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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.

Generally, erectile dysfunction (ED) is a neurovascular condition directly involving the endothelium of the corpora cavernosal arterial blood vessels in the penis, and is indirectly linked to cardiovascular diseases. The underlying mechanisms of ED are, however, complex and involve psychogenic, neurogenic, hormonal and vascular factors. ED occurs in aging men, with a prevalence of 52% in men 40 to 70 years of age [1-3]. Conditions that may cause ED include hypertension, diabetes, diseases of the prostate and heart, and obesity. ED may also be caused by the effects of certain medications as well as physical injury or anatomical deformity of the penis [4], or may result from endocrine disorders such as low testosterone, hypogonadism, adrenal insufficiency and hypothyroidism. Changes in blood flow to the male reproductive organs as a result of hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia may result in ED. It is generally accepted that there are vascular and neuropathic components to the pathophysiology of the disease, and ED has been recognized as a potential indicator of underlying cardiovascular disease. Chronic infections and/or inflammation of the prostate and irritation of the bladder may contribute to the pathogenesis of ED.
Pomegranate juice. Drinking antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Does pomegranate juice also protect against ED? No proof exists, but results of a study published in 2007 were promising. The authors of this small-scale pilot study called for additional research, saying that larger-scale studies might prove pomegranate juice's effectiveness against erectile dysfunction. "I tell my patients to drink it," says Espinosa. "It could help ED, and even if it doesn't, it has other health benefits."
Prescription drugs called “oral phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors” are considered the “first-line non-invasive treatment” options for patients with ED. These include the drugs that go by brand names: Sildenafil, Vardenafil or Tadalafil. They work by helping the smooth muscle cells lining the blood vessels that supply the penis with blood to work properly. This allows a man to maintain an erection more easily.
Eleuthero, a distant relative of Panax ginseng, has been used in Chinese medicine for 2,000 years. Eleuthero, also called Siberian ginseng, has been shown to enhance physical performance in several studies. Research shows it has antioxidant, immune-boosting, and cholesterol-lowering properties. A study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology concludes that the active constituents, eleutherosides, alleviate both physical and mental fatigue.

Nitric oxide is made internally from L-arginine, which is an amino acid found in red meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. In other words, L-arginine is the building block for nitric oxide, which is essential for erections. A lack of one can lead to a lack of the other. However, there’s a problem when it comes to treating L-arginine deficiency with supplements.
Ginseng (Figures 4,​,55): this is an adaptogenic herb touted to have boosted the potency of Ottoman sultans. It increases the body’s ability to handle environmental stresses and combat biochemical imbalances. It energizes when one is fatigue and calms when overanxious. It also increases sex related hormones like testosterone and enhances sexual responses in men and women. It thus acts as a tonic, stimulant and aphrodisiac (4,5).
Muira puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides): although used in Asia, this potency wood is actually the best known Amazonian folk medicine which increases libido and penile hardness. It acts as a nerve stimulant to heighten receptiveness to sexual stimuli as well as physical sensation of sex (9). Rich in sterols e.g., sitosterol, campesterol and lupol it activates the body’s receptors for hormones like testosterone to heighten libido and enhance performance (5). Also present are volatile oils like champor which helps restore sex drive and inner depth of libido and mental ability to be aroused.
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Tribulus terrestris (6): this plant has long been used as a folk medicine in Eastern Europe and Bulgaria for sexual deficiency (5). The properties of this powerful ingredient have been associated with an increase in sperm production, sexual endurance, and testosterone levels. Also known as puncture vine, this herb has gained popularity over the past few years. Since testosterone plays a huge role for men, the addition of this herb can prove to be very beneficial. It is not a hormone as some believe. It is said that Tribulus terrestris can also help build muscle and strength, which enhances performance (5,7).


^Effects of Korean ginseng berry extract on sexual function in men with erectile dysfunction: a multicenter, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical study. - Author: Department of Urology and Urological Science Institute, Yonsei University College of Medicine, Seoul, and R&D Center, Amorepacific Corporation, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea (20 Dec 2012)
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Some studies carried in and outside Uganda show that some of these plants listed in the management of sexual impotence and ED may be potent. Some of these medicinal plants are regarded as traditionally aphrodisiacs, implying that they have ability to increase sexual desires. For instance, Cola acuminata fruits are widely used herbal remedies in ED and are harvested from the forests of Democratic Republic of Congo. The Cola acuminata fruits contain about 2% catechine-coffeine (Colanine)7. The roasted seeds in Europe are used as strong stimulant, in addition to the treatment of migraine, neuralgia, diarrhoea and stimulant or cardiotonic, loss of appetite, antidepressant and melancholy (severe form of depression)7. Coffee is drunk for certain migraine, nausea, resuscitation and diuretic7. Coffee is a famous stimulant used world over as a beverage. However, the wild coffee species are more popular in treating ED and are believed to contain more alkaloids (caffeine). Coffee is further reported to be a nervous system stimulant (Pampalona-Roger, 2000). Cannabis sativa (Marijuana) is smoked by mentally sick and impoverished men7. C. sativa is like morphine, it is an opioid analgesics. Allium sativum (garlic) is used in treatment of diabetes, high blood pressure, prevention of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries and is one of the causes of ED)7. Garlic reduces blood sugar levels and blood cholesterol levels which are the direct causes of ED if not checked. The Zingiber officinalis (ginger) volatile oils from the rhizome are used for stimulating the nerves and making then sensitive7. Capsicum frutescens in many African cultures is a known powerful stimulant and carminative24. Capsicum frutescens (chilli) contains enzyme capsaicine that helps in blood clotting (fibrinolytic) and people who consume C. frutescens seldom suffer from heart attack. In addition, the pharmacological tests showed that the capsaicin chemical compound from Capsicum frutescens acted like powerful stimulant of the receptors participating in circulatory and respiratory reflexes24.
Saw palmetto. Saw palmetto comes from the fruit of a small palm tree. It has been used to treat symptoms in men with an enlarged prostate gland, such as difficulty urinating, and it has been recommended to treat ED caused by an enlarged prostate. However, several recent clinical trials did not show that saw palmetto works any better on an enlarged prostate than a placebo does. "There is no evidence that saw palmetto should be used to treat erectile dysfunction," says Dr. Gilbert. Like ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto can interact with some prescription medications.
This calls for serious conservation strategies of plant targets in drug development borrowing from the indigenous knowledge of the local people. For instance, medicinal plants documented in this study like Warburgia ugandensis and Cirtopsis articulata used in erectile dysfunction and sexual impotence and ED need to be conserved based on their demand and medicinal value to the people. In the event of increased biotechnology and the use of modified living organisms in agriculture, health and environment, most people will go for natural products18,26. Furthermore, research in natural products is on the increase in both developed and developing nations to show that there is renewed interest in medicines of natural origin.
The search for a cure for erectile dysfunction (ED) dates back way before the introduction of Viagra in the 1990s. Natural aphrodisiacs, from ground rhinoceros horn topa chocolate, have long been used to increase libido, potency, or sexual pleasure. These natural remedies are also popular because they’re said to have fewer side effects than prescribed medications.
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