Are Sexual Enhancement Treatments Safe?
There are many ways to treat sexual dysfunction, including counseling, treatment of other physical problems, mechanical devices, and more recently, prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as dietary supplements.
But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently recalled a number of popular sexual enhancement dietary supplements. They warned that these supplements contained unlabeled prescription drug ingredients that could seriously harm the health of some users.
So, are sexual enhancement supplements safe? And how do they work? Which supplements did the FDA recall? What alternative therapies are available for the treatment of sexual dysfunction?
The cause of sexual dysfunction can be physical or psychological. Physical causes include diabetes, heart disease, brain disorders, surgery or injury, adverse effects of medications, kidney disease, liver failure, hormonal imbalances, alcohol and drug abuse, and smoking. Psychological causes include stress, anxiety, marital problems, depression, and previous traumatic sexual experiences.
Whether it affects arousal, performance, or climax, sexual dysfunction is a real problem for people who have it. Once the problem is identified, most cases of sexual dysfunction are treatable.
Sexual Enhancement Supplements
The FDA approved sildenafil (Viagra) to treat erectile dysfunction in 1998. Since then, a number of sexual enhancement supplements have been developed for both men and women.
But in 2003, the FDA recalled several brands of dietary supplements. This is because they were found to contain either sildenafil (Viagra) or tadalafil (Cialis). These unlabeled prescription ingredients could pose serious health risks for people who are also taking prescription nitrates for chest pain. This is especially alarming since cardiovascular disease and sexual dysfunction often go hand in hand.
Taking both nitrates and sildenafil or tadalafil can cause a life-threatening drop in blood pressure. The FDA advises people who have purchased the following supplements to return them to their place of purchase for a refund:
- Viga for Women
- Stamina Rx
- Stamina Rx for Women
- Spontane ES
To keep abreast of FDA recalls and safety alerts, you can check their website at: http://www.fda.gov/opacom/7alerts.html.
Alternative Sexual Enhancement Therapies
There is some evidence that certain herbs and dietary supplements might be helpful. For men, these include Korean red ginseng, carnitine, DHEA, arginine, Butea superba, melatonin, and OPCs. For sexual dysfunction in women, the supplements include: DHEA, vitamin C, and a mixture of arginine, the herbs ginseng, ginkgo, and damiana, and multivitamins and minerals. The herb yohimbe is sometimes recommended, but it presents significant safety risks. Contrary to early results, ginkgo taken by itself does not appear to be helpful for sexual problems caused by antidepressant drugs.
NOTE: since the FDA does not regulate these supplements, their purity and safety is often in question. You should only take them under your doctor’s supervision.
The following is a list of other sexual dysfunction therapies:
- Sex therapy: Couples therapy sessions address emotional and/or relationship issues that may be causing sexual dysfunction.
- Vacuum therapy: The FDA has approved vacuum devices for men and women that increase blood flow to the genitals to help with arousal difficulties.
- Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy may resolve hormonal insufficiencies that are involved in sexual dysfunction.
- Prescription medications: Sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra) are all used for treat erectile dysfunction.
If you are concerned about sexual dysfunction, your doctor can identify the cause of the problem and begin treating it.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States
BC Health Guide
FDA warnings: dietary supplements for sexual enhancement. National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine website. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/news/newsletter/index.htm. Accessed March 16, 2008.
Institute for Sexual Medicine. Boston University Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.bumc.bu.edu/Dept/Home.aspx?DepartmentID=371 . Accessed March 16, 2008.
Sexual dysfunction—silence about sexual problems can hurt relationships. JAMA website. Available at: http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/291/24/3076. Accessed March 16, 2008.
Viagra information. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/cder/consumerinfo/viagra/default.htm. Accessed March 16, 2008.
Vinarol and Viga tablets contaminated with sildenafil (Viagra). National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine website. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/alerts/viagra/viagra.htm. Accessed March 16, 2008.
What are the options for managing sexual dysfunction in cardiovascular patients? University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy website. Available at: http://www.uic.edu/pharmacy/services/di/sdcvd.htm. Accessed March 16, 2008.
Last reviewed March 2008 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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