ASK DR.K: It's All Natural

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

Dear Dr. K,

I've seen several health food supplements that are supposed to help ED. Do any of these work?

There is a long list of "naturally-occurring" supplements that are touted for helping to treat Erectile Dysfunction or ED.

By and large they all act by increasing the nitric oxide (NO) levels in the bloodstream.

These include:


Horny Goat Weed (yes, that's its real name)

Yohimbe (made from tree bark)

Maca Root

Ginkgo Biloba

L-carnitine (amino acid found in your diet)

L-citrulline and L-arginine (naturally occurring amino acids)

Ginger (usually found in combination with guarana, muira puama, catuaba-all from plants growing in the Amazon)

Pycogenol (made from bark of a French pine tree)



NO is a molecule that dilates blood vessels, increasing the bloodflow to the penis as well as other areas of the body. In one way or another, each of the above supplements, except DHEA, causes an elevation in blood levels of NO. DHEA is a hormone precursor that gets converted to other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. However, DHEA appears to convert more readily into estrogen instead of testosterone.

Side effects of these supplements are relatively minor and include gastrointestinal upset, cramping and diarrhea. Some of them are poorly absorbed in the gut, so most of what you pay for goes into the toilet. L-citrulline when taken with L-arginine appears to enhance the absorption of the latter, leading to higher levels of NO than when either is taken alone. Quercetin is found in the skin of red grapes and in red wines. So a glass or two of cabernet may be the prescription you are looking. However, too much may turn your "attention" into "at ease."

As with all supplements, you need to check where and how they are manufactured. Only buy from reputable manufacturers and distributors, not from your "buddy" at the gym. And always talk with your physician before starting any supplement to make sure there is no interference between the supplement and any prescription medications you are taking. Some supplements may interfere with blood clotting, so these should be stopped one to two weeks prior to and after any surgery.

The staff and physicians at Renewal Medical Centers of North Texas are available to supply more information or answer any questions you may have about this and other topics related to men's health.