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Are these ED "remedies" just a bunch of BS?

Horny goatweed, ginseng, caffeine — do they really work?

Written by
Luke Benedictus
Medically reviewed by
Dr Matthew Vickers
Last updated
April 29, 2024
min read
Are these ED "remedies" just a bunch of BS?
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Erectile dysfunction used to be considered an old man’s affliction, but that’s no longer the case. A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that one in four new ED patients are now aged under 40.

Meanwhile a recent British survey of 2,000 men found that half of those in their thirties had experienced some difficulty either achieving or maintaining an erection.

Given the extent of this problem, there are now a host of natural cures that claim to help men thrive in the bedroom. Here’s a quick overview of some of the main contenders—insert your own “stiff competition” joke here.

Horny Goat Weed

The unforgettable name is rumoured to come from the way this supplement’s invigorating properties were first discovered. According to Chinese folklore, a goat herder noticed his male goats became wildly frisky after eating a native plant.

He told a local physician who named the plant “Yin Yang Huo”(which loosely translates to: “Licentious goat plant”).

When an American company decided to market the supplement, they plumped for a slightly catchier moniker.

But does it work? Well, one study exploring the effects of the extract on rats concluded that it did enhance their sexual activity and performance. Rats and goats aside, the evidence is less mind-blowing.

Horny Goat Weed does contain an active ingredient called Icariin that another study found can help with erectile difficulties.

But it also pointed out that it was 80 times less powerful than most commonly recommended treatment plans for ED.


A couple of espressos might jolt you awake in the morning. But they could help you rise and shine in a whole new way according to a study from the University of Texas Health Science Centre in Houston.

Their researchers found that men who drink two to three cups of coffee per day are less likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction than non-coffee drinkers.

The caffeine is believed to trigger a series of pharmacological effects that increase penile blood flow.

The study that analysed data from more 3700 men found that a daily intake of 170-375 milligrams of caffeine per day lowered the odds of "prevalent ED" (to put that into perspective, a regular flat white typically has between 50mg to 90mg of caffeine.)

Significantly, the effects also worked for men who are obese or suffer from hypertension.

For the sake of your love-life, it could be worth asking your barista for a double shot.


Gym junkies often take L-Arginine supplements in the belief they increase the size of their muscles by literally engorging them with blood. The reason? This amino acid boosts the body’s natural production of nitric acid to increase blood flow.

But they could provide also sizeable benefits in the trouser department.

Researchers investigating the effects of L-Arginine on ED, asked sufferers of the condition to take 5g of the supplement daily for six weeks. Thirty-one per cent of the men reported “improved sexual performance”.

In another study, where L-arginine was combined with Pycnogenol (a product derived from tree bark), 80 per cent of men reported “restored sexual ability”.

L-Arginine is thought to work by relaxing and widening blood vessels to give your penis a more bountiful supply of blood and help you to get and stay hard.

Maca root

Maca is a Peruvian vegetable that, when ground into powder form, is often trumpeted as a nutritional powerhouse due to the fact it’s bursting with vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids.

Its purported benefits range from boosting energy and endurance to improving your brain health and reducing blood pressure.

But Maca has also been touted for its ostensible libido-boosting properties. In one study, men given 3g of Maca a day saw an uplift in their “improved sexual desire”.

More significantly, in another study when 50 men with mild erectile dysfunction were given 2.4 grams of Maca extract, they experienced a boost in performance.

Unfortunately, when a systemic review looked at all the clinical evidence on Maca’s ability to treat sexual dysfunction, the results were less impressive with the report concluding there was currently “limited evidence” that this fabled root could help you, well, root.

Panax ginseng

Ginseng is often referred to as the “king” of all herbs for its multitude of benefits while “panax” means “all-healing” in Greek. Put the two together and you’ve got the world’s bestselling aphrodisiac.

More specifically, this type of ginseng (otherwise known as Korean Red Ginseng) has shown marked benefits for ED.

A study on 60 sufferers who took 1,000mg three times daily for 12 weeks revealed distinct benefits “including rigidity, penetration, and maintenance of erection”.

These revitalising powers are thought to be down to a combination of properties including Panax’s ability to increase resistance to stress, reduce inflammation and boost the flow of nitric oxide to the penis.

What all that translates to is a stimulus package exactly where you need it.


The ancient Eastern practice of acupuncture—that involves the insertion of hair-thin needles into the body to remove energy blockages—has been touted as a cure for a mind-boggling range of health issues including back pain, tension headaches, tennis elbow, Parkinson’s, and stress.

It’s therefore hardly surprising that you can also add ED to the list.

Unfortunately, the jury is still out on its effectiveness. When a team of scientists from Britain and South Korea reviewed 15 electronic databases to identify all the relevant research, they found flickers of promise but no, ahem, hard evidence to support acupuncture as a natural cure for ED.

The hard facts

Your penis is a potential barometer for an extraordinary range of health issues. Erectile trouble could signal possible issues with diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, anxiety, or depression.

Alternatively, you could just be having a bad day (or night). The sheer complexity of erectile dysfunction therefore means that treating the problem responsibly demands more than self-diagnosis and a quick trip to your local chemist.

Some of these supplements, though "natural", can actually be quite dangerous, too, especially if mixed with other medication.

As such, your first step should involve talking to a health practitioner who’ll be able to pinpoint the cause of your issue.

They can help by either recommending proven clinical treatment, or by helping you navigate a healthier lifestyle that could see you rock hard. In short, don’t waste time and money—you need the right know-how to ensure you’ll be able to get up and go.

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