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Horny Goat Weed
December 06, 2008 10:05 AM
Horny Goat weed, correctly named Epimedium, or Yin Yang Huo in Chinese, is one of over 60 herbaceous plants of the Berberdaceae family. It grows naturally in Southern China, and also in Korea, Southeast Asia and some parts of Europe. Other names given to include Fairy Wings and Bishop's Hat.
Horny goat weed has been viewed as a natural alternative to Viagra, and many species of Epimedium are said to possess aphrodisiac properties, and is said to have got its name from a Chinese goat herder who notice that his goats became more 'frisky' with the lady goats after eating the plant. In fact studies have indicated to increase vitality, particularly the libido and male sexual vitality, although it also possesses some other health benefits in its effect on dementia and osteoporosis.
The term 'horny' is used in the colloquial sense, and has nothing to do with the shape of the plant, the flowers of which are star-shaped. In fact the Chinese name for it means 'licentious goat weed', making the English translation quite clear.
The main ingredient in horney goat weed is icariin, a flavonoid glycoside that acts as a PDE5 inhibitor. Others include the similarly named, but totally different chemical, icaritin, and also many other that will be discussed later. It is icariin on which we shall focus for the time being. Since this is central to its effect on erectile dysfunction, some time will be spent on explaining what PDE5 inhibitors do.
cGMP (Cyclic guanosine monophosphate) is a chemical that relaxes smooth muscle tissue, including the vascular smooth muscles in blood vessels. This can lead to the dilation, or increase in size, of blood vessels and increased blood flow. The corpus cavernosum of the penis is a spongy area that runs the full length of the penis, and contains many blood vessels that can be dilated through the action of cGMP and allow the increased blood flow to create an erection.
PDE5 (phosphodiesterase type 5) is an enzyme that can degrade cGMP and prevent the relaxation of these blood vessels, and so prevent them from dilating. A PDE5 inhibitor, such as icariin, prevents the PDE5 from degrading cGMP, and so allow a normal erection. Sidenafil, commonly known as Viagra, is a similar PDE5 inhibitor and works in the same way as icariin. Hence, the effect of Viagra is not to create an unnatural erection, but in fact to allow the cGMP to do its natural work by preventing the phosphodiesterase from stopping it doing so.
This is just one of the effects of horny goat weed: it is a more natural PDE5 inhibitor than Viagra is. It is also more specific than Sidenfil, and does not interfere with any of the other phosphodiesterases that are essential for other purposes. However, its effects do not stop there, because icariin possesses other properties, and is also only one of the many components of epimedium that can increase vitality.
Among these are a number of flavonoids in addition to icariin, sterols and the isoquinoline alkaloid magnaflorine, that possesses antioxidant properties and reduces LDL cholesterol. The exact mechanism by which horny goat weed works to increase sexual desire is unknown, but it is believed that it inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinetsrase (AChE). Cholinergic synapses are the spaces between brain cells that allow electrical impulses to be transmitted, and are an essential component of neuromuscular system response to stimulation.
AChE can stop these from working properly, and prevent neurotransmitters from effectively allowing sexual arousal. Horny goat weed can inhibit the activity of this enzyme and allow the neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine to do their proper job in allowing sexual arousal to occur. This, again, is a natural and not a chemical solution. It has also been found to reduce cortisol levels that cause stress which also reduces sexual desire.
The effect of Epimedium on smooth muscles can also aid those suffering from pulmonary hypertension, in which the small blood vessels in the lungs become too narrow to be effective in allowing the transfer between oxygen and carbon dioxide. PDE5 inhibitors can help these blood vessels to relax and so be more easily dilated in the same way as those in the corpus cavernosum. Once dilated, they are able to carry more blood to and from the lungs and allow the reoxygenation process to continue smoothly.
Research has also discovered the possibility of horny goat weed possessing monoamine-oxidase inhibition properties. Monoamine oxidase enzymes can deaminate hormones such as dopamine, and can significantly reduce the production of testosterone. The inhibitor prevents this happening, and leads to elevated levels of dopamine, and also of serotonin and noradrenaline. Dopamine encourages the pituitary gland to release luteinizing hormone that in turn promotes the production of testosterone by the testes.
Another property of horny goat weed is that it can protect against the toxin beta-Amyloid, a protein that damages DNA in the brain, causing the death of brain cells and the accumulation of dead cells in your brain. This in turn leads to dementia and potentially Alzheimer's disease. The use of Horny goat weed is being studied closely in relation to this property. The active ingredient here is icaritin (not to be confused with icariin)
Epimedium also has implications in the treatment of the cartilage and bone damage that occurs with arthritis and osteoporosis. It is possible that this is connected with the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of magnaflorine, and icariin has been found to have bone-healing properties. It is known that damaged cartilage treated with horney goat weed displayed signs of growth and regeneration when compared to a placebo.
However, the most popular use of horny goat weed is in its effect on the libido and erectile dysfunction. The effect on the libido and sexual desire works equally well for men and women, and it is a preferred natural remedy to synthetic equivalents such as Viagra, Levitra and Cialis. The added benefits of the natural product render epimedium the preferred and safest solution for many people.