Epimedium in Ayurveda

by Benjamin Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert

Ben Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert Sports and Exercise Nutrition Level 2 Strength and Conditioning CoachWritten by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.

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Discover how Epimedium, one of Ayurveda's natural aphrodisiac herbs, can boost stamina and vitality naturally.

Used for centuries to address sexual health concerns and enhance overall well-being.

By including Epimedium into your daily regimen, you could experience increased energy, improved endurance and enhanced sexual performance.

Epimedium (also referred to as Horny Goat Weed) contains an active compound called Icariin which has been scientifically demonstrated to increase blood circulation, boost testosterone production and strengthen erectile function.

This powerful herb not only enhances physical stamina but also works towards building up one's sexual strength - providing natural remedies that address male and female needs alike.

Epimedium's aphrodisiac properties have long been acknowledged and appreciated by Ayurvedic practitioners who recognize its ability to strengthen both body and spirit.

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is an ancient medical system that combines body, mind, and consciousness in order to prevent illness and promote wellness.

Many Western natural therapies today use Ayurveda as their foundation. Originating over five millennia ago and often known as "The Mother of All Healing".

According to Ayurvedic theory, your constitution or Prakriti and the seasons are intertwined inextricably.

Each season possesses unique qualities that influence both internal and external health; your diet and lifestyle habits depend heavily upon both factors as do Ayurvedic remedies using seasonal herbs, foods and spices that balance your inherent qualities.

Ayurved philosophy states that every living thing consists of five basic elements - earth, space, air, fire and water.

When combined, these elements create three energies called doshas or humors: vata, pitta and kapha - which together determine your physical, mental and emotional strengths and weaknesses.

We each inherit our own combination of doshas with one typically being stronger than another. These doshas regulate how quickly our cells divide as well as our hearts, blood, guts work.

They even influence stress management as well as food metabolism and processing emotional responses.

Doshas, or life energy, are controlled by prana or life force and work through our bodies through organs (dhatus) and tissues to bring balance.

Too much of any one dosha is believed to cause illness; to balance them out through proper diet or herbal remedies is believed to help.

Charaka Samhita, an Ayurvedic text from the 2nd century BC, provided one of the earliest descriptions of doshas.

In it, its author noted that all matter, organic and inorganic alike, has attributes or qualities which contain potential energy; actions associated with them express kinetic energy.

This may have been one of the earliest references to concepts commonly employed today such as potential and kinetic energies.

Ayurveda encompasses eight disciplines of healing known as:

  1. Kaaya Chikitsa (Internal Medicine)
  2. Baala Chikitsa (Treatment of Children / Pediatrics)
  3. Graha Chikitsa (Demonology / Psychology)
  4. Urdhvaanga Chikitsa (Treatment of disease above the clavicle)
  5. Shalya Chikitsa (Surgery)
  6. Damstra Chikitsa (Toxicology)
  7. Jara Chikitsa (Geriatrics, Rejuvenation)
  8. Vrsha Chikitsa (Aphrodisiac therapy)

Studies suggest that these practices provide the basis for modern notions of homeopathy, herbal remedies and polarity therapies.

Ayurveda, an ancient healing tradition from India, has gained increasing interest among Westerners who seek natural solutions to maintain and improve their health.

Although much research remains to be conducted into how exactly these herbs work - hence why there's so much skepticism among modern medical professionals - despite this trend, ayurvedic practices are slowly being integrated into medical offices around the world.

What Is Ayurvedic Medicine?

Ayurveda (pronounced A-yuh-veda for short) is one of the world's oldest holistic ("whole body") healing systems, having originated over 3000 years ago in India and being classified as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Ayurved medicine believes that health problems arise when the three energy systems known as doshas become imbalanced, including environment and personality influences as well as season and time of day factors.

Ayurvedic practitioners treat people by rebalancing doshas through herbal medicines, diet, exercise and yoga practices.

Research suggests Ayurved treatments could help ease some symptoms associated with cancer such as fatigue and nausea while increasing quality of life - however more clinical trials must take place to make definitive statements.

Before beginning any treatment, including Ayurved medicine, it's wise to discuss it with your physician.

Some herbs might interact with chemotherapy or radiotherapy medications and some could contain toxic materials like lead.

A 2012 study found that certain over-the-counter Ayurvedic medications sold in the United States contained lead, mercury and other poisonous elements.

Ayurved treatments tend to be safe when taken in amounts found in recipes or as spices to flavor food, but more research must be conducted into how Ayurved medicine and supplements might impact people when consumed at higher doses than what would typically be found for cooking or as dietary aids.

It's best to speak to your physician prior to trying any oral herbal preparations that may involve risk.

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Ayurvedic Plant Extracts and Botanicals

As we look ahead, ayurvedic plant extracts and botanicals offer great promise in improving health.

Ayurveda, the ancient practice founded on the belief that illness is an imbalance, can provide beneficial remedies and lifestyle changes that restore equilibrium to restore the body back into its original state.

Ayurvedic herbs and spices influence cells at a cellular level, helping restore optimal body functioning by altering normal processes and processes in various organs of the body.

Some have multiple effects; cumin (Cuminum cyminum) has been proven to positively alter gut microbiomes while manjistha (Rubia cordifolia), also known as common madder, may help with liver health.

In Ayurveda medicine, herbs are combined with other ingredients in preparations such as teas, tinctures, herbal oils, pastes and fermented products to form medicine butters (ghee). Each combination aims to achieve specific actions in the body.

Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna), is an herbal heart tonic named after the legendary Indian hero known for his courage and resilience, while Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera or Indian Ginseng) has been shown to alleviate stress and anxiety, in addition Bacopa monnieri ranks amongst the premier medicinal plants for supporting mental health and brain function.

Traditionally, ayurvedic medicines should be taken on an empty stomach as these natural plant medicines tend to be more effective at acting at a cellular level than synthetic medications and thus less likely to disrupt digestion.

Horny Goat Weed (Epimedium Sagittatum)

Horny goat weed (Epimedium sagittatum), also known by various other names such as barrenwort, bishop's hat, fairy wings or ivy or yin yang huo is an herb with over 50 species native to China and some found elsewhere such as Asia or the Mediterranean region.

Most commonly it is used as an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction while traditional Chinese medicine uses it for menstrual irregularities, osteoporosis and asthma as well.

Additionally it possesses antitumor, aphrodisiac and vascular-protective properties as well.

Icariin, the active component of this plant's alkaloid, has been shown to possess vasodilatory effects both in rats and humans, increasing penile hemodynamics among male rats as well as possessing antioxidant, neuroprotective and immunomodulatory properties.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study demonstrated its efficacy by showing significant increases in bone specific alkaline phosphatase (BSP) activity as well as osteoclast adaptor protein TRAF6 production among postmenopausal women (icariin increased both BSP activity as TRAF6 production).

Active Ingredients in Epimedium

Epimedium contains numerous active ingredients, with icariin being the key one, having proven its positive effects on brain health.

Unfortunately, not much else is known about its other active components that could also contribute to its efficacy.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory holds that epimedium herb can nourish and strengthen kidney energy by tonifying liver and kidney meridian, strengthening muscles and bones, dispelling wind and dampness and dispersing wind/dampness.

Numerous studies have explored its effectiveness of treating of various diseases including erectile dysfunction.

Icariin, as we have already mentioned is the active ingredient in horny goat weed. 

Only 5 species in the Epimedium plant family are included in the Chinese Pharmacopeia. There are over 60 different species of horny goat weed. Plants that are commonly used for Icariin supplementation include: 

  • Epimedium wushanense
  • Epimedium brevicornum
  • Epimedium sagittatum
  • Epimedium koreanum
  • Epimedium Pubescens
  • Epimedium acuminatum

Icariin belongs to the flavonoid class - nutrients and phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. Icariin has been identified as the primary active component and is responsible for the strong aphrodisiac effects of the plant. 

Icariin has also been shown to help increase testosterone levels. However, this would only be the case if it was taken in a dose that is much greater than one could get from horny goat weed. 

Icariin acts as a PDE5 inhibitor. PDE5 inhibitors are also used by many drugs currently prescribed to treat erectile dysfunction. Horny goatweed is a possible alternative. Continue reading below for more details. 

Health Benefits of Epimedium

Epimedium is both neuroprotective and neuroregenerative, increasing cognitive acuity and memory capacity while strengthening lungs to recover from stress recovery, acting as an excellent blood tonic, relieving anxiety and depression while elevating mood - studies have confirmed this effect taking epimedium for three or four weeks increased mental clarity.

Emerging evidence in the past decade has demonstrated that Icariin can offer multiple atheroprotective benefits through various mechanisms, including attenuating DNA damage, correcting endothelial dysfunction, inhibiting proliferation and migration of smooth muscle cells, repressing macrophage-derived foam cell formation and inflammation responses, as well as preventing platelet activation.

All these protective functions combine with its lipid-modulatory effects to give Icariin its broad atheroprotective benefits.

Epimedium research and studies

A 2011 review highlights that modern pharmacological studies and clinical practices have demonstrated that Epimedium's active compounds possess numerous pharmacological actions, such as strengthening yang energy, hormone regulation, anti-osteoporosis treatment, immunological function modulation, antioxidation/tumor suppression/antimicrobial effects as well as anti-ageing/atherosclerosis/antidepressant activities.

Data published in 2016 looking at in vitro and in vivo studies indicate these compounds possess anti-cancer activity against various cancer cell lines through mechanisms including apoptosis, cell cycle modulation, anti-angiogenesis, metastasis inhibition and immunomodulation.

They have demonstrated this activity against cancer stem cells as well as drug resistant cancer cells - making these properties highly desirable to emulate when creating new anticancer drugs that combat emerging resistance mechanisms and overcome limited efficacy of current standard treatment approaches.

Another review published in 2016 showes that recent clinical trials have reported positive effects of Epimedium compounds and extracts on bone health, suggesting their potential as agents - alone or combined with other drugs - to prevent or delay osteoporosis onset and reduce hip fracture risks.

In this 2020 study epimedium extracts were also discovered to possess male hormone-like effects and daily administration of 2.0 mg/kg body weight for 2 weeks (14 days) showed marked improvements in sexual function and increased weight of attached genitals as well as improving testosterone levels in plasma among rats. 

A book, published in 2021, comments that studies with rats have shown horny goat weed to significantly improve penile hemodynamic parameters compared with placebo as well as neuroprotective and antiinflammatory effects. Unfortunately, human studies with Horny Goat Weed or its active compound, Icariin have only resulted in reported case studies; no systematic trials exist

A 2020 review of aphrodisiac herbs and extracts reports that despite the promising results of these studies, there are few studies that have been conducted on horny goat weed's use in animal and human models. 

A definitive study has not been conducted to determine the utility of icariin or its toxicity in humans. Horny goat weed is not backed by evidence and its side effects are unknown. Therefore, more studies should be conducted to evaluate its use in treating ED.

Potential side effects

You should take all herbal products seriously, including horny goat weed. Side effects can be serious for anything that alters your body's hormone systems. 

When taken alone, side effects from horny goat weed are relatively rare. Some icariin supplements are very strong. Extracts of herbs work differently than the original herbs. 

Some mild symptoms may occur if the horny goat weed is used in high dosages, or if your body is sensitive. You may experience any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Exceeding thirst
  • Spasms
  • Breathing Issues

It is more common for the above side effects to manifest after a period of prolonged usage. 

Some people report experiencing nosebleeds after using horny goat weed. For anyone who has a bleeding disorder or is recovering after surgery or using blood thinners, it's important to not use horny goat weed. This can cause blood clotting problems. 

Consider that the FDA does not regulate icariin, so the quality and safety of supplements will vary depending where they are purchased. If possible, choose organic products that are reputable.  

Conclusion

Epimedium (horny goat weed amomgst other names) has been used for centuries by traditional medicinal practices. It is also finding its way into Western practices with promising health benefits arising as more and more studies are published. 

As such, it appears to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-depression, it helps prevent bone degradation and help with cardiac function. 

Many websites online also promote it as having ability to treat low testosterone and erectile dysfunction, however, research is limited and is based on animal studies, rather than humans. 

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