Erectile dysfunction (ED) or male impotence is defined as inability of a man to achieve or maintain penile erection sufficient for sexual activity. It is primarily a neuronal and endothelial dysfunction of the corpus cavernosum of penile tissue, and is partly characterized by reduced production of nitric oxide (NO). Other factors that may contribute to the pathogenesis of ED include androgen deficiency in aging men, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, diabetes mellitus, diseases of the prostate and heart, and anatomical deformity of the penis. ED may also be caused by some medications, prostate surgery and spinal cord injury. Psychological and social conditions such as stress, depression and unhappy marital relationship may contribute to the problem. Chronic infections and inflammation can also contribute to the disease process. ED is linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Several orally active drugs (sildenafil, vardenafil, tadalafil, avanafil) are currently prescribed for treating ED to improve the arterial blood flow to the penile tissue. Medicinal plants and their extracts have been used in traditional medicine in southwest Asia and other countries to treat ED. The current review focuses on four medicinal plants that have been used as aphrodisiacs for enhancing sexual performance and for the treatment of ED. These plants include Eurycoma longifolia Jack (tongkat ali); Chlorophytum borivilianum (safed musli); Withania somnifera (ashwagandha); and Pausinystalia johimbe (formerly known as Corynanthe johimbe). Suggested mechanisms of action for each of the plant extracts will be discussed.
W somnifera (ashwagandha), also referred to as winter cherry (family Solanaceae), grows in Africa, the Mediterranean, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Congo and Jordan [36]. The roots of the plant contain steroid alkaloids and steroidal lactone, which are the main constituents of ashwagandha; these compounds are referred to as withanolides. Among the various alkaloids, withnine is the main constituent. The other alkaloids are somniferin, somnine, somniferine, withananine, pseudowithanine, tropine, pseudotropine, cuscohygrine, anferine and anhydrine. Two acyl steryl glucosides (sitoindoside VII and sitoindoside VIII) have been isolated from the root. The withanolides contain a C28 steroidal nucleus with a C9 side chain and six-membered lactone rings. Ashwagandha root also contains flavonoids and many ingredients of the withanolide class. It has several medicinal applications (aphrodisiac, liver tonic, anti-inflammatory agent, astringent), and is used to treat bronchitis, asthma, ulcers, insomnia, senility and dementia. Clinical trials and studies involving animal models support the use of ashwagandha for anxiety, cognitive and neurological disorders, inflammation and Parkinson’s disease. It also provides cryoprotective benefits to patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, and shows beneficial effects for nervous exhaustion. W somnifera is used as an aphrodisiac, sedative and rejuvenative, and is also used to treat chronic fatigue, dehydration, bone weakness, muscle weakness, loose teeth, impotency, premature ejaculation, debility, constipation, senility, rheumatism, nervous exhaustion, memory loss, drug withdrawal symptoms, anxiety and arthritis pain in the knee. Extracts from W somnifera inhibit transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB); thus, it acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. This has been attributed to its ability to interact with IKKB, a kinase that is responsible for the nuclear translocation of NF-κB and activation of inflammatory signalling pathways [37].
The medicinal plants used such as Citropsis articulata, Cannabis sativa, Cleome gynandra and Cola acuminata are frequently utilized. Some of these plants (Citropsis articulata, Cola acuminate) are already under sale for treating these conditions. Their propagation is on-going in western Uganda in places like Rukararwe Partnership Workshop for Rural Development Centre in Bushenyi District36 and researchers personal experience at Rukararwe. Rukararwe is a non-governmental organisation that is processing herbs, running a famous herbal clinic and with a medicinal plants arboretum and medicinal plants agro-forestry.
In diabetes, vasoconstrictors and vasoactive factors are increased in addition to structural changes and attenuation of relaxation responses in the corpus cavernosum. A shifting of the balance of vasoactive factors occurs such that relaxation factors (eg, nitric oxide [NO]) are inhibited and contractile factors are induced in microvascular disease. With epidemiological predictions suggesting that the incidence of diabetes mellitus will increase to 300 million by 2025, management of diabetes-induced ED is increasingly important.

C borivilianum (family Liliaceae) is native to India. Analysis of C borivilianum root revealed a composition of 12% to 17% saponins, 1.9% to 3.5% stigmasterol, 0.79% arabinose, 3.8% galactose, 0.73% glucose and 0.78% rhamnose [31]. For dried root powder, the recommended dose is 5 g and the extract dose is 500 mg. It is used as an aphrodisiac and to cure ED, improve semen quality and volume. It eliminates premature ejaculation, improves general well-being and vitality, and increases stamina and libido. Visavadiya and Narasimhacharya [31] have demonstrated that administration of C borivilianum (0.75 g and 1.5 g root powder per rat per day for four weeks) to hypercholesteremic rats significantly increased highdensity lipoprotein cholesterol levels and decreased plasma and hepatic lipid profiles. Furthermore, the treatments also resulted in increased excretion of fecal cholesterol, sterols and bile and increased superoxide dismutase levels. Kenjale et al [32] evaluated the aphrodisiac and spermatogenic potential of the aqueous extract of dried roots of C borivilianum in rats. C borivilianum was given orally at doses of 125 mg/kg/day and 250 mg/kg/day. Viagra 4 mg/kg/day (sildenafil citrate) was administered as a control. Sexual behaviour was monitored 3 h later using a receptive female. Their sexual behaviour was monitored on days 1, 7, 14, 21 and 28 of treatment by pairing with proestrous female rats. For sperm count, the treatment was continued further in all groups except for the Viagra group for 60 days. At 125 mg/kg, C borivilianum had marked aphrodisiac action, as demonstrated by increased libido, sexual vigour and sexual arousal in the rats. Similarly, at the higher dose (250 mg/kg), all the parameters of sexual behaviour were enhanced, but showed saturation effect after 14 days. On day 60, the sperm count increased significantly in both the C borivilianum-treated groups (125 mg/kg/day and 250 mg/kg/day) in a dose-dependent manner. The administration of C borivilianum extract has been found to be useful for the treatment of premature ejaculation and oligospermia [32]. Supplementation with C borivilianum root 250 mg/kg/day and 500 mg/kg/day to streptozoticin-induced diabetic male rats for 28 consecutive days improved sperm morphology, and reduced oxidative stress and formation of free radicals [33]. In case of streptozotocin- and alloxan-induced hyperglycemia, the aqueus extracts from C borivilianum resulted in improved sexual performance compared with diabetic control [34,35].
Wild oats: a study in 1986 by the Institute for Advanced Study of Sexuality in San Francisco reported effects like heightened sexual awareness, increased sexual thoughts, more orgasms (36% in men and 29% in women) and some male subjects showed increased levels of testosterone attributed to unbinding of testosterone from TBG. Oats supply steroidal saponins which modulate hormonal balance (5).
Do herbs work to rectify ED in the Aging Male? We will take some of these and discuss their properties. These herbals can be found throughout Asia and range from Eurycoma longifolia (Tongkat Ali), Ginseng and Tribulus etc. Those that act as Testosterone releasers have some value especially if the male has andropause and those containing some-pick-me-ups and energizers like Ginseng helps the tired and fatigued male and possibly those with asthenia. Deer horn contains growth factors and taking these do help improve nocturnal erections in the male with somatopause. Popular in historic Singapore was Penis soup and Snake meat (Figure 2), whilst Surabaya was known for Cobra meat and Cobra blood (Figure 3) which had claims of improving erectogenic prowess-the myths and realities concerning these and other Village doctor remedies are what they are—myths!
Much of the evidence shows high rates of vitamin D deficiency in patients with erectile dysfunction. In fact, one study of 3,400 participants found that men with vitamin D deficiency were 32% more likely to have trouble with erections when all other risk factors were controlled for. It’s a little on the nose that you need vitamin D for your “D,” but hey—science can be funny too.
The herbal medicines used in the management of sexual impotence and erectile dysfunction are mainly prepared by pounding, chewing and boiling and are mainly orally administered. The traditional healers treat sexual impotence and ED by prescribing some of these herbs in tea or using local beers, fermented milk and porridge. Some herbs are herbs are roasted or smoked such as coffee before administration. The dispensing of herbal medicines used in sexual impotence and ED using local beers, fermented milk and porridge possibly the alcoholic content improves on the kind of active chemicals extracted than water alone12.
Phytolacca dodecandra leaves and roots are pounded and smeared on ripe banana and then the ripe banana roasted before being eaten for treating erectile dysfunction. However, care has to be taken Phytolacca dodecandra is poisonous. Cola acuminata fruits are mixed with other plants in Benin to treat primary and secondary sterility24. Cola acuminata is also said to be diuretic and laxative when administered orally24. Some Acacia species are regarded as aphrodisiacs in Niger2. Cassia species have high repute as drugs and poisons. For instance, Cassia sieberiana is used urinary problems, impotence and kidney diseases in Mali24. In Burkina Faso, Cassia occidentalis is used as a stimulant24. Flueggea virosa is famous medicine in African cultures. Flueggea virosa used in sterility, aphrodisiacs, stimulant, rheumatism, arthritis, spermatorrhoea, kidney and liver problems among many other diseases treated17,24.
Red Ginseng — One small randomized trial found evidence that red ginseng may offer modest improvements in ED symptoms (as compared with placebo). A meta-anaylsis published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology states, “Traditionally red ginseng has been used to restore and enhance normal well-being, and is often referred to as an adaptogenic….Possible mechanisms of action of red ginseng include hormonal effects similar to those of testosterone. Others have postulated that red ginseng might induce relaxation of the smooth muscles.”  (5)
L-arginine. L-arginine is an important amino acid that the body needs to build proteins. Because L-arginine has been shown to improve blood flow, some alternative practitioners have recommended that the supplements be used to treat ED. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which is a reliable authority on alternative medicines, says L-arginine is possibly effective for treating erectile dysfunction. But Harris warns that "although this supplement could improve blood flow, side effects can be dangerous." L-arginine can cause an allergic reaction or worsen asthma in some people; it can also lower blood pressure.
Just because a product claims to be natural doesn't mean it's safe. Many herbal remedies and dietary supplements can cause side effects and dangerous interactions when taken with certain medications. Talk to your doctor before you try an alternative treatment for erectile dysfunction — especially if you're taking medications or you have a chronic health problem such as heart disease or diabetes.
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