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Scientifically proven herbal aphrodisiacs

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Researchers have identified and explored scientifically proven local herbal aphrodisiacs for treating sexual dysfunction. Top on the list are: nutmeg; ginger or tonic root; saffron; date palm; tropical almond; goat head and velvet bean (werepe in Yoruba and agbala in Ibo). CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes.

SEXUAL dysfunction is an inability to achieve a normal sexual intercourse, including premature ejaculation, retrograded, retarded or inhibited ejaculation, erectile dysfunction (ED), arousal difficulties (reduced libido), compulsive sexual behavior, orgasmic disorder, and failure of detumescence (uncountable). 

     The introduction of the first pharmacologically approved remedy for impotence, Viagra (sildenafil) in 1990s caused a wave of public attention, propelled in part by heavy advertising. The search for such substances dates back millennia. 

     An aphrodisiac is an agent (food or drug) that arouses sexual desire.    

      Until now, the search for natural supplement from medicinal plants is being intensified probably because of its fewer side effects, its ready availability, and less cost. 

      Several studies suggest that available drugs and treatments have limited efficacy, unpleasant side effects, and contraindications in certain disease conditions. However, a variety of botanicals are known to have a potential effect on the sexual functions, supporting older claims and offering newer hopes. 

     Indeed, researchers have evaluated various factors that control sexual function and identified a variety of botanicals that may be potentially useful in treating sexual dysfunction. 

     A review on herbal aphrodisiacs by Indian researchers from the Department of Pharmaceutics and Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, Jamia Hamdard, Hamdard Nagar, New Delhi, India, has identified plants, which exhibited significant pharmacological activity. 

     The study published in Pharmacognosy Reviews is titled “Exploring scientifically proven herbal aphrodisiacs.”

      The researchers concluded: “Demands of natural aphrodisiacs require increasing studies to understand their effects on humans and safety profile. Due to unavailability of the safety data, unclear mechanisms, and lack of knowledge to support the extensive use of these substances, uses of these products may be risky to the human being. With more clinical data, exact mechanisms of action, safety profile, and drug interaction with other uses of these aphrodisiacs plant materials, treating sexual disorder can become fruitful.”

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)

      The dried kernel of broadly ovoid seeds of Myristica fragrans (Nutmeg) of the family Myristicaceae has been mentioned in Unani medicine to be of value in the management of male sexual disorders. In a study by Tajuddin et al., it was found that administration of 50 per cent ethanolic extract of a single dose of Nutmeg and Clove, and Penegra resulted in the increase in the mating performance of the mice. It was found that out of six control animals only two males mated (inseminated) two females and the remaining four males mated one female each during the overnight experimental period. Whereas, Nutmeg treated male animals mated three females each except two, which mated five females each. In the Clove treated male animals three mated two females each, two mated four females each and remaining one mated three females each. In the Penegra treated animals four mated five females each and two mated three females each. 

Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera, dabino in Hausa)

     Phoenix dactylifera (date palm) of the family Palmae is a native to North Africa has been extensively cultivated in Arabia and Persian Gulf. The date palm pollen (DPP) is used in the traditional medicine for male infertility. In an experimental study by Bahmanpour et al. investigated the effect of P. dactylifera, pollen, on sperm parameters and reproductive system of adult male rats. They observed that the consumption of DPP suspensions improved the sperm count, motility, morphology, and DNA quality with a concomitant increase in the weights of testis and epididymis. 

       The date palm contains estradiol and flavonoid components that have positive effects on the sperm quality. The comparative evaluation between control and experimental groups revealed that consumption of DPP suspensions improved the sperm count, motility, morphology, and DNA quality with a concomitant increase in the weights of testis and epididymis. It did not significantly affect the weight of the prostate and the seminal vesicle or the histology of the reproductive tissues. From the study, it was concluded that DPP seems to cure male infertility by improving the quality of sperm parameters. 

Tropical almond (Terminalia catappa)

     Terminalia catappa is a large tropical tree belongs to the family, Combretaceae a significant aphrodisiac potential. Ratnasooriya et al. observed that T. catappa seeds at dose of 1500 mg/kg or 3000 mg/kg, per oral for seven days in rats had a marked improvement of aphrodisiac action, sexual vigor. In contrast, the higher dose (3 000 mg/kg, p.o.) reversibly inhibited all the parameters of sexual behavior other than mounting. 

      Recent studies have shown that diabetes and its attendant complications (erectile dysfunction/premature ejaculation, leg ulcer/gangrene, liver/ kidney failure), lung cancer and sickle cell anaemia can be addressed with extracts of Indian almond.

    Nigerian and Indian researchers have regenerated the pancreas with Indian almond extracts thereby boosted blood sugar regulation, improved sexual and liver/kidney functions in diabetics.

      According to a study published in Asian Journal of Andrology, male rats were orally treated with 1500 mg/kg or 3000 mg/kg SS or vehicle, and their sexual behaviour was monitored three hours later using a receptive female. Another group of rats was orally treated with either 3000 mg/kg SS or vehicle for seven consecutive days. Their sexual behaviour and fertility were evaluated on days one, four and seven of treatment and day seven post-treatment by pairing overnight with a pro-oestrous female. The estrous cycle comprises the recurring physiologic changes that are induced by reproductive hormones in most mammalian placental females.

     The results showed the 1500 mg/kg dose, had a marked aphrodisiac action (prolongation of ejaculation latency) but no effect on libido-sexual desire- (per cent mounting, per cent intromission and per cent ejaculation), sexual vigour (mounting-and-intromission frequency), or sexual performance (intercopulatory interval). 

      In contrast, the higher dose (3000 mg/kg) reversibly inhibited all the parameters of sexual behaviour other than mounting-and-intromission frequency and copulatory efficiency. The effects of high dose SS were not due to general toxicity, liver toxicity, haemotoxicity, stress, muscle deficiency, muscle incoordination, analgesia, hypoglycaemia (reduced blood sugar) or reduction in blood testosterone level. They were due to marked sedation.

     The researchers concluded that the kernel of T. catappa seeds has aphrodisiac activity and may be useful in the treatment of certain forms of sexual inadequacies, such as premature ejaculation. “The present findings show that seeds of T. catappa possess potent aphrodisiac activity and provides scientific evidence in favour of the claims made in Ayurvedic medicine in Sri Lanka regarding this action. The results also suggest that moderate consumption of kernel of seed of T. catappa could be useful in the treatment of men with sexual dysfunctions resulting primarily from premature ejaculation.”

Ginger or tonic root (Mondia whitei, isirigun in Yoruba) Mondia whitei, otherwise called white’s ginger or tonic root. It is an aromatic plant of Periploceae family, and commonly known as Isirigun among the Yoruba ethnic group of Nigeria.

      Mondia whitei is from the Periplocaceae family has been used by many traditional medicine practitioners for the management of ED. It is used to increase libido and also for the management of low sperm count.     Lampiao et al. investigated motility parameters on aqueous administration to human spermatozoa in vitro. Results showed significantly enhanced total motility as well as progressive motility in a time-dependent manner. These support the use of M. whitei especially in men affected with asthenozoospermia. 

     According to Suresh-Kumar et al. the aqueous and hexane extract of M. whitei showed sexual enhancement in sexually inexperienced male rats. This is due to the reduction of the hesitation time of the sexually inexperienced males towards receptive females as indicated by the significant decrease in the Mounting Latency (ML). This suggest that the aqueous and hexane extract of M. whitei may act by inducing changes in levels of neurotransmitters, modulating the action of these neurotransmitters on their target cells or by increasing androgen levels. It confirms the demonstration of adrenergic effect of aqueous and hexane extracts of M. whitei on chronic administration in vivo in rats. 

Goat head (Tribulus terrestris)

Tribulus terrestris is a flowering plant in the family Zygophyllaceae. It is commonly called devil’s thorn, puncture vine, caltrop, yellow vine and goat head. It is a common herb in Nigeria.

     To the French, it is croix de Malte and abrolhos in Portuguese. In Nigeria, it is dareisa in Arabic-Shuwa, tsaiji in Fula-Fulfulde, hana taakama in Hausa (prevents swagger, in allusion to its thorns piercing the feet-a common expression) or tsaida (to stop because if a thorn pierces the foot one must stop to extract it), kaije in Kanuri, tedo by the Koma people of Adamawa State and da ogun daguro in Yoruba.

    Administration of Tribulus terrestris (TT) to humans and animals improves libido and spermatogenesis. Neychev et al. investigated the influence of T. terrestris extract on androgen metabolism in young males. The findings of study predict that T. terrestris steroid saponins possess neither direct nor indirect androgen-increasing properties. 

       It is also found to increase the levels of testosterone, leutinizing hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone, dihydrotestosterone, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate. The corpus cavernosal tissues obtained from New Zealand White rabbits following treatment with TT were tested in vitro with various pharmacological agents and electrical field stimulation and was found to have a proerectile effect. A study by Gauthaman et al. showed the androgen releasing property of the TT extract and its relation to sexual behavior and intracavernous pressure using castrated rats.

Fadogia agrestis (bakin gagai in Hausa)

     Fadogia agrestis belongs to the plant family, Rubiaceae. It is called bakin gagai in Hausa, from gagai meaning aphrodisiac. It possesses significant aphrodisiac potential. Yakubu et al. evaluated the aphrodisiac potential of the aqueous extract of F. agrestis in Male rats. Their sexual behavior parameters and serum testosterone concentration were evaluated. 

      The results showed a significant increase in Mount Frequency (MF), Intromission frequency (IF) and significantly prolonged the ejaculatory latency and reduced mount and Intromission Latency (IL). There was also a significant increase in serum testosterone concentrations in all the groups in a manner suggestive of dose-dependence. The aqueous extract of F. agrestis stem increased the blood testosterone concentrations and this may be the mechanism responsible for its aphrodisiac effects and various masculine be haviors. It may be used to modify impaired sexual functions in animals, especially those arising from hypotestosteronemia.

     Yakubu et al. studied the effects of administration of aqueous extract of F. agrestis stem on some testicular function indices of male rats. Compared with the control, extract administration for 28 days at all the doses resulted in a significant increase in the percentage testes-body weight ratio, testicular cholesterol, sialic acid, glycogen, acid phosphatase and g-glutamyl transferase activities while there was a significant decrease in the activities of testicular alkaline phosphatase, acid phosphatase, glutamate dehydrogenase and concentrations of protein. 

Velvet bean or Cowhage (Mucuna pruriens, werepe in Yoruba and agbala in Ibo)

    Another study published last year in BioMed Research International identified Mucuna pruriens as one of the plants used for improvement of sexual performance and virility.

       Mucuna pruriens belongs to the plant family Leguminosae. The velvet bean plant is notorious for the spiky hairs on the mature bean pods that are very irritating to the skin. 

     It is a popular Indian medicinal plant, which has long been used in traditional Ayurvedic Indian medicine. 

     Researchers have shown that Mucuna pruriens enhances fertility by producing a dose dependent increase in follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone which in turn increased the number of eggs released at ovulation possibly through its rich source of L-Dopa and its metabolite, dopamine.

     The total alkaloids from the seeds of M. pruriens were found to increase spermatogenesis and weight of the testes, seminal vesicles, and prostate in the albino rat. 

    M. pruriens stimulated sexual function in normal male rats which was observed by increase in mounting frequency, intromission frequency, and ejaculation latency. 

    M. pruriens seed powder improved significantly various sexual parameters copulatory behavior including mount frequency, mount latency, intromission frequency, and intromission latency of the male albino rats. The ethanolic extracts of M. pruriens seed produced a significant and sustained increase in the sexual activity of normal male rats at a particular dose (200mg/kg). There is significantly increased mounting frequency, intromission frequency, and ejaculation latency and decreased mounting latency, intromission latency, postejaculatory interval, and interintromission interval. 

      M. pruriens efficiently recovered the spermatogenic loss induced due to ethinyl estradiol administration to rats. The recovery is mediated by reduction in Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) level, restoration of MMP, regulation of apoptosis, and eventual increase in the number of germ cells and regulation of apoptosis. The major constituent L-DOPA of M. pruriens largely accounts for prospermatogenic properties.      

      Administered of seed extract of M. pruriens to diabetic rats showed significant improvement in sexual behavior, libido and potency, sperm parameters, DSP, and hormonal levels as compared to diabetic rat without extract treatment.

     In clinical studies, the treatment with M. pruriens seeds increased sperm concentration and motility in all the infertile study groups in man. After the treatment of extract the seminal plasma of all the infertile groups, the levels of lipids, antioxidant vitamins, and corrected fructose were recovered after a decrease in lipid peroxides after treatment Their was recovered sperm concentration significantly in oligo-zoospermic patients, but sperm motility was not restored to normal levels in astheno-zoospermic men. 

     M. pruriens significantly improved T, luteinizing hormone (LH), dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline levels and reduced levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and prolactin (PRL) in infertile men. It also significantly recovered sperm count and motility. M. pruriens treatment to infertile men regulates steroidogenesis and improves semen quality. Treatment with M. pruriens significantly inhibited lipid peroxidation, elevated spermatogenesis, and improved sperm motility of infertile male and also improved the levels of total lipids, triglycerides, cholesterol, phospholipids, and vitamin A, C, and E and corrected fructose in seminal plasma of infertile men. 

     M. pruriens significantly ameliorated psychological stress and seminal plasma lipid peroxide levels along with improved sperm count and motility. Treatment also restored the levels of Comparison of Seminal Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), catalase, glutathione (GSH), and ascorbic acid in seminal plasma of infertile men. It reactivates the antioxidant defense system of infertile men and also helps in the management of stress and improves semen quality.

Maca (Lepidium meyenii)

    Maca is botanically called Lepidium meyenii belongs to the family Cruciferae. It is also commonly called Peruvian ginseng, maka, mace, maca-maca, maino, ayak chichira, ayuk willku, pepper weed. Maca is a Peruvian hypocotyl that grows exclusively between 4000 m and 4500 m in the central Andes. Maca is traditionally employed in the Andean region for its supposed aphrodisiac and/or fertility enhancing properties. 

     Bo Lin et al. determined the effect of oral administration of a purified lipidic extract from L. meyenii on the number of complete intromissions and mating in normal mice, and on the latent period of erection (LPE) in rats with ED. Oral administration enhanced the sexual function of the mice and rats, as evidenced by an increase in the number of complete intromissions and the number of sperm-positive females in normal mice, and a decrease in the LPE in male rats with ED. The study revealed for the first time an aphrodisiac activity of L. meyenii. 

    Gonzales et al. conducted a 12-week double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, parallel trial in which active treatment with different doses of Maca Gelatinizada was compared with a placebo. The study aimed to test the hypothesis that Maca has no effect on serum reproductive hormone levels in apparently healthy men when administered in doses used for aphrodisiac and/or fertility-enhancing properties.



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