Sex Health Supplements: Are They Right for You?
Sep 04, 2019
We get it. When you have a sexual problem, you might not want to talk about it. Sex is a delicate, private subject, and lots of people don’t want to admit they’re having trouble.
Instead of seeing a doctor, many people turn to the internet and look for products that might help. But are supplements the answer?
Over-the-counter supplements don’t require a prescription, and you can easily get them in pharmacies, in health food stores, and over the internet. And buying them this way saves you a trip to the doctor.
Cost is another important factor. Sexual health treatments, such as pills for erectile dysfunction (ED) aren’t always covered by insurance, and they can carry a hefty price tag. The supplement route can be more affordable.
But before you add a sexual enhancement supplement to your cart, keep these points in mind:
Lack of regulation
- Supplements aren’t regulated by agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, the FDA considers supplements to be foods, and manufacturers are not required to provide evidence of their products’ safety and effectiveness.
- Products are often marketed with terms that imply safety, like natural, homeopathic, and organic. These descriptions can be misleading. As Dr. Ryan Terlecki of Wake Forest University told Medscape.com, “Nothing falls from a tree in the shape of a pill or capsule.”
- Supplements can contain ingredients that aren’t listed on the packaging label.
Scientists have found supplements that contained prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction (sildenafil, tadalafil) or antidepressants (dapoxetine). Such ingredients may not be safe for everyone, and they aren’t always on the supplement label.
Men who take nitrates for conditions like heart disease and diabetes should never take ED drugs because the interaction can cause a serious drop in blood pressure.
Interactions and side effects
- Supplement ingredients – whether declared or undeclared – can interact with other medications you take, which can be dangerous.
Fenugreek, a common supplement ingredient, can interact with anticoagulants (medicines that help prevent blood clots).
People who take antidepressants, blood pressure medications, or central nervous system stimulants should avoid yohimbine.
In addition to drug interactions, supplements can have other side effects and may affect lab test results ordered by your doctor.
Lack of evidence
- There isn’t always scientific evidence to back up the claims made by supplement manufacturers.
In an April 2019 Journal of Sexual Medicine study, researchers reported that in 413 studies of sexual enhancement product ingredients, only 17% involved human subjects.
Some people claim that a product called Zestra boosts sexual desire and improves orgasms in women. But the product has not been tested in men.
- You might think that a product with hundreds of 5-star reviews is an effective one. But some vendors post fake reviews or paid reviews, which are not always trustworthy.
In the Journal of Sexual Medicine study mentioned above, researchers used a tool called ReviewMeta to filter out suspicious reviews related to six erectile dysfunction supplements sold on Amazon.com. After using this software, almost half of the reviews were filtered out, suggesting that they were unreliable.
“The removal of nearly one-half of all reviews associated with these products raises concerns about the veracity of comments linked to these products,” the authors wrote.
(Learn more about sex health product reviews here.)
The bottom line
If you’re coping with a sexual problem, your best bet is to talk to your doctor about it. Remember, doctors are there to help you, and chances are, they’ve had other patients go through what you’re experiencing now. They know your medical history and can guide you on what treatments are most appropriate for you. They might also suggest other ways you can improve your sexual health, like following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and staying fit.
Also, some sexual health issues are signs of a more serious health condition. For instance, men with diabetes and heart disease often start having trouble with erections because of poor blood flow to the penis. With a thorough health checkup, your doctor can screen for such conditions and start treating you immediately. Sometimes, treatment for the underlying condition resolves the sexual problem.
Doctors might also know about coupons and promotions that could keep your treatment costs down. It never hurts to ask.
Don’t leave treatment for sex health problems to chance. Ask a board-certified physician about the best path for you.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Balasubramanian, Adithya, BA, et al.
“An Analysis of Popular Online Erectile Dysfunction Supplements”
(Full-text. Published online: April 26, 2019)
“Supplements for Sex: What To Know”
(April 22, 2019)