Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability, with normal sexual stimulation, to achieve or maintain a sufficient erection for satisfactory sexual intercourse or activity.
ED is a complex process that involves the brain, hormones, emotions, nerves, muscles, and blood vessels, and therefore has many potential causes. As a result, there are many possible treatments, including lifestyle changes, therapy, prescription medication, and natural remedies that are used to help this disorder.
While natural remedies for ED have gained popularity, many have not been well researched and are not regulated for safety or effectiveness. This article will discuss natural treatment options, including which have been shown to work and which carry risks.
Eating a diet rich in natural, nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish—with fewer red and processed meats and refined grains—has been shown to decrease the likelihood of ED.
A study of over 21,000 people found those with the greatest adherence to a Mediterranean or Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010 (AHEI-2010) diet—which emphasizes the consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and fish or other sources of long-chain fats, and avoidance of red and processed meats—were least likely to develop erectile dysfunction.
In fact, people under 60 who most closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet were 40% more likely to maintain normal sexual function. Of note, eating a heart-healthy diet also lowers your cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. These health issues are known to greatly contribute to the development of ED.
Natural supplements are not FDA approved for treating ED, although preliminary studies suggest that some may be helpful. However, these products are unregulated and may contain undisclosed ingredients, inappropriate doses of prescription drugs, or different doses of ingredients than the label suggests.
This underscores the importance of discussing all medication changes and supplements you are taking with a healthcare professional.
The following dietary supplements and natural remedies are alternative—albeit scientifically unproven—treatments for erectile dysfunction and impotence:
- L-arginine: L-arginine is an amino acid that is a potent vasodilator. This means it can open up the blood vessels, helping to increase blood flow to the penis. In theory, this should facilitate erections, but studies have had mixed reviews. More research is needed to study its safety and effectiveness.
- Propionyl-L-carnitine: According to some sources, taking propionyl-L-carnitine alongside Viagra could improve erectile function better than taking Viagra alone, but more research is needed. Potential side effects include skin rash, nausea, diarrhea, and heartburn. Taking propionyl-L-carnitine is not recommended for those with vascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or liver cirrhosis, among other conditions.
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): This hormone is used to produce sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Some studies suggest that DHEA supplements can help with ED, but others have found no evidence of its benefit.
- Ginkgo: Another potent vasodilator, this herb may help increase blood flow to the penis, which could improve sexual desire and counter ED. However, ginkgo should never be taken with warfarin (Coumadin), a blood thinner, or if you have a bleeding disorder.
- Ginseng: Ginseng, or Panax ginseng, is thought to promote the relaxation of the body’s smooth muscles and increase blood flow, helping produce an erection. Its primary side effect is insomnia, which increases ED risk, thus more research needs to be done to determine its overall effectiveness.
- Yohimbine: This herb is a traditional aphrodisiac for the treatment of ED. However, yohimbine may have serious side effects, including heart attack and seizures.
- Horny goat weed: Epimedium grandiflorum, also known as horny goat weed, is a traditional remedy for increasing fertility, but there is not enough evidence to support its use for ED.
Remember that these substances should not replace standard care.
Keeping up with a regular exercise routine is especially helpful for those whose ED is caused by inactivity, poor circulation, obesity, low testosterone, or cardiovascular disease.
Exercise lowers blood pressure and blood sugar, increases blood circulation throughout the body, and improves heart health. It is also one of the best natural ways to raise testosterone levels. Burning fat also decreases the risk for vascular disease and diabetes—two major causes of ED.
Curing your ED doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to make drastic changes. Even small increases in activity can make a difference. In fact, one study found that patients recovering from a heart attack who were put on a progressive walking program starting at just six minutes a day reported 71% fewer incidences of ED over 30 days than those who didn’t walk.
Other research has suggested that moderate exercise can help restore sexual performance in obese middle-aged people with ED.
When you are tired, it is difficult to maintain your sexual desire. Sleep deprivation affects your sex life in several ways, such as:
- Reduced sex drive (libido)
- Inability to get an erection
- Inability to perform (maintain an erection)
One explanation is that testosterone is produced while we sleep. Low testosterone results in low sexual performance. Lack of sleep is also associated with obesity, depression, anxiety, and cardiovascular disease—independent risk factors for ED.
Sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, shift work disorder, and restless legs syndrome are common conditions associated with ED and other urological disorders.
Losing weight is a health goal for many reasons, but can one of those reasons be to help cure erectile dysfunction? The short answer is, yes.
Weight loss has a two-fold advantage of directly alleviating ED and improving your physical health. Dropping a few pounds lowers blood pressure and prevents further narrowing and blockages in your arteries, which allows blood to travel more efficiently.
Studies have shown that excess belly fat can cause an inability to get or maintain an erection. The endothelium, a small sheath of tissue that forms the interior lining of all our blood vessels, can become damaged by excess belly fat.
As a result, your body may not release enough nitric oxide—a molecule that signals the surrounding muscles to relax in order for the blood vessels to dilate and create an erection.
Even more, carrying excess weight can lower testosterone levels and raise levels of the female hormone estradiol, which further compounds the problem.
Fortunately, reducing your beltline can reverse your ED. In one major study, over 30% of people minimized, if not completely cured, their ED after losing about 10% of their body weight by eating 300 fewer calories per day and exercising more over several weeks.
Weight loss typically comes from both reducing your calorie intake and increasing physical activity.
Increasing physical activity seems especially helpful in reducing rates of ED. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study found that people who started exercising regularly by 40 years old had a 70% reduced ED rate compared to those with sedentary lifestyles.
Weight Loss Tips for ED
Losing weight, particularly belly fat, is integral to alleviating ED. Here are some ways you can reduce your waist size:
- Eat regular nutritious meals. Avoid skipping meals, substitute cooked meals for processed foods and takeout, and eat a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables.
- Emphasize portion control. Keeping portion sizes in check using the MyPlate method is a great way to curtail overeating and ensure that you eat a balanced meal.
- Replace sugary beverages like soda, energy drinks, and fruit juices with water, black coffee, or unsweetened tea.
- Limit alcohol. Alcohol use is often associated with poor eating habits. Also, the liver burns alcohol instead of fat, which results in bigger waistlines.
- Incorporate more fiber into your diet. Fiber makes you feel fuller for longer, which curtails mindless eating.
- Exercise daily. The Preventive Services Task Force recommends 30 minutes of sweat-breaking exercise for a minimum of five days a week.
If you are suffering from erectile dysfunction, you should first be evaluated for any underlying physical and psychological conditions. If performance anxiety is deemed the root of your ED problem, then sex therapy might be suggested.
Sex therapy is especially helpful when psychological issues like stress or anxiety are playing a role. You may attend with your partner or choose to go alone, although couples therapy has the added benefit of helping your partner learn ways to support you.
Sex therapy helps you to understand and accept that emotions, such as anxiety or sadness, play an integral role in sexual dysfunction and may even become associated with or compounded by physical factors or reactions. This basis of sex therapy is:
- Both partners share responsibility for helping solve the problem, even if it is due to physical causes.
- You and your partner receive information and education about sexual techniques.
- It is necessary to change any negative attitudes toward sex.
- It is necessary to open up lines of communication between you and your partner.
Cognitive behavioral therapy or counseling is helpful for those with general anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Oftentimes, ameliorating mental health conditions improves one’s libido, ability to get and maintain an erection, and sexual performance.
ED can be the symptom of an underlying condition. Oftentimes, conditions like depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure are brought about by stress at work or at home. While therapy or counseling is helpful, other stress-reducing therapies like acupuncture and exercise can help.
Like alcohol, stress interferes with signals between the brain and body that get and maintain erections. All stress, good or bad, can cause ED.
Common types of stress that cause ED include:
- Psychological stress (e.g., depression, PTSD, low self-esteem issues, sexual trauma)
- Performance anxiety
- Professional stress
- Life-altering events, such as the death of a family member or friend, divorce, change in health, being hired or fired from a job, financial troubles, parenting, or relationship problems
Reduce Alcohol Use
Drinking large amounts of alcohol can make it difficult to get or keep an erection, because alcohol interferes with the messengers that tell the penis to fill with blood. One study looking at nearly 50,000 men found that over half of those who reported they were alcohol dependent had some type of sexual dysfunction, with one-quarter citing ED as their main problem.
Chronic alcohol use also interferes with testosterone production, the hormone that governs male sexual functioning. Lower testosterone levels affect sperm production and sexual desire.
Heavy alcohol use has also been associated with:
- Low sexual drive (libido)
- Reduction in size of sex organs: Binge drinking over a long time can cause a man’s testes and penis to shrink.
- Lower fertility
- Higher rate of sexually transmitted infections: Chronic alcohol users are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual practices.
If alcohol use is the sole culprit of ED, it will usually resolve once alcohol use is stopped.
Smoking is an independent risk factor for ED, because it causes vascular changes to the endothelium of blood vessels which interfere with nitric oxide production and signaling.
Smoking also causes vascular changes that increase your risk of heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, which are also associated with the development of erectile dysfunction.
Even more, many people smoke to reduce their performance anxiety, unaware that they are exacerbating the problem. Quitting smoking may not reverse ED, but it contributes greatly to the improvement of penile function.
Risks to Treating Erectile Dysfunction Naturally
Erectile dysfunction has been treated with herbs, supplements, and other natural remedies for a long time in many different cultures around the world with mixed reviews.
Unlike prescription medication for erectile dysfunction, herbal remedies for erectile dysfunction haven’t been rigorously tested or well studied. This means that they may cause some unwanted side effects or interact with current medicines you are taking (prescription, over-the-counter, or otherwise).
Therefore, if you are thinking about using any natural or non-FDA-approved remedy, you should consult with a healthcare provider first.
Remember that you take these remedies at your own risk because their safety profiles have not been established. Also, some medications may make claims that are untrue or contain inadequate doses of prescription medication, like sildenafil, that may work otherwise.
If Natural Treatments for ED Don’t Work
If natural treatments don’t work, it may be a sign of a more innocuous underlying condition or time to consider other therapies like prescription medications, injectables, and suppositories; using a vacuum device; or having surgery.
Prescription medications like Viagra and Cialis are popular prescription medications that help men to attain and retain erections, thereby improving sexual performance, but never start taking a new medication without first talking with a healthcare professional.
A Word From Verywell
Natural remedies are highly sought after for many reasons, but few have scientifically proven success in treating ED. Natural remedies are popular because some believe it may help them avoid side effects from prescription medication. Others prefer a less expensive treatment option or want to avoid embarrassment by finding more natural cures before their partner finds out.
No matter the reason, communication with your partner and healthcare provider, lifestyle changes, and doing your due diligence are essential ingredients to any successful treatment plan for ED. Never mix natural remedies with prescription medication to avoid adverse effects, and discuss all changes to your medication regimen with a healthcare professional.
Also, remember that ED is a complex psychosocial disorder. All people with ED are advised to try lifestyle modifications while they seek a formal diagnosis and treatment. For many people, lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, exercising, limiting stress, avoiding alcohol, and talking to a therapist can cure ED without the use of medication.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the fastest way to cure erectile dysfunction at home?
The fastest way to cure ED is to treat the root cause. For some people, lifestyle changes and therapy may cure ED.
What is a good vitamin for erectile dysfunction?
There is no firm evidence that vitamins B3 (niacin), B9 (folic acid), C, or D can cure or prevent ED, although folic acid deficiency has been associated with ED in some studies. In those with folic acid deficiency and ED, folic acid supplementation may help improve or relieve ED.
What causes weak erections?
A multitude of physical, mental, and emotional conditions can cause weak erections. These range from cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis and high blood pressure to psychosocial disorders such as stress, performance anxiety, and depression.
What foods and vitamins increase stamina in bed?
The following foods increase your energy and boost stamina:
- Nuts, such as almonds and peanuts
- Greens, such as spinach and kale
- Broccoli, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts
- Citrus fruits and bananas
- Beans, such as peas, lentils, and other legumes
- Sweet potato
Older adults who take a multivitamin that contains potassium, folate, calcium, and vitamins B, C, D, and E may also experience improved stamina, although studies looking specifically at improvements in sexual performance cite mixed results.