Sexual performance affects confidence and interpersonal relationships. When a man has difficulty with erectile dysfunction, it can affect several aspects of his life.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when a man cannot achieve or maintain an erection for enough time to sustain sexual activity. ED is most common among men ages 75 and older, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). However, men can experience ED at younger ages.

ED can occur as a result of impaired blood flow, psychological conditions, or other medical conditions that impact one or both of these factors.

While there are prescription medication treatments available, one herbal remedy reported to treat the condition is red ginseng. However, there are many considerations to make before using the herb as a treatment for ED.

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Fresh ginseng comes from plants that are less than 4 years old while red ginseng comes from plants that are at least 6 years old.

Red ginseng or Panax ginsenx is a Korean herbal remedy. It is widely used for the treatment of a number of conditions, including ED.

Red ginseng is the oldest form of the herb and is not harvested until the plant is at least 6 years old. Fresh ginseng is 4 years old or younger.

The plant is a root that has stalks, which resembles the human body, with arms and legs. Practitioners and herbal supplement manufacturers may prepare red ginseng as a tea or in pill form for sale.

How might red ginseng help ED?

Researchers do not know the exact mechanism by which red ginseng might help ED.

Red ginseng was first thought to cause hormonal influences that are similar to testosterone. However, researchers have measured testosterone levels of men taking red ginseng and they do not usually increase.

Other possible mechanisms of action include increasing levels of nitric oxide, which relaxes the muscles in the penis and promotes blood flow. Researchers are still unsure if these or other causes could reduce ED symptoms.

A 2008 review of studies in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology regarding red ginseng and ED found six of the studies reviewed reported improvement in erectile function when compared with a placebo. However, the researchers wrote that larger-scale research studies are needed.

Another study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research researched 119 men with mild to moderate ED. The participants took either 350 milligrams (mg) of red ginseng four times per day or a placebo for 8 weeks.

At the end of the study, the researchers found premature ejaculation decreased and sexual performance improved in those who took red ginseng.

Red ginseng is sold in many different preparations including a cream and in pill form. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), taking 900 mg of red ginseng three times a day may improve erections. However, the AAFP state that men did not report enhanced sexual experience when taking red ginseng.

Side effects of red ginseng

One of the side effects of red ginseng may be insomnia. Other effects that sometimes occur include headaches, stomach upset, and constipation.

Researchers do not have a lot of data on long-term effects of taking red ginseng. However, no current reported drug interactions exist, according to the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine have used red ginseng to prepare a tonic designed to boost a person's energy. The ginseng plant contains compounds known as ginsenosides believed to have this beneficial effect on the human body.

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Red ginseng as a tea or supplement may help to improve concentration.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), additional benefits associated with using red ginseng include:

  • improving overall well-being
  • boosting physical stamina
  • healing health disorders, such as respiratory and heart problems
  • improving concentration
  • reducing the incidence of menopausal hot flashes
  • slowing the aging process

However, the NCCIH point out that there are currently no studies that conclusively support red ginseng as a treatment for any kind of medical condition. This includes ED.

Because many factors can contribute to ED, it's important for men to see a doctor to work out any potential causes. This is especially true if affected blood flow from high blood pressure may be the cause.

A doctor can often make recommendations regarding lifestyle changes and prescribe medications to reduce the incidence of ED. Examples of the many treatments and changes for ED include:

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The FDA caution against the use of dietary supplements to treat erectile dysfunction.
  • Lifestyle changes: Stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake, becoming more physically active, and quitting illegal drug abuse can all help reduce ED symptoms.
  • Mental health support: Counseling to help a man decrease anxiety and stress or enhance his relationship with his partner can all help people struggling with ED.
  • Prescription medications: Taking certain prescription medications can improve blood flow and reduce the incidence of ED. Examples of these medications include sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra).
  • Injectable medications: Sometimes, a man can inject medications that will result in an erection. Examples include alprostadil (Caverject, Edex). These medications widen blood vessels, resulting in an erection.

In addition to these medications, some men may take other alternative medicines besides red ginseng. One example is yohimbe, an herbal supplement.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) caution against ordering dietary supplements that promise to reduce the incidence of ED. While the products may promise "all-natural" alternatives to prescription medications, they may have unwanted ingredients added that could be harmful.

In a test of 17 all-natural products advertised to reduce ED, 6 of the 17 products contained Viagra-like substances.

In another example, the FDA reviewed a supplement called Ginseng Power-X. This product promised an "all-natural" supplement and herbal extract.

However, the FDA found the supplement contained sildenafil and another active ingredient that was chemically similar to sildenafil. This could be harmful for a man who is taking medications that could interact with Viagra, such as nitrates.

The FDA maintain a list of products sold online that a man with ED should avoid.

People who are taking medications of any sort and are considering taking red ginseng should consult their doctor first.