Viagra is a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction - the inability to get or maintain an erection. This highly effective product has proven wildly popular with men 'of a certain age.' It's also a firm favorite as a recreational drug, used by everybody from porn stars to politicians to increase their sexual ability.
There are several downsides to Viagra, though. Firstly, it's still under patent and therefore pharmaceutical producer Pfizer have a monopoly on the market (making each pill fairly expensive.) Secondly, it's only available with a prescription. Thirdly, it does have some risk of side effects, including increased blood pressure and even the risk of heart attack.
This has led many people to try and find a 'natural' alternative for Viagra - and handed unscrupulous companies a huge opportunity to exploit people with quack supplements that make promises that are too good to be true.
Examples are eXtenze, Enzyte and Prolixus - all expensive packets of pills marketed as being able to increase sexual potency - plus being able to make men 'thicker and wider' and increase the size of their genitals.
These products are rip-offs. No pill can increase the size of somebody's penis - and while many of the ingredients used in, for example, eXtenze have some anecdotal evidence suggesting they increase sexual performance, the veracity of such claims is questionable.
But there are supplements that offer an all-natural alternative to Viagra - and deliver the scientific data to back such claims up. Of these, the most effective is Horny Goat Weed.
With a name like Horney Goat Weed, it's easy to dismiss this supplement as a marketing fraud along the same lines as eXtenze and Prolixus.
When it comes to Horny Goat Weed, however, it's worth giving the supplement the benefit of the doubt.
It's actually derived from a plant, Epimedium, that's really known as Horny Goat Weed (as well as Rowdy Lamb Herb, Barrenwort, Bishop's Hat, Fairy Wings or Yin Yang Huo.)
This Asian flowering herbaceous has long been rumored to be an aphrodisiac - farmers noticed that their sheep tended to rut after consuming it (hence the nicknames 'Horny Goat' and 'Rowdy Lamb' weed.)
Unlike many expensive supplements, the reputation of 'Horny Goat Weed' actually has some basis in fact. Epimedium contains a flavonoid glycoside compound known as Icariin - which shares many of the same mechanisms as drugs like Viagra.
Viagra works by inhibiting phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), an enzyme in the human body which blocks sexual arousal and performance of smooth muscle cells (like those which supply the penis with blood.) If the body produces too much PDE5, it's difficult or impossible to get an erection. Viagra and icariin work by blocking that enzyme.
Icariin also increases the production of nitric oxide in the body, which increases bloodflow and blood oxygenation, making it easier to get an erection and sustain it 'in the field.' It also mimics the effects of male hormone testosterone, which has a predictable effect on a man's libido.
In short - Epimedium works just like Viagra. In fact, according to a recent Italian research paper, it works even better than Viagra because it only blocks PDE5 (whereas Pfizer's wonderdrug also blocks PDE6, which causes the side effects people complain about.)
However, it's less effective than Viagra because you need to take more of it to achieve the same results - the icariin in Horny Goat Weed blocks PDE5 with a half maximal effective concentration of 4.62 micromolar. For Viagra, it's .42 micromolar. In plain English, that means you need to take eight to ten times as much icariin to achieve the same results as Viagra.
For example, a standard Viagra pill is 100mg. To achieve the same results from taking Horny Goat Weed, you'd have to consume enough to deliver 1000mg of icariin.
Here's where it gets tricky. Epimedium leaf extract itself contains varying amounts of icariin - from 6% in the cheapest supplements to nearly 60% in some of the better ones. Assuming you take a supplement that contains 10% icariin, you'd need to consume 10,000mg to have to same effective dose as Viagra (that's the equivalent of swallowing 10 large Epimedium pills!)
Therefore, it's definitely worth doing some research into the products which deliver the most bang for your buck. I've actually researched and tried several Horny Goat Weed products to weed (ha!) out the overrated from the under appreciated. The common misconception that 'Expensive=Better' is totally untrue when it comes to herbal supplements. Expensive, in this instance, generally only equals 'costs more.'
Here are my top three picks:
The Good: Planetary Herbals Full Spectrum Horny Goat Weed, 1200 mg, Tablets , 60 tablets $12.95
An excellent starting point are these cheap, but good value pills from Planetary Herbs.
At just $12.95, you get 120 tablets and each one is a hefty 1200mg, making them excellent value for money. The downside is that Epimedium in pill form contains the smallest percentage of icariin, roughly 10%, and to effectively mimic the effects of Viagra, you'll need to swallow eight - yes, eight - of these big, icky-smelling pills.
The sheer size and grassy smell of the pills made me slightly nauseous after taking them, but they are effective once they've been absorbed. It's certainly the most cost-effective and simplest way of benefiting from Horny Goat Weed.
Buy it here.
The Better: Alternative Health & Herbs Remedies Horny Goat Weed, 4-Ounce Bottle $37.91
The 4 oz bottle contains a tincture of Epimedium in 12% alcohol solution, which makes it highly effective and also very easy to take.
For effective dosing, you need to take between 10 and 20 drops on or under the tongue.
The tincture means it works faster than pills and the dropper makes it effortless to use. This is my particular favorite product, although I noticed better results with (and felt better about using) the Honey Goat Weed powder.
Buy it here.
The Best: Horney Goat Weed Powder Organic 1 Lb $15.50
This is 'the good stuff.' Organically grown, pharmaceutical-grade Epimedium-extract which contains the highest concentration of icariin per gram.
As with all supplements, the reassurance of knowing it's organic and grown to pharmaceutical standards makes this a very desirable product and the concentration of icariin makes it an especially effective one.
The only major drawback is consuming it - an effective dose is 2 grams, mixed with water and swallowed an hour or so before sex. The powder itself tastes disgusting.
Buy it here.
Honorable Mention: Tea Horny Goat Weed CS 6/20 Bag $27.38
Having recently got into drinking green tea in a big way, I was rather stoked to find Horny Goat Weed offered in tea form.
It's effects aren't scientifically measured, but infusion in hot water is generally an excellent way to benefit from the health benefits of plants and it's a surprisingly pleasant way to ingest Epimedium.
Manufacturers Triple Leaf Tea recommend a cup before bedtime (and 'action') but I'd up that ante to one large mug with two teabags and about a pint of hot (but not boiling) water.
Buy it here.