Tell the truth. How many bottles of supplements do you have in your medicine cabinet right now? If you’re like most Americans, your answer probably falls somewhere in the range of “some” and “shitload.” In fact, statistics show that in 2019, 77% of Americans reported using vitamins and supplements, and the average American spent around $56 a month on them. This trend shows no signs of slowing down and sexual health and performance supplements, in particular, are growing rapidly in popularity and demand.
Thanks to the passage of the U.S. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994, virtually any substance can be marketed as a dietary supplement on one condition – the manufacturer can’t make any claims about the efficacy of the product. In fact, the FDA requires a disclaimer on all supplements that says, “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”
With the sheer number of supplements on the market and a Wild West approach to ensuring purity, safety and/or results, it’s no wonder that I see patients every day who are looking for sound medical advice and factual information about these products. Most patients would love to treat their sexual dysfunction or enhance their sexual performance with something natural as opposed to prescription medicine, but do sexual health supplements work, and are they safe?
If you’re wondering the same thing, you came to the right place. Keep reading to find out the 411 on some of the most popular health supplements for men.
POPSTAR – Volume + Taste Enhancer
Yes, we may be a little biased, but we’re also doctors, and POPSTAR grew out of a desire to help our patients. In the years before we created POPSTAR, we got asked about semen health all the time – like almost every day. Men were concerned that their sperm wasn’t healthy. They also didn’t feel like they were producing enough of it, and they wanted it to taste good for their partners.
When we started researching solutions, we found that almost all supplements for semen health focused solely on increasing sperm number and function in order to boost fertility. Or, we found supplements with suspect ingredients from dodgy companies. With no good options to recommend, we decided to create a solution ourselves.
POPSTAR supports overall sperm health, promotes semen volume and enhances the taste of male ejaculate with vegan, non-GMO ingredients from organic sources, like bromelain, which is sourced from pineapple and gives semen a sweet flavor. Fructose also contributes to a sweeter semen taste in addition to giving sperm the nutrients they need to flourish.
Our formula also includes zinc and L-arginine. Low zinc levels have been associated with low sperm quality, low sperm volume and infertility. Zinc supplementation can help with these problems while L-arginine gets converted to nitric oxide, which improves blood flow for stronger erections and increased sperm production. Last, but not least, we added pygeum and lecithin to increase volume for a more satisfying ejaculation and overall sexual experience.
We stand by this one since most of our patients have seen results within one to two weeks and have experienced even greater effects when taken for a longer period of time. Plus, we manufacture POPSTAR supplements at a GMP certified, USDA organic and BBB accredited facility, and there have been no reported serious side effects from our happy customers.
Horny Goat Weed
You may have seen horny goat weed (HGW) at the liquor store or gas station, but you’ll find it in bougie natural foods stores as well. In fact, Whole Foods named it their “Herb of the Month” in December of 2020. As the name implies, this herbal supplement is used to improve libido and enhance erectile function, and its documented use dates back over 2,000 years making it one of the oldest known herbal remedies for sexual dysfunction.
As legend has it, a goat herder in China noticed that his flock would become more sexually active when they had just grazed on the Epimedium plant, which is how it became known by its current name. Whether that’s true or not, we now know that HGW contains low levels of icariin, which is a flavonol glycoside that has been shown in some animal studies to increase the blood flow to the penis. However, no clinical trial data in humans are available. Side effects are rare, but can include heart arrhythmias and hypomania, likely due to the increased blood flow.
No doubt you’ve heard of this supplement, but did you know that it comes from one of the oldest living tree species in existence? Most gingko biloba supplements are made from extracts of the tree’s leaves, which contain flavonoids, but watch out because their seeds can be poisonous. Most of the health benefits attributed to gingko biloba involve its effects on blood flow, which is why it’s been used to treat peripheral vascular disease for decades.
Because it increases blood flow, it’s been touted as a treatment for erectile dysfunction as well as an aphrodisiac. While this may seem logical, there have been no scientific studies that support these claims. In fact, two placebo-controlled trials done in the early 2000s showed no improvement whatsoever in erectile function. There have also been severe side effects associated with gingko biloba use, including headaches, bleeding, seizures and even death, so buyer beware on this one.
Korean Red Ginseng
As the name suggests, this plant is native to Asia, and it can be purchased as liquid, powder and capsule supplements, or it can be boiled in water and taken as a tea. You may have heard about this supplement’s ability to increase energy and alertness or to boost immunity and prevent colds. But what you may not have heard is that it may also benefit erectile dysfunction.
There have been a few small randomized-controlled trials that showed that up to 60% of men reported improvement in their erectile function after taking Korean red ginseng. Common side effects of this supplement are similar to some of the others on our list with headache, insomnia, palpitations, elevated blood pressure and dizziness being the most frequently reported.
Tribulus terrestris is a lovely little flowering plant that hails from tropical and temperate climates. It’s also called puncture vine, gokshura, caltrop and goat’s head. Traditional Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurveda medicine use it to enhance libido as well as to promote urinary health. Many of the positive effects related to this plant are likely due to the saponins and flavonoids that the plant contains or are possibly mediated through increases in DHEA.
Improvements in sexual satisfaction, orgasm and desire have been reported. However, when it comes to scientific evidence for the increases in erection health and boosting testosterone, the data have been mixed. One good thing about this supplement is that unlike others that we’ve already discussed, the side effects reported after use of Tribulus terrestris are not significantly different from those reported in men treated with placebo, suggesting that it’s relatively safe to use.
This sexual health supplement comes from another plant that’s native to Southeast Asia, the Eurycoma longifolia. In English, tongkat ali translates to “Ali’s walking stick,” and while some say “stick” refers to the plant’s long roots, most people believe it to reference something else that’s long and hard, since it has traditionally been used as an aphrodisiac.
Studies have been done on the effectiveness of this herbal supplement and results show that its use is associated with higher scores on erection hardness, sexual well-being, increased serum testosterone levels and improvements in libido and sexual performance. There have been no reports of serious side effects or adverse reactions from people who have been administered tongkat ali, making it a relatively well-tolerated and safe supplement.
L-citrulline is a non-essential amino acid that’s found in the human body where it’s converted to L-arginine and nitric oxide in the kidneys. It can also be found in foods, including garlic, pumpkin, cucumber and watermelon. It actually gets its name from Citrullus vulgaris, the Latin term for watermelon. L-citrulline is believed to increase levels of nitric oxide, which is why it can help increase blood flow to the penis during an erection.
In studies, L-citrulline has been shown to improve erection hardness in men with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction. Because of negative side effects that can occur in high doses, like heartburn, upset stomach, low blood pressure, swelling and urinary problems, it may not be feasible for some to take a large enough amount to experience the positive effects.
DHEA is produced naturally in the body by the adrenal gland where it helps to produce hormones like testosterone and estrogen. DHEA production peaks somewhere between the ages of 25 and 35, and then it gradually decreases as we age. DHEA supplements are widely available and are often derived from the wild yam. DHEA claims to help adrenal function and people often take these supplements to increase energy, improve mood and to build bone and muscle.
As with many of these supplements, studies on the effects of DHEA, as it relates to sexual function, are mixed. Some studies showed that subjects who supplemented with DHEA reported better scores on erections, but others showed no effect at all. DHEA is also used to boost testosterone but, in some studies, it was shown to increase the steroid hormones, androstenedione and estradiol, without increasing testosterone at all. DHEA also carries with it a long list of side effects, which can include increased cholesterol, headache, hair loss, high blood pressure, insomnia, oily skin and acne.
To Supplement or Not to Supplement?
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of all of the men’s sexual health supplements on the market, it does give you an idea of some of the most popular ones out there. Taking supplements to improve your sexual health is really a decision that needs to be made in tandem with your healthcare provider.
Your doctor will know the state of your physical health and the prescribed medicines that you’re taking, so they should be able to give you an informed opinion on which supplements are safe for you to use. Unlike supplements, doctors are meant to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, so when in doubt, check with them before you spend your $56 in the supplement aisle this month.