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Nutritional Outlook looks at a few standout natural ingredients for which sexual health research continues to evolve.
Here’s an unfortunate truth: every year, FDA identifies dozens of products illegally formulated with sildenafil, more commonly known by the brand name Viagra.1 When unscrupulous product manufacturers and ingredient suppliers are pushing drug ingredients into the dietary supplement’s intimacy category, how can legal and responsible companies stay competitive?
To start with, these companies “should try to compete with these spiked ingredients by utilizing the most potent and proven ingredients shown to enhance libido through the latest research findings,” says Brien Quirk, director of R&D for Draco Natural Products (San Jose, CA).
It’s also important to ensure consumers manage their own expectations. “In traditional herbal medicine cultures where they have utilized herbs for libido, especially in traditional Chinese medicine, they recommend the use of the herbs over an extended period of time and not to expect instant results overnight,” cautions Quirk. “Consumers might be thinking these should work within minutes or hours, but we know that in traditional Chinese medicine the understanding is that something out of balance needs to be brought back into harmony for the body’s normal function to be restored.”
The means of improving sexual health with natural, plant-based ingredients can be varied. Draco and other ingredient suppliers hold portfolios of ingredients backed by ancient historical use as well as cutting-edge research. It’s just a matter of finding those that fit a product’s platform. The following are a few standout natural ingredients for which sexual health research continues to evolve.
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Indigenous Peruvians have eaten maca (Lepidium meyenii) for more than 2000 years, but outside of Peru this root is used more as a dietary supplement. In recent years, scientists have linked maca consumption in animals and humans to potential benefits such as aphrodisiac properties, better sperm health, and improvements in physical strength. It makes sense, then, that a market for maca dietary supplements exists, especially in the male health category.
Adding to the growing body of research, a team of researchers in Florida recently completed a maca trial on men and women. They found that men who consumed maca for one month demonstrated improvements in hand strength, self-reported fatigue, and self-reported sexual function compared to those who only took a placebo.2 The effect was not evident in women, which the researchers speculate may be related to maca’s possible influence on hormones, and three subjects (two men and one woman) withdrew from the study after reporting increases in acne. The researchers say the improvements reported in fatigue and sexual function are consistent with previous research.
The active maca ingredient used in this study was Lepidamax, a proprietary maca ingredient from Nutrition 21 LLC (Purchase NY).
2. Jiannine LM et al. “The effects of Lepidium meyenii on grip strength, fatigue, and sexual behavior.” Journal of Exercise and Nutrition, vol. 2, no. 1 (2019): 6
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Fenugreek seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is often promoted for male and female sexual health. Though newly published research on the ingredient for either use is sparse, outside of a study finding positive effects with fenugreek in a combination product for women3, there is news to report in terms of how fenugreek is being marketed to consumers.
Paul Clayton, PHD, chief scientific advisor for the fenugreek supplier Gencor (Irvine, CA), says that his company is witnessing a trend away from unsubtle “performance” claims and towards more rounded concepts based around wellbeing. In men, fenugreek has repeatedly been shown to increase testosterone. “Testosterone exerts multiple benefits in men, and, while sexual performance is important to many, the related improvements in self-image, mood, alertness, drive, fertility (via improved sperm morphology), and general health make up a very attractive package,” Clayton says.
For all consumers of fenugreek seed, a new safety review brings added confidence to the ingredient’s safety. Researchers in Pune, India, looked at more than 400 studies published on fenugreek seed and filtered them for those that measured ingredient toxicity factors.4 Twenty studies met their criteria, and the results suggest “a broad margin of safety for long-term duration (of use).” The review, it’s important to mention, was limited to research on fenugreek seed and no other parts of the plant, such as whole plant or leaves.
3. Palacios S et al. “Effect of a multi ingredient-based food supplement on sexual function in women with low sexual desire.” BMC Women’s Health. Published online April 30, 2019.
4. Kandhare AD et al. “A systematic literature review of fenugreek seed toxicity by using ToxRTool: Evidence from preclinical and clinical studies.” Heliyon. Published online April 24, 2019
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For centuries, men in Southeast Asia have consumed the root tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) for purported aphrodisiac properties. Some research on animals supports this theory. Lately, however, tongkat ali research appears focused on other, somewhat related health factors: hormones and muscular strength.
A new clinical trial suggests that tongkat ali consumption for two months improved power output during exercise while also increasing testosterone in men.5 Though tongkat ali use was associated with increasing testosterone, resulting ratios of testosterone-to-epitestosterone remained under the 4:1 threshold held by the World Anti-Doping Agency, meaning that tongkat ali is a safe ingredient for athletes. In an interview with HP Ingredients (Bradenton, FL), supplier of LJ100 concentrated tongkat ali extract, the company affirmed the ingredient’s overall safety.
“[Tongkat ali] is classified under the World Health Organization, Global Harmony System, Classification of Chemicals, in Category 5-no toxicity,” said HP Ingredients CEO Annie Eng. “This safety factor is so large that Eurycoma longifolia water extract is very safe for human consumption, under normal conditions of use, whether as an herbal tonic or clinical remedy.”
There’s still much to learn about tongkat ali. Last year, Malaysian and Indian researchers were studying eurycomanone, an active compound for which tongkat ali extracts are often standardized for. They found that, when consumed orally, the compound may permeate animal tissues only in small amounts, yet such small amounts may still be enough to exert desired effects of the compound.6 And more recently, researchers in China identified four new phenolic compounds in tongkat ali.7
5. Chen CK et al. “Effects of Eurycoma longifolia Jack supplementation combined with resistance training on isokinetic muscular strength and power, anerobic power, and urinary testosterone:epitestosterone ratios in young males.” International Journal of Preventive Medicine. Published online July 5, 2019.
6. Ahmad N et al. “Bioavailability of eurycomanone in its pure form and in a standardized Eurycoma longifolia water extract.” Pharmaceutics. Published online July 11, 2018.
7. Ruan J et al. “Bioactive constituents from the roots of Eurycoma longifolia.” Molecules. Published online August 30, 2019.
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Consumers may not be very familiar with damiana (Turnera diffusa), but a market for the woody shrub does exist in male and female sex health. Damiana is backed by a long history of use in Mexico, dating back to ancient civilizations, where its leaves have been used for sexual performance.
Published research on damiana is limited, but at least one company has plans to invest in new research. Pharmactive Biotech Products (Madrid, Spain) supplies Liboost damiana leaf extract for global markets. Its previous consumer study found men and women satisfied with the ingredient, and this is helping to spur investment in more research. The company’s damiana leaf extract is standardized for flavonoids and acacetin, a particular compound of interest, and it has a recommended daily dosage lower than that of other damiana extracts on the market today.
At least in men, damiana may be a sexual aid in its potential to support vasodilation capacity.
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Though purified shilajit, a rock exudate from the Himalayas, is now being touted for potential cosmetic uses, research continues on the ingredient for male physical and sexual health. This past spring, U.S. researchers assigned more than 60 men to consume shilajit or placebo for eight weeks. A high dose of shilajit was associated with improvements in muscular strength.8 That shilajit ingredient was Primavie, a patented shilajit product supplied by Natreon Inc. (New Brunswick, NJ).
Adding to the already available science on shilajit and testosterone, researchers in India found that when cadmium-induced male mice were made infertile, increasing doses of shilajit in their diets restored sperm health markers and increased litter sizes in their female partners.9 Even if the finding comes from an animal study, it adds to a growing body of research on shilajit for testosterone support and male animal health and general.
8. Keller JL et al. “The effects of shilajit supplementation on fatigue-induced decreases in muscular strength and serum hydroxyproline levels.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Published online February 6, 2019.
9. Mishra RK et al. “Pro-fertility effects of shilajit on cadmium-induced infertility in male mice.” Andrologia. Published online June 27, 2018.
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On its own, saffron (Crocus sativus) has potential as a sex health ingredient. A recent Iranian meta-analysis of saffron and erectile dysfunction studies was unable to make a broad determination due to methodological flaws of the studies included10, but data from the studies compiled still compelled a review team to conclude, “Overall, saffron seems to exert valuable impacts on erectile dysfunction.” In recent years, saffron studies have also yielded positive outcomes in cases relating to eye health and psychological health.
Despite market potential for saffron-only supplements, Nexira’s (Rouen, France) approach is to combine saffron with fruit polyphenols for a potentially synergistic benefit. The company’s formula, called EnoStim, can be made into tablets, capsules, and liquid shots. It was recently the subject of a recent trial on nearly 100 men in which EnoStim use was linked to significantly better erections and sexual satisfaction.11
Nexira says that in Europe, saffron benefits from the following health claim: “Improves erections and relaxes muscles.”
10. Maleki-saghooni N et al. “A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials on saffron (Crocus sativus) effectiveness and safety on erectile dysfunction and semen parameters,” Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, vol. 8, no. 3 (May-June 2018): 198–209
11. Allaert F et al. “Evaluation of the effectiveness of the consumption of grape and apple polyphenols associated with saffron on erectile dysfunction.” PhlÃ©bologie, vol. 73, no. 3 (August 2018): 63–71
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Sidebar: Ayurvedic Blend
With a multi-ingredient approach to sex health supplementation, Dolcas Biotech LLC (Landing, NJ) and Tenshi Kaizen Private Ltd. (Bengaluru, India) recently announced a partnership to sell Fortiquin, a unique formula made of L-arginine and four Ayurvedic botanicals (mucuna, cynara, trigonella, and ashwagandha) intended to have a positive effect on male sexual stamina. The two companies say their approach, based on low doses of synergistic ingredients, is “informed by the ancient healing system of Ayurveda” in its approach to similar dysfunctions. Results of a new study on sexual function in men are forthcoming, they say. Fortiquin was introduced to the U.S. market this fall at the SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas.
Photo of ashwagandha © AdobeStock.com/Eskymaks