Horny Goat Weed


Today, horny goat weed (pictured above) is available in tablet, capsule and tea forms.
Today, horny goat weed (pictured above) is available in tablet, capsule and tea forms.
©iStockphoto.com/Brandon Blinkenberg

If you think you can guess what horny goat weed is used for based on its name, you're probably right. This supplement is thought to remedy erectile dysfunction and offset low sex drives. And its uses may not end there. As with many supplements, proponents recommend it in the treatment of a slew of conditions.

While horny goat weed is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, its existence in other countries goes back centuries. Chinese medicine has been studying and using the plant -- known there as yin yang huo -- for hundreds of years. It's even said that a Chinese goat herder was the first person to recognize the plant's potential. According to legend, he noticed an increase in his herd's sexual activity after the goats fed on the plant.

Horny goat weed is part of the genus Epimedium, and it's a native plant in several parts of China. It also grows in other regions of Asia, including Korea. In different parts of the world, it's also known as barrenwort, Bishop's Hat, epimedium, inyokaku and herba epimedii [sources: Blue Shield of California, Brahic, Reedy].

With time, horny goat weed has made its way across the globe, gaining attention far beyond its homeland. Its effects and uses haven't been thoroughly studied, but its possible versatility has made the supplement quite a few fans. Today, it's available in tablet, capsule and tea forms.

To get the scoop on just how horny goat week works in your body, go on to the next page.

Horny Goat Weed at Work in Your Body

As with all supplements, horny goat weed is not regulated in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that while manufacturers of horny goat weed supplements have to prove that their products are safe before selling them, claims on the packaging don't have to go through the FDA for approval. This is different from prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs -- any claims about their benefits have to be supported by conclusive studies.

In the few studies that have been conducted on horny goat weed, compounds in the supplement have been shown to have a variety of effects on the body. First, horny goat weed contains several flavonoids, or pigments, which may affect different organs and systems. Some of these flavonoids may affect bone density and immune system. In test-tube experiments, other flavonoids found in the plant inhibit estrogen. This may improve sex drive and affect kidney function. Horny goat weed extracts might also be able to inhibit the production of new blood vessels, which might help doctors fight the spread of malignant tumors. Several different preparations of the plant also appear to have anti-inflammatory properties [source: Blue Shield of California].

In terms of sexual health, horny goat weed may also increase the size of capillaries and other blood vessels as well as lower blood pressure. In addition to inhibiting estrogen, the plant may stimulate the production of testosterone, which in turn can affect the power of an erection and ejaculation [source: Reedy].

You might already be guessing some of the benefits of horny goat weed, but keep reading to discover them all -- and how well any of them work.

Horny Goat Weed Benefits

Proponents of horny goat weed believe it has a lot of positive attributes, from anti-inflammatory properties to positive effects on the immune system. With so many potential uses of the supplement, it's tough to pin down the best one.

The most widely-known benefit of horny goat weed is its purported relation to sexual health. The early uses of the plant were to improve sexual performance and desire. Today, people use it to try to increase sexual desire or treat erectile dysfunction. In late 2008, the University of Milan presented a study in which a compound called icariin found within horny goat weed showed potential to compete with impotency medications [source: Brahic].

Other common uses of horny goat weed include treating hay fever and atherosclerosis. The effects of hay fever, which is caused by allergens in the air, are supposed to be lessened when the person consumes a mixture of horny goat weed and other herbs such as ginger, licorice, nettle and butterbur. The effects of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, can supposedly be minimized when horny goat weed is combined with other herbs like garlic and green tea. However, studies measuring the benefit of horny goat weed on these conditions have produced conflicting results [source: Blue Shield of California].

In addition to these main fixes, horny goat weed is said to improve a range of other issues within the body, including liver and kidney problems. Others cite the herb as a treatment for bronchitis, hepatitis, memory loss, high blood pressure, heart disease and fatigue [source: Fairview]. In all of these cases, however, more research is needed before we know for sure.

Read on to learn about the side effects of horny goat weed.

Horny Goat Weed Side Effects

Television commercials for prescription drugs and over-the-counter pain relievers often spew out a long list of possible side effects before the end of their 30-second spots. Some people think they're avoiding the possibility of such side effects by taking natural supplements, but that's not always the case -- and horny goat weed is no exception. Since it hasn't gone through an FDA approval process, horny goat weed's benefits and side effects aren't well-documented.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), two types of energy called yin and yang are present in the body. Horny goat weed a yang tonic, and TCM practitioners often recommend using it in combination with yin tonics. According to TCM theories, this helps keep the body in balance and reduce side effects [source: Blue Shield of California].

Studies on animals have reported decreased thyroid activity after the subjects were given large amounts of horny goat weed over a long period. Users have also claimed that ingesting horny goat weed sped up their heart rate [source: Blue Shield of California]. One case report describes a man brought to the hospital for tachyarrhythmia, or fast heart rate, after taking the herbal supplement [source: Partin et al]. At the same time, studies have shown that combination herbal supplements containing horny goat weed might lower a person's blood pressure to unhealthy levels [source: Hager].

Keep in mind that any time you mix medications or supplements, you run the risk of negative interactions. In other words, if you're using horny goat weed, you run into more potential danger if you're taking other medicines at the same time. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before adding any supplement to your daily regimen [source: Fairview].

Check out the next page to discover what the horny goat weed can do for women.

Horny Goat Weed for Women

So far, we've focused mainly on the effects of horny goat weed on men, but the supplement may have benefits for women, too. The supplement is reported to help men raise their sex drive, and it might affect women's desires as well [source: Reedy].

But there's a chance the effects of horny goat weed will go beyond the boundaries of the bedroom. As discussed previously, horny goat weed may help people who have hay fever or atherosclerosis, although studies on these conditions haven't produced conclusive evidence yet [source: Blue Shield of California]. And it doesn't end there.

Another suspected use for horny goat weed is to help protect against one of the most common conditions of aging women -- osteoporosis [sources: Blue Shield of California, Reedy]. For women, especially those who are aging or going through menopause, this loss of bone density is a big concern. Another added bonus is that the supplement may offer some relief from the many symptoms of menopause.

Horny goat weed has a name you'll probably never forget. And if you suffer from any of the ailments or conditions it claims to treat, you may have come across a helpful supplement. But as with any supplement, exercise caution, since it under-studied and unregulated.

Click to the next page to learn even more about horny goat weed.

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Sources

  • Blue Shield of California. "Horny Goat Weed." 9/01/07. (Accessed 3/17/09) https://www.blueshieldca.com/hw/articles/hw_article.jsp?articleId=HWHN-4391000&fromTopics=all_topics&_requestid=669986
  • Brahic, Catherine. Horny goat weed could be better than Viagra." New Scientist. 9/26/07. (Accessed 3/17/09) http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14825-horny-goat-weed-could-be-better-than-viagra.html
  • Fairview. "Horny Goat Weed." 2/07. (Accessed 3/18/09) http://www.fairview.org/healthlibrary/content/ma_hornygoa_ma.htm
  • Graedon, Joe and Teresa. "Beware of horny goat weed." Los Angeles Times. 12/26/05. (Accessed 3/18/09) http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-he-pharmacy26dec26,1,5167225.column?coll=la-headlines-health
  • Hager, Jeff. "Maryland Lawmakers Target Horny Goat Weed." ABC2News. (Accessed 3/18/09) http://www.abc2news.com/news/local/story/Maryland-Lawmakers-Target-Horny-Goat-Weed/HQGTGp31iUODFQkjdyaw4A.cspx?rss=702
  • Kahn, Michael. "Horny Goat Weed may offer Viagra alternative-study." Reuters. 9/30/08. (Accessed 3/17/09) http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idINLP52257020080929?rpc=44
  • Partin et al. "Tachyarrhythmia and Hypomania With Horny Goat Weed." The Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine. 12/04. (Accessed 3/18/09) http://psy.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/45/6/536
  • Reedy, James. "Are You Having Problems with your Sex Life? Horny Goat Weed May Be Your Answer." Vanderbilt University. (Accessed 3/18/09) http://www.vanderbilt.edu/ans/psychology/health_psychology/hornygoat.htm