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What The Heck Is Horny Goat Weed?

Walking into The Vitamin Shoppe, there are certain everyday supplements you expect to find on the shelves— zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, turmeric. One product you might not see coming (and may cause you to do a double-take): horny goat weed.

While the name elicits a chuckle from many who encounter it, horny goat weed is no joke. In fact, it’s an herb that’s been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years.

Extracted from the Epimedium plant, horny goat weed is also known as barrenwort, bishop’s hat, fairy wings, or yin yang huo. Legend has it that a Chinese goat herder discovered horny goat weed upon noticing an increase in his flock’s sexual activity after eating the leaves, says Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose, N.D. Since then, humans have utilized it for similar purposes.

The Health Benefits of horny goat weed

1. Male Libido

Though this herb is used today for a wide array of purposes, the best-known relates to what that goat herder discovered all those years ago: supporting male libido.

“Horny goat weed contains an active compound called icariin that blocks the activity of a protein called PDE5, which limits blood flow to male genitalia,” explains naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist David Friedman, N.D., D.C. By supporting that blood flow, the herb effectively helps men function at their best when it really matters.

This function of horny goat weed can be especially helpful for those with blood sugar issues, in whom PDE5 blocks cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), which typically releases blood flow-boosting nitric oxide from the nerve endings in male genitalia, Friedman explains.

2. Hormonal Balance in Older Women

Interestingly enough, women, too, have benefits to reap from horny goat weed. Research—including one study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicinehas found icariin, the active compound in horny goat weed, to support bone health during the post-menopause phase of a woman’s life.

“Horny goat weed contains phytoestrogens, plant compounds that mimic the effects of the female sex hormone estrogen,” Friedman explains. “Estrogen helps protect bones and tends to decrease once a woman reaches menopause.” In other words, taking this herb may help bolster estrogen levels, thereby promoting bone health. In fact, Friedman suggests that the herb may someday be a household name for supporting hormonal balance in postmenopausal women.

Read More: How To Make Menopause Less Of A Menace

What’s more, another study conducted by researchers at the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that icariin may promote healthy joints in older women, who often experience changes in these tissues.

3. Antioxidant Support

Horny goat weed has some pretty impressive antioxidant properties. Not only is icariin itself an antioxidant, but the plant also contains other good-for-you compounds, such as quercetin. Research suggests it can help the body fend off oxidative stress, while Friedman notes that it may help the mitochondria (a.k.a. our “cellular powerhouses”) function at their best.

4. Mood and Cognitive Health

Thanks to its antioxidant effects, horny goat weed may support a balanced mood and cognitive function, suggests Friedman. Since mood and libido are often connected, he believes this is yet another reason the herb supports your mojo. In fact, one open-label pilot study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that icariin may help to ease feelings of low mood.

Read More: How To Balance Your Mood Through Times Of Change

Best practices for taking horny goat weed

Of the many horny goat weed supplements out there, most contain between 500 and 1,000 milligrams of the herb, which is standardized to 10 percent icariin (meaning they contain around 50 to 100 milligrams of that power compound), says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N. Since icariin is the star player in this herb, double-check that any product you consider purchasing is standardized for it, she suggests.

Though this herb offers a variety of potential benefits, it’s not for everyone. Rose recommends that those who are taking medications for erectile dysfunction, have bleeding or clotting disorders, have low blood pressure, or are pregnant or breastfeeding avoid it.

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