Nation & World

Lamar Odom case spotlights dangers of ‘herbal Viagra’ supplements

Richard Hunter, media assistant for Hof’s Love Ranch, is interviewed by the media at the brothel where NBA star Lamar Odom was found unconscious on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015.
Richard Hunter, media assistant for Hof’s Love Ranch, is interviewed by the media at the brothel where NBA star Lamar Odom was found unconscious on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Los Angeles Times/TNS

With names like “King of Romance” and “Weekend Warrior,” they promise much, but government officials and physicians have long warned consumers about taking so-called “herbal Viagra” supplements.

Now former NBA star Lamar Odom could become the most high-profile argument against using them.

Odom, 35, lies in critical condition in a Las Vegas hospital after being found unconscious at the Love Ranch brothel in Crystal, Nevada, on Tuesday.

Brothel employees told 911 dispatchers that Odom had used cocaine on Saturday and had taken up to “10 sexual performance enhancer supplements” within a three-day period.

“He was taking herbal Viagra and he was taking a lot of it,” Dennis Hof, the owner of the legal brothel, told NBC News.

TMZ reports that tests on Odom’s heart Friday morning showed his heart function has improved, the first sliver of hope since he was hospitalized. His estranged wife, reality TV star Khloe Kardashian, remains at his side.


It’s not clear what role the supplements might have caused in Odom’s medical emergency, but federal officials for years have warned the public away from taking sexual performance-enhancing products that claim to be natural.

“If someone were to ask about them, I would caution them not to take anything of this type. They are ineffective and the men could possibly be submitting themselves to danger,” Drogo K. Montague, a physician who works with the Cleveland Clinic's Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute, told CNN.

“They come under the rubric of really bad ideas.”

The products are easily found – online, at sex shops, some gas stations – and you don’t need a prescription. They’re cheaper than prescription products. Viagra, for instance, can cost more than $40 per 100-mg pill. Some supplements cost less than that for a bottle of 30 pills.

The problem?

There is often nothing “herbal” about these “herbal” supplements.

Irwin Goldstein, a sexual dysfunction physician in San Diego, told U.S. News & World Report that studies have found disturbing ingredients – pesticides, printer ink, heavy metals, even commercial paint – in these drugs.

It’s not clear what Odom took, though some reports suggest that he took a product called Reload, described as a “72-hour strong sexual enhancement for men.”


Two years ago the FDA issued a warning about Reload because the label didn’t list the ingredient sildenafil, the active ingredient in FDA-approved prescription Viagra, used to treat erectile dysfunction. The ingredient can lower blood pressure and be dangerous to men with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The FDA’s recommendation on Reload: Stop using it and throw it away.

Other sexual enhancement supplements the FDA tested contained the active ingredient found in Cialis and other erectile dysfunction drugs. Those ingredients were not listed on the labels either, important information for consumers needing to avoid dangerous interactions with other drugs such as nitrates taken for heart disease.

The FDA doesn’t regulate supplements the way it does prescription drugs. The products don’t have to meet the same strict standards other drugs do before they hit the market; they don’t even have to be proven to work.

FDA officials don’t call these products supplements since some contain active pharmaceutical ingredients. The FDA considers them “tainted products” and this year has issued at least 25 warnings about them.

The agency asks consumers to report potentially dangerous products at its MedWatch site and offers email alerts about the products.