Kiwi natural health products sup­pliers are coy on a recent US study which found many popular men’s sexual health supplements do not work, or are even harmful.


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Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center reviewed the scientific evidence for ingre­dients in common men’s sexual health supplements to determine if they are effective and, most importantly, safe.

“While certain natural supplements we reviewed show promise for improving mild sexual dysfunction, they lack robust human evidence,” associate professor of urology and senior author Ryan Terlecki says in a media release.

“In addition, because of concerns that some products are impure or weak, we do not routinely recommend these products to our patients.”

The study also found some products advertised as being “natural,” contained traces of phosphodiesterase-5-inhibitors (PDE5Is), the same class of medication that includes prescription drugs such as sildenafil.


Testosterone is a hormone – a chemical messenger – that is responsible for the development of male sexual characteristics.


“Men who use these medications without a physician’s supervision run the risk of taking them inappropriately,” Dr Terlecki says.

Evidence shows many products do not work

The study reviewed the evidence for a wide range of ingredients used in US products, such as DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), fenugreek, gingko biloba, ginseng, horny goat weed, l-arginine, maca, tribulus, yohimbine and zinc.

Many of these ingredients are also used in New Zealand products.

The majority of these ingredients are not effective, according to the study, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine (2015;12[11]:2105-17).

A few, such as fenugreek and yohimbine, did have some evidence supporting improved sexual function, the study notes.

While the evidence shows most of the ingredients are safe, some have negative side effects.


On some men, butea superba extract has a profound effect after just few dosages. It can kickstart testosterone tone for weeks on end. Users should watch out for signs of testosterone overdrive such as deep heartbeat with the slightest sexual thought.


Ginkgo biloba can cause headaches, seizures and significant bleeding, especially if patients are taking warfarin.

Tribulus is associated with two reports of liver and kidney toxicity in young men taking high doses.

Products expected to get backing in New Zealand

Natural Products New Zealand executive director Alison Quesnel is unfazed by the findings, saying it is just one study.

She believes all the ingredients studied will be on the approved medicines list of the Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill when it becomes law.

“This is just one analysis, one bit of research and for every bit of negative research, there’s going to be positive research,” Ms Quesnel says.

“The products have been used traditionally and in the sector for many years.

“It comes back to that it is just one study, we’re not going to do a knee-jerk reaction.”

Protecting the health and wellbeing of consumers is paramount to Natural Products New Zealand, she says.

Pharmacy Today approached nutraceutical company Intenza International for its point of view, but it refused to comment.

According to its website, Intenza International’s popular Herbal Ignite sexual health supplement contains two of the ingredients mentioned in the study: Horny goat weed and tribulus.

Unethical to recommend non-evidence-based medicines

New Zealand Medical Association chair Stephen Child says the sale and regulation of non-evidence-based medicines has long been an area of concern.

The Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill, New Zealand’s first legislation to regulate these products is currently before Parliament.

Under the bill, companies selling products with therapeutic claims will need to determine they are safe and have evidence for the claim, although Dr Child believes the definition of evidence in the bill is very loose.

It is unethical for a doctor to recommend a product that does not have evidence of effectiveness and he believes it is also unethical for a pharmacist to do so.

Concern over Pharmacy Council’s code of ethics change

Dr Child is particularly concerned by the Pharmacy Council’s planned change to its Code of Ethics, where it proposed to drop the requirement for “credible evidence”.


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The Pharmacy Council expects to make a decision on its code in May.

“We need to protect the interests of the patient,” Dr Child says.

An estimated 40-70 per cent of men experience some form of sexual dysfunction during their lives, according to the US researchers.

Due to concern over costs of prescription drugs, or embarrassment over discussing sexual concerns with their physicians, some men turn to over-the-counter products, they say.