Lamar Odom made headlines in October 2015 after he was found unconscious at a Nevada brothel and had to be rushed to the hospital. The Washington Post reported that Odom's collapse was linked to a combination of cocaine, as well as his overconsumption of Reload, a herbal supplement that purports to enhance sexual performance and function similarly to Viagra. While Odom has since left the hospital and is slowly on the road toward recovery, many "herbal Viagras" continue to be available for purchase despite their exceeding danger.
Part of the hazard is that herbal supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, any substance can make it into the product (and consumer), whether or not the substance is listed in the ingredients.
Dr. Drogo Montague, a urologist at the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, told Men's Fitness that "potency and purity are guaranteed" in prescription medicines, but the same cannot be said for supplements. As a result, consumption of herbal supplements can result in dire effects because of how they can interact with other substances.
Reload, for example, contains sildenafil – the active ingredient found in the FDA-approved Viagra. However, sildenafil was not disclosed on the packaging as one of the ingredients, and neither was its dosage. Either way, sildenafil can have adverse effects if you're also taking nitrates.
Men's Fitness explains, "While sildenafil citrate dilates arteries and increases blood flow, it also drops your blood pressure a bit ... Nitrates also increase blood flow and drop blood pressure. That's why if you're on nitrates, your doc won't prescribe you Viagra — it could lead to a scary drop in blood pressure. See where we're going with this? If you don't know what you're taking, you could set yourself up for a health scare without even knowing it."
The FDA says, according to USA Today, "Not only do these [supplements] contain undisclosed drug ingredients, but they also sometimes may include combinations of undisclosed ingredients or excessively high doses, both potentially dangerous situations." Exacerbating this is the fact that many of these herbal supplements are readily available, whether they are purchased at gas stations, in convenience stores or even online – many times, they are a lot cheaper than the doctor prescribed drug.
The FDA has an ever-growing list of different herbal supplements purporting to enhance sex drive and sexual performance, while listing the hidden but harmful drug ingredient. But as a general rule of thumb, the FDA warn against products that:
• Promise quick results (within 30 to 40 minutes)
• Are advertised as alternatives to FDA-approved prescription drugs
• Are sold in single servings
• Advertise via spam or unsolicited emails
• Have labels written primarily in a foreign language
• Have directions and warnings that mimic FDA-approved products
Montague recommends that everyone avoid herbal Viagras altogether. "Many people assume that herbal means natural and natural means safe." Additionally, Montague says, "Men who are taking things that are not prescription drugs are, at best, wasting their money — spending on something that has no effect at all — but potentially, they are getting something that might be harmful to their health."