What’s up with men’s sexual health supplements?

Many men do not have erectile dysfunction on an ongoing basis, so they do not feel a need to buy a prescription medication such as Cialis or Viagra. But, they may have other issues they would like to address. In these cases, men might consider taking an herbal supplement that is cheaper, one that does not require a prescription and one that they hope causes fewer side effects.

One highly advertised supplement promises "natural male enhancement” and features a happy customer. The ingredients in the product he used are mainly herbs and nutrients. However, wise consumers will seek more information before assuming that natural herbs and nutrients are 100 percent safe and effective.

Some may assume that sexual health supplements contain the same ingredients as prescription Cialis or Viagra, only in smaller amounts. This is not the case. If you have a few minutes, you may want to read labels. Men’s sexual health supplement ingredient lists can include minerals, herbs, nutrients and other natural elements.

Consumers should expect results to vary widely when they buy a product for sexual health. When buying a product, look at the many ingredients in it. This takes a great deal of time and research. While all of the ingredients serve some purpose, some are geared specially toward sexual ability. For example, zinc is a key ingredient in reproductive organ growth—although this growth usually occurs during the normal male-development phase of youth. One grows when young, and then growth stops. The inclusion of zinc in a product is superfluous for the purposes of “growth” if one is a mature adult.

Some ingredients have a more substantial basis for their inclusion in the product. There is some evidence that DHEA can help with testosterone levels over time, and ginseng may help with concentration, focus and breathing (stamina). L-arginine is known to relax blood vessels. The bottom line is that there may be a temporary increase in blood flow throughout the body or no results at all.

Still yet, other products have the cache of legend to lend them luster. Herbals such as yohimbe have been used as an aphrodisiac for many years with mixed results. Yohimbe has a high risk-to-benefit ratio. The typical dose is 15-30 milligrams. Typical doses can cause anxiety, insomnia, tachycardia, hypertension, tremors and other side effects. Large doses can cause hypotension, heart conduction disorders, CNS stimulation, anxiety and death. Use with large amounts of caffeine-containing beverages or supplements containing guarana (a caffeine source) can result in a hypertensive crisis.

Safety of all supplements being used must be considered. For instance, DHEA is a hormone and a dietary supplement. It can be unsafe when used long-term or in high doses. The FDA does not regulate it or any other dietary supplement, nor does the FDA guarantee strength, safety, purity or content of any supplement. Several other ingredients, such as horny goat weed, licorice and even ginseng are listed as “possibly unsafe” by www.naturaldatabase.com if taken in certain doses for long periods. Physicians usually want to know if their patients use supplements so that they can monitor labs or watch for problems.

Don’t forget that there may be many possible drug-herb interactions if you take prescription medications or you may have a condition that will be worsened by a supplement. As June begins, which is Men’s Health Month, remember to play it safe. Discuss use of supplements with your health care professional.

Barbara Kahn is a pharmacist and clinical staff educator in the Blount Memorial Hospital pharmacy department.

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