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Herbal Impotence Pills Get Some Scientific Scrutiny

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Her trial involved 49 women either nearing or at menopause, all reporting sexual dysfunction. "Across the board, there was a significant increase in sexual satisfaction in the women on the drug compared to the control women," Polan says. Some 76% of the group on the ArginMax formulation reported improved sexual desire, while 72% had greater satisfaction in their sex lives, 64% had an improved sexual relationship with their partners, 60% had better clitoral sensation, and 52% had more frequent orgasms.

The placebo effect definitely came into play, as in the men's study, Polan tells WebMD. In one category, for example, "Thirty percent of women got better on the placebo. But 60% of women get better on the drug. So there's a significant difference."

Polan says she was encouraged by the results. "I take care of a lot of peri- and post-menopausal women, and probably the second biggest complaint is decreased or ineffective sexual functioning." Currently, there is no similar drug for women nearing menopause, although estrogen-replacement therapy is reported to improve sexual functioning in menopausal women. There have been no large-scale trials of Viagra involving women, Polan tells WebMD.

The women's compound contains L-arginine, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, and the herb damiana, which is supposed to promote the relaxed state of mind that is important for sexuality in women, Polan says. Vitamins and minerals also were added.

She intends to follow the women in her study to determine the compound's long-term effects, and hopes to launch a larger trial. But how does a Stanford professor become involved in testing an herbal supplement in the first place?

The theory behind the product made sense to her, she says. "I felt it was a group of people who understood you need to develop some data. It's a small start-up company, so we're not talking about mega trials, but there should be some critically evaluated information. ... And I think we've shown that."

As for supplements in general, "who knows what all this stuff out there does for people?" Polan says. "Of course, if you live in California, many people use nutritional supplements as their sole source of medication. ... I never know what to tell patients, so when I see medications that at least have data behind them, I feel more comfortable."

Buyer beware, says one of the country's top prostate cancer surgeons, William Catalona, MD, a urologist with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He has seen thousands of men facing sexual dysfunction.

And he's heard bad reviews of the herbals: "A lot of [patients] try these medications. And some feel they help a little bit, but most of the word I get would not suggest that they are effective. ... Patients ask, but I usually don't recommend them because [they] haven't been tested and approved by the FDA to show they are safe and effective."

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