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Last updated January 3, 2020. 4 minute read

What is natural Viagra? Does herbal Viagra work?

Supplements touted as “natural Viagra” have not shown to be more effective than prescription ED medications like Viagra or Cialis. In fact, supplements are unregulated by the FDA, so you can’t be sure of their purity or strength.

Self Written by Michael Martin
Reviewed by Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Whether at your local corner store or some not-so-far corner of the internet, you’ve likely seen a ton of products that claim to be “natural Viagra” or “herbal Viagra,” a natural supplement to treat erectile dysfunction (ED). It’s tempting to look for over-the-counter or natural alternatives to prescription drugs for ED—they’ll save you the time and potential embarrassment of a conversation with a healthcare provider. But relying on natural remedies to treat ED can waste your money and endanger your health.

Vitals

  • Supplements touted as “natural Viagra” have not shown to be more effective than prescription ED medications like Viagra or Cialis.
  • In fact, supplements are unregulated by the FDA, so you can’t be sure of their purity or strength.
  • Some natural remedies have been found to be effective for ED in preliminary scientific studies, although those findings are far from definitive.
  • If you’re experiencing ED, it’s best for your overall health to discuss it with a healthcare provider early.

What is Viagra?

Viagra is the brand name of sildenafil, an oral medication used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED), the most common male sexual dysfunction. It’s one of a group of drugs known as PDE-5 inhibitors. Other prescription medications that are PDE-5 inhibitors include Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil).

The first oral medication for ED approved by the FDA, Viagra was released by Pfizer in the United States in 1998. Today, sildenafil is also sold as a drug for a specific type of high blood pressure in the lungs under the brand name Revatio.

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How does Viagra work?

Viagra works by stopping the chemical reaction that causes blood to leave an erect penis. Viagra blocks cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase type-5 (PDE-5), an enzyme that encourages blood to flow out of the penis. When PDE-5 is inhibited, levels of cGMP remain elevated, which relaxes smooth muscle and encourages blood vessels to widen (a process known as vasodilation). That makes blood flow more freely, including to the penis, improving erectile function.

You need to feel sexually aroused for Viagra to work.

What impacts the effectiveness of Viagra?

“Herbal Viagra”

These supplements, like all supplements, are not regulated by the FDA. That means you can’t be sure of their purity or strength—they may be ineffective and even dangerous for some people. At this point, there is no definitive medical confirmation that any herbal remedy can improve sexual function or sexual performance.

Potential natural ED remedies”Herbal Viagra”

However, some natural remedies for ED have shown promise in preliminary scientific studies. They include:

Horny goat weed

Horny goat weed is a traditional Chinese medicinal herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat fatigue and low libido. Some anecdotal reports and animal tests suggest that horny goat weed might help address ED by improving erections. Horny goat weed contains icariin, a substance that is a mild inhibitor of PDE5 (Dell’Agli, 2008). Inhibiting PDE5 is how ED medications like Viagra and Cialis work. But studies on the effects of icariin have been conducted on animals and in test tubes, and it may not work the same way in the human body. Clinical trials on horny goat weed’s effect on ED in humans haven’t been conducted.

Red ginseng

Korean ginseng has been touted as a treatment for impotence for years, and studies have found it may, in fact, be effective in treating the symptoms of ED. In a meta-analysis (Borrelli, 2018) of 24 controlled trials involving 2,080 men with ED, researchers found that ginseng “significantly improved erectile function” and “may be an effective herbal treatment for ED,” although they cautioned that more studies were needed before that could be definitively stated.

Yohimbe

Yohimbe is a dietary supplement made from the bark of the African evergreen tree. Yohimbine, the active ingredient in yohimbe bark, is a common ingredient in supplements sold as aphrodisiacs or male sexual enhancers. A 2015 review of studies published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine (Cui, 2015) found that seven placebo-controlled clinical trials determined that yohimbine was superior to placebo for treatment of ED. (But they noted that yohimbine had not been compared to PDE-5 inhibitors like Viagra.)

DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands. It’s a natural booster of hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Some studies (Lui, 2013) have found that taking a DHEA supplement can boost free testosterone levels along with exercise; others found no difference.

Citrulline and arginine

Some researchers believe that citrulline, an amino acid, can cause blood vessels to relax, similarly to how Viagra works. It’s the precursor of arginine, another amino acid that has been shown to widen blood vessels. Watermelon is one food that’s a rich natural source of citrulline. But no recommended effective dose for these amino acids has been established for ED.

Other alternatives to Viagra

Non-oral drugs

Non-oral ED medications include alprostadil, which can be injected into the penis or placed into the urethra as a suppository. If low testosterone is the cause of ED, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) may be used in the form of a patch, gel, or injection.

Medical devices

Several medical devices can be helpful for ED, including penis pumps and cock rings. A penis pump works to draw blood into the penis, producing an erection; a cock ring is placed around the penis (or around the penis and testicles), keeping blood from flowing out of the erect penis. Penis implants—which include a rod, semirigid implant, or one that can be inflated before sex— are also an option.

Lifestyle changes

ED medications work best when you’re healthy overall, including your cardiovascular and circulatory systems, which are essential in getting blood where it needs to go throughout the body—including your penis. To do that, exercise regularly, eat a heart-healthy diet, and avoid alcohol and smoking (both of which can damage blood vessels and nerves that produce a healthy erection).

But it’s really best to talk with a healthcare provider at the first sign of ED. Not only will you improve your sex life, ED can be an early sign of serious health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and low testosterone. You owe it to yourself to get to the heart of the issue and get effective treatment as soon as possible.