By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. Purported benefits include its aphrodisiac effects, improvement of sexual dysfunction in men, and its antihyperglycemic effects when used to treat diabetes. Ginseng is also known for its effects as a muscle relaxant. The plant’s reputation for enhancing libido and sexual performance is well known worldwide.
In a 2002 study by the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, laboratory rats were studied after being treated with ginseng. The results, which were published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, showed that both Asian and American ginseng enhanced libido and sexual performance among the animals. Researchers suggest that these changes were not mediated by any alterations in hormones but were the direct result of ginseng compounds called ginsenosides acting on the central nervous system, to facilitate erection of the penis. Phytoestrogens present in ginseng could also play a role in libido and reproductive behavior. Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Urology reported that out of 45 men with erectile dysfunction who were administered ginseng, 60% said the ginseng improved their ability to gain an erection.
Animal studies have also suggested similar benefits. For example, a study found that ginseng could increase sperm counts in rabbits and egg laying among hens. A Korean study also found that ginseng increased the mating behavior of rats.
However, most findings related to the effects of ginseng on human libido and sexual function have been poorly substantiated. The results are mostly inconclusive, although the drug is still marketed as a sexual stimulant.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jul 2, 2014