Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Meet a "Special" Herb This Valentine's Day

Besides hemp, the medicinal herb that seems to elicit the greatest amount of giggles is Epimedium, or horny goat weed. It is commonly advertised as a "performance" aid, and in Australia it seems as though you can easily notice and buy it in any pharmacy or health food store. But does it work, and what is the true range of its abilities?

E. koreanum. Source: Qwert1234
Research into Epimedium goes as far back as the "dark ages" of herbal medicine, the 1990s. In a 1995 Chinese study, 22 patients requiring regular dialysis were treated with a decoction of Epimedium sagittatum, while another 12 dialysis patients acted as the control group. The researchers found that the decoction in fact did improve...performance... and quality of life in general. Treatment also boosted immunity, as measured by a significant increase in interleukin-2 activity. A 2007 animal study again aimed to test Epimedium's effects on male performance. Use of a dry extract suspended in wheat germ oil was found to significantly increase complete intromissions and ejaculations among aged male rats. The fact that they were older rats was important, as in humans it is typically older men who need assistance from Epimedium. Actually, the herb has been used for many years in traditional Chinese and Korean medicine for this purpose. Other research has shown that the main active constituent of Epimedium is icariin. When rats were given this constituent after nerve injury, treatment still improved function significantly compared to the control group. This was partly because of increased nitric oxide, a naturally-produced chemical that dilates the blood vessels. Interestingly, icariin also led to much greater neurite length, meaning it may promote nerve repair.

But improving male performance isn't all that Epimedium can do. In fact, it may also be an effective antiaging herb that should be taken much more seriously than a mere joke. A Chinese laboratory study published last decade aimed to test the ability of this herb's flavonoids in preventing cell senescence. Senescence is a major factor behind aging, where a cell can no longer divide to replace itself once it gets too damaged to continue living. Epimedium significantly extended the population doubling ability of the fibroblast (collagen-producing) cells and changed the expression of genes that influence telomere length. Telomere lengthening was improved, but without activation of telomerase. This is important because it shows that there is more than one way to combat cellular aging.

Epimedium is also widely used in China for osteoporosis. It is known in China to increase bone mineral density and therefore promote bone regeneration. Because of this, a lab study tested the effects of the herb's flavonoids on bone formation of human mesenchymal stem cells. When the stem cells were treated with these flavonoids, the time needed for them to transform into bone cells was shortened, and their ability to become osteoclasts was inhibited. Osteoclasts are the cells that break down bone tissue, too many of these will weaken bones. Overall, there is more to Epimedium than commonly advertised, it's no joke, it may help to keep you young!

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