Generally, manufacturers of herbal remedies and dietary supplements do not need FDA approval to sell their products. Just like a drug, herbs and supplements can affect the body’s chemistry, and therefore have the potential to produce side effects that may be harmful. There have been a number of reported cases of serious and even lethal side effects from herbal products. Patients should always check with their doctors before using any herbal remedies or dietary supplements.
Yohimbe. Yohimbe, which is similar to yohimbine, is derived from the bark of a West African tree. Side effects include nausea, insomnia, nervousness, and dizziness. Large doses of yohimbe can increase blood pressure and heart rate and may cause kidney failure.
Gamma-Butyrolactone (GBL). GBL is found in products marketed for improving sexual function (Verve, Jolt). This substance can convert to a chemical that can cause toxic and life-threatening effects, including seizures and even coma.
Gingko. Although the risks for gingko appear to be low, there is an increased risk for bleeding at high doses and interaction with vitamin E, anti-clotting medications, aspirin, or other NSAIDs. Large doses have also been known to cause convulsion. Commercial gingko preparations have also been reported to contain colchicine, a substance that can be harmful in people with kidney or liver problems.
L- arginine (also called arginine). Arginine may cause gastrointestinal problems. It can also lower blood pressure and change levels of certain chemicals and electrolytes in the body. It may increase the risk for bleeding. Some people have an allergic reaction to it, which in same cases may be severe. It may worsen asthma.
DHEA. DHEA is a supplement related to certain male and female hormones. Studies show inconclusive results in its treatment for erectile dysfunction. DHEA may interact dangerously with other medications.
Aphrodisiacs. Aphrodisiacs are substances that are supposed to increase sexual drive, performance, or desire. Some examples include the following:
Viramax is a well-marketed product that contains yohimbine and three herbal aphrodisiacs: catuaba, muira puama, and maca. It has not been proven to be either effective or safe, and interactions with medications are unknown.
Spanish fly, or cantharides, which is made from dried beetles, is the most widely-touted aphrodisiac but can be particularly harmful. It irritates the urinary and genital tract and can cause infection, scarring, and burning of the mouth and throat. In some cases, it can be life threatening. No one should try any aphrodisiac without consulting a doctor.
Vinarol is an over-the-counter supplement that was recalled after reports surfaced that it contained the same ingredients found in Viagra. Herbal supplements sold as Viagro and Vaegra have no association with Viagra.