Alternative Medicine Cabinet: Treat Erectile Dysfunction

The most effective natural remedies
By Kris Kucera and Hilary Oliver

Aside from the television commercials depicting couples dancing or holding hands in claw-footed bathtubs, erectile dysfunction (ED) has remained a relatively taboo topic. But as new reports show that some 15 million American men suffer from ED, drug companies have responded with a barrage of ads for the latest and greatest pill to put pep back in your—or your partner’s—step.

Roughly 70 percent of ED cases result from another cause—diabetes, kidney disease, vascular disease, alcoholism—that, over time, damages tissues normally involved in producing an erection. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs, from blood pressure meds to anti-anxiety pills, can also be intimacy downers.
There are a variety of herbs and supplements that can help treat ED without having to resort to prescription drugs like Viagra. While these natural remedies are safe to combine, you should work with a practitioner to determine the root cause of your ED, so you can target your treatment appropriately, says Courtney Carey, ND, a Colorado-based naturopath.

L-arginine and yohimbe bark
This amino acid–herb duo was shown in a clinical trial to improve ED. L-arginine increases blood flow to the skin and extremities, while yohimbe is a libido enhancer. The combination might take two or three weeks to work, so don’t give up right away if you don’t see immediate results. Take 5,000 mg of L-arginine and 30 to 100 mg of yohimbe bark an hour prior to sex. But be careful if you have a history of mental illness—the FDA cautions that yohimbe may cause anxiety, irritability, or panic attacks.

Ginkgo biloba
This herb helps relax blood vessels for greater sensitivity and better blood flow in the sexual organs, says herbalist Brigitte Mars, author of Sex, Love & Health (Basic Health Publications, 2002). Take 120 mg per day of a standardized product containing 24 percent flavones glycosides and 6 percent terpene lactones, the active constituents.

Korean red ginseng
Long revered in China for its ability to boost a man’s libido, recent studies confirm this herb’s effectiveness. Take 100 mg two to three times a day of a product containing 4 to 7 percent of the active constituent, ginsenosides.

Horny goat weed
This aptly named ancient Chinese herb (also called epimedium) inhibits an enzyme that controls blood flow to the penis, making it easier to get an erection. Drink half a cup of horny goat weed tea, or take 15 to 30 drops of a tincture, three times a day, says Mars. But since large doses can produce side effects such as vertigo, vomiting, and nosebleeds, Mars recommends taking horny goat weed daily for three weeks and then checking in with a health professional.

Maca
This plant, nicknamed Peruvian ginseng, has long been used in the Andes to boost energy, stamina, and libido. Human trials have shown increased sexual performance. Though the effects don’t appear to be specifically connected with hormone levels, maca is an adaptogen that helps the body balance and regulate hormone production. Mars recommends 5 to 20 grams of dried maca root daily, or 30 to 40 drops of a tincture three times a day.

DHEA
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a precursor to testosterone, has been shown to improve erectile function. Testosterone is the most important sex hormone in men—and a deficiency can wreak havoc on sex drive—but the body’s production of DHEA and, thus, testosterone, slows after age 30. Take 25 to 50 mg daily if a lab test shows you’re not producing enough testosterone.