Many of the pills marketed as safe herbal alternatives to Viagra and other prescription sex medications pose a hidden danger: For men on common heart and blood-pressure drugs, popping one could lead to a stroke, or even death.“All-natural” products with names like Stamina-RX and Vigor-25 promise an apothecary’s delight of rare Asian ingredients, but many work because they contain unregulated versions of the very pharmaceuticals they are supposed to replace.
An Associated Press investigation shows that spiked herbal impotency pills are emerging as a major public health concern that officials haven’t figured out how to track, much less tame.Emergency rooms and poison control hot lines are starting to log more incidents of the long-ignored phenomenon.Sales of “natural sexual enhancers” are booming — rising to nearly 0 million last year. At greatest risk are the estimated 5.5 million American men who take nitrates — generally older and more likely to need help with erectile dysfunction.Herbal appeal The all-natural message can be appealing to such men, warned by their doctors and ubiquitous TV commercials not to take Viagra, Cialis or Levitra.James Neal-Kababick, director of Oregon-based Flora Research Laboratories, said about 90 percent of the hundreds of samples he has analyzed contained forms of patented pharmaceuticals — some with doses more than twice that of prescription erectile dysfunction medicine.
Other testers report similar results, particularly among pills that promise immediate results.
While no deaths have been reported, the AP found records of emergency room visits attributed to all-natural sex pills in Georgia, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego and elsewhere.
An elderly man in a retirement community north of Los Angeles took an in-the-mail sample and landed in the hospital for four days.
A Michigan man sued the maker of Spontane-ES, blaming it for the stroke he suffered 20 minutes after taking a freebie that was advertised as “extremely safe.” Tim Fulmer, a lawyer representing Spontane-ES, said the pill did not contain any pharmaceutical and was not responsible for the stroke. Mycyk, a Chicago emergency room doctor who directs Northwestern University’s clinical toxicology research program, said he is seeing increasing numbers of patients who unwittingly took prescription-strength doses of the alternatives, a trend he attributes to ease of purchase on the Internet and the desperation of vulnerable men.
He said he wouldn’t be surprised if there’d been undetected deaths from bad herbal pills.
Some herbal labels warn off users with heart or blood-pressure problems if they have taken their medicine within six hours; some doctors say 24 hours or more would be safer.