From natural food aphrodisiacs to sexual performance enhancing medication, there’s a lot out there promising to boost libido. Today’s spotlight is on Icariin, a flavonoid and active ingredient found in the Epimedium herb, often marketed as ‘Horny Goat Weed’.
What’s the evidence?
While the peculiar name of this herb suggests better suitability to a herd of goats, the majority of research is in fact on rats. Unlike a patented drug like Viagra, herbal supplements often have limited research on humans due to lack of profitability on a widely accessible natural ingredient. This herb however has promising anecdotal success as a natural aphrodisiac and sexual performance enhancer for men. While results seem to be dependent on the individual, it’s certainly worth considering if you are looking for something natural.
How does it work?
Horny goat weed works by improving nitric oxide expression, which is usually released following sexual stimulation, while simultaneously supressing the enzyme PDE-5 which may otherwise interfere with dilation in the arteries. This results in increased blood flow, enhancing erectile function.
The active ingredient Icariin has also been shown to increase testosterone levels when taken at a high dose, which may be an additional reason for the libido inducing effects seen in animal studies. This effect may only be beneficial for those who have low testosterone to begin with, and the dose required may be difficult to achieve from standard supplements.
How to take horny goat weed
While horny goat weed is most commonly used for erectile dysfunction in men, it is also considered to boost libido in both men and women.
It is the leaves of the plant used in supplements, with as many as 15 species, often known as ‘yin yang huo’ in Chinese medicine. Icariin can be taken as horny goat weed tea, a powder, or tablet. It seems to have more effectiveness with repeated doses over 30 days, so should be taken consistently for the full benefits.
Whilst there are no known risks with taking this herb, those with a heart condition or cancer are not recommended take it due to possible reactions. Studies on rats supplementing high dosages for 7 days have shown no signs of clinical toxicity, however no studies have been carried out on humans, so it is advised for these individuals to be cautious.
Horny goat weed with maca
Maca is a root traditionally taken alongside horny goat weed for its aphrodisiac properties. There is significant evidence showing increased libido following consumption of maca, however it does not appear to have an effect on hormones or erectile function.
Maca can be taken as a supplement, or as a powder added to food.
Other supplements and foods to consider
Zinc is key for producing adequate testosterone, so if your hormone levels are on the low side, consider supplementing. Foods such as meat, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds are also rich in zinc.
Also consider foods to help improve your circulation such as garlic, chillies and ginger. These foods contain a compound called allicin, to help dilate blood vessels and thin the blood.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish (such as salmon, tuna and mackerel) also promote healthy blood flow by thinning the blood and increasing elasticity of blood vessels.