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Korean Red Ginseng May Treat Impotence

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Korean red ginseng, a herb considered an aphrodisiac in some Asian countries, seems to be an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction, according to the results of a small study from Korea.

In some Asian cultures, ginseng has been used traditionally to boost sexual stamina, but the effectiveness of the herbal remedy has been evaluated in only a handful of studies, so a team at the University of Ulsan and the Korea Ginseng and Tobacco Research Institute in Seoul evaluated Korean red ginseng in 45 men with erectile dysfunction.

The men were randomly assigned to take either 900 milligrams of ginseng or an inactive placebo pill three times a day. Eight weeks into the study, the men were taken off the treatment for 2 weeks, after which they switched treatments for the next 8 weeks. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew which pill--ginseng or placebo--the men were taking until after the study.

Scores for erectile function, sexual desire and satisfaction during intercourse were higher when the men were taking ginseng than when they were on the placebo, the researchers report in the November issue of The Journal of Urology. The men reported being better able to achieve and maintain an erection while taking ginseng than when on the placebo. While they were taking ginseng, 60% of men said that their erections improved compared to 20% while taking placebo.

"Considering that some patients with erectile dysfunction are reluctant to depend on a drug to achieve erection, Korean red ginseng could be used as an alternative remedy," the authors conclude.

The study did not examine how ginseng might have improve erectile function, but the investigators speculate that it may enhance the production of nitric oxide, a substance that helps widen blood vessels. They do not think that ginseng's apparent benefits stem from hormonal changes, since the herb did not have a significant effect on testosterone levels.

Despite the apparent improvements with ginseng, however, the researchers did not detect any improvement in blood flow to the penis while men were taking ginseng. In addition, most men who said that their erectile function improved did not experience more frequent ejaculations or more satisfaction with their orgasms, according to the report.

The Korea Ginseng and Tobacco Research Institute provided the ginseng used in the study.

The study is "interesting," according to Dr. Franklin C. Lowe, the associate director of urology at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York. In an interview with Reuters Health, however, Lowe, who is the chairman of the American Urological Association's alternative medicine committee, said that the study did not appear to include any patients with significant impotence. He noted that the sample did not include several types of patients who often experience impotence, including individuals who have had their prostate removed to treat cancer or those with a history of alcohol abuse.

"You really wonder what sort of impotence population they were treating," Lowe said.

Lowe also cautioned that the Korean red ginseng used in the study is not the same type of ginseng commonly found in the US in ginseng drinks and other products. Noting that "there is great variability in herbal products," Lowe added that there is no way to know, from the report at least, the consistency of the herbal supplement used in the study.

As for side effects, Lowe said that ginseng may interfere with the blood-thinning drug warfarin, as the authors point out in the report. In addition, there are some concerns that the herb may affect levels of hormones called androgens, he said.

SOURCE: The Journal of Urology 2002;168:2070-2073.


Reference Source 89

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