We all know that as men age, our testosterone levels decline. The decline is usually gradual and often goes unnoticed except for the realization that it’s harder than normal to get out of bed on Monday morning after working in the yard all weekend. Or perhaps that romantic getaway with your wife or girlfriend just seems like more work than fun. Or, worse still, the unexpected opportunity for sex arises, but you do not.
Now the reasons for reduced rates of recovery from exercise and reduced sex drive are not entirely due to declining testosterone levels, as other hormones such as human growth hormone (HGH), luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), are also involved in a synergistic way.
Everyone is familiar with Viagra, the most profitable pharmaceutical drug ever produced. Viagra works its magic by directly inhibiting the breakdown of an enzyme responsible for smooth muscle relaxation. The resulting vasodilatation (expansion of blood vessels) then enhances any erection which may occur with sexual stimulation. It’s all very mechanical really, and while it certainly works, it has no lasting effect on libido or physical strength and stamina.
Are there any herbs or natural supplements that can help flagging sexual function in the way Viagra does? The answer is “yes” but with a few stern caveats.
There is only one natural substance I know of that has aphrodisiacal effects as direct as Viagra and that is the herb Yohimbe. To quote information from the Sloan-Kettering herbal database, yohimbe’s effects are due to: “... Blocking of alpha2-adrenoreceptors results in increased blood supply to cavernous body tissue. Yohimbine increases catecholamine release in peripheral tissues that is unrelated to sympathetic stimulation. Aphrodisiac activity of yohimbine may be caused by its dilation effect on the genital blood vessels, and the enhancement of sensation to genital tissue and an increased reflex excitability in the sacral region.
Although yohimbe certainly works, (yes I have tried it) but I do NOT recommend it due to potentially serious side effects such as dangerous increases in blood pressure, increased anxiety, seizures and a host of other dangers. Again, it is instructive to refer the list of adverse reactions listed on the website mentioned above.
Despite yohimbe’s effectiveness in promoting ” solidarity”, if you will, I have to say it made me VERY uncomfortable. Like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Anxiety and love- making are never a good combination.
What about herbs or supplements that may address the underlying reasons for the physical and sexual challenges faced by the aging man? Any help here?
Yes indeed, there is. In fact there are quite a few herbs with a long history of use in promoting male sexual health and vigor. Among these are ginseng, damiana, muira puama, catuaba, horny goat weed (well duh!), suma, cordyceps mushrooms and maca root, among others.
An entire book could be written on just the few herbs mentioned above, and there are many I have not mentioned which may be just as effective. Therefore I am going to focus on one herb in particular, maca root, because it has a large body of research literature supporting it’s use, it appears to be quite safe, as it is used as a food in parts of South America, but mostly because of my personal experiences with it.
I’ll tell you a little story… One of my passions is developing and formulating new nutritional supplement formulas. I was asked by a friend, who was bodybuilding, to formulate a powdered supplement to be added to protein drinks to help with recovery from exercise.
Well, the first test batch contained creatine, L-glutamine, beta-ecdysterone, and a few other natural goodies, including maca root extract. I called it APAC, short for Anabolic Protein Activation Catalyst. This first batch tasted awful and yet EVERYBODY loved it… because it worked. I was taking it myself and put on several pounds of muscle in short order. I went from about 145lbs to 155lbs in 6 weeks.*
I also noticed, and couldn’t help but notice, a dramatic increase in my sex drive. I attributed this to the synergism between the several components of the mix and went on trying different combinations of ingredients to find one that was palatable. The palatability part was never resolved as more pressing projects were brought to the front burners and the APAC project was put aside. In the course of testing different variations of the formula, I determined that it was most likely the maca root extract that was responsible for my increased libido. In fact, I am sure of it.
So how does maca work? Well that’s the curious thing. Studies have shown it undoubtedly works to improve sex drive and ability in both men AND women, yet it seems to not affect what we regard as the sex-controlling hormones such as testosterone, FSH and LH. Speculation is that the receptors for these hormones may be affected in a positive way.
So how best to take maca?
There are many extracts out there on the market, usually at a 4:1 concentration in pill form or as a liquid tincture. Most of the herb and supplement companies referenced below offer maca formulations. Personally, I prefer to use a concentrated powder, which I bought in bulk a couple of years ago while doing my APAC testing, and I just mix it into a protein shake, in a blender.
Dried, un-concentrated maca flour is also available at many health food stores nationwide, and it may be used directly as a food.
I encourage you to treat herbs with respect, especially herbs with powerful medicinal properties. Proceed with caution and stop using the herb if you notice any ill effects. It’s always a good idea to consult with a qualified health professional familiar with herbal usage before using any herb or nutritional supplement.