Dietary supplements with ginseng, or ginseng alone, are widely used for a broad range of conditions, including erectile dysfunction. Ginseng is particularly popular in Asian countries. Individual studies assessing its effects are mostly small, of uneven methodological quality and have unclear results.
To assess the effects of ginseng on erectile dysfunction.
We conducted systematic searches on multiple electronic databases, including CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, AMED, and loco‐regional databases of east Asia, from their inceptions to 30 January 2021 without restrictions on language and publication status. Handsearches included conference proceedings.
We included randomized or quasi‐randomized controlled trials that evaluated the use of any type of ginseng as a treatment for erectile dysfunction compared to placebo or conventional treatment.
Data collection and analysis
Two authors independently classified studies and three authors independently extracted data and assessed risk of bias in the included studies. We rated the certainty of evidence according to the GRADE approach.
We included nine studies with 587 men with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction, aged from 20 to 70 years old. The studies all compared ginseng to placebo. We found only short‐term follow‐up data (up to 12 weeks).
Ginseng appears to have a trivial effect on erectile dysfunction when compared to placebo based on the Erectile Function Domain of the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF)‐15 instrument (scale: 1 to 30, higher scores imply better function; mean difference [MD] 3.52, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.79 to 5.25; I² = 0%; 3 studies; low certainty evidence) assuming a minimal clinically important difference (MCID) of 4.
Ginseng probably also has a trivial effect on erectile function when compared to placebo based on the IIEF‐5 instrument (scale: 1 to 25, higher scores imply better function; MD 2.39, 95% CI 0.89 to 3.88; I² = 0%; 3 studies; moderate certainty evidence) assuming a MCID of 5.
Ginseng may have little to no effect on adverse events compared to placebo (risk ratio [RR] 1.45, 95% CI 0.69 to 3.03; I² = 0%; 7 studies; low certainty evidence). Based on 86 adverse events per 1000 men in the placebo group, this would correspond to 39 more adverse events per 1000 (95% CI 27 fewer to 174 more).
Ginseng may improve men’s self‐reported ability to have intercourse (RR 2.55, 95% CI 1.76 to 3.69; I² = 23%; 6 studies; low certainty evidence). Based on 207 per 1000 men self‐reporting the ability to have intercourse in the placebo group, this would correspond to 321 more men (95% CI 158 more to 558 more) per 1000 self‐reporting the ability to have intercourse.
Ginseng may have a trivial effect on men’s satisfaction with intercourse based on the Intercourse Satisfaction Domain of the IIEF‐15 (scale: 0 to 15, higher scores imply greater satisfaction; MD 1.19, 95% CI 0.41 to 1.97; I²=0%; 3 studies; low certainty evidence) based on a MCID of 25% improvement from baseline. It may also have a trivial effect on men’s satisfaction with intercourse based on item 5 of the IIEF‐5 (scale: 0 to 5, higher scores imply more satisfaction; MD 0.60, 95% CI 0.02 to 1.18; 1 study; low certainty evidence) based on a MCID of 25% improvement from baseline.
No study reported quality of life as an outcome.
We found no trial evidence to inform comparisons to other treatments for erectile dysfunction, such as phosphodiesterase‐5 inhibitors. We were unable to conduct any predefined subgroup analyses.
Based on mostly low certainty evidence, ginseng may only have trivial effects on erectile function or satisfaction with intercourse compared to placebo when assessed using validated instruments. Ginseng may improve men’s self‐reported ability to have intercourse. It may have little to no effect on adverse events. We found no trial evidence comparing ginseng to other agents with a more established role in treating erectile dysfunction, such as phosphodiesterase‐5 inhibitors.
Plain language summary
Ginseng for improving erectile function
Does ginseng help men’s ability to have erections?
Many men have problems with gaining an erection. This can result in low self‐esteem, relationship issues and reduced quality of life. Medication and surgery can help with this problem, but studies also suggest that herbal supplements may help. We reviewed the literature to find out whether certain forms of ginseng, a popular root used in many countries, can help with erection problems.
We included nine studies that compared the effects of ginseng against a placebo (dummy drug). These studies included 587 participants with mild to moderate difficulty in erection, aged 20 to 70 years old. All information we found was limited to a short follow‐up period of 12 weeks or fewer.
Compared to a dummy drug, ginseng may have a trivial effect on erectile function, as assessed by two questionnaires specially developed for this purpose. It may also have little to no effect on unwanted side effects. It may also have a trivial effect on men’s satisfaction with intercourse based on responses to two specialized questionnaires.
When men were simply asked whether their erections improved (without using a specialized questionnaire), the results of this systematic review show that ginseng may improve the ability to have intercourse.
Certainty of evidence
The certainty of evidence for most outcomes was low. This means that the true effect may be substantially different from what this review shows.