Just how dangerous is herbal Viagra?
8:31AM BST 20 Oct 2015.
The chances are that you’ve heard of herbal Viagra thanks to those nuisance spam emails that always clog up your inbox. But have you ever stopped to ask exactly what it is?
While most of us recognise the word Viagra as relating to a little blue pill that helps men with erectile dysfunction overcome their problem, we probably know much less about its ‘herbal’ variant. Which at least partly explains why stories such as Lamar Odom’s are so gruesomely captivating.
Lamar Odom was found unconscious at the Love Ranch brothel Photo: Getty.
The former basketballer and ex-husband of Khloe Kardashian is alleged to have taken multiple herbal Viagras in the space of three days before he was found unconscious with ‘red fluid coming from his nose and mouth’ in a Nevada brothel last Tuesday. He is also said to have snorted cocaine and drunk alcohol without moderation during the period, but it is the reference to the Reload 72-Hour Male Sexual Enhancement pills that he apparently received from brothel staff that keep arising in conjunction with his name.
Thankfully, Odom has now regained consciousness and is apparently beginning a long road to recovery. But should his case sound a warning bell to others who are considering taking herbal sexual enhancement supplements?
Herbal Viagra was found in Osama bin Laden’s medicine cabinet after his death Photo: REUTERS.
One of the problems with the term ‘herbal Viagra’ is that it is obviously inexact: one half of the term is a generic name given to a wide variety of plants used in cooking, the other half merely describes the name for the product’s medically official equivalent. As a result, the pills, which are widely available online and without prescription, can consist of any number of ingredients – although they typically blend materials from plants such as ginkgo, damiana, epimedium (horny goat weed) and ginseng.
Relationship and sex therapist Maureen Williams, who has never advised the use of herbal Viagra, explains that both the natural supplements and their pharmaceutical grade counterpart are known as PDE5 inhibitors (PDE5 is a destructive enzyme found in smooth muscle cells). She says that while she has heard both good and bad things about “Internet magic treatments,” any PDE5 inhibitors “can be a real asset for individuals and couples to have a good love life” when used carefully.
However, Williams quickly sounds a note of caution: “Erectile dysfunction can be one of the first signs of cardiovascular disease, and if this is the case, getting in early with treatment can prevent it from progressing.” In other words, plump for a herbal remedy instead of visiting a doctor for a proper diagnosis and you effectively put your life in danger.
What’s more, you might be wasting your time – and money – in the first place. Dr Vinod Nargund, a consultant urologist on Harley Street, explains that herbal Viagra does not improve the quality of erection in normal men. “It may reduce your post-orgasmic refractory period [recovery time], but it should not be used as a recreational drug,” says Nargund.
Herbal Viagra is often less thoroughly screened than its genuine pharmaceutical counterpart Photo: Getty.
“It is highly dangerous to take a drug when it is not prescribed,” continues the urologist. “In a study it was found that nearly 21 per cent of men without erectile dysfunction used these kinds of drugs. It is important to be aware that these drugs have a direct effect on your blood vessels and therefore have potentially fatal cardiovascular effects.”
Nargund asserts that several recreational “club drugs” could bring on particularly nasty side effects when mixed with natural sexual supplements. “Ketamine and Amyl Nitrite – in particular the latter – could be really fatal when combined with any PDE5 inhibitors,” he says.
However, Ian Griffiths – of Herbal Viagra World – maintains that natural supplements are safe when handled responsibly. “Herbal Viagra is normally taken for the same reason that ‘real’ Viagra is taken,” says Griffiths. “It shouldn’t be taken recreationally, and you should always consult a doctor before taking – particularly if you have low blood pressure or any form of heart problem.
“Herbal Viagra is often taken just to generally improve blood circulation throughout the body, as it works by dilating the blood vessels.”
Pfizer produce the only legally branded Viagra Photo: Getty.
The usage guidelines provided by Herbal Viagra World and many other online sexual supplement marketplaces (Herbals-Are-Us and Herbalhard amongst them) clearly state to use these drugs responsibly and not to excess. But even then, without the rigorous clinical trials that pharmaceutical grade sildenafil citrate goes through, there is no way to gauge the safety or long-lasting effects of natural sexual supplements on the body.
Of greater concern, perhaps, is the revelation that some herbal Viagra products available in the US actually contain sildenafil (Viagra’s active ingredient) or similar synthetic chemical compounds.
Seema Patel, Medical Director of Pfizer UK, told The Telegraph that “Pfizer’s Viagra is one of the most counterfeited medicines in the EU and the world. In order to access genuine erectile dysfunction treatment that is licensed and scientifically proven, we always recommend that patients visit a qualified and registered health care professional.”
Pfizer were unable to comment on the quality of products (herbal or medicinal) that are manufactured by other companies. “However,” Patel continues “it is important to note that the medicine known as Viagra is the only licensed treatment for erectile dysfunction that legally bears this brand name.”
This suggests that non-Pfizer products that directly claim to be ‘Viagra’ of any kind – be this natural or pharmaceutical – are being manufactured in contravention to trademark law. And if such flagrant oversights are being made in the legal department, you might ask what that says of the production and safety of the products themselves.
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