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What Does Horny Goat Weed Do? How People Use It and Its Purported Benefits

Horny goat weed is a medicinal herb that is also known as epimedium, epimedii herba, and yin yang huo. It is part of the Berberidaceae family of plants that includes more than 50 different species. Other plants that belong to this same family include berberis (barberry), caulophyllum (blue cohosh), mahonia (Oregon grape), and nearly 700 others. 

Many of these plants have been used medicinally throughout the centuries. In more recent decades and despite the introduction of synthetic drugs, these plants are believed by some to be safe, effective, and culturally accepted remedies with fewer side effects than many prescription medications. 

A woman taking horny goat weed supplement

Horny goat weed has been used for centuries for sexual enhancement. Some of the most common species of this plant that you will see used as supplements include Epimedium grandiflorum and Epimedium sagittatum. It got its name after it was considered to be a powerful aphrodisiac. This claim was made by a Chinese goat herder who thought that his goats had increased sexual activity after eating the plant’s leaves.

Today, horny goat weed is frequently used for sexual dysfunction and sexual performance issues like erectile dysfunction and decreased libido. Epimedium is believed to be a safe alternative to prescription drugs and has also been used for other ailments like joint pain, arthritis, mental and physical fatigue, and memory loss. However, there is limited scientific evidence to support these claims. 

Recent clinical studies have focused on a key chemical compound in horny goat weed called icariin. This compound is a type of flavonoid (a naturally occurring plant pigment) that is thought to help with cardiovascular diseases by decreasing inflammation and lowering lipids, reduce toxins in the body believed to be related to Alzheimer’s disease, aid in fighting specific cancers, increase bone density following menopause, and boost immune support for the management of HIV/AIDS. The results from these studies are inconclusive, meaning there’s not enough evidence to say whether or not horny goat weed helps with these conditions. 

Herbals are not regulated, so it is always best to consult with your doctor before taking any product containing this herb or any other supplement.

Epimedium is traditionally used as an herbal supplement for sexual dysfunction. However, the only clinical studies to date have been on laboratory animals and on human cells (in-vivo studies). Because of this, we currently do not know exactly how horny goat weed works in the human body. 

During male sexual stimulation, there is a release of nitric oxide from the nerve endings in the penis, causing a series of chemical releases in the body, including cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). The accumulation of cGMP causes smooth muscle to relax, increasing blood flow into the penis, which leads to an erection. 

Some studies have researched patients with diabetes-related erectile dysfunction and have shown their cGMP may be suppressed because of a competing chemical called phosphodiesterase-5. Because of this competing chemical, blood flow to the penis is decreased, making it harder to get and maintain an erection. The icariin in horny goat weed has similar properties to medications that block this competing chemical and help men achieve an erection.  

A woman using horny goat weed to boost libido

There is not a lot of scientific information about increasing female sex drive. There is even less information about the purported libido-boosting ability of horny goat weed for women. 

Even though there are studies that suggest that this herb may be beneficial for women (prevention of bone loss in postmenopausal women and decreased cholesterol), this herbal supplement is not well studied and can cause unwanted side effects or interact with other medications you may be taking. Using horny goat weed may increase the levels of estrogen in some women, causing symptoms associated with higher levels of this hormone, such as headaches, irritability, mood swings, and irregular menstrual cycles. Always talk with a doctor before taking any new supplements.

According to various medical sources, horny goat weed extract is possibly safe when eaten in appropriate doses. The appropriate dose of horny goat weed may depend on factors such as age, general health, and other supplements and prescription medication you might be taking. There is not enough scientific evidence to determine an appropriate dose for horny goat weed.

Anyway, it’s better not to take this herbal supplement in the following scenarios:

  • You have heart disease. Epimedium can cause rapid, irregular heartbeat and excitability in people with heart disease.
  • You have high blood pressure. Taking horny goat weed along with medications for hypertension might cause your blood pressure to drop too low.
  • You are taking drugs that are metabolized by the cytochrome P450 3A4 enzyme or drugs that are aromatase inhibitors. Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver, and horny goat weed might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Taking this herb along with some medications that are processed by the liver might increase the effects of some medications. 
  • You have blood clotting problems. Epimedium has the potential to decrease blood clotting. Taking horny goat weed along with medications that also slow clotting can increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.
  • You or your partner take nitroglycerin. The combined use of this prescription drug and horny goat weed can be fatal because of a potentially severe drop in blood pressure.

Please keep in mind that herbals are not regulated by the FDA like prescription drugs are. They might not necessarily be safe for everyone, and dosages can be extremely important. Be sure to read labels carefully and consult your physician before taking any new supplements. 

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01699.x

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2017.00734/full

https://asbmr.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1359/jbmr.070405

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0302283810001338

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