Male sexual stimulants have always been a popular category in the health food marketplace. Let’s face it: many people are looking for a natural, herbal Viagra. Muira puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides), commonly known as “potency wood,” is one of the most popular herbs in this category. But–does it work as advertised?
A simple Internet search finds thousands of web pages claiming that muira puama is the best herb for erectile dysfunction (ED), but there is very little, if any, scientific evidence supporting these claims. At the clinical level I do see it work sometimes, but not always.
What is It?
Native to parts of the Amazon rainforest, muira puama is a small tree, growing up to five metres tall. It can be recognized by its small, white flowers that have a pungent fragrance similar to jasmine.
Traditionally, indigenous people have used the root and bark (preferred) in a boiled (decocted) tea as an aphrodisiac, for treating sexual debility and ED, nervous system disorders, neuralgia, baldness, menstrual disturbance, gastrointestinal disorders, neuromuscular problems, and rheumatism. It has been officially recognized in the Brazilian pharmacopoeia since the 1950s.
Some of the important constituents of muira puama include free long-chain fatty acids, sterols, coumarin, tannins, triterpenes (including lupeol), alkaloids (including muirapuamine), and volatile oils (including beta-caryophyllene and alpha-humulene).
What are the Benefits?
Two studies have been well reported on many Internet sites, although I am unable to find the studies in any journals or Medline searches. One of these studies at the Paris Institute of Sexology (1990) involved 262 male patients experiencing lack of sexual desire and the inability to attain or maintain an erection. The report states that 62 percent of the patients with loss of libido reported muira puama extract “had a dynamic effect,” and 51 percent of patients with ED felt it was beneficial.
The second reported study, conducted at the same institute in 2000, evaluated positive psychological benefits of muira puama in 100 men with male sexual weakness. The therapeutic dosage was 1.5 g of muira puama extract daily. In their final report, researchers indicated that muira puama could enhance libido (in 85 percent of test group), increase the frequency of intercourse (in 100 percent), and improve the ability to maintain an erection (in 90 percent).
What Does It Really Do?
Unfortunately, we have not seen such exciting levels of success at our clinic. We see beneficial results with this herb in no more than 40 percent of our patients with ED.
The good news is that muira puama does work beneficially as a general tonic, giving more energy and calming stress. Since many sexual dysfunction problems are thought to be the result of stress and exhaustion, this tonic action will help many with ED.
Studies involving rabbits showed an alcohol extract of muira puama relaxes the corpus cavernosa (spongelike regions of erectile tissue that contain most of the blood in the penis), thus allowing for engorgement. Other studies on mice and rats have shown improvement in memory retrieval and neurotonic and neuroprotective effects on damaged brain tissue.
So does muira puama work as an aphrodisiac? Indeed, some of the time, but what’s more important is that muira puama can have a tonic and calming action that will help you to get the most out of all aspects of your life.
How Do You Take Muira Puama?
- Externally, the bark or the roots have been decocted (boiled down to extract essence) and used in baths and massage treatments for treating paralysis and beriberi (a nervous system ailment caused by vitamin-B1 deficiency).
- A decoction of the root has been shown to inhibit stress-induced ulcers, while the leaves of the tree have demonstrated an analgesic effect.
- The tincture (2 to 4 mL twice daily) is most effective.
- The bark or roots can also be used by lightly simmering 1 tsp in 1 cup of water for 15 to 30 minutes; drink 1 to 2 cups daily.
- Powdered herb in capsule form is the least effective way to take this herb.
- There are no known side effects or contraindications from taking this herb, although some people who took two to five times the normal dosage have reported insomnia.