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Sexual enhancement may be one of the least controversial concepts in the world—what sentient human would pass up an opportunity for enhanced sex? Unfortunately, the off-the-charts marketability of that phrase has birthed some industries that are controversial indeed, and even potentially dangerous. One of them is “male enhancement” (or penis enlargement) pills, and one of those is ExtenZe. You may have seen this product advertised on TV or online or in a magazine if you have access to a time machine and are reading this from 2005.
- ExtenZe is a supplement that promises “natural male enhancement,” a.k.a. a larger penis and better sex.
- The manufacturers of ExtenZe paid $6 million to settle a class-action lawsuit over deceptive advertising.
- The FDA has warned consumers not to take ExtenZe because it may contain unlisted sildenafil (brand name Viagra), which can be dangerous when taken in conjunction with other medications.
- ExtenZe can’t permanently enlarge your penis.
- If you’re experiencing ED, there are medically proven things you can do instead of taking a nutritional supplement.
What is ExtenZe?
ExtenZe is an herbal dietary supplement marketed for “natural male enhancement” (including penis enlargement and better sex). The product’s website claims it provides “bigger, harder, more frequent erections,” increased sexual endurance, and “massively intense and electrifying orgasms.”
The ingredients of ExtenZe include yohimbe, L-arginine, horny goat weed, zinc, ginseng, pregnenolone (a hormone produced by the adrenal gland), and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
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ExtenZe and ED
Erectile dysfunction (or ED) can include softer erections, erections that don’t last as long, less frequent erections, or even a lack of morning erections. It’s very common. Most guys experience ED at some point in their lives—it’s estimated that more than 30 million American men in the U.S. have had some form of ED (Nunes, 2012).
(Read everything you need to know about erectile dysfunction here.)
ExtenZe claims to reduce the symptoms of ED by causing more blood to flow into the spongy chambers of the penis, producing an erection.
Effectiveness of ExtenZe
No studies exist to support the claims ExtenZe’s manufacturers make about their product. A few studies have examined some individual ingredients of ExtenZe—including horny goat weed, muira puama extract, and damiana—and found that they may have sexual health benefits, including increasing sexual desire. (On which ExtenZe is probably basing its claims of better orgasms.) But no clinical trials have been done on ExtenZe itself.
Biotab Nutraceuticals, the company that makes ExtenZe, has been subject to lawsuits for deceptive marketing. In 2011, Biotab paid $6 million to settle a class-action suit accusing the company of false advertising. (Ads for ExtenZe once described it as “A capsule that can make a man larger…scientifically proven to increase the size of a certain part of the male body.”)
Yet the language that got them sued in 2011 was actually vaguer than what prompted a 2006 suit: The company was fined $300,000 for unfair business practices and false advertising in California over claims that it could enlarge a user’s penis by 27%.
Today, the company softened its claims, promising merely “the manhood you’ve always wanted.”
Perhaps less amusingly, in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning “advising consumers not to purchase or use Extenze” (FDA, 2018). The agency’s lab tests found that the product contained sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. “This undeclared ingredient may interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs, such as nitroglycerin, and may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels,” the FDA said. “People with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease often take nitrates.”
Oh, and at least two of ExtenZe’s ingredients (DHEA and pregnenolone) are considered performance-enhancing drugs and are banned by pro sports.
Can ExtenZe make your penis bigger?
It cannot! At least not permanently. No pill can. Here’s why.
The penis contains two tubes of spongy tissue (the corpus cavernosum). During an erection, this tissue fills with blood, causing the penis to stiffen and enlarge; when the blood drains out, the penis softens and shrinks. The amount of spongy tissue in your penis is set once puberty ends. That’s what determines the size of your erection, and there’s nothing a pill can do to create more of it.
Some “enhancement products” like ExtenZe contain ingredients that may help you get more in the mood for sex, get an erection faster, or achieve one that’s a bit firmer than usual. But they can’t enlarge the corpus cavernosum and make you permanently bigger. (The same goes for any cream, gel, mousse, or frappé that claims it can enlarge your penis via topical application.)
Side effects/potential risks of ExtenZe
As the FDA pointed out, ExtenZe can potentially react with other medications that contain nitrates. Viagra and other ED drugs known as PDE5 inhibitors work by widening blood vessels. Nitrates also widen blood vessels, and taking them in conjunction with a PDE5 inhibitor can widen them too much, causing a dangerous drop in blood pressure.
ExtenZe has other possible side effects, including nausea, cramps, diarrhea, headache, trouble sleeping, stomachaches, gynecomastia (breast development in men), seizures, and a decrease in testosterone production (some of ExtenZe’s ingredients, such as pregnenolone and boron, increase estrogen as well as testosterone).
Another risk: ED can be a sign of a potentially serious health condition, like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and hormone imbalance. That’s why it’s important to consult a healthcare provider at the initial signs of ED. If you’re taking ExtenZe to address erectile dysfunction, you might overlook a bigger problem.
Alternatives to ExtenZe for ED
If you’re experiencing ED, talk with a healthcare professional to rule out any larger health issues. They might suggest that you make some easy lifestyle changes, including getting more exercise and managing stress, to address ED. (Check out these 11 all-natural ways to protect your erection.)
Your healthcare professional might also prescribe ED medication such as sildenafil (brand name Viagra), tadalafil (brand name Cialis), vardenafil (brand name Levitra), or avanafil (brand name Stendra). They all pretty much work the same way: by widening arteries, easing blood flow in some parts of the body, including to the penis. It bears repeating: Some medications also increase nitric oxide, which is why taking ED meds with them can be dangerous. Read more about how erections work.