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March 03, 2013

Ingredients in Herbal Energy – Damiana and Sexual Health

HerbalEnergyBlogIngThe use of damiana leaves (Turnera diffusa) as an aphrodisiac and sexual stimulant dates at least as far back as the ancient Mayan civilizations of Central America.  The writings of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century noted that the indigenous people they encountered in the new world often consumed a drink made from damiana as an aid to sexual potency.

And the Mayans weren’t alone in this practice.  Wherever damiana has grown throughout the world, similar uses of this flowering shrub have been noted in the historical and medicinal literature.  During the 18th and 19th Centuries in the Americas, European physicians learned of herbal remedies like damiana from Native Americans. Many of these physicians began practicing what was eventually known as eclectic medicine – a discipline incorporating both herbal and orthodox medical treatments.  One notable eclectic physician, Dr. Finley Ellingwood – albeit in dated and morally-pejorative language – wrote extensively on the restorative and sexually-stimulating effects of damiana in both men and women:

[Damiana is a] mild nerve tonic claimed to be valuable in the treatment of sexual impotence. Some of our physicians praise it highly for its influence in sexual neurasthenia, and it is said to correct frigidity in the female. It had long enjoyed a local reputation as a stimulant tonic of the sexual apparatus among the natives of Mexico, before it attracted the attention of the profession. Besides its peculiar action on the sexual appetite and function, it is a general tonic, somewhat cathartic and is slightly cholagogue. The midwives and women of loose morals of western Mexico also attribute emmenagogue properties to it.

Dr. Reid uses Damiana in all conditions where a general tonic is needed, especially if there be enfeeblement of the central nervous system.

In modern days, the use of damiana continues in the Americas, and has even spread to Europe where, in Germany, the herb is used to quell excess mental activity and nervous debility, and as a tonic for the hormonal and central nervous systems.

In Holland, damiana is renowned for its sexual-enhancing qualities and its positive effects on the reproductive organs. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia even cites the use of damiana for "anxiety neurosis with a predominant sexual factor, depression, nervous dyspepsia, atonic constipation, and coital inadequacy."

As with many herbal remedies, clinical research has begun to substantiate many of the herb’s traditional uses.  We’ve already seen research supporting damiana’s adaptogenic and anxiety-reducing effects, and additional research lends some credibility to its use as an aphrodisiac and sexual tonic as well.

Researchers in both Italy and Mexico have conducted numerous studies showing that damiana helps to restore sexual function to “sexually exhausted” animals:

Study Link - Turnera diffusa Wild (Turneraceae) recovers sexual behavior in sexually exhausted males.

Study Link - Stimulating property of Turnera diffusa and Pfaffia paniculata extracts on the sexual-behavior of male rats.

Study Link - Stimulating property of Turnera diffusa and Pfaffia paniculata extracts on the sexual-behavior of male rats.

Study Link - Evaluation of Aphrodisiac Activity of Turnera aphrodisiaca

The above study even showed evidence that the long-term use of the herb improves its effectiveness:

Quote from the above study:

Male mice showed maximum aphrodisiac activity upon sub-acute administration of alkaloidal fraction. This observation infers that T. aphrodisiaca improves reproductive organs upon long term use.

Like most herbal remedies, damiana’s diverse biological effects can’t be attributed to a single constituent element.  The fact that damiana supports sexual health in males as well as females, is evidence that the herb likely imparts a multi-faceted and balancing effect upon the body.

For example, some of damiana’s pro-sexual effect may be attributable to its ability to facilitate the production of the vasodilator chemical, nitric oxide:

Study Link - Pro-sexual effects of Turnera diffusa Wild (Turneraceae) in male rats involves the nitric oxide pathway.

Additionally, components in damiana have been found to impart anti-aromatase (i.e, anti-estrogenic) activity:

Study Link - Anti-aromatase activity of the constituents from damiana (Turnera diffusa).

But a great deal of damiana’s effectiveness likely doesn’t involve improved circulation or hormonal metabolism.  The true key to the herb’s energizing, mood elevating, and pro-sexual activity may involve its ability to positively modulate the production and metabolism of important neurotransmitters.

A component of damiana known as apigenin has been found to activate monoamine transporters which may help to regulate neurotransmitter metabolism.  Apigenin may have the notable ability to facilitate the uptake of dopamine:

Study Link - Functional activation of monoamine transporters by luteolin and apigenin isolated from the fruit of Perilla frutescens (L.) Britt.

Apigenin has also been found to act as a ligand for the benzodiazepine receptor, which may explain damiana’s notable anxiety-reducing effect:

Study Link - Apigenin, a component of Matricaria recutita flowers, is a central benzodiazepine receptors-ligand with anxiolytic effects.

HerbalEnergyDamiana’s calming and restorative effect on the brain and nervous system shouldn’t be overlooked when investigating the herb’s role in sexual health.  Excessive stress is a well-documented destroyer of both desire and function in the sexual realm.  In our high-stress modern world, perhaps we would be well served to look to the rich wisdom of herbal traditions in begin to restore optimal function of both body and mind.

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