Benefits of Horny Goat Weed

"Natural Viagra" may help other medical conditions

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Horny goat weed is a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine that may have as many users as it does people who snicker at its name. Known as yin yan huo to the Chinese, as dâm dương hoắc to the Vietnamese, and Epimedium to botanists, the flowering plant is believed to stimulate male and female hormones to improve sexual function and arousal.

According to folklore, the plant's aphrodisiac qualities were discovered when a Chinese goatherd noticed increased sexual activity among his flock after they ate the plant.

Horny goat weed contains chemical compounds known as phytoestrogens, which some suggest can influence both hormonal and bone health. It can be found in many drug and health food stores and is available in a capsule, powder, tablet, or tea form.

Uses for Horny Goat Weed

People who attest to the power of horny goat weed's benefits use it as a complementary therapy to treat a number of health conditions, both common and serious. Among them:

Horny goat weed is also thought to improve circulation by thinning the blood. It may also help symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), sharpen the memory, and boost energy.

Studies into the benefits of horny goat weed have been fairly limited. Those published are primarily in vitro studies (conducted in test tubes) or animal studies (which are only suggestive of what might happen in humans).

Among the two conditions most studied in this regard are erectile dysfunction and bone disorders.

Horny Goat Weed and Erectile Dysfunction

Many people refer to horny goat weed as the "natural Viagra." Despite the lack of quality research, there is some evidence that horny goat weed may help men with certain types of sexual dysfunction.

Horny goat weed contains a substance called icariin, which blocks a protein associated with erectile dysfunction known as phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5). Under normal circumstances, the body naturally suppresses PDE5 levels. In many men with erectile dysfunction, this doesn’t happen.

Scientists have found that icariin functions in much the same way as Viagra (sildenafil) by suppressing PDE5 activity. However, the action was seen to be weak even in the test tube. When compared to icariin, Viagra was as much as 80 times more potent.

That’s not to say to horny goat weed won't improve a man’s ability to attain an erection. Beyond an obvious placebo effect, the supplement may help stimulate blood flow enough to trigger a positive response in men with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction.

Horny Goat Weed and Bone Health

Phytoestrogens are plant-based estrogens found in horny goat weed and other plants. Because they have the ability to mimic estrogen, some people believe that phytoestrogens benefit postmenopausal women experiencing bone loss as a result of low estrogen levels.

Scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong tested the hypothesis by treating 85 late-postmenopausal women with either a placebo or a phytoestrogen supplement extracted from horny goat weed.

In addition, the participants were each given 300 milligrams of calcium per day.

After two years of treatment, the researchers reported that horny goat weed extract appeared to help prevent bone loss. Bone turnover markers (the measure of how well bone is being remodeled) were significantly better in the phytoestrogen group compared to the placebo group. Moreover, horny goat weed was not associated with many of the adverse effects seen in women on oral estrogen, including endometrial hyperplasia (irregular thickening of the uterine wall).

Additionally, icariin (the same substance used to treat erectile dysfunction) may help reduce cartilage degradation in people with osteoarthritis.

Animal studies have suggested the suppression of PDE5 can better help retain the collagen matrix found in cartilage. While the substance doesn’t reverse the damage, it may help slow the progression of arthritis and allow people to maintain their mobility.

Side Effects and Safety Concerns

According to the National Institutes of Health, horny goat weed is considered safe when taken in the appropriate doses (about 5 grams per day). When used in high doses, it can be toxic to the kidneys and liver.

Horny goat week should be avoided in certain individuals whose condition may be complicated or worsened by its use. Among them:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • People with bleeding disorders
  • Individuals with low blood pressure or heartbeat irregularities
  • Women with hormone-sensitive conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and cancers of the breast, ovaries, or prostate

Since horny goat weed can slow blood clotting, it should not be used prior to surgery.

Always check the label of any horny goat weed product you purchase. While Epimedium saggitatum and Epimedium grandiflorum are commonly used in Chinese medicine, the varietal Epimedium koreanum may cause muscles spasm or the loss of muscle coordination for some people.

Before using horny goat weed to treat any chronic condition, speak with your doctor to ensure that it doesn’t cause any harm or interact with any of the drugs you may be taking (including blood thinners and blood pressure medications).

Sources:

National Institutes of Health. "Horny Goat Weed." MedlinePlus Supplements. Bethesda, Maryland; updated April 2015.

Shindel, A.; Xin, Z.; Lin, G. et al. "Erectogenic and neurotrophic effects of icariin, a purified extract of horny goat weed (Epimedium spp.) in vitro and in vivo." J Sex Med. 2010; 7(4 Pt 1):1518–28; DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.1688.x.

Zhang, W.; Li, R.; Wang, S. et al. "Effect of Chinese traditional herb Epimedium grandiflorum C. Morren and its extract Icariin on osteoarthritis via suppressing NF-kappaB pathway." Indian J Exp Biol. 2013; 51(4):313–21; DOI: 10.1359/jbmr.070405.

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