What Is Herbal Viagra? What You Need To Know About The Supplement — UPDATE

On Tuesday, Oct. 13, it was confirmed by the Nye County, Nevada Sheriff's Office that former NBA star Lamar Odom had been found unconscious at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch South in Pahrump, Nevada. Immediately, his condition was reported as "critical" and according to TMZ, which broke the news, the athlete is "fighting for his life." According to TMZ's sources, Odom was allegedly taking herbal viagra while at the ranch, although there has been no confirmation from Odom's team. Herbal Viagra is not brand Viagra, so you may be wondering: what is it?

(Update: Bustle spoke with Dr. Lauren Streicher from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University who gave her take on herbal viagra. Dr. Streicher says, “I can’t comment specifically on what [Lamar Odom] got or what he took because I don’t know, and it’s impossible to know. But I think the bottom line message is there are a lot of Internet drugs around … The minute they call something herbal that makes it sounds like it's natural and natural makes a lot of people think that it’s safe. So the important message is, first of all, herbal does not in and of itself guarantee safe. There are many herbal preparations that can be very dangerous. But more important, you have no way of knowing what’s in it. Whenever you have something that's unregulated, that’s not through a commercial pharmacy, that does not have FDA approval, there could be just about anything in there. And people buy this stuff all the time, and it’s a multimillion dollar business, and it is quite dangerous because there is no way to know what you’re getting. And again, can’t speak to this case, but certainly there are many, many other cases that people have gotten themselves into real trouble with taking something they believe to be natural and therefore safe.)

It's unclear whether Odom's alleged herbal viagra use is in any way connected to his current condition and People reports that a source close to the Kardashian family claims opiates and cocaine were found in Odom's system. Odom's rep Eve Sarkisyan told Us Weekly, "Family and friends are extremely concerned for Lamar. Please don't listen to the false information being circulated unofficially. Please respect the family's privacy during this difficult time." Bustle has reached out to Sarkisyan's office for further comment, but has not yet heard back.

As for herbal viagra, whether Odom had taken it or otherwise, the Mayo Clinic defines it as "any product that claims to be a natural form of Viagra...[and is] advertised as a cheaper alternative, available without a prescription."

Viagra, as we know, is a medication used to treat erectile disfunction, but what exactly is its herbal form and how does it react with one's body?

What Is Herbal Viagra?

"Herbal viagra" is an umbrella term used for many unregulated supplements that are meant to mimic the results of the prescription medication Viagra. Herbal viagra is meant to imitate the effects of Viagra but does not require a prescription and may not contain Viagra's active ingredient, sildenafil. The FDA has reported that the pills are often sold on the Internet and are easily accessible all over the world without a prescription. These unregulated supplements contain many other ingredients besides sildenafil. Some of the herbs included in these pills are horny goat weed, ginseng (pictured below), and saw palmetto (pictured above).

Herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA, something that the government organization has made clear. According to a statement from FDA national health fraud coordinator, Gary Coody, R.Ph., that was included in a October 2015 bulletin:

We’re finding an alarming number of these products sold online and in retail stores. They’re often sold in single-serving sizes in gas stations or vending machines. We’ve seen pills, coffees, chewing gum and dissolvable oral strips that contain hidden drug ingredients or untested chemicals. Consumers have no way of knowing which drugs or ingredients are actually in the product just by reading the ingredients on the label.

Many brands across the globe produce herbal viagra for legal sale, and as the FDA states, it is widely and easily available for purchase.

As for what Viagra thinks of the herbal supplements, a statement in the FAQ section of its website reads:

There are lots of treatments that claim to be "herbal VIAGRA." They can be found online or even at some drugstores. But there’s no such thing as "herbal VIAGRA." The FDA has never approved any form of "herbal VIAGRA" as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. Plus, these treatments can be fake or unsafe. Many have been recalled. There’s only one VIAGRA. You can only get it by prescription from your doctor or healthcare provider.

What Are The Benefits & Side Effects Of Herbal Viagra?

Obviously, the supposed benefit of herbal viagra is the same as pharmaceutical Viagra: treatment for erectile disfunction. But with herbal viagra it is difficult to track the results of the supplements as they are not regulated by the FDA. Because of this, many of these medicines have undeclared ingredients. According to the Mayo Clinic, the biggest health concern is dangerously low blood pressure. The Mayo Clinic also reports that some herbal viagra supplements do contain substances meant to improve blood flow, but they interact with the whole body and can adversely affect men who take medicines for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease.

On the other hand, some research into horny goat weed, a legal herb, has proved promising in future natural treatment of erectile disfunction. Research at the University of Milan has found that the main compound in horny goat weed, called icariin, acted the same way that Viagra does. The doctors reported that it "is a promising candidate for further development."

How Is It Different From Prescription Viagra?

In May of this year, the FDA published a report that it had examined an international shipment of herbal viagra and found that it actually contained the same active ingredient (sildenafil) as Viagra in prescription form, but the problem is that the amount of sildenafil and the other ingredients are not measured or quantified.

Basically, when taking herbal viagra, you have no way of knowing how much of the active ingredient and what other ingredients you are ingesting. For example, The Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the U.K. reported that many of the herbal viagra supplements being sold in Chinese medicine shops "contain the undeclared ingredients Sibutramine, used to treat obesity, and Tadalafil, for the treatment of erectile dysfunction."

It's best to consult a medical professional before taking any medication to avoid health risks.