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Health & Sex

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Oil May Help Women With Arousal Problems

Small Study Shows Botanical-Based Topical Product Helps


"The magnitude of the change that we saw was every bit as dramatic as what was seen in the studies of Viagra for men," lead researcher David M. Ferguson, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. Ferguson works as an independent consultant helping manufacturers test their products.

Results from the small study offer early evidence that Zestra may be effective in one of the largest groups of women who commonly experience problems with arousal -- those taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants. More than 40 million women take SSRIs and as many as 60% report some sexual side effects.

Seven of the women in the study took SSRIs, and their response to Zestra was similar to that of women not taking the antidepressant.

Pharmacist Martin Crosby developed Zestra and now runs QualiLife Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures it. He tells WebMD the botanical ingredients in the massage oil -- which includes borage seed oil, evening primrose oil, angelica extract, and coleus extract -- were chosen because they have properties similar to a pharmaceutical treatment for severe erectile dysfunction.

The New Jersey pharmaceutical company NexMed Inc. is taking a similar approach in its treatment for female sexual arousal problems. It has developed a topical cream based on the drug known as prostaglandin instead of herbal alternatives. The company has obtained a patent for the cream, but FDA approval is not expected for several years.

Both the oil and the cream are designed to help trigger the blood flow to women's sexual organs that is needed for arousal.

Psychologist Leonore Tiefer, PhD, says it is unlikely that an oil, cream, or even drug will be developed that will be as effective in women as Viagra has been in men, because sexual problems in women tend to be more complex. She is also critical of QualiLife for marketing its over-the-counter product directly to physicians. The company offers the product to medical professionals at a discount.

"It seems highly unethical for doctors to have a shared interest in the success of a particular product," she tells WebMD. "The whole thing strikes me as inappropriate commercialization of sexuality."

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