Exploring Sexual Health

The nitty gritty on sexual enhancers

A healthy sex life is a part of any loving relationship. So, it can only benefit couples to know which natural aphrodisiacs may optimize sexual experiences.

Natural Sexual Health Support
Several drugs claim to help with sexual ailments ranging from erectile dysfunction to problems related to vaginal dryness caused by menopause. But these drugs have limitations. In men, common side effects of one popular erectile dysfunction drug are facial flushing, upset stomachs, headaches, blurred vision and sensitivity to light (2). Natural supplements are not associated with these problems. So, however, those seeking a healthy alternative to pharmaceutical drugs should first consider natural aphrodisiacs.

Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE) is a best-selling herbal therapeutics in the United States. GBE enables blood flow, affects nitric oxide systems and relaxes smooth muscle tissue; thereby increasing circulation and improving sexual function in women (1, 3, 4).

One study examined the short- and long-term effects of GBE use on subjective and physiological measures of sexual function in females with sexual arousal disorder (SAD). A single 300-mg dose of GBE had a small, but noteworthy effect on physiological markers of sexual arousal, as opposed to a placebo in a study with 99 participants (4).

The long-term effect of GBE on sexual function was assessed in 68 sexually dysfunctional women. For eight weeks, participants were randomly given either a placebo, GBE, sex therapy and GBE or sex therapy. Sex therapy coupled with long-term GBE therapy increased sexual desire far greater than a placebo (4).

GBE also has been used for male impotence because it boosts the ability to achieve and sustain an erection (3). According to a medical professional from Columbia University, “Some studies show that like Viagra, ginkgo enhances the effects of nitric oxide, which helps relax artery walls, allowing more blood flow into the penis.”

Ginseng, too, increases nitric oxide levels, which can help men with erectile dysfunction. The Journal of Urology reported, “The Mean International Index of Erectile Function scores were significantly higher in patients treated with Korean red ginseng than in those who received a placebo” and “60% of the patients answered that Korean red ginseng improved erection” (5). Ginseng also may have an effect on the dopamine system (neurotransmitters), which can be sexually beneficial for both men and women alike, due to the fact that dopamine helps control an erection (6).

Licorice was used in ancient China as a love enhancer (7). Why, you may ask? The smell of licorice is particularly arousing to some. With that, Alan R. Hirsch, M.D., neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, IL, administered a study that gauged the role scents played in sexual arousal (7). Hirsch deduced that men who smelled black licorice had a 13% increase of blood flow to the penis. This same  group concluded that women also get sexually aroused from licorice’s pungent scent.

L-arginine, an amino acid that is present in foods such as nuts, meat and cheese, forms nitric oxide in the body. As discussed previously, nitric oxide boosts blood flow to genitalia, which is important for healthy libido and sexual performance. And, l-arginine combined with additional supplements can elevate a woman’s sexual desire (6). But, because l-arginine has the propensity to affect blood pressure, circulation and blood sugar, those considering using arginine should first check with a doctor before taking it (1). What’s more, researchers from New York University School of Medicine administered l-arginine to men who were impotent. Research suggests that six of the 15 men who received l-arginine showed an improved ability to have erections (6).

The name horny goat weed itself may raise some eyebrows. The leaves of horny goat weed are said to contain various flavonoids, polysaccharides, magnaflorine and sterols. Nevertheless, the flavonoid icariin may be linked to the sexual-boosting effects of horny goat weed. Horny goat weed also may thwart menopausal discomfort, relieve fatigue and increase erectile function as well (8). And, horny goat weed is thought to augment both sexes’ libido (3).

One root that is indigenous to Peru, called maca, can have a substantial effect on erections, orgasms and sexual desire (3).

Shoppers may already take vitamins, which supports healthy sexual function. Take vitamin C, for example, which increases blood flow in both women and men. Furthermore, one trial suggests that vitamin C can raise libido levels in women (1). Last, vitamin E, vitamin B6 and zinc are believed to support hormone production, while B-complex is said to reduce stress. WF

1. University of Maryland Medical Center, “Sexual Dysfunction,” www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/sexual-dysfunction-000150.htm, accessed Sept. 13, 2011.
2. Pfizer,”Potential VIAGRA Side Effects,” www.viagra.com/taking-viagra/viagra-side-effects.aspx, accessed September 26, 2011.
3. C. Laino, “Natural Sex Boosters Gaining Ground,” www.webmd.com/erectile-dysfunction/news/20040505/natural-sex-boosters-gaining-ground, accessed Sept. 13, 2011.
4. C.M. Meston, A.H. Rellini and M.J. Telch, “Short- and Long-Term Effects of Ginkgo biloba Extract on Sexual Dysfunction in Women,” Arch. Sex. Behav. 37 (4), 530-547 (2008).
5. B. Hong, et al., “A Double-Blind Crossover Study Evaluating the Efficacy of Korean Red Ginseng in Patients With Erectile Dysfunction: A Preliminary Report,” J. Urol. 168 (5), 2070–2073 (2002).
6. J. English,”Arginine and Select Phytonutrients Enhance Libido,” accessed September 26, 2011.
7. L. Obringer, “How Aphrodisiacs Work,“ http://science.howstuffworks.com/aphrodisiac4.htm, accessed Sept. 13, 2011.
8. FOX News Network, “Improve Your Sex Life With Horny Goat Weed,” www.foxnews.com/health/2009/11/04/improve-sex-life-horny-goat-weed, accessed Sept. 14, 2011.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, November 2011