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Herbal Viagra

Advertisements for the so-called natural alternatives to Viagra are everywhere, promising to spice up your sex life, News 2's Paul Moniz reports.


The makers of "Herbal V" say it's hope in a bottle, the ultra pleasure delivery system.
The manufacturers of "Cobra" claim their product improves stamina, performance and virility.


The audience these ads targets is huge: experts say that more than 30 million men suffer from erectile dysfunction, many of whom are embarrassed to seek help.


That's one reason why the supplements are so popular: unlike Viagra, you don't need a prescription. But a $10-per-pill price tag and side effects such as dizziness, flushing and more than 500 deaths to date make many patients reluctant to take it.


That's why herbals are so popular.


However, one consumer watchdog group is sounding an alarm.


"They're greatly exaggerating the benefits of these products," says David Schardt, who is with the not-for profit Center for Science in the Public Interest.


His group recently examined the nine main ingredients in herbal potency supplements the scientific support behind them. Overall, the results were not encouraging: there is very little research behind these supplements.


Still, urologist Dr. Robert Salant, who works at NYU Medical Center, says many patients are undeterred.


"There's a belief that these supplements are safer than prescribed medications," he says.


But herbal supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so they may not necessarily be less risky.


One supplement, yohimbe, which is a tree bark, is also available as a prescription under the name, "Yohimbine." It has been cited by the FDA for causing kidney failure, seizures and even death.


Few of the supplements that have been tested on humans are supported by double-blind placebo studies, which are hailed as the gold standard comparing the supplements' results with those of a sugar pill.


For example, the shrub extract, damiana, found in "Cobra," might help…if you're a rat: the substance has not been tested on humans; neither has the vegetable root, maca.


The CSPI Review suggests the supplement, "Argin-Max" may offer some benefit. It's a combination of the amino acid l-arginine, ginko biloba ginseng and a blend of vitamins.


A yet-to-be-published placebo study of 50 men showed 84 percent reporting improved erections. Eighty percent were happier with their overall sex life.


Dr. Salant calls the results encouraging but he remains skeptical.


"I would just caution everyone looking at the data that this is a very short term study with very small numbers," he says.


Even if herbal supplements do yield good results, they may mask a serious medical condition, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis or thyroid imbalance, which may be causing erectile dysfunction.


It is always best to consult a physician rather than self-prescribe and diagnose.

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