save your sex life?. Updated February 2019.

  4. Gutiérrez-gonzález E, Castelló A, Fernández-navarro P, et al. Dietary zinc and risk of prostate cancer in spain: MCC-Spain study. Nutrients. 2018;11(1). doi:10.3390/nu11010018