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Natural Viagra

MagazineDecember 2012 (Vol. 23 Issue 9)Natural Viagra

Ditch the little blue pill, which comes with a load of side-effects, and let these herbs and supplements give you a boost in the bedroomWhat do human breast milk and the venom of the world's deadliest spider have in common? Believe it or not, they have both been touted as cures for impo-tence, or erectile dysfunction-that seldom talked about problem that can strike men at any age


Ditch the little blue pill, which comes with a load of side-effects, and let these herbs and supplements give you a boost in the bedroom

What do human breast milk and the venom of the world's deadliest spider have in common? Believe it or not, they have both been touted as cures for impo-tence, or erectile dysfunction-that seldom talked about problem that can strike men at any age.

The spider venom 'cure' was the discovery of researchers from Brazil and the US, who found that toxins produced by the Brazilian Wandering Spider can combat erectile dysfunction within 20 minutes of entering the body-at least in rats.
The breast milk fix was the finding of 34-year-old Jeff from Ohio who, on the US reality TV show Strange Sex, claimed that drinking his wife's breast milk-straight from the source-was such a turn on that it solved his problems in the bedroom. Happily, these bizarre remedies aren't the only alternatives to the little blue pill that has become virtually synonymous with erectile dysfunction treatment. If the thought of taking a potentially deadly drug to beat impotence is more of a turn off than a turn on, consider some of the many herbal and nutritional solutions on offer. No lactating women or poisonous spiders required.

Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)

  • What is it? Sometimes called 'Chinese' or 'Korean' ginseng, Asian ginseng is considered the 'king of all herbs' in many countries and is one of the best-selling herbs in the US. Supplements are made from the root of the plant, which looks rather like the human form, with protruding shoots for arms and legs. In Asia, it's prized for its rejuvenating actions on the whole body, but it's famous worldwide for its effects on a particular male body part.
  • Where's the proof? The standard test of whether a product works or not is to compare it against a placebo-and plenty of 'placebo-controlled trials' have been done on Asian ginseng. In a review of six of these kinds of studies by the Korean Food Research Institute, Asian ginseng was found to have a significant effect on erectile dysfunction (Br J Clin Pharmacol, 2008; 66: 444-50).In one of the studies, men taking 1,800 mg per day of Asian ginseng extract for three months saw their libido improve as well as their ability to maintain an erection (Int J Impot Res, 1995; 7: 181-6).
  • Downside: Although generally safe, Asian ginseng may rarely cause difficulty sleeping. People with uncontrolled high blood pressure should use ginseng cautiously.
  • Suggested dosage: 900 mg of a concentrated herbal extract two or three times a day. Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe)
  • What is it? Known to African witch doctors for centuries, bark from the yohimbe tree was first used by Westerners as a cure for impotence in the 1920s. The main active ingredient is yohimbine, a natural oil in the bark that appears to increase blood flow and dilate blood vessels.
  • Where's the proof? Of the dozen or so clinical trials of yohimbine, most have reported positive results (J Urol, 1998; 159: 433-6). In one, when a group of men were given yohimbine hydrochloride three times a day for eight weeks, nearly 40 per cent reported "restoration of erection" compared with just over 10 per cent of those taking a placebo (Sex Marital Ther, 1989; 4: 17-22)
  • Downside: Standard doses may sometimes cause dizziness, nausea, raised blood pressure and rapid heartbeat. Higher doses (more than 40 mg per day) may lead to more serious side-effects such as loss of muscle function and hallucinations. It's best to use yohimbe under medical supervision.
  • Suggested dosage: 15-30 mg/day of yohimbine.

Ginkgo biloba
  • What is it? Extracts from the leaves of the ginkgo tree-a 'living fossil' as members of this prehistoric tree family are now mostly extinct-are used to treat are variety of ailments from memory loss to glaucoma. After elderly patients taking Ginkgo supplements to boost their memory got a boost in another department, the herb began to be trialled for erectile dysfunction (Altern Med Rev, 2004; 9: 4-16).
  • Where's the proof? The evidence is mixed, but Ginkgo may help with erectile dysfunc-tion caused by antidepressants, one of the many classes of drugs that are linked to the condition (see box, page 20). In one study of men with such a problem, Ginkgo appeared to have positive effects on all phases of the sexual-response cycle, including desire, excitement (erection and lubrication) and orgasm (J Sex Marital Ther, 1998; 24: 139-43).
  • Downside: Excessive bleeding has been reported in a few people taking Ginkgo, but a review of 18 trials involving nearly 2,000 adults concluded that standardized extracts of the herb are unlikely to cause this reaction (Pharmacotherapy, 2011; 31: 490-502). More likely side-effects are headache and an upset stomach.
  • Suggested dosage: 60-240 mg/day.

l-Arginine
  • What is it? l-Arginine is an amino acid found naturally in foods such as meat, fish and dairy. The body uses it to make nitric oxide-a molecule released by cells-which tells the smooth muscle in blood vessel walls to relax and dilate, thereby increasing blood flow Relaxation of the smooth muscle in the penis allows for enhanced blood flow, leading to an erection.
  • Where's the proof? Most of the research on l-arginine for erectile dysfunction is positive (Altern Med Rev, 2004; 9: 4-16). In one study from the Tel Aviv University in Israel, 30 per cent of men with erectile dysfunction reported improvement while taking l-arginine compared with less than half that in those taking a placebo (BJU Int, 1999; 83: 269-73).
  • Downside: Side-effects can include bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and headache. l-Arginine should not be taken if you've recently had a heart attack.
  • Suggested dosage: 1,700- 2,800 mg/day.

Carnitine
  • What is it? Carnitine is an amino-acid-like substance that helps the body turn fat into energy. It's naturally found in dairy, red meat, fish, poultry, avocadoes and peanut butter. More commonly used as a weight-loss aid and body-building supplement, it's now showing promise as a treatment for erectile dysfunction.
  • Where's the proof? An Italian study found that a combination of two forms of carnitine-propionyl-l-carnitine and acetyl-l-carnitine-improved erectile function in elderly men whose problem was linked to low testosterone levels. The supple-ments worked even better than testosterone treatment (Urology, 2004; 63: 641-6).
  • Downside: Side-effects are generally mild, but high doses (5 g or more a day) may cause diarrhoea, increased appetite or rash. If you're taking any medication, check with your doctor about possible inter-actions.
  • Suggested dosage: 2 g/day each of propionyl-l-carnitine and acetyl-l-carnitine.

WDDTY verdict

If you're looking for an effective alternative to Viagra, then Asian ginseng-with its impressive safety profile and solid supporting evidence behind it-is probably your best bet.

Alternatively, you could try a combination supplement such as ArginMax (available from health-food shops and online), which contains ample amounts of ginseng, Ginkgo, l-arginine and other useful nutrients-and is even backed up by a clinical trial (Hawaii Med J, 1998; 57: 741-4).
Add these supplements to a Mediterranean-style diet and a healthier, more active, lifestyle (see box above), and you've got a recipe for great sex.

Joanna Evans

Viagra dangers

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner once said of Viagra (sildenafil citrate): "I don't think I could be living this life without it", but his hedonistic lifestyle comes with a pricetag, it appears, as he's now reportedly suffering from hearing loss-one of the possible side-effects of using the drug. Of course there's no definitive evidence that Hefner's hearing loss was caused by Viagra, but drug manufacturer Pfizer lists 'deafness' as one of the pill's adverse effects.
More worrying is the risk of death, as there have been reports of people dying after taking Viagra. Other serious side-effects include heart attack, stroke, unstable angina and high blood pressure. According to Pfizer, in most but not all of these cases, patients had preexisting heart-related risk factors. More common side-effects of the drug include headache, dizziness, flushing, visual disorders, indigestion and nasal congestion.

Other ways to refuel your rocket

  • Watch your waistline. New research shows that having a lot of fat around the middle can dampen your sex life. Men with larger waist sizes are much more likely to suffer from erection and ejaculation problems compared with men with smaller waists (BJU Int, 2012; 110: 540-5). Losing just two and a half inches from the belly circumference may lead to a significant improvement, the researchers said.
  • Get moving. There's evidence that aerobic exercise can benefit men with erectile dysfunction (Ethiop J Health Sci, 2011; 21: 195-201), so aim to include more walking in your daily routine, and try running, cycling or swimming a few times a week, too.
  • Think holistically. Erectile dysfunction can be a sign of other health problems affecting the whole body such as heart disease, diabetes and even sleep disorders. Consult a qualified alternative practitioner who may be able to identify and treat any other conditions you may have.
  • Ditch the drugs. A raft of drugs has been linked to erectile dysfunction, so check your medicine cabinet (and the box below). If you're taking any of these types of drugs, read the packet inserts for more information or ask your doctor.
  • Clean up your act. Other drugs that can ruin your sex life are nicotine and alcohol. Quitting smoking and foregoing that post-work pint might just give you a boost.
  • Consider counselling. Stress, anxiety, depression and other mental-health problems can cause or worsen erectile dysfunction, so getting help to deal with them-and working through any relationship issues-could be an important part of the solution.

Ditch these drugs

The following may cause impotence or problems with erections:

  • diuretics
  • antihypertensives like verapamil and propranolol
  • antidepressants, and anti-anxiety and antiepileptic drugs like fluoxetine and phenytoin
  • antihistamines like diphenhydramine
  • NSAIDs like indomethacin and naproxen
  • anti-Parkinson's drugs like levodopa
  • the antiarrhythmic drug disopyramide
  • histamine H2-receptor antagonists like cimetidine
  • muscle relaxants like cyclobenzaprine
  • prostate cancer drugs like flutamide
  • chemotherapy drugs like busulfan and cyclophosphamide.

WDDTY November 2012 vol 23 no 8


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