Sexy Supplements: Botanical Ingredients for Sex Health

April 6, 2016

New research on botanical ingredients for sex health

 

Photo © iStockphoto.com/monkeybusinessimages

 

 

Sex health represents one of the more controversial categories in dietary supplements. There is, unfortunately, no shortage of dietary supplement manufacturers making unvalidated health claims relating to sex drive, sexual dysfunction, and fertility. The good news is that research continues to validate purported sex-health ingredients, allowing manufacturers to have peer-reviewed, clinical data supporting the ingredients in their products.

Although minerals and other complex compounds are part of the sex-health market, a wide variety of botanical ingredients create a chunk of the sex-ingredient market, and clinical research continues to support their use in the bedroom. The following is a handful of recent science updates relating to botanical ingredients for sex supplements.

 

Fenugreek Seed

Although historically used as livestock fodder, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), or at least the seed of the plant, is now one of today’s more promising plant ingredients for sex supplements. Its main, but not exclusive, source of manufacture is in India.

Numerous studies, many of them published quite recently, associate fenugreek supplementation in men with improvements in libido, higher frequency of sexual intercourse, increased testosterone levels, and higher sperm counts. But women may benefit from fenugreek, too. In a 2015 study1 from Australia, women with low sex drive who consumed fenugreek seed capsules over two menstrual cycles saw improvements in a variety of sex-related hormones, including estradiol and testosterone. Low testosterone levels are, surprisingly enough, correlated with decreased libido in men and premenopausal women.

Though the science on fenugreek is considerable, fenugreek suppliers are still trying to close gaps in their research. They want to prove repeatability of results and better understand fenugreek’s mechanism of action on human hormonal pathways. What’s known at this time is that fenugreek’s effects on sex health have to do with the seed’s complex content of saponins, some of which help synthesize sex hormones. Anand Swaroop, president of Cepham Inc. (Piscataway, NJ), says that the fenugreek seed is where the plant’s most active constituents reside. “We have tried the other plant parts, but these contain mainly less active compounds,” he says.

 

 

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Unfortunately, not all fenugreek seed extracts are made equal, and so effects on sex health may vary. Multiple recent fenugreek studies utilized extracts from two notable fenugreek suppliers, Cepham and Gencor (Irvine, CA). Cepham’s Furosap extract is standardized for 20% naturally occurring protodioscins. Gencor’s Testofen and Libifem extracts are standardized for a specific matrix of furostanol saponins. Both companies confirm that their extracts are unique to the market.

At the Experimental Biology conference held in San Diego, CA, this April, Cepham presented new study results showing Furosap may enhance testosterone levels and sperm profiles in men. The 12-week, one-arm, open-label study followed 50 male volunteers aged 35–65 who each received 500 mg/day of Furosap. Study parameters included testosterone levels, sperm profile, sperm morphology, libido, erectile dysfunction, mood, and mental alertness.

According to Cepham, researchers found that 85.4% of study participants showed improvements in sperm count, and 90% of participants showed improvements in free testosterone levels. Additionally, a majority of the subjects in the study experienced improvements in mental alertness and mood, and 14.6% of volunteers experienced an improvement in sperm morphology, says Cepham. Kelly Jordan, Cepham’s vice president of sales, says the company expects the study to be published.

“Overall, the results demonstrate that Furosap, enriched in 20% protodioscin, is safe and effective in attenuating testosterone levels, sperm profile, mental alertness, and overall performance in human subjects,” wrote the researchers, in an abstract provided by Cepham.

A safety parameter evaluation in the study, including extensive blood chemistry data, found no significant changes in cholesterol, hemogram (CBC), serum lipid function, triglycerides, hepatotoxicity, or nephrotoxicity as a result of the Furosap supplementation, according to Cepham.

“With these results, Furosap has set the bar high in a field crowded with other testosterone-boosting ingredients,” says Jordan, adding that the results will next be presented at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists’ 25th Annual Scientific & Clinical Congress in May.

Choosing your fenugreek ingredient may take some deliberation, but there are benefits at the end of it. Beyond purported sexual-health support, fenugreek seed extract is unusually sweet in taste, which should make consumer compliance a simple task. And fenugreek seed can also be positioned as a heart-health ingredient. Several recent studies link fenugreek consumption (in capsules and breads) with hypoglycemic and insulin-sensitizing properties. “The fenugreek extract powders giving the activity related to blood glucose control are typically standardized for branched-chain amino acids and galactomannans,” says RV Venkatesh, managing director, Gencor. “We are working on specific fenugreek extracts targeted at that segment of the market also.”

 

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Maca Root

Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is known as a nutrient-packed food, but this member of the mustard family may also pack a sexy punch. Over the years, multiple studies have linked maca root consumption with increased libido in men and women, among other sexual enhancements.

Just last year, U.S. researchers concluded that 12 weeks of daily maca capsules improved self-reported sexual health over placebo in women suffering from antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction.2 The long-term consumption also appeared to be well tolerated. A few months later, Czech researchers determined that 12 weeks of maca consumption improved sperm concentration and sperm motility in men, without influencing their hormone levels.3 More maca trials are ongoing for men and women.

Results of these and other maca trials should make manufacturers optimistic about formulating sex-health products with maca, but, as with fenugreek, the quality of raw maca supply varies across the industry. As proof, a team of Chinese researchers tested maca samples from 14 different farms in China and Peru, only to find that levels of zinc, copper, and sodium in samples varied greatly.4

“Maca, like any other natural food, can vary in nutrient content, depending not only on where the ingredient is sourced, but on the quality of care the ingredient receives, as well,” says Steve Siegel, vice president of marketing and sales at maca supplier Ecuadorian Rainforest (Belleville, NJ). “It is absolutely vital for ingredient suppliers to have a close-knit relationship with local farms to ensure the quality of ingredients, as some providers may not take the steps necessary to produce maca with an acceptable nutrient profile.” So, make sure to check company history and technical documents when purchasing maca.

 

 

 

Ashwagandha photo © Hari Prasad Nadig/Wikimedia Commons/Cc-By-Sa-2.0

 

Ashwagandha Root

Until recently, sex-health studies involving ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) supplements have targeted the male population, exclusively. Studies bode well for the Ayurvedic herb as a potential aid for improving sperm quality.5,6 And yet, a new study on females suggests that they, too, may benefit sexually from ashwagandha supplements.7

Writing in BioMed Research International, a team of Indian researchers says that women consuming ashwagandha daily for eight weeks experienced better scores on sexual-satisfaction surveys than those consuming a placebo. Self-reported improvements in the ashwagandha group included sexual interest, lubrication, arousal, and ability to achieve orgasm, as well as a significant reduction in sexual distress. Ixoreal BioMed Inc. USA (Los Angeles), which supplied its KSM-66 ashwagandha extract for the study, says the positive changes may be associated with ashwagandha’s ability to increase testosterone, but also with the herb’s calming and body-balancing effects, which have been noted in numerous other studies unrelated to sex.

 

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Tribulus photo © Bernard Dupont/Wikimedia Commons/Cc-By-Sa-2.0

 

Tribulus

Not all sexual-health botanicals are sourced from the roots. In the case of tribulus (Tribulus terrestris), the most active concentration of relevant compounds is found in aerial parts of the plant. And according to Chinese, Greek, and Indian traditional medicine, this portion of tribulus may be used as a sexual stimulant.

Human clinical trials on tribulus may be scarce, but recent results may help validate traditional uses for tribulus. In an April 2015 study8 from Egypt, 30 men with indications of low testosterone production were assigned to three months of daily tribulus consumption, which was associated with improvements in total and free testosterone, as well as better scores on questionnaires concerning erectile health. A 2016 study9 on menopausal women found tribulus supplements were associated with self-reported improvements in sexual arousal, desire, lubrication, and ability to achieve orgasm, compared to placebo.

Human clinical trials on tribulus may be lacking, at least compared to some other ingredients, but there are still plenty of global suppliers for the ingredient, such as HP Ingredients (Bradenton, FL), which markets a tribulus extract standardized for a particular concentration of saponins.

 

Synergizing Ingredients

A single botanical ingredient may be attractive enough for consumers seeking sexual-health supplements, but more complex formulas may provide greater uses, such as multiple or even synergistic benefits. The market for sex-health supplements is extensive, and the small handful of ingredients covered here is just a taste of what’s already on the market. Draco Natural Products (San Jose, CA), for instance, offers a long list of Chinese herbs, many of which pertain to sexual health. “We are able to combine these into potent, efficacious, traditional Chinese medicine formulas that are highly unique and proprietary,” says Draco R&D director Brien Quirk. “They offer several advantages to the mass market’s popular botanicals, such as epimedium or tribulus, if a company wants to launch a new product and be able to have a competitive advantage with existing products.”

 

Also read:

Sex Health Supplements: Managing Expectations

Beyond Testosterone: Men’s Health and Dietary Supplements

New Polyphenol, Saffron Ingredient Targets Erectile Dysfunction

 

 

References:

  1. Rao A et al., “Influence of a specialized Trigonella foenum-graecum seed extract (Libifem), on testosterone, estradiol and sexual function in healthy menstruating women, a randomised placebo controlled study,” Phytotherapy Research, vol. 29, no. 8 (August 2015): 1123-1130
  2. Dording CM et al., “A double-blind placebo-controlled trial of maca root as treatment for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Published online April 14, 2015.
  3. Melnikovova I et al., “Effect of Lepidium meyenii Walp. on semen parameters and serum hormone levels in healthy adult men: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Published online September 1, 2015.
  4. Zhang J et al., “Comparison of mineral element content in a functional food maca (Lepidium meyenii Walp.) from Asia and South America,” Journal of Analytical Methods in Chemistry. Published online July 8, 2015.
  5. Mahdi A et al., “Withania somnifera improves semen quality in stress-related male fertility,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Published online September 29, 2009.
  6. Ambiye V et al., “Clinical evaluation of the spermatogenic activity of the root extract of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in oligospermic males: A pilot study,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Published online November 28, 2013.
  7. Dongre S et al., “Efficacy and safety of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root extract in improving sexual function in women: a pilot study,” BioMed Research International, 2015.
  8. Roaiah MF et al., “Pilot study on the effect of botanical medicine (Tribulus terrestris) on serum testosterone level and erectile function in aging males with partial androgen deficiency (PADAM),” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. Published online April 7, 2015.
  9. Postigo S et al., “Assessment of the effects of Tribulus terrestris on sexual function of menopausal women,” Revista Brasileira de Ginecologia e Obstetrícia : Revista da Federação Brasileira das Sociedades de Ginecologia e Obstetrícia. Published online February 22, 2016.
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