Horny Goat Weed

Horny Goat Weed

Horny goat weed, known by the botanical name Epimedium alpinum, is a flowering plant that contains icariin, a compound with properties believed to support sexual health, the brain, and many other aspects of the body’s performance and function. The use of horny goat weed originates back to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and remains a staple herb in modern supplements.

What is Horny Goat Weed?

Horny goat weed is native to Asia and the Mediterranean. Cultures refer to the plant by different names, such as barrenwort, bishop’s hat, fairy wings, and yin yang huo. Horny goat weed belongs to the Berberidaceae family of plants that includes some 700 known species.(1) This perennial plant grows up to 9 inches tall and is found in woodland areas as ground cover. The plant features red flower sepals (a leaf-life enclosure around the bud that open to reveal the ‘true’ petal, and stamen), yellow petals, nectar producing ‘spurs’ shaped like a cone, and four stamens (the reproductive part of the plant that produces pollen).

Horny goat weed blooms in April, producing up to 20 flowers along one or more racemes, which are unbranched stalk-like components of some plants.(2) The plant prefers partial or full shade, is drought resistant, and is tolerable to wildlife and poor soil conditions. If growing in a garden, cut back any old foliage in late winter as the plant is known to spread rapidly and old growth will help the plant to thrive.

While common in supplements today, the use of horny goat weed originates in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In this system of medicine, horny goat weed is said to expel wind, cold, and dampness from the kidneys and liver.(3) It also helps to balance yin and yang. Practitioners sometimes cite the use of horny goat weed to promote virility and a healthy libido in men.(4) Guides for TCM state the herb will treat impotence, erectile dysfunction, or premature ejaculation.(5)

Modern sciences do not always agree with claims about certain herbs or some alternative systems of medicine, but research does show the compounds in horny goat weed may produce some potentially beneficial effects in the reproductive organs of the body and even the brain.

The research into how horny goat weed works in the body is not yet conclusive, but early results have shown promise. Below is a look at this research and the potential benefits individuals may experience when taking horny goat weed in supplement form.

Horny Goat Weed Benefits

How Does Icariin Work?

Research suggests that the potential benefits of horny goat weed are the result of the compound icariin, the primary active component of horny goat weed.(6) Studies looking at the effect of icariin in the body report that this compound has antioxidant properties and supports the biological process known as nitric oxide synthase (NOS). NOS is important in vascular endothelial cells because they help to provide the structure of vessels and arteries, including the ability to expand and contract as blood flow increases or decreases. Icariin also supports nerve cells, muscles, hormones, inflammation factors in vessels and arteries, and the immune system.

Male Sexual Health

The name horny goat weed originates in China where goat farmers first noticed a “sexual rejuvenation” in animals that ate the plant.(7) The name horny goat weed stuck as it became popular among individuals with concerns about sexual health. Due to its history and name, many research studies have looked at horny goat weed for its potential to support male reproduction; specifically, can horny goat weed be used as an alternative to pharmaceuticals designed to support sexual function?

As noted above, the compound icariin supports nitric oxide production in endothelial cells. Nitric oxide is important as it allows vessels and arteries to change diameter. Research shows icariin may be beneficial to those diagnosed with erectile dysfunction (ED).(8) ED is a concern for around 12 percent of young men, 22 percent of men aged 60 to 69, and 30 percent of men over the age of 70. Erections occur when nitric oxide signals a chemical known as cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) that causes the smooth muscles inside vessels and arteries found in the penis to relax. ED results from an enzyme that interferes with nitric oxide and cGMP. Therefore, ingesting icariin may help to undo disruptions to the production of these compounds.(9)(10)

A study looking at the effect of icariin on reproductive function in male rates found beneficial results, but with a warning related to dosage amounts. Researchers gave rats a dosage of either 0 mg as a control, 50, 100, or 200 milligrams per kilogram of body weight for 35 consecutive days.(11) Results showed both 50 and 100 mg doses increased testosterone production in the follicle stimulating hormone receptors found in the testis. However, the 200 mg dose produced an upregulating effect on oxidative stress, resulting in damage to reproductive function in the testes.(12) How a higher dosage correlates to human reproduction is not clear from this study; 200 mg of horny goat weed for human consumption is considered safe, and numerous supplements contain doses exceeding this amount.

Another study found icariin may provide beneficial results in patients with erectile dysfunction that results from diabetes.(13) Icariin is shown to help regulate concentrations of blood sugars that in high enough quantities can cause tissue damage to vessels and arteries.

Brain Support

A study found icariin may have potentially beneficial results against ibotenic acid-induced excitotoxicity in the brain.(14) Excitotoxicity causes damage to neurons and is a primary factor in Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found that icariin helps to regulate signaling and neuroprotective factors in the brain. The resulting data suggests there may be potential use for compounds found in horny goat weed for patients with neurodegenerative conditions.

Bone Health

A study suggests icariin has the potential to support bone regeneration and growth.(15) Bone loss occurs naturally as humans age, due to changes in hormone production such as during menopause, or as a result of other health challenges.(16) Researchers found icariin induces several effects on systems that develop new bone tissue, including mineralization of soft tissue. According to the study, when researchers administered icariin with calcium phosphate they reported “significant new bone formation was observed in the icariin-CPC group at four weeks, and the new bone thickness had increased by six weeks. Obvious blood vessel formation was observed in the icariin-induced new bone. Treatment of senescence-accelerated mouse prone 1 and senescence-accelerated mouse prone six models further demonstrated icariin was able to enhance bone formation in vivo.” Researchers conclude that icariin may be a strong candidate for products seeking to help support bone health.

Antioxidants

Horny goat weed contains plant compounds such as polyphenols and tannins. These compounds have been shown to provide support for free radical scavenging antioxidants. One study evaluated this effect and found that polyphenolic structures helped to disrupt peroxidation in red blood cells.(17) Another study found that icariin in horny goat weed has a protective effect in DNA against oxidative damage.(18)

Horny Goat Weed and Women

As noted previously, horny goat weed does affect hormone production and regulation in the body. This effect may extend to the regulation of estrogen, but research into its efficacy in supporting women’s sexual health is not established.

Horny Goat Weed and Maca

Horny goat weed and the herb maca, also known as Lepidium meyenii, are sometimes found blended due to the potential reproductive health benefits they offer when taken at the same time.(19) Maca grows at higher elevations in Central America, specifically the country of Peru. The root of maca contains at least four types of alkaloid that research shows can help regulate endocrine function and hormone production. These alkaloids also stimulate the hypothalamus-pituitary gland, the organ responsible for hormone secretions.(20)

Horny Goat Weed Dosage, Warnings, and Precautions

There is no known safe dosage of horny goat weed. Researchers suggest that each dose of horny goat weed should be taken according to individual weight and the amount of icariin extract found in the supplement. Animal studies have found 200 mg/kg of horny goat weed with a 40% extract of icariin boosted testosterone. When accounting for human weight, researcher recommended the following horny goat weed dosage when a 40% icariin extract is present.(21)

  • 2,250 mg for a 150 pound person
  • 3,000 mg for a 200 pound person
  • 3,750 mg for a 250 pound person

Studies also administered a lower dose of horny goat weed and found the below results are necessary to provide a minimal active result in humans.

  • 275 mg for a 150 pound person
  • 375 mg for a 200 pound person
  • 450 mg for a 250 pound person

When using any supplement, never exceed the recommended dosage set by the manufacturer. If changes to health occur after starting a horny goat weed regimen, stop use and consult with a primary care physician. If using horny goat weed for erectile dysfunction, a doctor may recommend increasing the dosage or frequency of use. After stopping the use of horny goat weed, the effects of the herb have been known to continue for several days.

People who take horny goat weed have reported changes in mood and behavior, elevated heart rate, increased physical activity, perspiration, flushing or feelings of heat in the skin, thyroid dysfunction, and nausea.(22) Horny goat weed is known to interact with some medications, including cortisone, prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, dexamethasone, cytochrome P450 substrates, and aromatase inhibitors. People with hormone-sensitive cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, thin blood, or have certain allergies should not use this herb.

Start Taking a Horny Goat Weed Supplement

Horny goat weed is available in capsules, liquid softgels, liquid tinctures, and tablets. Horny goat weed may also be found blended with other herbs, vitamins, and minerals. For optimal results, seek out horny goat weed in a dosage appropriate for the individual health challenge or concern. Horny goat weed tea is one method of enjoying the potential benefits of the herb. Steep the dried plant parts in boiling water to extract the medicinal compounds. Using the herb in tea may be ideal for those with digestive issues.

When seeking out additional help for health challenges, an herbal supplement may be an ideal alternative or complementary product for use with more conventional therapies or treatments. Horny goat weed is an ancient herb that remains popular in the modern world for its many potential benefits. Experience horny goat weed and see if it makes a difference in your life.

Sources

  1. https://biotaxa.org/Phytotaxa/article/view/phytotaxa.261.3.1
  2. https://www.britannica.com/science/raceme
  3. https://drshen.com/products/yin-yang-huo
  4. https://www.drugs.com/npc/horny-goat-weed.html
  5. https://tinyurl.com/TCM-horny-goat-weed
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22088582
  7. https://www.mdidea.net/products/herbextract/icariin/data03.html
  8. https://www.healthline.com/health/erectile-dysfunction/horny-goat-weed
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22728670/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20141584
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24995929
  12. https://bmccancer.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2407-13-246
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22728670/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27368415
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19698057
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27648597
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15563763/
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26145038/
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5422695/
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184420/
  21. https://examine.com/supplements/horny-goat-weed/
  22. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317023.php