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Can vitamins treat erectile dysfunction?

Cropped SingleCare logo By | August 29, 2019
Medically reviewed by Karen Berger, Pharm.D.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects millions of people across the U.S. every year. If you’ve had difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection, you’ve probably seen the ads for herbs and supplements promising to boost sexual performance and wondered, “Could they work for me?” The most effective and proven treatments are prescription medications (like Viagra), and lifestyle changes such as weight loss and reduced alcohol consumption. However, if supplements are more your thing, there are some vitamins for erectile dysfunction that you can try.

Which vitamins may help with erectile dysfunction?

These vitamins for erectile dysfunction may help alleviate symptoms:

  • Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
  • Vitamin C
  • L-arginine

Do vitamins really treat erectile dysfunction?

Bear in mind that while there is some evidence that vitamins, like niacin, could help erectile dysfunction, it’s generally agreed that they don’t treat or cure the condition with the same efficacy as prescription medications.

RELATED: Erectile Dysfunction Treatment and Medications

Herb or supplement Does it work? Scientific Studies Potential side effects/Complications
Vitamin B9 (folic acid) Maybe—a lack of folic acid may cause high homocysteine levels, which can impair erectile function. Supplementing with folic acid may increase nitric oxide, which helps with erections. Yes • Decreased appetite
• Gas and bloating
• Poor sleep
• Feelings of depression
Vitamin D Maybe—a significant number of men with ED have a vitamin D deficiency, however this does not prove causation. Yes Vitamin D toxicity, although rare, can be serious, causing:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Weakness
  • Frequent urination
  • Constipation
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Confusion
  • Symptoms may further progress to bone pain and kidney stones/damage/failure
Vitamin B3 (niacin) Yes—niacin may help improve erectile function in patients with moderate to severe ED. Yes, although very small • Flushed skin
• Impaired blood sugar control
• Blurred vision
• Gout
• Liver damage
• Nausea and vomiting
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) Maybe—it supports the biochemical pathways leading to nitric oxide release, which is essential in increasing blood flow and achieving erections. Yes • Nausea and vomiting
• Heartburn
• Headache
• Kidney stones
• Diarrhea
L-Arginine Maybe—if the patient has low levels of nitric oxide. Yes • Bloating
• Abdominal pain
• Gout
• Low blood pressure
• Blood abnormalities
• Diarrhea
• May increase risk of death if used after a heart attack
• May worsen allergies/asthma

Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)

Studies looking at heart disease have shown that daily folic acid supplements can reduce the hardening of arteries and allow for better circulation.

Because cardiovascular disease can be a major risk factor in sexual dysfunction, some experts believe that improving heart function with vitamin B9 could also help improve erectile function. After all, good blood flow and circulation to the penis are essential for achieving and maintaining an erection.

A daily dose of folic acid may also act as a mood stabilizer and may help both stress-related erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation during sexual intercourse. However, more research is necessary to really understand its efficacy.

Foods that are great sources of B9 include:

  • Green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
  • Legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils
  • Avocados
  • Asparagus
  • Eggs
  • Citrus fruits
  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Papaya
  • Cereals, rice, and pasta

Be mindful that side effects of consuming too much folic acid can include gas and bloating, restless sleep, and depression. Be sure to take the proper dose in order to avoid these side effects.

Vitamin D

Multiple studies have shown that a large number of people who experience erectile dysfunction are also vitamin D deficient. A recent 2018 study went a step further to suggest that achieving healthy levels of vitamin D could improve testosterone levels, thereby increasing erectile function.

Additional research is needed to understand how effective vitamin D is when used to treat ED. But, even if a vitamin D deficiency does not directly cause erectile dysfunction, there are plenty of benefits to this supplement. If you are deficient, upping your vitamin D intake can help foster a healthy immune system and support bone health.

Aside from getting enough sunlight (fun fact: vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine vitamin”) other good sources of vitamin D are:

  • Fatty fish and seafood like salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, shrimp, and oysters
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks
  • Mushrooms
  • Vitamin-D fortified foods including cow’s milk, nut milks, orange juice, and yogurt

Although vitamin D toxicity is rare, if you have too much, you may experience extreme side effects like kidney damage and heart rhythm issues.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

Vitamin B3, otherwise known as niacin, is one of the few vitamins with promising research some efficacy in boosting erectile function. That said, the sample size of the existing studies has been very small. Research with larger sample sizes is required.

Niacin is known to help decrease high blood pressure, and is sometimes used to treat hardening of the arteries and high cholesterol, all of which are known causes of impotence. If these health problems are the underlying cause of your ED, niacin may help increase circulation to your penis so you can achieve an erection.

To naturally up your intake of vitamin B3, try eating more:

  • Liver
  • Chicken breast
  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Avocado
  • Green peas
  • Mushrooms

The most common side effect of niacin is flushing of the skin. Starting at a lower dose and slowly increasing the dose may help; some people find that taking aspirin (if tolerated) helps with the flushing as well. Other side effects of consuming too much niacin include blurred vision, nausea, liver issues, and gout.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

In order to get an erection, your body needs to release nitric oxide. Vitamin C does not release nitric oxide directly, but it can support the biochemical pathways necessary for its release.

There is no evidence that vitamin C is effective at improving erectile dysfunction. But there are many other reported benefits of getting enough vitamin C. It’s necessary for the growth, repair, and development of all body tissues. In other words, the risk of trying it is low. At the very least, it will help boost your immune system.

If you’d like to incorporate more vitamin C into your diet, try eating:

  • Cantaloupe 
  • Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
  • Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit
  • Watermelon
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach and leafy greens

RELATED: A Guide to Natural Remedies and Treatments for Erectile Dysfunction

L-arginine

Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, improving blood flow and circulation. L-arginine is a naturally occurring amino acid that helps increase levels of nitric oxide. Increasing L-arginine with supplements will increase nitric oxide, likely leading to increased blood flow and better erections.

Although there is good research to back up the effectiveness of L-arginine, it is limited to men who have low levels of nitric oxide in their system. If your levels are fine, the supplement may not have any effect.

Foods that are high in L-arginine include:

  • Pumpkin or squash seeds 
  • Watermelon 
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Meat, including turkey, chicken, pork, and beef
  • Legumes
  • Seaweed

Side effects of L-arginine may include: stomach issues (diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain), gout, allergies, worsening of asthma, and low blood pressure.

Note: This is not a complete list of vitamins for erectile dysfunction, or herbs that may improve sexual function. You may also ask your doctor about the possible health benefits of ginseng, horny goat weed (also known as epimedium), yohimbe/yohimbine, carnitines, L-citrulline, and ginkgo.

When should I try vitamins instead of ED medication?

There is limited evidence and a lack of clinical trials to prove the effectiveness of vitamins in treating erectile dysfunction, especially when compared to prescription medications like sildenafil (Viagra or Revatio), vardenafil (Levitra), tadalafil (Cialis), and avanafil (Stendra) Still, there are times when your doctor may suggest trying these vitamins; for example, in combination with prescription medications, or when prescription erectile dysfunction medications cannot be tolerated or interact with your other prescription medications.

You should always speak openly with your health care providers about your symptoms and lifestyle, so he or she can develop an individualized treatment plan for you.

To avoid complications, always seek professional medical advice from your doctor before taking any new medications, dietary supplements, or vitamins, especially if they claim to be a miracle remedy, like “herbal viagra.” These remedies may interact with your medications or exacerbate pre-existing conditions.