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If you’ve been having less-than-stellar erections, chances are the first visit you made was to Dr. Google. There’s a lot of information out there about dietary supplements that claim to give you better erections, help you last longer, and make sex better. A lot of it is BS. Let’s take a look at what the science says about vitamins and supplements that actually can improve erections.
- Some vitamin deficiencies might contribute to erectile dysfunction.
- Specifically, deficiencies in vitamins C and D have been correlated with erectile problems.
- Other supplements have shown promise in improving ED, but they’re a roll of the dice, partly because supplements aren’t FDA-regulated and partly because there is a dearth of high-quality evidence regarding their efficacy.
- If you’re experiencing ED, it’s a good idea to talk with a healthcare provider.
What is erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is when you can’t get or keep an erection sufficient for a satisfying sex life. That might include erections that don’t last as long as you want or aren’t as firm as you’d like.
Although ED can be distressing, it is very common—the most common sexual dysfunction there is. Many guys experience ED at some point in their lives. It’s estimated that more than 30 million men in the US have erectile dysfunction (Nunes, 2012).
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Some vitamin deficiencies may contribute to erectile dysfunction.
One study of 3,400 participants found that men with vitamin D deficiency were 32% more likely to have trouble with erections when all other risk factors were controlled for (Farag, 2016).
Low vitamin D levels are pretty common. Between 2001–2006, one-third of the US population had insufficient amounts of vitamin D, according to the Institute of Medicine (Looker, 2011). Your healthcare provider can test your vitamin D level with a simple blood test.
According to the Institute of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin D is 15 mcg (600 IU) per day for men and women to age 70. Men and women over age 70 should have 20 mcg (800 IU) per day. However, the Endocrine Society says 37.5–50 mcg (1,500–2,000 IU) per day may better maintain adequate blood levels of vitamin D.
We all know that vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an important nutrient, but it may help your erection too (Meldrum, 2010). Antioxidants boost nitric oxide (NO) production and prevent its breakdown. Vitamin C promotes blood flow and has direct effects on NO production in a variety of body processes. A reasonable dose of vitamin C is 500 to 1,000 mg daily (Harvard Health Publishing, 2019). Foods high in vitamin C include vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts and fruits like oranges and strawberries. One cup of Brussels sprouts provides 124% of your daily recommended value of C (USDA, 2020), and a cup of orange juice provides 206% (USDA, 2020).
Vitamins B3 & B9
Vitamin B3 (a.k.a. niacin) is a commonly used supplement for vascular conditions, and niacin supplements may also help your erection (Ng, 2011).
A 2011 study of 160 men with moderate or severe erectile dysfunction divided the group in two—80 men were given niacin supplements, and 80 a placebo. The group given niacin reported improved ability to maintain an erection versus the control group. Niacin is found in foods like turkey, avocado, and peanuts. You can also supplement with a vitamin B complex.
Folic acid (vitamin B9) is also linked to nitric oxide production and erectile response. Some studies show a correlation between folate deficiency and erectile dysfunction (Yang, 2014).
Taking a B complex supplement could raise your B9 levels, or you can consume more foods high in folic acid, including spinach, milk, and orange juice. Your healthcare provider can perform a simple blood test to see if you’re low in B9.
Herbal supplements for ED
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 icariin have been conducted on animals and in test tubes; horny goat weed may not work the same way in the human body.
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 found that seven clinical trials determined that yohimbine was superior to placebo for the treatment of ED (Cui, 2015). But researchers noted that studies had not directly compared yohimbine to PDE5 inhibitors, and as such, it could not be considered a first-line ED treatment.
Korean ginseng has been touted for the treatment of erectile dysfunction for years. In one meta-analysis 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 (Borrelli, 2018).
Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands. It’s a natural booster of hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Some studies have found that taking a DHEA supplement can boost free testosterone levels along with exercise (Lui, 2013); others found no difference (Brown, 1999).
Citrulline and arginine
Citrulline, an amino acid, may cause blood vessels to relax, similar to how Viagra works. It’s the precursor of arginine, another amino acid that may widen blood vessels. The efficacy of arginine supplements is arguable, since it may break down too quickly for your body to use, and L-arginine deficiency doesn’t usually cause ED. Watermelon is one food that’s a rich natural source of citrulline.
Considerations for vitamins/herbal supplements for ED
A few things to keep in mind when you’re considering vitamins or supplements for the treatment of ED: Unlike prescription drugs, vitamins and supplements are not FDA-approved or regulated. So you can’t be absolutely sure of their potency or quality. Many of them also lack sufficient evidence regarding their efficacy to truly know if they have an effect or not.
Certain vitamins and supplements could affect any health conditions you have or interact dangerously with any prescription medications you’re taking. You should always consult your healthcare provider before starting any vitamins or supplements.
Other ED treatments
Oral medications for ED are highly effective. Several are available, including sildenafil (brand name Viagra), tadalafil (brand name Cialis), and vardenafil (brand name Levitra).
If low testosterone is responsible for your ED, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) can boost your testosterone levels via injection, a wearable patch, or gel applied to the skin.
For some men with ED, using a device such as a penis pump, cock ring, or—in severe cases—a surgically placed penis implant, have been effective in restoring sexual function.
Your erections will be best when you’re healthy. Making simple lifestyle changes, such as getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and limiting your alcohol consumption, might be enough to improve ED.
If you’re experiencing ED, it’s a good idea to talk with a healthcare provider. They’ll help you find the solution that’s right for you—and potentially nip any other health problems in the bud before they become severe.
- Borrelli, F., Colalto, C., Delfino, D. V., Iriti, M., & Izzo, A. A. (2018). Herbal Dietary Supplements for Erectile Dysfunction: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Drugs, 78(6), 643–673. doi: 10.1007/s40265-018-0897-3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29633089
- Brown, G. A., Vukovich, M. D., Sharp, R. L., Reifenrath, T. A., Parsons, K. A., & King, D. S. (1999). Effect of oral DHEA on serum testosterone and adaptations to resistance training in young men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 87(6), 2274–2283. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1922.214.171.1244 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10601178
- Cui, T., Kovell, R. C., Brooks, D. C., & Terlecki, R. P. (2015). A Urologists Guide to Ingredients Found in Top-Selling Nutraceuticals for Mens Sexual Health. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12(11), 2105–2117. doi: 10.1111/jsm.13013 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26531010
- Dell’Agli, M., Galli, G. V., Cero, E. D., Belluti, F., Matera, R., Zironi, E., … Bosisio, E. (2008). Potent Inhibition of Human Phosphodiesterase-5 by Icariin Derivatives. Journal of Natural Products, 71(9), 1513–1517. doi: 10.1021/np800049y https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18778098
- Farag, Y. M., Guallar, E., Zhao, D., Kalyani, R. R., Blaha, M. J., Feldman, D. I., … Michos, E. D. (2016). Vitamin D deficiency is independently associated with greater prevalence of erectile dysfunction: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001–2004. Atherosclerosis, 252, 61–67. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2016.07.921 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5035618/
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2019). By the way, doctor: What’s the right amount of vitamin C for me? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/whats-the-right-amount-of-vitamin-c-for-me. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/whats-the-right-amount-of-vitamin-c-for-me.
- Looker, A. C. (2011, March). NCHS Data Brief: Vitamin D Status: United States, 2001–2006. Retrieved March 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db59.pdf
- Meldrum, D. R., Gambone, J. C., Morris, M. A., & Ignarro, L. J. (2010). A multifaceted approach to maximize erectile function and vascular health. Fertility and Sterility, 94(7), 2514–2520. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2010.04.026 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20522326
- Ng, C. F., Lee, C. P., Ho, A. L., & Lee, V. W. (2011). Effect of Niacin on Erectile Function in Men Suffering Erectile Dysfunction and Dyslipidemia. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8(10), 2883–2893. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02414.x https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21810191
- Nunes, K. P., Labazi, H., & Webb, R. C. (2012). New insights into hypertension-associated erectile dysfunction. Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension, 21(2), 163–170. doi: 10.1097/mnh.0b013e32835021bd https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4004343/
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- USDA FoodData Central Search Results: Brussels sprouts. (2020). Retrieved from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170383/nutrients https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170383/nutrients
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- Yang, J., Yan, W.-J., Yu, N., Yin, T.-L., & Zou, Y.-J. (2014). A new potential risk factor in patients with erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation: folate deficiency. Asian Journal of Andrology, 16(6), 902. doi: 10.4103/1008-682x.135981 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4236337/