Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, June 6, 2001
Nutritional supplement reported to improve women's sexual function


A nutritional supplement widely available on vitamin store shelves has been shown to significantly improve women's sexual desire and overall satisfaction, according to a recent study co-authored by a Stanford University School of Medicine researcher.

The supplement -- which contains ginkgo, ginseng, damiana, L-arginine and 14 other vitamins and minerals -- offers a nutritional approach to female sexual health, including the enhancement of sexual desire, said Mary Lake Polan, MD, PhD, MPH, professor and chair of gynecology and obstetrics.

L-arginine is an essential amino acid that works to increase levels of nitric oxide in the body, which can increase blood flow and potentially act as a signal molecule for sexual arousal, she explained. Gingko, ginseng and damiana also have a long history of traditional use for overall well-being.

"There are a lot of herbal supplements that are marketed for sexual functioning, but to our knowledge this is the only nutritional supplement for women that has any clinical testing behind it," Polan said.

Polan is co-author of an abstract on the research that was published in the May issue of the Journal of Women's Health and Gender-Based Medicine. She presented the research findings Sunday at the Ninth Annual Congress on Women's Health and Gender-Based Medicine in Washington, D.C., and will also make a presentation at the World Congress of Sexology in Paris June 24-28.

Polan and her colleagues evaluated the supplement through a double-blind study of 93 women between the ages of 22-73 who indicated they were lacking in sexual desire. Of the 93 participants, 46 received the nutritional supplement and 47 received a placebo. The participants used the Female Sexual Function Index questionnaire to rate their level of sexual functioning before starting the study and after taking either a placebo or the supplement.

At the end of four weeks, 62 percent of the group that took the supplement reported greater satisfaction with their overall sex life compared to 38 percent in the placebo group. Additionally, 64 percent of the supplement group reported improvement in their level of sexual desire compared to 43 percent of the placebo group. Of the women nearing menopause who took the supplement, 91 percent reported an increase in the frequency of intercourse compared to 20 percent in the placebo group. Participants also indicated improvements in degree of clitoral sensation, reduction of vaginal dryness and satisfaction with sexual relationship.

With no negative side effects reported, Polan said, the supplement is clearly an option for some women but it is not a panacea. She advised women to talk openly with their doctors about sexual dysfunction, noting that it is critical to have a medical professional conduct a full evaluation. For instance, she said, the problem may be the result of a physical condition that should be managed medically, or it could stem from relationship issues that can be addressed by counseling.

"We still don't have a magic bullet,"
Polan noted. "But the supplement does give women more choices. It's a real product with real value."

According to a 1999 survey, female sexual dysfunction -- low libido, slow arousal, difficulty reaching orgasm and painful intercourse -- occurs in about 43 percent of women. While that exceeds the number of men who report sexual dysfunction -- 31 percent -- there is a lack of options to treat the problem in women, Polan said. Many postmenopausal women benefit from hormone therapy, but not everyone can or wants to take estrogen. Other products come with negative side effects. Androgen gel may cause excessive hair growth and, according to Polan, should only be taken with a doctor's involvement. And the testosterone patch, which is not currently FDA-approved, may cause acne or growth of facial hair.

Polan said the study is one component of a much broader research issue -- the brain's influence on sexual functioning. Currently, Stanford has put together a multidisciplinary team that includes members from radiology, urology, gynecology and psychology to initiate a study on how the brain functions in relation to sexual arousal.

The nutritional supplement used in the study is marketed by The Daily Wellness Company under the trade name ArginMax.