Impotence and Erectile Dysfunction
If you are getting along in years, as so many of us baby boomer herbalists are, would you like to have
sex, say, weekly, and not, uh, weakly?
Impotence, also called erectile dysfunction (ED), is the inability of a man to achieve or maintain an erection long enough to engage in sexual intercourse. Although a man’s plumbing is pretty simple, ED is not. Medical science tells us that it can occur from at least 15 possible underlying causes, from diabetes and pituitary tumors, to the side effects of drugs, hormonal imbalances and psychological issues. Injury to the nerves of the penis, from Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, may also cause impotence. In men over 60, the primary cause is atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries. Diabetic men are particularly at risk because of their high rate of atherosclerosis and diabetic neuropathy.
Physicians used to think impotence was mainly psychological in origin, but they are now aware that, at least in elderly men, physical causes probably play a primary role in more than 60% (some authorities say 80 to 90%) or of all cases. Ultimately, most impotence is caused by deadly serious vascular disease. One in four men over the age of 50, or some 20 million American men, experience some form of impotence. It strikes up to half of all men between the ages of 40 and 70. Some of these concerns can be treated with a targeted approach. If impotence is the result of a drug side effect, say, the best move is to adjust the drug. If a pituitary tumor is causing ED by over secreting the hormone prolactin, taking care of the tumor may help. In most cases, though, it’s hard to tell what’s causing the problem, and medical treatment is nonspecific. With proper diagnosis and therapy, ED can almost always be treated successfully or improved substantially. Sadly, fewer than 10% of impotent men pursue treatment. Traditional Ayurvedic practitioners have used powerful, effective natural medicines to benefit ED. Several of these remedies are now being confirmed by modern science. Home remedies that Ayurveda promotes for ED include garlic, onion, asparagus spears, okra, ginger and raisin.
I would have to rank garlic as the number one aphrodisiac herb. I use it consistently, and it produces consistently. It has all the qualities you would want in a sexual enhancer. It increases circulation and promotes erectile force, as well as increasing desire. Related onion has a similar, milder effect. Garlic is so good at increasing libido that celibate people don’t use it.
Garlic is hot, so it can aggravate pitta and the sex organs. It increases semen. For Americans, deodorized garlic might be a better choice. Use a large dose- 10 grams per day. Expect to see sexy results in about a month, and then- watch out.
Ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera) looks like another 5,000-year overnight sensation. This ancient herb is showing promise in yet another round of recent scientific investigations. Ashwaganda is little known here, but that is about to change. The scientific literature includes over 90 studies on this herb, with over 35 of them since 2000.
Often called “Indian ginseng”, this adaptogen is used in Ayurveda as a tonic and sedative. Though unrelated to the true ginsengs, it appears to share their many properties and actions. In fact, studies show ashwaganda to be superior to ginseng as an antistress adaptogen.
This long-term building herb, sometimes named “winter cherry”, is a nightshade plant- a relative of tomatoes and potatoes, and is the main tonic for men in Ayurveda, which considers ashwaganda to be a particularly powerful rejuvenative. The name ashwaganda technically means, “smells like a horse,” reflecting that its odor is supposedly reminiscent of horse urine. But the name also connotes its use as a premier sexual tonic.
And the sexual enhancement is not just in folk herbalism. An animal study from 2001 showed that extracts of ashwagandha increased production of sex hormones and sperm, presumably by exerting a testosterone-like effect.36 In another double blind clinical trial, Withania (3 g/day for 1 year) was tested on the process of aging in 101 healthy male adults (50-59 years of age). Significant improvements in hemoglobin, red blood cells, hair pigment and seated stature were observed. Serum cholesterol decreased, nail calcium was preserved and 71.4% of those who received the herb reported improvement in sexual performance.
In addition to its sexual action, Ayurvedic herbalism uses ashwagandha for general debility and exhaustion, emaciation, memory loss, nerve diseases, cough, anemia, and insomnia. Ayurveda considers it a “grounding” herb- one that nourishes and regulates metabolic processes. A rat study done in 2000 indicates these uses are correct. The researchers concluded, “The investigations support the use of Withania somnifera as a mood stabilizer in clinical conditions of anxiety and depression in Ayurveda.” Ashwaganda is, a superb herb for treating chronic anxiety. It takes about a week to work up to the proper dose, and about another week for the herb to reach maximum effectiveness. Since ashwaganda is a slow-acting herb, you may take your daily dose at any time during the day. Used this way, ashwagandha prevents the onset of the anxiety episode. The dose to abort anxiety is about 10 grams per day.
Modern clinicians are most likely to employ ashwagandha for chronic fatigue, anxiety, insomnia and chronic heart and vascular disorders, where it is often combined with the famous arjuna bark (Terminalia arjuna).
Ashwagandha is one of the most promising herbs for building overall health. Ayurveda says it has a special affinity for muscular tissue, especially the heart. Science is only beginning to confirm the encouraging signs for this valuable Ayurvedic herb. A scientific article published in 2000 by Los Angeles researchers review a host of confirmed benefits: anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antistress, antioxidant, immunomodulatory, hemopoietic and rejuvenating properties. The scientists say that it also appears to exert a positive influence on the endocrine, cardiopulmonary, and central nervous systems.
Study after study continues to confirm the stress tolerance, performance and endurance enhancing benefits of this herb. In fact, research shows ashwaganda to be superior to ginseng as an antistress remedy. A 2001 rat study indicated that the herb reduced brain damage caused by stress by 80%. Tests of the pharmacological and metabolic effects of ashwaganda were performed in 2000.
Ashwagandha was shown to increase swimming time in rats in a physical working capacity test (rat swimming endurance test). The herb also increased the size of the heart and the content of blood sugar fuel in the heart and liver. An animal study done in 2000 demonstrated that an Ayurvedic formula containing ashwaganda was as effective as ginseng in a wide range of adaptogenic benefits. The medicine was tested in rats against chronic unpredictable stress behavior, depression, glucose metabolism, suppressed male sexual behavior, suppressed immune function and cognitive dysfunction. Stomach ulcer, adrenal gland atrophy, vitamin C level and levels of stress hormones were also measured. Surprisingly, the herb benefited them all. Ashwaganda, given in milk, significantly increased body weight, total plasma proteins, hemoglobin and hand grip in a double blind trial on normal children aged 8-12 years old.
Recent research shows that, at least in rats, ashwaganda lives up to its reputation as a cognitive enhancer, suggesting promise for using this herb in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies show ashwaganda to support and regulate the immune system, and to aid in cases of anxiety and other psychological complaints. New scientific discoveries also show that ashwaganda has substantial anti-tumor effects, as well as enhancing the effect of radiation therapy in cancer, while protecting healthy cells. Ashwagandha has antioxidant activity in the brain, which may explain, at least in part, a host of its effects, including the reported antistress, immune regulating, cognition-facilitating, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits.
Ashwaganda increases memory and maze test performance in animals. As the scientific name indicates, ashwaganda aids sleep. Ayurvedic herbalists use the herb to reestablish long-term sleep rhythms. Rather than making you sleepy when you take the herb, this remedy seems to regulate sleep cycles over time, facilitating more refreshing sleep. Ashwagandha is showing a variety of benefits for cardiovascular functions, including significant increase in coagulation time (blood thinning). Since impotence is caused largely by vascular disease, this may be one of the reasons. A typical dose of ashwaganda is about a gram per day, taken over long periods, up to many years, as a rejuvenator, but, since ashwaganda is very safe, larger quantities are often used in Ayurveda for short term. In India, Withania (Ashwagandha) is given with pungent, heating herbs (ginger, pepper, etc.) to increase its tonic effects. For impotence, it is often given in warm milk. In the long run, in some individuals, it increases sadhaka pitta in the head and heart. To counteract this possibility, combine ashwaganda with cooling herbs or foods, such as licorice, ghee, raw sugar, milk and rice.
Next to ashwaganda, bala (Sida cordifolia) (the name means “strength”) is probably the most widely used tonic in Ayurveda. It is a sweet, cold, heavy herb. Bala contains a mild ephedrine-like compound, so it is a little energizing when administered.55 It is well tolerated. Since it a mallow, it is soothing and mucilaginous, so it is tonic to vata. It is particularly used for nerve disorders, and it is combined with other tonics for specific organs, such as with arjuna for the heart. Externally, it sees wide use as a medicated oil for joint complaints, muscle cramps and nerve pain. Internally, use 1 gram or more as tolerated, per day, as powder, decoction or
This well known Ayurvedic herb (Caltrops, Tribulus terrestris) is getting a reputation here. Often called something equivalent to “horny goat weed”, it is, in fact, an Ayurvedic standout for sexual building, and has a particular affinity for the urogenital tract. The name literally means “cow scratcher”, a reference to its fruit (a prickly seed case). Gokshura is highly esteemed as a vajikarana and rasayana medicine. It is sweet and cold, so it is appropriate for pitta conditions. As a tonic, it balances vata. For spermatorrhea and impotence, use equal parts powdered gokshura, sesame seed, kapi kachu (Mucana pruriens) and ashwaganda. Take 6 grams of this mixture with honey, ghee or milk. Gokshura is an exceptional remedy in urogenital conditions. It promotes urine flow and soothes the membranes. Gokshura pacifies vata and will not promote secondary excess dryness, as other diuretics do. Gokshura is renowned for prostate support. The plant and seeds are used in the treatment of spermatorrhea, impotence, dysuria, gonorrhea, incontinence, gout and infertility. This herb is sometimes combined with guggul, triphala and trikatu in a traditional Ayurvedic tridoshic compound formula called gokshuradi guggul, used to support the proper function of the genitourinary tract. Gokshura promotes mental clarity. This herb contains harmine alkaloids, which may explain its sedative properties. It may be taken with ashwaganda as a tonic nervine in vata disorders.
The famous Indian gooseberry, or amla fruit (Emblica officinalis) (the name means “sour”) is one of the most useful medicines in Asia, and is considered to be one of the strongest rejuvenatives. It is an exceptionally rich source of vitamin C. The vitamin C in amla is heat stable, so it survives cooking and drying. No wonder it is such a well know rejuvenator. Amla is a rasayana for the blood, bones, liver, and heart. It enhances production of red blood cells and strengthens the teeth, hair, and nails, as well as improving eyesight and regulating blood sugar. Amla is the frontline anti-inflammatory herb, and is used for a wide variety of inflammatory conditions, including hemorrhoids, gastritis, and colitis. Scientists recently confirmed the potent anti-inflammatory action of amla in an animal study. It is considered to be the prime general herb for the eyes, and is said to treat premature gray hair, for which it is taken internally an d used externally as an infused oil or water rinse. As a long term, slow acting remedy for chronic inflammation, use 1-2 grams per day in capsules. Ayurveda designates triphala, containing amla, as a rasayana remedy, a medicament that improves general health and prolongs life. For this purpose triphala is traditionally prescribed for up to a year in doses of twice daily 1 – 2 gram doses. It may even be taken throughout life on a semi-regular basis to cleanse the tissues, strengthen digestion, and sharpen the senses. Indian gooseberry is the basis for “Chyavanprash,” the most famous Ayurvedic rejuvenating jelly. The formulator designed this medicinal food supplement to enhance sexual functions and fertility. As a mild all around health tonic, chyavanprash can be used by people of all ages for almost any weakness or as a general energy supplement, but is especially appropriate for men. It is also particularly recommended for cough, dyspnea, emaciation, loss of voice, diseases of the chest and heart, thirst and rheumatic disorders. As a supreme long term tonic, it aids intelligence, memory, luster, immunity from disease, longevity, increased sense power, heightened gastric fire and peristalsis. Into a base of fresh amla fruit, over two dozen other herbal ingredients are added for their synergistic effects, including ghee, sugar cane juice, honey, clove, and cinnamon. Modern research says that chyavanprash protects the liver from damage and reduces blood sugar and cholesterol significantly. For sexual rejuvenation, stir chyavanprash into warm milk or spread on toast, and consume 1-2 Tbs. every day.
This unassuming little garden plant plays a central role in the folk medicine of South Asia. This mild medicinal herb and vegetable is cultivated near temples and private homes, where it is believed to purify the air and to sanctify the environs. The name comes from the reverence with which it is regarded in Indian culture. Holy basil (“tulsi” in Sanskrit, Ocimum sanctum) is a member of the basil family (Ocimum), but this particular type of basil hardly resembles the culinary variety we are used to seeing in pesto here. Much more pungent, the plant has a bitter taste, and larger leaves. Though the seeds and root are used in medicine, the leaves are the main therapeutic part of the plant. In Ayurvedic herbalism, tulsi is used as an expectorant61 and anti-mucus herb, for respiratory diseases like cold and flu. It is quite warming to the body, so it acts as a diaphoretic, a characteristic that also lends itself to fever and flu treatment. As a warming digestive aid, is given for indigestion from overeating. Holy basil is a muscle relaxant, and kills intestinal parasites. Tulsi is considered to expand and sharpen awareness, aid meditation, and promote compassion when taken as a medicine. Quite recently, tulsi is getting serious attention in the scientific literature for its exciting potential uses in several important conditions. Most important, tulsi treats diabetes, normalizing both blood sugar and blood fats, including cholesterol and triglycerides, factors that are integral to diabetes, as well as to other cardiovascular diseases. A recent animal study led the researchers to conclude that, “The results indicated a significant reduction in fasting blood sugar, uronic acid, total amino acids, total cholesterol, triglyceride, phospholipids and total lipids. In the liver, total cholesterol, triglycerides and total lipids were significantly lowered. Total lipids were significantly reduced in the kidney. In the heart, a significant fall in total cholesterol and phospholipids was observed.” Tulsi works for diabetes in humans. A significant, placebo controlled, crossover study showed a 17.6% reduction in blood sugar, and led the scientists to conclude that tulsi was of value in mild to moderate
diabetes. Ocimum sanctum seems to prevent cancer and to protect against radiation damage, at least in laboratory animals. A study earlier this year from Madras demonstrated that hamsters were protected from developing cancer of the mouth by taking holy basil. Mice survived radiation exposure when they had been administered the herb. Tulsi helps shortness of breath and bronchiopasm in asthma and kills microbes, including bacteria and fungi. It has now been shown to stimulate the immune system, confirming the historical use. This versatile herb also benefits ulcer. It has been shown to reduce acid production in the stomach and increase protective mucus secretion. Tulsi is anti-inflammatory. In addition, it is now presumed to have adaptogenic benefits. Traditionally, tulsi was thought to protect against damage from stress. Modern research now confirms it. Finally, research reveals that tulsi is an antioxidant- not surprising, considering its high flavonoid content, and its clinical effects. Traditionally, tulsi is given as a tea, in a dose of 3 tsp. of dry herb, brewed into water, per day. Tulsi is a very mild and safe herb, however, and some people have more success with higher doses. Gradually increase the amount of tea until you get the results you are looking for, or until you have any digestive distress, which is very unlikely. You may also drink the fresh juice, taking about one-half ounce three times a day. It has been historically combined with ginger and black pepper for asthma, or combined with honey for bronchitis for cough. The essential is inserted in the ear for ear infection.
Want to add a little zap to your tongue and your health? Zesty ginger may be just the thing. Ginger root, the tuberous root of Zingiber officinale, is one of the most popular spices throughout the world, and a treasure for home first aid, as well as some pretty serious medicine. In fact, this herb is called “the universal medicine” in Ayurveda. Herbs and spices are typically not significant sources of nutrients in the diet, but ginger has relatively high calcium and iron content. Tasty, aromatic ginger is a time-tested remedy for stomach upset. It is used by nearly every culture in the world. Ginger’s effect on motion sickness and nausea has been thoroughly proven, so it’s not surprising that Europeans practitioners use ginger in tea for indigestion. It reduces spasm, absorbs and neutralizes toxins in the gastrointestinal tract and increases the secretion of digestive juices, including bile and saliva. Ginger contains ingredients that soothe the gut and aid digestion by increasing peristalsis that moves food through the intestine.80 A new study from India demonstrated that ginger speeds up the time it takes the stomach to empty, a benefit for feelings of abdominal discomfort and bloating. Compounds in ginger have shown benefit in the prevention of cancer. Widely used for arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, in Asian herbalism, ginger is especially appropriate for cold, non-lubricated joints. There is some preliminary scientific information on ginger for this purpose. Ginger increases peripheral circulation, so is used clinically for cold hands and feet. Being diaphoretic, it treats cold and flu.
Ginger works well for carpal tunnel wrist pain. Slice the fresh roots lengthwise in thin, flat strips. Wrap the wrist with the strips, cover with a bandage and leave overnight. A compress made from cooked, fresh grated ginger also works well. Although there is, as yet, little science behind it, Asian medicine uses ginger for migraine. Ginger is absolute best thing for treating a migraine at the time that it develops, one of the few things that will work at the time. Stir two tablespoons of ginger powder into water and drink it at the onset of visual disturbances—the “aura”—before the pain starts. Usually that will knock it cold. The migraine may try to restart in about four hours, in which case you have to do this again.
Ginger is very safe, so consume it as desired in food, or use up to 3 grams per day in capsules. Use 1 tsp. chopped fresh root, brewed as tea, 3 times a day.
Turmeric is one of, if not the most widely used, herbs for arthritis in India where it is commonly combined with ginger for this condition. This action is probably due primarily to curcumin. The antiinflammatory effects of curcumin are well documented. While typical anti-inflammatory drugs have grave side effects like ulcer formation and immune suppression, curcumin is exceedingly safe. Curcumin has been shown to be at least as effective as cortisone or phenylbutazone in acute inflammation. Like capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne, curcumin also depletes substance P, the neurotransmitter of pain, in the nerve endings. When used orally, curcumin has several direct anti-inflammatory effects, including inhibiting leukotriene formation, inhibiting platelet aggregation, promotion of fibrinolysis, and stabilizing lysosomal membranes. T’he herb is widely used in all joint conditions, and is said to have a general joint rebuilding capability. It is used in rheumatoid arthritis and gout (both internally and as a pack on the joint). It normalizes ligaments, and therefore facilitates stretching exercise, such as Yoga. Applied as a wash, it can be used for inflamed eye conditions (conjunctivitis, opthalmia).
Turmeric is antibacterial, and has the capability of killing many types of bacteria. Ayurveda recommends it for those who are chronically weak, as it is thought to be supportive of intestinal flora. Recently, it was shown that turmeric can destroy salmonella bacteria, a common cause of food poisoning, within 15 minutes. It is also active against staph bacteria.
While known to be generally immune supportive, turmeric has been shown to be a potent inhibitor of HIV. A recent study at Harvard Medical School, comparing curcumin with chemotherapy drugs, demonstrated that it was effective as an inhibitor of HIV replication. Turmeric is used historically in Ayurveda, both internally and externally, for the treatment of boils. It is also antifungal and anthelmintic, acting especially against Entamoeba histolytica. Long used as a respiratory herb, turmeric excels in reducing cough, for which it is often mixed as a household remedy with coriander and cumin. As an astringent and anti-inflammatory herb, turmeric is effective as a gargle for sore throat. Bitter herbs, generally, are known to be cooling. Turmeric can be used for severe sore throat with fever. In Ayurveda it is often administered in combination with ghee for this condition.
To keep the body young, massage daily with a combination of the infused oils of ashwaganda, shatavari and bala. Leave on to absorb for 2 hours before bathing. This program is antiaging (vayasthapan), as it treats excess vata. A simple oil of ashwaganda infused in sesame oil is a basic penis massage oil.
Other Sex Remedies
While not strictly an herb per se, shilajit is widely used in Ayurveda. It is a tarry black or brown substance that exudes from rock cliffs, primarily in the Himalayas. It is thought to be an aged form of a prehistoric herb which is seeping to the earth’s surface, but its origin still remains obscure. The tar is purified, dried, and encapsulated or stirred into an appropriate liquid, such as milk. Many combination products include shilajit. One such is Shilajit Vati, which is a mixture of shilajit paste and triphala powder, processed in the juices of the fresh triphala fruits.
Shilajit is a general detoxifier and rejuvenate, and is particularly useful in diabetes. It is considered to be quite beneficial for the genitourinary tract in general, so is widely employed for impotence. Licorice is used in Ayurveda to improve sexual potency, libido eyesight and physical strength. Licorice is considered, as adaptogens generally do, to enhance the effects of other herbs in a formula, so it is widely used.
Safed (white) musali tuber (Asparagus adscendens) is a potent aphrodisiac plant. According to the Sarngadhar Samhita, it has been used since the 11th century A.D. It contains various stigmasterol derivatives. It is nutritive and demulcent, so suits urinary disorders. It is also been shown significant effect in increasing semen volume and total sperm count. Clinical trails also showed it to enhance working capacity.96 Similar to ashwaganda, it imparts strength. Safed Musali in traditionally used for male lack of libido and impotence. It is also widely used as a general health promoting, anti-aging tonic, with an affinity for the pelvis and rectum. With its sweet taste, hot temperature and heavy quality, it pacifies vata and pitta. For general sexual debility and impotence, it is cooked in milk. It is often used in combination with other similar herbs, in a dose of 1-2 grams per day. For acute current sexual problem, use 10 or more grams per day.
Licorice root is probably the most extensively studied adrenal herb in the world. Rich in both saponins and flavonoids, licorice root is anti-inflammatory. The structure of the saponins resembles adrenal hormones. Many studies have proven its anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy properties. Licorice preserves the effect of the body’s hormone, cortisol, allowing it to maintain longer anti-inflammatory action.
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is one of the most respected alteratives in Ayurveda, and it is quite drying. Its warming nature balances the cold herbs in a formula. It is ideal for kapha conditions with ama and cold, wet, boggy tissues.
Pipali peppercorn (Long pepper, Piper longum) is a powerful, rejuvenating, warming alterative rasayana remedy, which moistens the tissues and offsets the drying action of the other herbs. It is often combined with black pepper to offset the opposite moisture characteristics.
Cloves are mildly aphrodisiac and stimulating. Saffron (kesar), a very powerful and expensive herb, is an acclaimed vajikarana. Not a tonic in itself, it synergizes with other tonic herbs. It is often used in milk preparations. I learned a remedy from my mentor, Yogi Bhajan, that combined saffron with camphor. Proprietary and classical impotence formulas often center on a combination of ashwaganda, shatavari and kapi kachu. Kapi kachu seed (Cowhage, Mucuna pruriens) is considered to be one of the best male reproductive tonics. It contains l-dopa. For impotence, powder 2 seeds and take with warm milk daily at bedtime. It increases libido and erectile function. A traditional aphrodisiac (Vanari Vatika) is made by boiling the seeds in milk. Then the seeds are pounded, fried in ghee and mixed with raw sugar. This mass is soaked in honey and rolled into a bolus.