Former basketball star Lamar Odom may have taken one of these products, underscoring the problem that hidden ingredients might be harmful to your health.
Men spend more than $1 billion annually on the three most popular drugs for erectile dysfunction (ED). More than 25 million men in the U.S. have ED, but because the degree of it is so variable, only 5 percent of them have sought treatment, according to the American Urological Association. Still, it’s big business. So, it probably comes as no surprise to you that there is an increasing array of “natural” remedies for erectile dysfunction flooding the market.
With names like “yohimbe bark” and “horny goat’s weed,” these natural remedies are unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can easily buy them by mail and at convenience stores. These products promise to be cheaper than the ED drugs you see constantly advertised on television, but just as effective.
But the FDA recently warned that these alternatives could be risky, even dangerous to your health. The basis for that warning is the contents of these alternative products. The problem became national news when former basketball Lamar Odom was rushed to the hospital, after reportedly taking 10 herbal “Viagras.”
In nearly 300 alternative products for ED, the FDA found undisclosed drug ingredients, some the same as those in FDA-approved ED prescription products, and tainted ingredients in another 25 products.
“Not only do these products contain undisclosed drug ingredients, but they also sometimes may include combinations of undisclosed ingredients or excessively high doses, both potentially dangerous situations,” the FDA says.
An FDA official, M. Daniel Dos Santos, Phd, PharmD, says even if you’re a cautious consumer, you can’t tell what’s really in these products, even though they’re marketed as “all-natural” or “herbal.”
Their labeling won’t help you figure out what’s in them because they’re marketed as “dietary supplements” or “foods” that can bypass FDA regulation. You may have seen “horny goat’s weed” in a gas station restroom machine. It’s widely distributed. You probably have no idea what it is.
“We’re finding an alarming number of these products sold online and in retail stores. They’re often sold in single-serving sizes in gas stations or vending machines,” says Gary Coody, RPh, the FDA’s national health fraud coordinator. “We’ve seen pills, coffees, chewing gum and dissolvable oral strips that contain hidden drug ingredients or untested chemicals.”
You should beware of products that promise quick results (as in a half hour) and are advertised as alternatives to FDA-approved prescription drugs. Other giveaways are single doses, advertisement via spam or unsolicited emails, labels written in a foreign language, and directions that mimic those for FDA-approved products.
The distributors of single-ingredient herbal products may be well meaning, and their recommendations may be based on observational or folkloric evidence. But many of these products also are part of deliberate scams aimed at taking your money without concern for your health.
Before you start taking something with a weird or exotic name, consider some measures you can take that might improve your condition.
Many factors can influence ED, to varying degrees. If you smoke, there’s a risk of ED because nicotine reduces genital blood flow and impairs your ability to obtain an erection.
Many prescription drugs taken for a wide variety of conditions can cause ED as a side effect. You might find an alternative drug that accomplishes the same therapeutic results without that side effect, so talk with your pharmacist or doctor.
If you drink alcohol a lot, you’re also affecting your sexual function via the depression drinking can cause. ED is most often connected with less blood flow to the penis, and that can be caused by a poor diet, too little exercise, and being overweight.
If you regularly are depressed, anxious, or stressed-out, ED might be a symptom. As reluctant as you may be, you need to seek professional help to deal with these conditions and learn coping mechanisms. Make sure to talk with your spouse or partner as well. Communication goes a long way toward easing tension in a relationship.
There also are approved ways of fighting ED without drugs. Those include vacuum pumps that draw bloods blood into your penis, tension rings that help you maintain an erection by stopping the blood from flowing out, self-injections with a special drug, and the insertion of a medicated pellet into your urethra.
Andrew Weill, MD, a reliable source on complimentary and alternative medicine, mentions culturally based herbal supplements. They include ginkgo, yohimbe, ashwagandha or a standardized extract of Asian ginseng. He specifically does not recommend yohimbe.
All have potential side effects and should not be taken without consulting with your pharmacist or doctor first.
However you tackle an erectile problem, start with a doctor consultation first. Try to remember this is nothing to be embarrassed about. Millions of men have some sort of erectile problem and millions have been successfully treated.
Just be very careful about what you put into your body. You can probably find a solution to your problem without risking your health. If it seems too good to be true, don’t take it.
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October 16, 2015
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA