Talk about a win-win situation! It seems that many aphrodisiacs–herbs that boost sexual energy and function–can also bring down blood sugar, cholesterol, and/or blood pressure. At least four herbs have shown these double benefits in scientific studies.
People have been trying to boost their sex lives with herbs for thousands of years. On every continent, healers have found herbs that seem to improve sexual desire and ability. Most aphrodisiacs (named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love) have only mild effects, and some of the stronger ones have unwanted side effects. But here are four herbs that have shown positive results for both sex and diabetes in both men and women, and a few others that may be helpful.
According to herb expert Ellen Kamhi PhD, “the Natural Nurse,” damiana (Turnera diffusa) has a long history of use as an herbal medicine in Mexico. In Jamaican folk medicine, it is called “Ram Goat Dash Along” because when male goats eat it, their libido appears to increase dramatically.
According to the tropical plant database raintree.com, damiana is a small shrub that grows throughout Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. In addition to sexual healing, it is used as an anti-depressant, tonic, and diuretic, among other things. It has lowered blood sugars in several studies. In fact, both Sloan Kettering Institute and WebMD advise caution because damiana may take blood sugars too low.
Most of the studies have been in rodents, but all have been positive. In an Italian study, sluggish male rats became more sexually active when given damiana. Mexican studies have found that damiana lowered blood sugars in diabetic mice and hyperglycemic rats.
The usual dose of a liquid tincture/extract is 10 to 20 drops three times per day, or 300 to 500 mg capsules two to three times per day. Few cautions have been noted for this herb, mainly an occasional laxative effect, insomnia, and mild headaches.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian or Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) are both used as sexual stimulants and general body tonics. Both types have shown glucose-lowering effects.
Ginseng’s sexual benefits have been seen primarily in men. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “In animal studies, Asian ginseng has increased sperm production, sexual activity, and sexual performance. A study in 60 men found that Asian ginseng increased libido (sex drive) and decreased erection problems.”
Ginseng is a root, long used in Asian medicine for a wide variety of problems. As a stimulant, it can cause insomnia and irritability in some people. It may have a blood-thinning effect. There have been reports of vaginal spotting in women taking ginseng.
The usual dose of ginseng is 500 to 2000 mg per day of dried, powdered root, available in capsules. University of Maryland doctors advise taking a one-month break after three months of ginseng use.
Cinnamon comes in several varieties, all of which have been tried as aphrodisiacs and diabetes remedies. The Chinese version, called cassia (Cinnamomum cassia), has been used to improve male sexual function for over 2000 years. According to the Natural Remedies website, “In Chinese traditional medicine theory, cinnamon can ‘warm’ and stimulate kidney, bladder, colon, and genital systems.”
Most cinnamon you buy in stores is actually cassia. A 2006 Pakistani study found that powdered cassia reduced fasting blood glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol. Some recent studies have shown less benefit. According to a 2005 study in Phytotherapy Research, both cassia and true cinnamon reduced blood sugars in rats, with cassia having a greater effect. Cinnamon can have a slight blood-thinning effect in some people.
The doses used in studies have ranged from 1/5 teaspoon of cinnamon powder up to one teaspoon a day.
While ginseng and cinnamon seem more effective for men, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is known to boost libido in women. Fenugreek is a clover-like plant that grows from India through Egypt. It has a tangy flavor and is often used in Greek cooking.
According to Laura Shane McWhorter, Pharm D, CDE, several studies have shown that fenugreek may increase glucose uptake, slow gastric emptying and carbohydrate absorption, and even increase insulin production. An Indian study in 2001 found that fenugreek reduced insulin resistance, triglycerides, and postprandial glucose.
Fenugreek has been used as an aphrodisiac since Roman times, especially in women. A reasonable dose seems to be about 500 mg of powdered fenugreek twice a day. You should not take fenugreek if pregnant, but it may actually help lactation. The side effect most often reported is intestinal gas.
Other Sex/Diabetes Herbs
Other aphrodisiacs that may also help diabetes include hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata), a Brazilian herb that has been found to lower blood pressure in people with diabetes. According to a University of Maryland study, it improves circulation to the extremities and genitals. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is often prescribed for female sexual and menstrual problems. It appears to suppress appetite, lower cravings for sweets, and boost metabolism.
Other aphrodisiac herbs that have not been studied for diabetes treatment include the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha, the Brazilian catuaba, the aptly-named horny goat weed, and many others.
Herbs are not like Viagra, which can temporarily and immediately increase sexual function. They take time to build up the body, which may give longer-lasting results than drugs. Herbs can be tricky to use because they don’t always have the same strength. Their potency depends upon when the plants were picked, where they grew, and how they were processed.
Because herbs come in many forms and strengths, you may want help from a trained herbalist like those at the American Herbalist Guild. You should also locate a trusted vendor because some are unreliable or dishonest. A guide to using herbs is available from Yang’s Martial Arts Association. A good reference source is Ray Sahelian, an MD who is also an herbalist.
David Spero is a nurse who has lived for 30 years with multiple sclerosis. A leading expert on self-care, he has written two books: Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis, and The Art of Getting Well. He has learned to maintain and even improve sex and love despite disability and illness.
Aisha Kassahoun is trained in marriage and family therapy.
Aisha and David present sex and intimacy programs for people with diabetes, people with multiple sclerosis, and health professionals. Visit David and Aisha on-line.