Look out Viagra: Ancient remedy aids erectile dysfunction

Men with sexual difficulties due to trouble achieving erection may find help in Korean red ginseng (Panax ginseng), one of the oldest natural remedies. Worldwide, erectile dysfunction, or impotence, affects almost half of men over the age of 40. Often the problem is linked with other medical conditions that affect blood flow or nerve stimulation, including cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. It may also stem from medication use, or drug or alcohol abuse.

Because some conventional treatments for erectile dysfunction can cause serious side effects, scientists at the Department of Urology at University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Korea, wanted to test ginseng, a traditional Asian herb used there for thousands of years. Researchers tested 45 men with erectile dysfunction who were randomly assigned to receive 900 mg of Korean red ginseng three times per day or a placebo for eight weeks. Following a two-week break, the treatments were reversed for another eight weeks.

The researchers found that the men’s ability to achieve and maintain erections was significantly greater while taking ginseng compared to while they were taking a placebo. In fact, 60% of the men reported improved erections with ginseng. Improved sexual desire was also reported during ginseng treatment. Because testosterone levels did not change with treatment, the researchers suggest that ginseng may act on the nervous system, which influences sexual function. No significant side effects were seen in the trial.

Journal of Urology 2002;168:2070–3