Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), used widely in Ayurvedic medicine, holds a similar role to that of ginseng in Chinese medicine. Though unrelated to ginseng, it appears to share similar properties and actions. Ayurveda considers this herb to be a rasayana, or particularly powerful rejuvenative. The name ashwagandha means “like a horse,” connoting that it is regarded as a premier sexual tonic.
If you’ve been to the health food store lately, you’ve seen shelves lined with vitamins and “organic” supplements, each claiming to boost immunity, revitalize organ function, or “promote health.” And it’s working. Supplements are currently a $30 billion industry in the US, with more than 90,000 products on the market, and vitamin use is on the rise. In fact, a recent survey in Journal of American Medicine Association showed that “52% of US adults reported use of at least 1 supplement product.”
The Science: Some studies have implied that feeding maca to domestic cattle increases sperm production, but there is very little data about any sexual effect on humans. One very small randomized double-bind trial of men with erectile dysfunction found that men taking maca extract reported a small increase in their ability to get erections. But so did the control group. As with the fenugreek study, a similar study with a larger group of people is needed to see whether any differences between the controls and the maca-eaters are real.
Ginseng. Korean red ginseng has long been used to stimulate male sexual function, but few studies have tried systematically to confirm its benefits. In one 2002 study involving 45 men with significant ED, the herb helped alleviate symptoms of erectile dysfunction and brought "enhanced penile tip rigidity." Experts aren't sure how ginseng might work, though it's thought to promote nitric oxide synthesis. "I would recommend ginseng [for men with ED]," says Espinosa. Discuss with your doctor before taking it since ginseng can interact with drugs you may already be taking and cause allergic reactions.
In fact, one common reason many younger men visit their doctor is to get erectile dysfunction medication. Often, men with erectile dysfunction suffer with diabetes or heart disease, or may be sedentary or obese, but they don’t realize the impact of these health conditions on sexual function. Along with erectile dysfunction treatment, the doctor may recommend managing the illness, being more physically active, or losing weight.