Can Vitamins Really Help with ED? A Sex Therapist Investigates

Exploring the Science Behind Vitamins for ED Treatment – Discover which vitamins are good for ED and how they can help

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Vitamins for ED – Key Takeaways

  • There is limited scientific evidence to support the use of vitamins to treat ED.
  • Some vitamins, such as L-arginine and L-citrulline, may improve mild to moderate ED but more research is needed
  • Natural supplements that claim to be miracle treatments for ED are generally ineffective and can be dangerous.
  • It is important to consult with a doctor before taking any vitamins or supplements for ED.
  • ED can be influenced by both physiological and psychological factors, and it is important to address these factors in treatment.

Introduction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is one of the most common sexual complaints, and can markedly diminish sexual satisfaction and produce a tremendous amount of distress. 

Because ED is so common, and so distressing, researchers and medical professionals have been exploring possible causes and treatments for ED for years.

With so much attention being paid to ED, there is an expansive amount of information available about ED and potential treatments. Unfortunately, not all of this information is relevant, or even accurate. 

One sphere of information that has been particularly fraught is the relationship between erectile dysfunction and vitamins.

In the following article, we will explore this relationship, highlight evidence-based, peer-reviewed findings, and debunk myths and misinformation that swirl around vitamins and ED.

An important note: consult with your doctor first before using vitamins to treat ED. Simple blood tests may be used to determine if there are any vitamin deficiencies present. 

Though we often think of vitamins and herbal medicine as harmless, that is not always the case. All of the substances in this article have side effects, interactions with medicines, or both. 

Please be advised that natural supplements that are promoted as miracle treatments for ED are ineffective, unregulated, and can be dangerous. 

Remember – ED is a complex, multi-system process that is influenced both by physiological and psychological factors

When considering possible treatments for ED, it is important to take a holistic approach that includes assessments of stress, anxiety, general health (e.g. diet and exercise), and possible medications.

Do vitamins help ED?

The answer to this question is complicated. While there is some evidence to support a correlation between certain vitamin deficiencies and erectile dysfunction, the use of vitamins to treat ED is not strongly supported by scientific evidence.

You may be wondering, “how complicated could it be? Either it helps or it doesn’t, right?” Not quite.

When analyzing the results of a study, there are several things that can limit the strength of the findings,, so it can be difficult to determine which findings are actually important, and which ones might not be.

The rest of this article is going to distill all of the data about vitamins and ED down to the most important morsels of information. 

Spoiler alert – almost all of the studies suffer from a small sample size, which really limits the power of the results.

Across the board, all of the research around vitamin supplements and ED need larger, randomized, controlled studies with findings that can be replicated in order to draw strong conclusions.

Also, all of the studies to date have only included cis-gendered men in their samples, which limits the generalizability of the results to other populations that may experience ED.

Promising vitamins based treatments for ED

There is not enough research to support any one vitamin supplement as a treatment for ED. If there was a magic bullet, you and the whole world would know about it! However, there are some findings that compel further investigation into possible treatments.

L-arginine

L-arginine is an amino acid (the building blocks of protein) that is naturally produced by our bodies. It can also be taken in through protein-rich foods, though this is not typically necessary. 

A 2019 meta-analysis (a study of the studies already out there), found that high doses of L-arginine may improve mild to moderate ED, though it is unclear if this improvement extends to people without underlying vascular disease.

Furthermore, L-arginine can interact negatively with drugs used to treat blood clotting, blood pressure, diabetes, heart medications, and some diuretics.

Citrulline

According to this 2011 study citrulline, which is converted to L-arginine, may improve the hardness of erections for those with  mild ED.

Though it may have a positive effect, citrulline supplementation is less effective than medication on the market now (e.g. Viagra,Cialis, etc.). However, no conclusive evidence can be drawn from a single study, especially one with a sample size so small.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is made by the body when it interacts with sunlight, and it can be found in fatty fish, as well as fortified milk and cereal.

Vitamin D deficiency has a well-documented relationship with ED. While vitamin D can be active vascularly, it also supports the testosterone levels. This study found that high doses of vitamin D can improve sexual functioning.

While studies do seem promising, more research with stronger samples need to be conducted to make definitive conclusions.

DHEA

DHEA or dehydroepiandrosterone, if you’re feeling fancy, is a hormone produced by your body. It is important in the production of other hormones, including testosterone. 

DHEA levels change over the lifespan, peaking in the early-mid 20s, and slowly declining with age. 

DHEA supplementation is being explored to treat many age-related conditions. However, it may have side effects similar to those of steroid use, increase the risk of hormone-sensitive cancers, exacerbate the effects of some types of cardiac disease, and worsen mood and other psychiatric disorders. 

Results of DHEA supplementation for the treatment of ED have been mixed, though it remains a compelling area for further research.

Vitamins that showed mixed results for helping ED 

Vitamin B9 (folic acid)

Vitamin B9 (folic acid) supplementation has had mixed results, with some studies reporting no effect, and others supporting improved ED. Again, no conclusive data has emerged. 

Vitamin B3 (Niacin) and Vitamin B6

Vitamin B3 (Niacin) supplementation may improve ED in people with moderate to severe ED, according to one study. However, this conclusion has yet to be confirmed through replication and further investigation. Similar outcomes have been found for Vitamin B6.

Vitamins that probably do not help ED

Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamins E

Vitamins A, C, and E supplementation have not been shown to have any significant effect on ED in this extensive 2021 meta-analysis.

Magnesium and Zinc

Though deficiency of magnesium and zinc are associated with ED, there is no evidence to support that supplementation has an effect on ED.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with ED, but treatment targeting on reduction of B12 have not been conducted.

Other Natural Supplements for ED

If you thought the data on vitamin supplementation for ED was fraught with research issues, research on natural supplements is even less helpful. 

Natural supplements are unregulated, meaning that there is no control over the source, concentration, ingredients, or price of the supplement. Because all of these factors vary wildly from bottle to bottle, it is almost impossible to gather accurate data around whether or not these supplements work. 

As we look at four common herbal/natural supplements for ED, keep in mind that the advertised effects are often very loosely based on data.

Tribulus terrestris

Tribulus terrestris is a plant found in many regions across the globe. Touted as an aphrodisiac, T. terrestris has been associated with increases in testosterone,though its effects on erectile dysfunction, specifically, have only been observed in men with androgen deficiency (meaning that the ED is caused by low testosterone levels). It is worth noting that T. terrestris can be toxic to the liver with prolonged use.

Red ginseng

Red ginseng is an herbal supplement that is popular for its many purported effects, including improvement with ED. Of the few randomized clinical trials available, none of which compare results to other treatments, any improvements in ED were practically negligible. 

Horny goat weed

Horny goat weed is a flowering plant endemic to China. The active substance in horny goat weed is icarin, which behaves similarly, but weakly, to Viagra, Cialis, etc. 

Most scientific studies examining the effects of icarin are carried out on rats or in vitro. What does that mean? Researchers know that icarin has a similar mechanism of action to drugs used to treat ED, but no scientific data on what icarin can do in a human body.

Anecdotal data suggests that some people report improved erectile function with horny goat weed.

Yohimbe

Yohimbe is a plant native to parts of Africa, the extracts of are thought to have aphrodisiac properties. A recent study suggests that yohimbe may improve erectile function when combined with other treatments. Scientific data on the effects of yohimbe on ED is limited.

Should I use vitamins to treat ED?

From my experience as a sex therapist, when people start searching for miracle quick fixes for ED, they are usually looking in the wrong direction.

If you’re experiencing ED, a holistic approach is the most effective mode of treatment. A comprehensive assessment of physiological and psychological factors can tailor treatment specifically to you and your needs. Working closely with professionals (medical and psychological) will lend the best results.

Often stress and anxiety play large roles in ED. Make an effort to reduce daily stresses, and deal with any anxiety you have around sex.

If you can take steps toward a healthier lifestyle, work on improving your diet and exercise, quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.

If these don’t work, it is time to consult your medical doctor and begin work with a sex therapist, if you haven’t already.

Remember, ED is a condition that causes significant distress in a large portion of the population. Researchers are actively working on treatments. If a new, highly effective treatment is discovered, it will be unequivocal and very well known. 

Summary

Treatment for ED is an active field of investigation in the medical research community. However, since ED is multi-faceted, the scope of research is broad, resulting in little, and often contradictory findings about any one particular area. 

The holes in the scientific data are filled in with anecdotal evidence, false advertising, and predatory marketing. It becomes almost impossible to know which information to trust!

The major takeaway from the information presented here is that there is simply not enough evidence to conclude that any vitamin or herbal supplementation will effectively treat erectile dysfunction. 

Hopefully, this article will help clarify all of the misinformation circulating in the media.

About Bailey Hanek PsyD

Clinical Psychologist and Certified Sex Therapist

Dr. Bailey Hanek is a clinical psychologist and an AASECT-certified sex therapist. She serves as a professional consultant for Between Us Clinic. Dr. Hanek provides sex therapy and general psychotherapy to adults in her private practice. In addition, she works to increase access to information about relationship and sexual health through her founding role in The Relationship Coaches.