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Sex enhancement product ingredients can be risky

Products marketed to enhance sexual performance, such as the one used by Lamar Odom at a Crystal brothel, might contain other ingredients that can pose risks to users, especially when used in combination with other drugs.

Much more information is needed before any determination can be made about the cause of Odom's health complications, medical professionals said last week. The former NBA basketball star was hospitalized Oct. 13 after being found unconscious at the brothel.

Unapproved remedies for erectile dysfunction may include combinations of undisclosed ingredients or excessively high doses, both potentially dangerous situations, U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials say.

"I could take two herbal supplements off the shelf, and they could claim to be the same thing, and they won't be anything alike," said Jason Penrod, a member of the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy. "The only way you can know for sure is to take your 'herbal Viagra' to UNLV or UNR and analyze it in a biochemistry lab."

The FDA released in a bulletin Oct. 1 that lab tests found undisclosed drug ingredients in 300 different products marketed as alternatives to Viagra, Cialis and Levitra. Men who take products and herbs not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration might be ingesting substances that have no effect at all.

"They may or may not be effective," Dr. Michael Verni of the Urology Center of Las Vegas said. "All the vitamin makers have to prove is that their products are not harmful. They don't have to prove they work."

An array of products marketed to address a man's inability to get or keep an erection are available online or at stores in the Las Vegas Valley. They have brand names such as Viaxius, Steel-Libido and Extense, and contain many ingredients including horny goat weed, various vitamins and epimeduim sagittatum, a hormone.

Viagra was developed for its blood-pressure lowering effect, but results were less than what pharmacologists hoped to achieve, Penrod said. Another effect of Viagra, however, was improved blood flow, and that's what provides relief to many men with erectile dysfunction.

One of the most fundamental medical rules is that doctors need to know everything a patient is taking, from prescription medications to over-the-counter supplements to home remedies. Only by knowing how those substances work together can a clear picture of the benefits and risks be determined.

Alcohol can increase the effect of drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction, and patients on those medications are advised against combining them. The FDA bulletin warns of the risk of taking Viagra with nitrates, which can lower blood pressure to an unsafe level. Nitrates are used to treat chest pain associated with reduced blood flow to the heart and to ease the symptoms of congestive heart failure.

People with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease are often prescribed drugs containing nitrates, and men with those conditions commonly suffer from erectile dysfunction.

"Before we give any nitrates in an emergency situation, we have to ask if they're taking any medications for erectile dysfunction," University Medical Center Chief of Staff Dr. Dale Carrison said. "That would put them at profoundly high risk of experiencing hypotension, low blood pressure."

Before any man tries to address his symptoms of erectile dysfunction, Verni said, he needs to discuss his condition with a licensed professional who has kept up to date with the latest continuing medical education to benefits, risks and side effects of any medications or treatments.

Many patients who need medications to control their high blood pressure resist using them because they're concerned the reduced blood pressure will affect their sexual performance.

Verni said such concerns are almost always unfounded.

"The blood pressure side effects are rare," he said. "We work together with their other doctors and cardiologists to adjust their medications to treat their symptoms and improve their quality of life."

Contact reporter Steven Moore at smoore@reviewjournal.com.

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