Health & Nutrition : Vitamins That Improve a Libido
Libido Supplements and Vitamins for Sex — Do They Work?
A healthy relationship requires good, honest communication, but you may be tempted to reach for libido supplements rather talk about intimate issues with your doctor. Find out if they're safe and effective.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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If you're experiencing low libido or difficulty having an orgasm, or are not feeling sexually aroused, you may be tempted to try nature's remedies for these problems rather than going to see a doctor or sex therapist. But before you start taking so-called libido supplements promising to improve your sex life, make sure you know the limitations and potential risks of taking herbs or vitamins for sex.
The first thing to know is that there’s no magic pill that will naturally give you great sex. Vitamins for sex, libido supplements, or herbs are not going to provide instant orgasms or erections, says marriage and family therapist Isadora Alman, MFT, a board-certified sexologist and a psychotherapist in private practice in Alameda, Calif.
Before turning to any pills, natural or not, Alman suggests that you have a conversation with yourself. Ask yourself what you need to function well sexually — is it more love, more talking, more intimacy?
The next fact to understand that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate herbs, vitamins, and supplements the way it regulates pharmaceuticals. That means that you cannot believe whatever performance promises are on any of these labels.
Alman stresses that, if you are considering taking any libido enhancers or vitamins for sex, you really need to speak with your doctor first. Over-the-counter libido supplements might interfere with other medications you might be taking or have unintended side effects, she says, so opening a dialogue with your health practitioner about your sexual situation and any natural and alternative treatments you’re considering is vital.
And no matter what kind of A href=/sexual-health/sexual-dysfunction.aspx>sexual dysfunction you're experiencing — orgasm difficulties, erectile dysfunction, vaginal pain, or low libido — there's probably a better, proven way to treat it than a libido supplement or other “natural” product. Addressing the true underlying cause of your sexual dysfunction may be a far more effective way to go.
Libido Supplements: Do They Work?
Pharmacies, vitamin shops, and health-food stores may have shelves lined with bottles of pills and products promising to heat up your sex life the natural way. And a few studies do show that some herbal libido supplements can help with erectile dysfunction and low libido. But it's also important to consider the risks involved in taking dietary supplements, which includes herbs and vitamins for sex enhancement. These products often lack complete ingredient information on the packaging, such as how much of a particular herb there is in one pill and what a safe dosage is.
Among the many products claiming to correct sexual dysfunction, here are choices that have some research behind them:
L-arginine.L-arginine is called a semi-essential amino acid and is produced by the body. It converts into nitric oxide, which results in the dilation and relaxation of blood vessels. This can help to treat erectile dysfunction.
Possible risks and side effects of taking L-arginine include:
- High blood sugar
- Low blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal upset — stomach pain, increased bowel movements, cramping, or nausea
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Increased likelihood of bleeding
L-arginine has been studied as a treatment for erectile dysfunction in combination with another herb called yohimbine chloride (yohimbe) and glutamate. Yohimbine chloride is an FDA-approved erectile dysfunction treatment, but L-arginine alone has not been studied for safety and effectiveness.
Yohimbe.In Africa, yohimbe bark is commonly used to boost libido, but it comes with a number of side effects, including:
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased blood pressure levels
- Feeling dizzy
Ginkgo.Ginkgo seeds and leaves can treat a number of illnesses, including sexual dysfunction. Ginkgo leaf extracts are turned into teas or oral pills. It's known that ginkgo biloba extract improves blood flow and helps to relax muscle tissues. It was studied as a possible alternative treatment for women experiencing sexual dysfunction. Though it was not effective as the sole treatment for sexual function, it was very effective when used in combination with sex therapy.
Possible side effects and risks of taking ginkgo include:
- Skin rash
- Feeling dizzy
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
Ginseng.Korean red ginseng was studied and found to promote libido and enhance arousal in women undergoing menopause. Ginseng is also commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction and can help alleviate some menopausal symptoms. Ginseng can be taken orally as a capsule or tablet, used as an extract, or used as a tea.
Possible risks and side effects of taking ginseng include:
Kava.Kava root is an herb that is ground and turned into a drink, and it has an effect similar to alcohol. It can elicit feelings of deep relaxation and happiness, but Alman warns against it. "Kava can be quite dangerous," she says. "That's something I would be quite leery of."
Kava has been associated with significant liver damage. And, Alman says, there's no proof that it's going to do anything for your sex life or sexual functioning.
Other possible side effects of kava include:
- Feeling drowsy or dizzy
- Nausea or stomach pain
- Skin allergies
- Changes in skin or hair
Though some research points to the possible effectiveness of a few herbs, you should remember that there are potential risks involved. A safer and more lasting course is to better understand why you’re experiencing sexual dysfunction and then get the right treatment for the real issue.
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