Several vitamins for erectile dysfunction (ED) may help treat symptoms or make them less severe. These include vitamin B9 (folic acid), vitamin D, vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin C, and L-arginine.
While some research shows that these vitamins might help erectile dysfunction, they typically do not cure or treat the problem as effectively as prescription medications do. In addition, they may not work for a person who does not have a specific deficiency or low level of the vitamin.
This article will discuss the evidence that vitamins may help when a person has erectile dysfunction and dietary sources for these essential nutrients.
Vitamin B9 (folic acid) deficiency may be an independent risk factor for ED. A folic acid deficiency can impair nitric oxide metabolism. Nitric oxide cues the smooth muscle in the penis to relax, so blood flow is increased to produce an erection.
Nitric oxide is produced in the endothelial cell layer covering the smooth muscle. A deficiency in folic acid also contributes to endothelial dysfunction, which leads to erectile dysfunction.
In theory, taking a folic acid supplement may lower homocysteine levels (this amino acid inhibits nitric oxide production) and increase nitric oxide, making it more likely to get and maintain an erection. While studies have shown promising results, more research needs to be done to explore the role of folic acid supplementation in ED.
Foods rich in B9 (folic acid) include:
Vitamin D deficiency has increased profoundly in the last two decades. Similarly, ED has also been on the rise, with the incidence of erectile dysfunction expected to reach 322 million by 2025 worldwide.
Low vitamin D levels might increase your ED risk by promoting endothelial dysfunction. Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to some conditions that are independent risk factors for ED, such as multiple sclerosis (an autoimmune disease that attacks the covering of nerves), depression, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. Vitamin D levels in the bloodstream vary by season, with levels highest in late spring through early fall and lowest from late fall through early spring. As such, some people do not make enough vitamin D from October to March.
Taking a vitamin D supplement and eating foods rich in vitamin D can help boost your levels. Foods that are high in vitamin D include:
People with ED can consider having their vitamin D levels assessed (this is done with a blood test). Vitamin D supplementation should be suggested for those with low levels. But increasing vitamin D intake alone is rarely the solution to ED. In fact, there are some instances where it could cause or worsen your ED.
Magnesium (a mineral) is required to convert vitamin D to its active form (1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D). Vitamin D taken orally needs to go through this conversion, a process that can deplete magnesium stores.
If you supplement vitamin D without also taking magnesium, you may develop a magnesium deficiency, which can contribute to ED.
Magnesium helps blood vessels to relax. Insufficient amounts mean the penile vein cannot relax, leading to ED. Therefore, vitamin D may indirectly cause ED if not taken properly.
This underscores the importance of checking in with a healthcare professional before starting any new medication, including over-the-counter vitamins and supplements.
Atherosclerosis (buildup of plaques in the walls of arteries) reduces blood flow throughout the body, including the penis. Hardened and narrow blood vessels make it difficult for blood to flow into the penis before intercourse.
Statins are drugs that reduce cholesterol levels and can improve ED. But new studies have shown that niacin may be a similarly effective treatment. Vitamin B3 (niacin) may help ED because it can improve both cholesterol and lipid levels, which are associated with atherosclerosis.
A small study of 160 people with ED found that a daily dose of vitamin B3 improved erectile function in those with high cholesterol. The study found that the 80 subjects who took niacin consistently reported a better ability to get and maintain an erection compared to 80 subjects with mild ED who took a placebo pill.
Foods rich in B3 (niacin) include:
While there is no evidence that vitamin C supplements can improve ED, vitamin C supports the biochemical pathways that ultimately release nitric oxide, which is critical to achieving erections because it increases blood flow. Vitamin C has also been shown to increase testosterone levels and promote blood flow.
The following foods are rich in vitamin C:
L-arginine is an amino acid, a building block of protein, and a potent vasodilator, meaning that it can help open up the blood vessels. It's found naturally in food and boosts the body's production of nitric oxide, a compound that facilitates erections by dilating blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the penis.
In theory, increasing L-arginine production should promote blood flow to the penis, but studies have had mixed reviews. More research is needed to study its safety and effectiveness.
Foods that are rich in L-arginine include:
Of note, L-arginine can lower blood pressure. You should discuss it with your healthcare professional before taking it. It can interact with other medications to cause dangerously low blood pressure, including high blood pressure medications and Viagra (sildenafil).
Some research shows that vitamins B3, B9, and D might help address erectile dysfunction if the person has a deficiency in these vitamins. They are active in the body to maintain the processes that allow erections, as are vitamin C and L-arginine. However, they are not a typical treatment for ED.
Vitamin supplementation is a popular alternative or supplemental form of treatment for ED because it is inexpensive, all-natural, and may help you avoid side effects from prescription medication. The motivation to use vitamins may also be to avoid embarrassment by finding a natural cure before their partner finds out.
No matter the reason, it is imperative that you do your due diligence before trying a lifestyle change or supplementation. Not only does vitamin supplementation mostly work in those with specific deficiencies, but you may experience unforeseen side effects if vitamins are not taken without proper medical guidance.
It is important to seek the guidance of a healthcare professional before starting supplementation. Never mix vitamins with prescription medication to avoid adverse effects and discuss all changes to your medication regimen with a healthcare professional.
The best vitamin for erectile dysfunction is the vitamin that reverses your specific vitamin deficiency.
Many myths about vitamins being bad for erectile function have been dispelled. Some have pointed to vitamin D as a culprit of erectile dysfunction.
In most cases, the ED in those on vitamin D supplements is due to a corresponding magnesium deficit. In these cases, ED is ameliorated with magnesium supplementation.
There is no firm evidence that vitamins B3 (niacin), B9 (folic acid), C, or D can cure or prevent ED, but they have all been shown to have mildly positive impacts in one or more studies on erectile function.