Sex Offenders?

Evidence for Sexual-Enhancement Supplements Limp, says CSPI


The brand names run the gamut from tasteful, Viagra-like pharmaspeak (Enzyte, Elexia) to implausible (Pro-Erex, Vahard, VasoRect) to the just plain ridiculous (Big Daddy, Libido-Max, Suregasm). Animals figure prominently (Cobra, Lioness). All of them variously promise to increase sex drive, pleasure, or even the length or girth of one’s penis. The competition in this category of supplements would appear to be, ahem, stiff. But according to a review published in the October issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter, the science behind these claims comes up short.

Enzyte is a fairly typical (and well-advertised) example. It contains tiny amounts of 16 ingredients including familiar herbs like ginkgo and ginseng, the minerals copper and zinc, various animal-tissue extracts (testicles, predictably), a vitamin (niacin), and an amino acid (arginine). Its “Smiling Bob” ads have run on CNN, ESPN, and NBC stations, and its parent company, Berkeley Premium Nutritionals says it is on track to sell nearly a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of supplements this year.

“Enzyte is more successful subtracting from the male wallet than it is adding to the male organ,” says David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the author of the article. “It’s basically just an expensive placebo.”

Today, CSPI filed a complaint about Enzyte’s deceptive advertising with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Enzyte’s parent company is also reportedly under investigation from at least one state attorney general’s office and the target of two class action lawsuits seeking refunds for Enzyte customers.

Arginine, an amino acid that appears in many sexual enhancement supplements, occurs naturally in nearly every food. Arginine is converted in the body into nitric oxide, which does relax and open up blood vessels throughout the body. In fact, Viagra works for erectile dysfunction (ED) by increasing the availability of nitric oxide. But according to CSPI, there is little evidence that arginine taken as a supplement remedies any kind of sexual problem.

CSPI found little or no evidence that many common ingredients in sex pills, including ginkgo, horny goat weed (we’re not making that one up), maca, or Tribulus terrestris improved sexual desire or performance. Ginseng may help some men with erectile dysfunction, but only in large amounts of a specially processed form of the herb not usually found in these supplements. Yohimbe is an unreliable natural source of the prescription drug Yohimbine, which is sometimes prescribed for ED. But Yohimbine may cause sudden spikes in blood pressure.

“The Food and Drug Administration and the FTC have been lax when it comes to policing these so-called sex supplements,” says Schardt. “Until they act, consumers are best advised to drag any unsolicited emails from ‘Mr. Gigantic’ or ‘Mr. Thick’ from the inbox to the trash.”

Happily, says CSPI, a more effective (and less expensive) way for men to avoid erectile dysfunction is to eat a healthy diet and stay physically active. “The same risk factors that damage blood vessels to the heart can also damage blood vessels to the penis, and if those are damaged, erection will not occur normally,” says cardiologist Robert Kloner of Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. And according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, many obese men can regain lost erectile function when they lose weight.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at] or Ariana Stone (astone[at]