Extracts from medicinal plants have been used for considerable period of time in many parts of the world, particularly in Southwest Asia, to treat ED [16]. The current review focuses on four botanical medicinal plants, the roots of which are used in enhancing sexual performance and in the treatment of ED: Eurycoma longifolia Jack (tongkat ali); Chlorophytum borivilianum (safed musli); Withania somnifera (ashwagandha); and Pausinystalia johimbe (yohimbine, formerly known as Corynanthe johimbe).

In the East, many herbal tonics and preparations are used to assist the aging male improve his sexual drive or ability to perform penetrative sex by increasing sexual stimulation, erectile, ejaculatory, orgasmic and other responses for sexual function and satisfaction. The herbs and tonics act as or as “pick-me-ups” and energizing tonics which help the tired and fatigued male and those with sexual asthenia. The myths and realities concerning Tongkat Ali, sea horse, cobra meat and blood, animal penises and testicles amongst many other herbs and portions for oral intake or local application used by traditional “medical” practitioners and village doctors will be discussed.
Currently, there are four orally active drugs are available to treat ED. These include: sildenafil citrate (Viagra [Pfizer, USA]), vardenafil hydrochloride (Levitra [Bayer, Germany]), tadalafil (Cialis [Eli Lilly, USA]) and avanafil (Stendra, Spedra [Vivus Inc, USA]). These drugs inhibit the enzyme phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5), which is responsible for the hydrolysis of cGMP. PDE-5 inhibitors and cGMP act as effectors of dilation of smooth muscle of cavernosal bodies. PDE-5 inhibitors are contraindicated in patients taking any kind of nitrate therapy for angina, and may not be appropriate for men with certain health conditions, such as severe heart disease, heart failure, history of stroke or heart attack, uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes, and patients with pigmental retinopathy. PDE-5 inhibitors are less effective in men with diabetes and men who have been treated for prostate cancer. PDE-5 inhibitors are also not effective in men with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease involving PDE-5 deficiency. The common side effects of PDE-5 inhibitors include gastrointestinal upset, headache, nasal congestion, back pain and dizziness. The PDE-5 inhibitors may interact with other medications including antihypertension drugs. Nonetheless, the PDE-5 inhibitors are generally safe and effective for most men. The primary mechanism of action of these drugs is through the mediation of NO. NO is one of the key molecules involved in ED. It is a short-lived, highly permeable, pleiotropic, gaseous molecule, secreted from the postganglionic cavernosal parasympathetic nerves, endothelium of the cavernosal blood vessels, platelets in the cavernosal sinuses and phagocytic cells (monocytes, macrophages and neutrophils). NO acts on platelets to inhibit platelets adhesion and aggregation. NO causes relaxation of the smooth muscle of the cavernosal blood vessels of the penis, leading to vasodilation, tumescence and stimulation. Release of NO in the corpus cavernosum of the penis during stimulation activates the enzyme guanylate cyclase, which results in increased levels of cGMP, producing smooth muscle relaxation in the corpus cavernosum and resulting in increased blood flow (5). NO is mainly produced from cavernosal nerves, which are nonadrenergic, noncholinergic nerves within the penis, and acting via its second messenger cGMP. It has been suggested that maintaining normal body weight and mild exercise, as well as dietary supplementation of folic acid, zinc, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin E and L-arginine, a precursor of NO, can support the biochemical pathway leading to NO release [6]. NO is an effector molecule that is involved in a number of intracellular functions such as vasorelaxation, endothelial regeneration, inhibition of leukocyte chemotaxis and platelet adhesion [7]. A small proportion of autonomic nerves do not release either Ach or norepinephrine [8]. For example, the cavernous nerves predominantly release NO in the penis. The exact mechanism is not known, but it is believed to be through increased intracellular calcium. Another gaseous molecule produced in the corpora cavernosa is hydrogen sulphide (H2S), which is also known to be involved in erectile function [9]. H2S activates ATP-sensitive potassium channels in smooth muscle cells. Some reports indicate that NO acts in large vessels and H2S in small vessels. A high level of tumour necrosis factor-alpha has been shown in ED patients [10]. Although current ED therapies using PDE-5 inhibitors are safe and effective, approximately 40% of ED patients do not respond to currently available treatment [11,12]. For these patients, herbal therapy may be useful.

According to Uganda's health policy priorities8,25, men's reproductive health is not given any mention. The national health policy focuses on services like family planning, diseases control like STI/HIV/AIDS, malaria, perinatal and maternal conditions, tuberculosis, diarrhoeal diseases and acute lower respiratory tract infections that are given priority8,25. The sexual and reproductive health rights in Uganda focus on maternal and child mortality, family planning and the like exclusive of men's sexual needs and rights8.
Ashwagandha’s reputation as a sexual enhancement herb is supported by research. One animal study showed that extracts of ashwagandha increased production of sex hormones and sperm, presumably by exerting a testosterone-like effect. In another clinical trial, the herb (taken at a dose of 3 gm per day for 1 year) was given to healthy male adults 50–59 years of age. Among benefits noted: serum cholesterol levels decreased, gray hair was reduced, and a vast majority (over 70%) reported improvement in sexual performance.

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.
Shindel, A. W., Xin, Z.-C., Lin, G., Fandel, T. M., Huang, Y.-C., Banie, L., … Lue, T. F. (2010, February 5). Erectogenic and neurotrophic effects of icariin, a purified extract of horny goat weed (Epimedium spp.) in vitro and in vivo. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(4), 1518-1528. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01699.x/full

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), used widely in Ayurvedic medicine, holds a similar role to that of ginseng in Chinese medicine. Though unrelated to ginseng, it appears to share similar properties and actions. Ayurveda considers this herb to be a rasayana, or particularly powerful rejuvenative. The name ashwagandha means “like a horse,” connoting that it is regarded as a premier sexual tonic.

No matter what erectile dysfunction treatment or treatments (whether herbal remedies or not) a man ultimately decides upon, experts say it's important to eat healthily and to avoid smoking and heavy drinking. Moreover, adequate exercise, stress reduction, and sleep can improve erectile dysfunction in many. In addition, says Lamm, "A loving, receptive, and responsive partner is a home run. After all, this is still a couple's issue."

Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica): amongst its many properties, nettle leaf has lately shown itself possibly effective for prostate health and prevention of prostate conditions, especially prostatitis, which is an inflammation of the prostate gland (16). There is speculation that nettle leaf may help with male pattern baldness. Prostate health is essential for men, no matter how young or old. Prevention starts when men are young, so as to avoid problems associated with aging. Prostate problems can interfere with a healthy sex life. Nettle is also considered to be an overall restorative for the body, as well as a natural diuretic and anti-inflammatory remedy (16). It is rich in iron, zinc, and chlorophyll.
The estimated range of men worldwide suffering from ED is from 15 million to 30 million23. According to the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS), for every 1,000 men in the United States, 7.7 physician office visits were made for ED in 1985. By 1999, that rate had nearly tripled to 22.3. This is in USA, where statistics are clearly compiled, the level of awareness and education is high as compared to sub Saharan countries like Uganda. This is a clear indication that there are many silent men, particularly couples affected by ED.
A list of 33 medicinal plants both cultivated and wild-harvested generated show that herbal remedies are greatly utilized by men for managing sexual impotence and erectile dysfunction in western Uganda. Erectile dysfunction and sexual impotence are old problem and traditionally the indigenous knowledge had ways of treating or managing these conditions associated with male reproductive system. These plants in the tables we are discussing have been in use for centuries in treating or managing conditions in male reproductive organs.
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.
The medical ethnobotanical indigenous knowledge were collected by visiting traditional healers and documenting the medicinal plants used and other socio-cultural aspects allied with sexual impotence and erectile dysfunction. The methods used to collect the relevant information regarding the medicinal plants used included informal and formal discussions, field visits and focused semi-structured interviews.

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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.
Research is mixed on the effectiveness of acupuncture as an erectile dysfunction cure, but one study published in November 2013 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that acupuncture can be beneficial for men experiencing erectile dysfunction as a side effect of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

The Claim: If you squint and have an excellent imagination, mature ginseng roots vaguely resemble a human body. That ties into folk ideas for finding medicines–in this case, the idea that a plant that looks like a person must contain materials that help sick people. Ginseng was traditionally used as a tonic to treat erectile dysfunction and low sexual drive in men (as well as many other complaints).
Yohimbine is the principal alkaloid of the bark of the West African evergreen P johimbe (formerly known as C johimbe), family Rubiaceae. The main active chemical present in P johimbe bark is yohimbine hydrochloride (an indole alkaloid), which has stimulant and aphrodisiac effects. However, the levels of yohimbine that are present in P johimbe bark extract are variable and often very low. Therefore, although P johimbe bark has traditionally been used to treat ED [38], there is insufficient scientific evidence to form a definitive conclusion in this area. It is an antagonist of α2-receptors and has no direct relation to erection. It acts as a sex motivation stimulant. Yohimbine has been used as both an over-the-counter dietary supplement in the form of an herbal extract, and as a prescription medicine in purified form for the treatment of sexual dysfunction. Yohimbine 20 mg or adjusted dose has been found to be effective in the treatment of orgasmic dysfunction. Yohimbine was recently associated as a treatment for type 2 diabetes mellitus in animal and human models carrying polymorphisms of the alpha-2A adrenergic receptor gene [39]. The National Institutes of Health states that yohimbine hydrochloride is the standardized form of yohimbine that is available as a prescription medicine in the United States, and has been shown in human studies to be effective in the treatment of male impotence. Yohimbine hydrochloride USP has been used to treat ED. Controlled studies suggest that it is not always an effective treatment for impotence, and evidence of increased sex drive (libido) is anecdotal only. It cannot be excluded that orally administered yohimbine can have a beneficial effect in some patients with ED. The conflicting results available may be attributed to differences in drug design, patient selection and definition of positive response. Yohimbine has been shown to be effective in the reversal of sexual satiety and exhaustion in male rats, and has also been shown to increase the volume of ejaculated semen in dogs, with the effect lasting at least 5 h after administration. Yohimbine has also been shown to be effective in the treatment of orgasmic dysfunction in men, and has also been used for the treatment of sexual side effects caused by some antidepressants, and female hyposexual disorder. Yohimbine has significant side effects, such as anxiety reactions. Higher doses of oral yohimbine may create numerous side effects, such as rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, overstimulation, insomnia and/or sleeplessness. More serious adverse effects may include seizures and renal failure. Yohimbine should not be consumed by individuals with liver, kidney or heart disease, or psychological disorders. The therapeutic index of yohimbine is low; the range between an effective dose and a dangerous dose is very narrow. Side effects include gastrointestinal upset, increased blood pressure, headache, agitation, rash, tachycardia and frequent urination [40].
Yohimbine. This chemical is found in the bark of an African tree called yohimbe. It has been used as a male aphrodisiac in Africa, and under medical supervision it has been used as a prescription drug to treat ED. Supplements made from yohimbe bark are also available without a prescription, but they can be life-threatening if used at high doses, according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. The supplement can interact in a harmful way with certain drugs, such as blood pressure medications, and should be avoided by anyone with liver, kidney, heart, or diabetes problems or problems with anxiety or depression. Like DHEA, yohimbine should not be taken without a doctor's supervision.
The semi-structured interviews and discussions were held with the specialist resource users and other knowledgeable people on particular ailments by use of interview schedules for each respondent. Interviewed people were mainly the herbalists (both men and women) and TBAs. In this selection to some extent, ethnic groups were recorded where possible because different people use the same plants differently. The time and place of interviews were arranged according to the schedules of the respondent. Depending on where the interviews and discussions were held, recording was done immediately or afterwards or appointments were made for more details in a more convenient place arranged with the respondent. Key informants were identified and later interviewed separately and even followed for further details. Some of the key questions asked included, name of the respondents, the village or parish or sub-county he or she was coming from, diseases treated, plant local names used, parts harvested, methods of preparation and administration. In addition, ingredients and incantations with which the plants are used for preparation and where the herbal medicines were harvested were documented.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is commonly called impotence. It’s a condition in which a man can’t achieve or maintain an erection during sexual performance. Symptoms may also include reduced sexual desire or libido. Your doctor is likely to diagnose you with ED if the condition lasts for more than a few weeks or months. ED affects as many as 30 million men in the United States.
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