Libido Supplements for Sex Do They Work?
If you’re experiencing a sluggish libido, difficulty getting an erection or orgasming, or other sexual dysfunction, you may be tempted to try a natural approach — after all, some herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years. But before you start taking any supplements that promise to rev up your sex drive, you should know their limitations and potential risks.
First, there is no magic pill that will make your sex life amazing. Supplements or herbs won’t provide instant arousal, orgasms, or erections. “There’s not one libido supplement I recommend” for that purpose, says Ellen Barnard, a certified sex educator at A Woman’s Touch Sexuality Resource Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
Still, supplements that support underlying health when taken over time might improve your sex life, Barnard says, in the same way that exercise or a healthy diet do. Before turning to any pills, natural or not, Barnard suggests looking at all the things you need to function well sexually. Is it more passion, more talking, or more connecting with your partner?
Many herbs are marketed as sex enhancers, but the evidence behind these claims is extremely thin, says Ikhlas Khan, PhD, the director of the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Khan coauthored a review of supplements marketed for women’s sexuality in a paper published in April 2020 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. The review concluded that there are no high-quality studies proving their effectiveness for women’s libido. “There are so many more questions than answers,” he says.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try any supplements to potentially help your sex life, but “you should be educated as much as you can before you do,” Khan says.
Especially if you take other medications, tell your physician about any herbs you plan to try. Some supplements can interfere with prescribed medications. Women who are pregnant or nursing should be especially cautious.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbs, vitamins, and supplements the way it regulates pharmaceuticals. That means you can’t believe whatever the product promises, since these claims don’t have to be proven the way a medication’s do.
If you are experiencing sexual dysfunction — such as orgasm difficulties, erectile dysfunction, vaginal pain, low libido, and the like — it’s best to speak to a physician or sex therapist. There may be treatments that have a more proven track record than you’ll find in any vitamin shop.See also Low back push waist line back from broken trend
How Do Libido Supplements Measure Up?
Walk into any pharmacy or health food store and you’ll find shelves lined with teas and products promising to heat up your sex life in a natural way. Most of these supplements have side effects, and many lack complete ingredient information on the packaging, such as how much of a particular herb is in one pill and where the herbs are sourced. This makes it even harder to evaluate them.See also Watch Awesome Kate Go Full Cooking Pro in England this Week
Among the many products claiming to correct sexual dysfunction, here are some of the most popular.
Naturally produced by the body as a semi-essential amino acid, L-arginine works by dilating and relaxing blood vessels, which is why proponents claim it can help treat erectile dysfunction (ED). According to a review published in 2021 in the journal Pharmacy, L-arginine used in combination with supplements such as Lady Prelox may help women with sexual dysfunction, but more research is needed.
According to the MedlinePlus, 2.5 to 5 grams (g) of L-arginine by mouth daily may “possibly” improve sexual function in people with ED. It notes that the supplement might work best when taken along with a proven medication such as Viagra, where it may enhance the effects. But if you prefer to get your nutrients from whole foods rather than supplements, watermelon contains an amino acid that the body naturally converts to arginine. Arginine levels rose by 22 percent when watermelon was consumed daily, according to a study in the journal Nutrition.
Possible risks and side effects of L-arginine include:
Low blood pressure
Gastrointestinal upset — stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea
Heart issues, especially after a heart attack
High potassium levels in people with kidney disease
This herb comes from an evergreen tree native to parts of Africa. A compound in the bark, called yohimbine, has traditionally been used to enhance sexuality in men, Khan says. Yohimbe appears to have some benefit on male erectile function when combined with the supplement L-arginine or with prescription medications, says a meta-analysis published in 2021 in the Turkish Journal of Urology. No evidence exists to determine if it benefits female sexual function.
A number of serious risks have been associated with yohimbe, according to the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, including:
Heart attacks and seizures
Rapid heart rate
Increased blood pressure
Ginkgo is one of the oldest living tree species in the world, and it has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine for everything from bladder disorders to dementia. Formally known as ginkgo biloba, it’s promoted as a way to help with premature ejaculation and decreased libido.See also The Lichen Planus and Oral Cancer Connection
A systematic review of five studies by Iranian researchers published in 2021 in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine found the herb may have positive effects on sexual function in post-menopausal women, likely by increasing blood flow to the genitals, but there is no evidence it helps anyone else.See also Radio Air Time Marketing: A New Strategy for the Economy
In a study published in July 2022 in Current Issues in Molecular Biology, researchers found no consistent benefit of ginkgo biloba in three randomized controlled trials when compared with placebo.
Khan’s review cites several small studies testing ginkgo to improve sexual dysfunction in women who were taking antibiotics, a drug that can blunt arousal, but did not find it was effective, including one study of 37 women published in Human Psychopharmacology in 2002.
Ginkgo leaf extracts are relatively safe when taken in moderate amounts, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) observes. Most studies on the herb use 120 to 240 milligrams (mg) taken daily in divided doses, according to Mount Sinai Medical Centers.
Still, there are potential side effects when taking ginkgo, including:
Upset stomach and constipation
Bleeding in those with a known bleeding risk
The root of the ginseng plant has been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years. Rather than act on one specific part of the body, ginseng is believed to boost energy and act as a tonic that can revitalize a person’s overall functioning, notes the American Botanical Council, a nonprofit organization that educates people about herbs.
Khan’s study cites positive results from several small studies evaluating the herb’s effects on the symptoms and sexuality of women in menopause. In one, 62 women received either 500 mg of the herb or a placebo and after a month those taking the ginseng reported fewer bothersome menopausal symptoms and enhanced sexual function, according to results published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine in August 2019.
In a larger review published in 2022 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, researchers looked at three separate studies and found that ginseng didn’t produce a positive effect on women’s sexual function.See also What Is Insomnia Defining Both Acute and Chronic Insomnia
Possible risks and side effects of ginseng include:
Insomnia (the biggest complaint, according to the NIH)
Menstrual problems and breast pain
Increased heart rate
High or low blood pressure
Kava traces its heritage to the South Pacific, where its root has long been used to make an intoxicating ceremonial beverage, similar to the role alcohol plays in the West. According to the American Botanical Council, these cultures use the herb to induce relaxation and sleep, especially for people with anxiety, to treat urinary tract conditions, and more.See also Is It Safe to Have Sex During Your Period?
It has also been associated with better sex, likely due to its effect on anxiety. In one small study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2013, when researchers gave kava supplements or placebo to people with anxiety, they found that women who took it had increased sex drive. They also observed that people whose anxiety decreased also reported the greatest improved sexual function and performance.
On the other hand, kava has been associated with significant liver damage that, according to the NIH, has sometimes been serious or fatal.
Other side effects of kava include:
Drowsiness or dizziness (driving or operating machinery after taking kava is not recommended)
Dry, flaky skin
This clover-like herb is native to parts of Europe and Africa, where its phytoestrogen-rich seeds, which have the same benefits as women’s hormones, are used as an ingredient in spice blends. (The seeds’ extract is also available in capsules and powders.) Khan’s paper notes that it has been used in Arab cultures “for all female issues.”
One small study published in 2015 in Phytotherapy Research found increased sexual desire and arousal in women who took the supplement compared with the control group. But a review published in the Journal of Herbmed Pharmacology showed mixed results with fenugreek in menopausal women who had sexual dysfunction. As Khan’s paper notes, much more evidence is needed before fenugreek can be considered an effective aphrodisiac.
Side effects of fenugreek include:
Diarrhea and nausea
Drop in blood sugar (when taken in large doses)
Allergic reactions such as hives anywhere on the body, or a tingling or itchy feeling in the mouth