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Side Effects of ED Drugs

Sexual Health

By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine

I’m not much of a television watcher, but I must admit that I’ve become hooked on the new medical show ‘House.’ If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a crusty doctor who solves a different medical mystery each week with deductive skills reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes. What struck me about the most recent episode was a brief encounter the doctor had with a patient looking to score a prescription for “those little blue pills.” What made the scene memorable was that the good doctor refused the patient’s request!

The show, of course, is pure fiction. In the real world, the vast majority of doctors are all too willing to pass Viagra out like candy. But, in light of recent evidence linking ED drugs to blindness, that may be a very bad prescription.

In The Dark

The new study, researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School identified seven men who had developed vision problems after taking Viagra. The seven men, all between the ages of 50 and 69 years old, suffered from a swelling of the optic nerve that caused blindness within 36 hours of taking just one dose of Viagra. As a result, all of the men experienced a partial loss of central and/or peripheral vision. The loss wasn't total, meaning that the men didn't go blind, but it was permanent in all cases.

These men all experienced a stroke of the eye, known in medical-speak as nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION). NAION develops when the blood supply to the front portion of the optic nerve is cut off. The symptoms include blurred vision, loss of part of the visual field, swelling in the optical disc and multiple hemorrhages in the eye. It’s one of the more common causes of sudden vision loss in older Americans, accounting for 1,000 to 6,000 new cases a year. Those at risk for the problem include people with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Ironically, all of these conditions can also lead to erectile dysfunction.

Although this particular study only looked at Viagra’s effect on eyesight, the FDA has received complaints on all three impotence drugs. Of the 42 adverse reports in their files, 38 cases involve Viagra, four implicate Cialis and one concerns Levitra. Despite this, FDA spokesperson Suzan Kruisan insists that “There is no link between optic-nerve inflammation (blindness) and the ED drug (Viagra).”

The folks at Pfizer, the makers of Viagra, are also in denial. The drug giant maintains that there is absolutely no evidence of more vision loss in men taking Viagra than in those who don’t take the drug. I suppose their defense of the blockbuster drug is understandable. After all, big money is at stake – sales of Viagra rose 5 percent – to $438 million – in the first quarter of the 2005.

Oddly, in spite of their comments supporting Viagra, the FDA has asked Pfizer to add a note regarding vision loss to the drug's label. The makers of Cialis - Eli Lilly & Company and the Icos Corporation - have already added a warning to their labels. If this seems like unusually fast action on the part of the government and the drug companies, it isn’t. The drug industry and the FDA have been aware of this devastating side effect for years – ever since eye specialist Dr. Howard Pomeranz discovered the potential problem in 1998. But, until now, this information was kept under wraps. As a result, most of 23 million men who have taken Viagra never had a clue that they might be trading their eyesight for an erection.

Bad News Rising

Blindness is just the latest of a long list of side effects linked to ED drugs. It's well known that these medications can cause a minor vision problem in which men who take the drugs see a whitish-hue when looking at the color blue. That’s why the FAA doesn’t allow pilots to take Viagra within 24 hours of flying planes.

But, visual problems aren’t the only concern for men trying to rekindle their love life. ED drugs – known as PDE5 inhibitors – can also cause headaches, facial flushing, dyspepsia, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, dizziness and muscle pain. Of more concern, these drugs have been linked to a greater risk of heart attack and stroke. Within the first 13 months of Viagra’s release, researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles discovered that, of the 1,473 major adverse effects reported to the FDA, 522 men died of a heart attack within hours of taking Viagra. While some doctors and industry-insiders speculate that ED drugs may be of particular risk to the elderly or to men with pre-existing heart conditions, the Cedars-Sinai team found that 88 percent of the deaths actually occurred in younger men with no history of heart disease!

One Last Thing ...

If your bedroom seems more like the “bored room” these days, there are natural ways to kick-start your sex life – and they are considerably safer than resorting to an ED drug. You may remember that, in the past, I’ve mentioned a little-known herb that can help you achieve an erection, enhance your libido and boost your stamina. Best of all, it can do it “on demand.”

Cnidium monnier can help you achieve an erection within an hour of taking the herb. Used for more than 1,000 years in traditional Chinese medicine, Cnidium naturally increases nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that increases bloodflow to the penis. This ancient herb also inhibits PDE5, allowing erections to be sustained for longer periods of time.

According to a joint study by the Institute of Clinical Medicine, National Yang-Ming University and National Research Institute of Chinese Medicine, this fast action is due to one of the coumarins in Cnidium monnier that relaxes the tissue and smooth muscle in the penis, allowing for maximum arterial dilation. Sold in combination with another smooth muscle relaxant known as Xanthoparmelia scabrosa, Cnidium can give you all of the benefits of Viagra – without the sight-robbing risks.

This Just In ...

Last week I told you how white tea extract helps fight periodontal disease. But there’s another antioxidant that is critical for gum health – and you may already be taking it to support the health of your heart.

I’m talking about Co-Q10. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, people with periodontal disease are often significantly deficient in CoQ10. In fact, gingival biopsies have shown low levels in 60 to 96 percent of all patients with periodontal disease.

Co-Q10 is essential for the healing and repair of periodontal tissue. This enzyme provides the necessary energy needed for gum tissue to defend and strengthen itself, and studies show that it aids in post-surgical healing. There’s also evidence suggesting that topical CoQ10 may be effective in slowing the disease process. Japanese researchers have found that applying Co-Q10 topically significantly reduces plaque, gingival crevicular fluid flow, probing depth and bleeding upon probing. What’s more, Co-Q10 strengthened the connection between the teeth and the gums, so there is considerably less tooth loss.

So why haven’t the makers of Crest, Colgate and AquaFresh jumped on the Co-Q10 bandwagon? For one thing, Co-Q10 is extremely expensive – and since most people haven’t heard about Co-Q10s benefits to oral health, mainstream toothpaste manufacturers don’t want to supply customers with a superior product until there is a demand. But some holistic companies are ahead of the curve and they are beginning to add Co-Q10 to their toothpastes – not because it adds to their profit margin, but because it’s simply the healthy, responsible thing to do. Now that’s something to smile about!


Chen J, et al. “Effect of the plant-extract osthole on the relaxation of rabbit corpus cavernosum tissue in vitro.” Journal of Urology. 2000; 163:1975-80.

“FDA probes links to Viagra and blindness.” UPI. May 27, 2005.

Hanioka T, Tanaka M, Ojima M, et al. “Effect of topical application of coenzyme Q10 on adult periodontitis.” Molecular Aspects of Medicine. 1994;15 Suppl:s241-248.

Li Z, Xi X, Gu M, et al. “A stimulatory role for cGMP-dependent protein kinase in platelet activation.” Cell. 2003;112(1):77-86.


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