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Sexual Desire, Supplements…and the Science continued...

Chasteberry (Vitex): Chasteberry is native to the Mediterranean region and western Asia -- and is approved in Germany for premenstrual and menstrual problems. It is said to increase sexual desire by boosting the hormone progesterone and the brain chemical dopamine.

Chasteberry also decreases the brain chemical prolactin that interferes with sexual desire. "It works for some patients," Hutcherson says.

L-Arginine (Arginine): Arginine is an amino acid the body needs for many functions, like boosting immunity. The body also uses arginine to produce nitric oxide -- an effect similar to the way Viagra works. Arginine has been found to improve blood flow to the penis.

One study showed improvements when L-arginine, glutamate, and yohimbine were combined. (Yohimbine is FDA approved as a drug therapy for ED, so how much of the effect was due to arginine is unknown.) Another study showed "significant improvement in sexual function" when low dose (500 mg three times daily) L-arginine and pycnogenol were combined -- but not when L-arginine was used alone. Higher doses, around 5 grams daily, might be necessary for L-arginine to work by itself.

Arginine is generally safe, although there may be drug interactions -- especially with high blood pressure drugs. In addition, men taking Cialis, Levitra, or Viagra – or nitroglycerin (nitrates) for chest pain (angina) -- should be cautious as combining them with L-arginine can cause a potentially serious drop in blood pressure.

"It's something to try. And if it works for those arteries, it could also help the heart arteries, too. Men with heart disease might benefit most from taking arginine," says Saigal.

Ginkgo: Ginkgo has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Ginkgo leaf extract is used today to boost mental power, help Alzheimer’s, and treat tinnitus, asthma, fatigue, and sexual dysfunction. Some studies show that gingko enhances the effects of nitric oxide -- which allows better blood flow to the penis.

"Ginkgo is one of those herbs that are pretty popular," says Saigal. "The thing is there's no great data for sexual function on it." Ginkgo is thought to help with sexual dysfunction related to antidepressant use, he notes. "One study showed that ginkgo made no difference; the other showed some slight difference. There may be a large placebo effect, but there have been anecdotal reports that it helps some people."

Yohimbe: Yohimbe is derived from bark of the yohimbe tree, native to Africa -- and traditionally used as an aphrodisiac. In current times, "this extract has been shown to be moderately effective in treating ED," says Saigal. "It may perhaps increase erections and libido, because it has some effect on the brain.

Some studies indicate that yohimbe may help ED in men taking antidepressants as well as other types of ED, although research in this area is limited. Caution: Some yohimbe bark extracts may not contain significant amounts of yohimbine, so they may not have these effects. "There's a buyer-beware issue," Saigal says. "A lot of supplements use names that sound like yohimbe but are basically worthless. Look at the content label. Make sure it's from the yohimbe tree." Also, look for the name of the active ingredient -- yohimbine or yohimbine hydrochloride.

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