Male Enhancement Pills: Better Sex in a Bottle?

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The pursuit of great sex

A growing number of websites promote male enhancement pills, promising they'll deliver a better sex life. While some ingredients in these products may have some benefit, most pills contain substances that range from dubious to outright dangerous. Here are some ingredients commonly marketed as sexual performance boosters.

Adapted from The University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter.


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Arginine

This amino acid, first isolated from a lupin seedling extract in 1886, enhances the effects of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and smooth muscle in the penis, thus producing erections. It’s unknown whether enough of the supplement gets into the penis to make a difference; some studies have found little or no improvement compared to a placebo.


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Ginseng

Long regarded as an aphrodisiac, this herb claims to improve erections by dilating blood vessels and affecting the nerves involved. Preliminary research suggests that Korean red ginseng may improve erectile dysfunction; other forms of ginseng may not have this effect.


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Prohormones

Prohormones are marketed as sex-drive enhancers. In 2005, federal law banned the sale of 25 of these risky compounds. Marketers have wiggled around the law, however, and produced other “natural testosterone boosters.” It’s still unclear how effective any of these are, or if they have serious long-term adverse effects.


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Yohimbe

Made from the bark of a West African tree, this has been used as an aphrodisiac for centuries. Yohimbe dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow, and thus may improve erections—but testing reveals mixed results. Side effects include a boost in blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, nausea, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Because of safety concerns, yohimbe should not be used.


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Cocktail of ingredients

Many supplements contain a wide range of herbs traditionally used as aphrodisiacs—such as ginkgo, deer horn, and horny goat weed (we kid you not)—and an array of vitamins and minerals. But there is little or no solid scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness.


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Our advice

Don’t fall for the claims. The side effects of male enhancement pills are largely unknown, especially when taken by older men with existing medical conditions. If you have erectile dysfunction or other sexual problems, consult your doctor, not a salesperson at the health food store.