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Weird Science: Would You Try These Erectile Dysfunction Cures?

Alternative treatments to prescription lifestyle medication are consistently promoted for their use in treating erectile dysfunction (ED). These alternative treatments range from benign spices to bizarre claims for mushrooms and supplemental blends. Some men choose to combine natural or alternative treatments with prescription medication while under the care of a medical provider.

This article summarizes the claims and evidence for recently touted alternative ED treatments, such as mushrooms, capsaicin, and leeches. Read ahead to learn more about the weird science behind these potential ED treatments.

Medical Mushrooms for ED?

Chili powder.The mushroom Ophiocordyceps sinensis, also known as O. sinensis, or Chinese caterpillar fungus, is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a number of ailments. This mushroom has been used as an aphrodisiac, to improve longevity, to make sperm more mobile, and to improve sexual performance. However, extensive clinical research regarding the effectiveness of the fungus is limited.

A 2016 review of scientific literature aimed to identify the effectiveness of O. sinensis in improving libido, sexual function, and performance. The authors revealed that direct evidence for the mechanisms in which O. sinensis improved sexual function was lacking. However, they did find evidence that O. sinensis could improve sperm motility, sperm count, and testosterone levels in men.

The evidence for the use of medical mushrooms in improving sexual function and libido remains limited. Additional research is needed to determine if O. sinensis could be used to effectively treat ED as an alternative to prescription medication. Men should always speak with a medical provider before using alternative treatments for ED symptoms.

Some Like it Hot: Capsaicin for ED

Red pepper flakes.

It is well known that good blood flow is essential to strong erections. In fact, many ED cases are related to circulatory issues, such as cardiovascular disease or hypertension. Capsaicin, an active component in various peppers (e.g. chili peppers), has been shown to increase or improve blood flow in clinical studies.

One study tested the effects of capsaicin infusion into the urethra in 20 men living with ED. The researchers compared this sample to men who were given a saline infusion. The intraurethral capsaicin infusion demonstrated effectiveness at inducing an erection in the participants.

A scientific review of Asian herbal remedies for libido and sexual function also included cayenne in its list of potentially effective alternative treatments. Cayenne has been shown to thin the blood and widen the blood vessels (vasodilation), which improves blood flow to the penis. The authors of the review noted that ingestion of cayenne has long been promoted for use in improving the strength and duration of erections.

The research theoretically supports that capsaicin can be used to support erectile health. Taking in a little extra spice is typically considered a safe practice. However, using capsaicin infusions, topical creams, or supplements of any kind should always be discussed with a medical provider. 

Leeches and Centipedes and ED, Oh My!

Aromatherapy oil.

The use of leeches and centipedes to treat issues related to blood circulation is not uncommon in traditional Chinese medicine. This combination of traditional methods is called “leech-centipede” medicine and is specifically used to treat diabetic vascular disease and diabetes-induced ED. This treatment promotes blood circulation, but its specific mechanisms remained unknown until recently.

A 2020 study aimed to determine the effectiveness and active mechanisms of leech-centipede medicine in treating ED. Researchers tested 50 rats for vascular endothelial function before and after leech-centipede treatment. They found that the leech-centipede treatment inhibited the expression of protein kinase c (PKC) pathway-related molecules, protecting endothelial function and anti-platelet activation.

Though this study was conducted with rats, researchers concluded that leech-centipede treatment can potentially improve endothelial function, thus improving erectile dysfunction symptoms. Additional research is needed to confirm this finding in men living with ED. This method should not be attempted at home.

Herbal Supplements for ED?

Herbs and vitamins.Many cultures have used herbal remedies for ED throughout history. However, few of these remedies have been rigorously tested in clinical settings. It is important to always speak to a medical provider before taking any herbal supplements marketed for treating ED.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has long warned the general public against using unregulated and unapproved herbal treatments for ED. Products that promote themselves as being “all-natural” are of particular concern and have been found to contain unlisted ingredients. One extensive review of more than 300 “herbal” and “natural” supplements marketed to treat ED contained unlisted prescription drug ingredients, such as Viagra.

There are several supplemental ingredients commonly found in sexual health and ED treatment scams, according to Harvard Health. These include, but are not limited to:

  • DHEA
  • Fenugreek
  • Gingko biloba
  • Ginseng
  • Horny goat weed
  • L-arginine
  • Maca
  • Tribulus
  • Yohimbine

Research Says – Stick to Viagra.

Clear bottle of blue pills.There are many weird and potentially effective treatments for ED on the market. However, it’s best to stick with what has been proven to be safe and effective. Fortunately, prescription oral medications such as Viagra have been proven effective at treating ED.

Viagra and similar drugs are known as phosphodiesterase type-5 (PDE5) inhibitors. They work by increasing blood flow throughout the body and to the penis, making it easier to achieve and maintain an erection. They have demonstrated effectiveness in approximately 70 percent of men when researched in clinical settings.

The FDA has approved several brand name medications and  generic equivalents for treating ED. Men can only access these treatments with a prescription from a medical provider. The FDA has deemed the following medications safe and effective:

Men may wish to consider factors such as side effects, cost, and duration when choosing the right ED drug for their needs. Speaking with a medical provider is the first step in finding the best solution for ED.

You can speak with a medical provider, browse treatment options, and order everything you need online at eDrugstore.com. You can also learn more about sexual health and ED by visiting our blog. Browse the options to find your best fit today!

Shelby is a public health professional with research and field experience in sexual and reproductive health. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).