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

Ginseng appears to help women, too, says Hutcherson. "Ginseng gives people energy and may improve mood, and you need energy and endurance for sex, right?"

Black Cohosh: In the past, black cohosh has been used to treat arthritis and muscle pain and was traditionally used for “female” complaints. Today, it is marketed to treat hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, premenstrual syndrome, and other menopausal symptoms.

"Black cohosh has estrogen-like properties, and increases blood flow to the pelvis -- which increases arousal and response to sexual stimulation," Hutcherson says. "More blood flow means more lubrication, and that's good for sex." The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding studies of black cohosh as a treatment for menopausal symptoms.

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.

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