Got bedroom troubles? Waning sexual desire or erection problems are very common. Maybe you've been tempted to try ginseng, ginkgo, and similar supplements. There's no lack of products out there.
What are these supplements? Do they live up to their promises? Are there any studies showing they work? Do they have bad side effects? Are they worth the cash? Is a romantic bath for two a better solution?
Getting Sex Supplement Advice
For advice on women's supplements, we turned to Hilda Hutcherson, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, and author of the book Sex and Pleasure: A Woman's Guide to Getting the Sex You Want and Need and Deserve.
The supplements are generally harmless, she tells WebMD. She has found that herbal oils and supplements do seem to help some women having trouble with sexual desire and vaginal dryness. Yet she always advises talking to your doctor before taking any supplements -- as some have dangerous side effects.
We also spoke with Christopher Saigal, MD, assistant professor of urology at UCLA School of Medicine, about men's supplements -- mostly for erectile dysfunction (ED). He's got an open mind about supplements that mimic Viagra, but he's also got definite opinions.
If you're buying an off-the-shelf supplement, the quality is worth questioning, Saigal says. "There is so much fraud in this industry," Saigal tells WebMD. "Go to a site that evaluates the contents, like ConsumerLab.com. One evaluation of ginseng showed that half the brands had contaminants like pesticides. So buyer beware. Look for high-quality products."
Sexual Desire, Supplements…and the Science
Ginseng: There are several types of ginseng, two of which are Siberian ginseng, which is occasionally used as an aphrodisiac, and red Korean or Asian ginseng, which is used in Chinese traditional medicine and has slightly more research behind it, Saigal says.
"Ginseng, like a lot of herbs, is thought to work by helping the body make more nitric oxide -- as does Viagra," he says. "A couple of good studies showed some effect from ginseng, so people can look at this as an alternative to Viagra. But it's not going to be as effective as Viagra or Levitra or Cialis."
Ginseng appears to help women, too, says Hutcherson. "Ginseng gives people energy and may improve mood, and you need energy and endurance for sex, right?"
Black Cohosh: In the past, black cohosh has been used to treat arthritis and muscle pain and was traditionally used for “female” complaints. Today, it is marketed to treat hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, premenstrual syndrome, and other menopausal symptoms.
"Black cohosh has estrogen-like properties, and increases blood flow to the pelvis -- which increases arousal and response to sexual stimulation," Hutcherson says. "More blood flow means more lubrication, and that's good for sex." The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding studies of black cohosh as a treatment for menopausal symptoms.