The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has set its researchers onto those better-erection pills. These are the supplements that are marketed in "pharmaspeak" with names such as Enzyte and Elexia, and Pro-Erex, Vahard, and VasoRect -- as well as Big Daddy, Libido-Max, Suregasm.
Today, CSPI filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about one product -- Enzyte -- for deceptive advertising. Enzyte's parent company, Berkeley Nutritionals, is also under scrutiny by the Ohio State Attorney General's office. In addition, the company is also the target of two class-action lawsuits looking for customer refunds.
"It's really extraordinary that this product is advertised on television, in newspapers, making these claims that just have no basis," says David Schardt, a CSPI senior nutritionist, in a news release. "It's really too bad that the FTC, the agency that regulates advertising, has been so slow in protecting consumers."
"Enzyte is more successful subtracting from the male wallet than it is adding to the male organ," Schardt says in a news release. "It's basically just an expensive placebo."
"People are so frustrated or desperate, and they don't want to spend too much money, so they buy these things," Jack Mydlo, MD, professor and chair of urology at Temple University School of Medicine, tells WebMD.
"It's the snake oil of the new millennium... like a used car company that sells lemons," says Mydlo. "Most of these companies make their millions in a few months, and then pull up stakes by the time they're found out. They don't care, they've made their money."
16 Ingredients, but No Go
Enzyte is a typical, well-advertised example of "scores and scores" of erection supplements, says Schardt.
In their study, CSPI researchers analyzed evidence on the most common ingredients contained in Enzyte and similar products -- arginine, ginseng, ginkgo, horny goat weed, maca, and Tribulus terrestris (testicle tissue), and the herb yohimbe.
"There is no evidence that any of those ingredients in the amounts found in Enzyte have the effect they claim," Schardt says. "This applies to just about every one of these products out there."
Arginine occurs naturally in nearly every food, and is converted in the body into nitric oxide, which relaxes and opens up blood vessels in the body. In fact, Viagra works by increasing the availability of nitric oxide. But there is little or no evidence that taking arginine as a supplement works with any sexual problems, says the CSPI.
Yohimbe is an unreliable natural source of the prescription drug Yohimbine, which is sometimes prescribed for erectile dysfunction. But Yohimbine may cause sudden spikes in blood pressure, says CSPI.
The only exception: Some ginseng products contain large amounts of a specially processed form of ginseng which has been shown -- in two studies from South Korea -- to help one in four men with erectile dysfunction, Schardt says.
"But that's not the type of ginseng found in Enzyte," he tells WebMD. "There's no evidence that any ingredient -- singly or in combination, in amounts found in Enzyte -- have the effect the company claims."
Placebo effect is very instrumental in these pills, Mydlo tells WebMD. "People believe that they work, so they might work a little for a little while. But true scientific studies have been done with Levitra, Viagra, Cialis, and they are FDA approved. They are medications that have been shown to work better than a placebo."
Better Business Bureau, Ohio Attorney General Investigations
CSPI also looked at Enzyte's past advertising claims. "The company's original claim was that Enzyte would add 3 inches to a man's penis," says Schardt. "That claim was challenged by the Better Business Bureau, which investigated and hammered them for having no evidence. That claim was dropped from the advertising."
However, the company's current ads continue to imply that Enzyte increases a man's size, Schardt tells WebMD. "In one TV ad, a guy puts down his bowling shoes, and they're huge, people are gasping. But the only actual claim they make is for improved erections."
The FTC's lax attitude about regulating the products is likely because "they are not causing any harm," says Schardt. "However, a lot of people are wasting their money, and are having a difficult time getting their money back. Enzyte has a very poor track record giving money back on their guarantees. There are thousands of complaints with the Ohio State Attorney General's Office. There are two class-action suits against them for nonrefunded money. There's even a web site devoted to complaints from Enzyte customers."
The Company Responds
WebMD tried to contact Berkeley Nutritionals for comment, but received only an emailed statement:
"Berkeley stands behind its Enzyte formulas. Medical professionals have established a correlation between reduced cardiovascular function and reduced erectile function... There is substantial data that shows that ginkgo biloba assists with circulatory problems. Further, indications that Korean red ginseng may be beneficial in improving the quality of male erections comes from traditional use, in vitro, and animal experiences, as well as a few clinical trials. Finally, Berkeley strongly promotes that its products -- including Enzyte -- work best in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle and many of our customers report this to be the case of Enzyte."
"That's how these companies operate," Schardt tells WebMD. "They take a study conducted in entirely different conditions and claim it has the same effect on the body.
"The FDA and the FTC have been lax when it comes to policing these so-called sex supplements," he says. "Until they act, consumers are best advised to drag any unsolicited emails ... from the inbox to the trash."