Men’s Sexual Health Supplements: Are They Safe?

Check with your doctor first to reduce risk of complications

Illustration for story on men's sexual health supplements.

Check with your doctor first to reduce risk of complications

The market for men’s sexual health supplements is growing as many men turn to them to tackle sexual issues.

While it may be tempting to buy pills and bottles to boost your sexual performance, you might want to think twice before putting down your money. It’s important to be cautious. These products may not have evidence to back up their claims, and they could also lead to unwanted side effects.

“Most supplements for sexual function have not been studied scientifically,” says Luigi Simone, MD, a primary care physician at Scripps Clinic in Encinitas. “They may have a placebo effect, which is not insignificant, but as far as the claims of increasing libido or sexual endurance, those have definitely not been proven.”

Male sexual enhancement supplements may not be safe for everyone as they can cause side effects, allergic reactions and interactions with other medications. Some supplements may even contain potentially dangerous impurities or hidden pharmaceutical drugs that can be dangerous.

So be careful when using these products. Talk to your doctor before trying a sexual enhancement supplement. “Don’t be afraid to bring up a sexual health concern,” says Dr. Simone. “We’ve heard them all and are always ready to help you.”

Treating sexual problems with prescription medications

Doctors may prescribe drugs such as Viagra to treat impotence in men. However, using them with other medications may cause problems. Ingredients in erectile dysfunction drugs, such as sildenafil in Viagra, can be dangerous when mixed with medications for treatment of other conditions.

Can sexual health supplements be an option? It’s important to know what supplements are and how they work.

What are supplements?

Supplements are substances intended to be added to your diet and come in many forms, including in pill, powder or liquid. They are not drugs and can be purchased without prescription at grocery stores, drug stores, natural food stores and other retail outlets.

Doctors may recommend supplements in specific situations where patients are not getting enough nutrients from their diet or have a certain health condition.

How are supplements regulated?

While prescription drugs undergo rigorous testing and approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), federal regulations for dietary supplements are less strict.

By law, dietary supplements must contain at least one vitamin, mineral, amino acid, enzyme, or other substance used by the body. But the rest of the ingredients may include drugs that are untested for safety or effectiveness.

The FDA can take action if it finds any supplement to be unsafe once it reaches the market and can remove the product from the marketplace. There are other protections. Since the FDA does not approve supplements for treating medical conditions, companies cannot market them for that purpose.

To learn more about supplements, visit the National Institutes of Health. Your doctor should also be able to answer your questions.

What are men’s sexual health supplements?

Sexual enhancement supplements are a subset of dietary supplements, specifically marketed to address issues related to sexual health and performance.

In additions to nutrients like amino acids, vitamins and minerals, they may contain herbs, such as horny goat weed, ginseng and maca root.

While many of these products say they can increase sexual desire or performance, it’s unclear if they are safe or actually work. Some people might see results, but for others it could be risky, especially if not used with a doctor's guidance.

Talk to your doctor first

Always talk to your doctor about any sexual health problems you may be experiencing.

“Do not self-diagnose and think that supplements are going to cure or prevent a problem from occurring,” Dr. Simone says. “Your doctor can discuss any sexual concern you may have and determine if there is an underlying cause for your symptoms that needs to be treated.”

Treating underlying health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes can help improve sexual function.

“If you have sexual side effects from medication you can ask your doctor if you can change your medication. Your doctor can also help you determine which supplements, if any, might help you,” Dr. Simone says.

Can lifestyle changes boost sexual health?

Improving your sexual health doesn’t always require medication or supplements. Lifestyle changes can be effective in treating sexual problems.

Losing weight, reducing stress and a healthy lifestyle have all been shown to increase testosterone levels in men, Dr. Simone says.

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