Herbalism for Male Sexual and Reproductive Health
DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.
Mucuna pruriens is a bean used in traditional medicine in Latin America and India. It is a natural source of L-Dopa, the precursor to dopamine (as well as epinephrine and norepinephrine). Besides being valuable as an herbal remedy for balancing mood and neurotransmitter-related issues, Mucuna can also be used for both male and female fertility and sexual function, and can be combined with other herbs to strengthen its effects in this regard.
One study observed that Mucuna powder given to men at a dose of 5000mg per day over a 12-week period improved sperm counts in men with oligozoospermia. In this study, sperm counts increased by 83.8 million/mL. In a different study, a combination of Mucuna, Safed Musli (Chlorophytum borivilianum), and Eulophia campestris were administered over the course of 40 days and shown to increase body, testis, and epididymis weight, as well as to increase sperm motility and density. This herbal combination was also shown to elevate serum testosterone levels.
At a dose of 5000mg per day, Mucuna has also been shown to increase luteinizing hormone (LH) levels and decrease follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). In men, LH is responsible for stimulating the testicles to produce and release testosterone, which supports not only fertility but also supports libido and general male sexual health. Meanwhile, FSH helps encourage adequate sperm production. In addition, Mucuna has been shown to improve the overall quality of the sperm produced, and may also have positive effects on sperm transport and contraction of seminal vesicles.
Because of its multifaceted action on hormonal health, Mucuna pruriens not only supports male fertility purely in regard to testosterone and sex hormones, but also in regard to decreased stress levels and improved mood. One study observed that administration of Mucuna to men struggling with infertility improved sperm parameters as well as decreased measurable stress markers (such as cortisol levels), leading to improved sex drive, a potential increase in plasma testosterone levels (and increased testosterone levels in general), and better sexual performance.
For the treatment of male infertility or to generally increase testosterone levels (and improve male sexual health and libido), Mucuna pruriens may be taken at a dose of 5000mg per day as described above. The herb may be found in powder form, capsule form, or tincture form. In a powder, take mucuna mixed with raw honey or mix it in with soups of smoothies (be aware that Mucuna can sometimes turn smoothies or other foods a dark color… this is normal, but can be surprising at first). Capsules should have a standardized amount of L-Dopa at 15-30%, and may be taken at the same dosage. The same dosage protocol may be followed when taking a tincture as well. Patients are likely to notice a difference in their sexual performance and mood within only a few days of taking Mucuna, though changes in male fertility parameters may take somewhat more time depending on the individual.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is a popular and well-known remedy for both male and female sexual health problems. This herb can help not only restore and improve male fertility, but can also increase testosterone levels and improve male libido and sexual performance. Ashwagandha is also an adaptogen, meaning that it can help the body handle and respond to stress more effectively. Since stress often plays a major role in male infertility and sexual performance, this aspect of Ashwagandha makes it especially compelling in terms of the treatment of male sexual issues.
One study done in 2015 observed that men who took an extract of Ashwagandha root had testosterone levels that were 5 times higher than the other men in the study who weren’t taking the herb. A different study noted that men taking Ashwagandha had higher levels of both luteinizing hormone and testosterone (which make sense, since LH stimulates testosterone production). Finally, two 2011 studies demonstrated that this herb can also improve sperm count, sperm quality, and sperm motility, as well as reduce stress levels and increase libido.
Ashwagandha may be taken at a dose of 125 mg to 5 g daily, and is available primarily in powder, capsule, and tincture form. Start at a lower dose and gradually increase your dose until you reach a dose that feels right to you.
Ashwagandha combines well with Mucuna pruriens and the two are often used together to improve testosterone levels naturally.
Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris)
Tribulus is another herb that is relatively popular in terms of improving male sexual health in particular (although the herb has also been used for female sexual health as well). Tribulus, like other herbs on this list, doesn’t actually contain testosterone, but rather encourages the body to produce its own testosterone. Studies have demonstrated that administration of this herb in both animals and humans increases androgen levels (including testosterone, dihydrotestosterone/DHT, and DHEAs). Tribulus can also not only help increase levels of sex hormones, and also act as a protective/maintenance agent against other substances (such as narcotics, for example) that may lower testosterone levels.
One study demonstrated that Tribulus supplementation improves muscular power and increases blood testosterone levels in athletes. A different study in older men with erectile dysfunction and low blood and free testosterone levels observed that the administration of a supplement containing Tribulus terrestris, Alga ecklonia (a brown algae), D-glucosamine, and N-acetylglucosamine generally increased libido and restored testosterone levels to normal levels after 2 months of supplementation.
Combination therapies with Tribulus, Long Jack, and Leuzea carthamoides have also been shown to increase libido and sexual performance. And notably, in one study done on rats, Tribulus was shown to be at least as effective as Viagra as an aphrodisiac.
Patients should take up to 6 grams of tribulus root daily for 2 months for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, low libido, and low testosterone levels.
Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
Maca root is a traditional Peruvian herbal medicine that is renowned for its balancing effect on male and female hormonal health. There are 3 different types of maca: Black maca, red maca, and yellow maca. Yellow maca is the most common type of maca, but not necessarily the most effective type of maca in all circumstances. Each type of maca has similar properties, but with different “specialties” in terms of healing. Therefore, it’s important to consider the specialty of each type of maca before choosing a supplement. Below is a brief overview of the types of maca and their uses:
- Yellow maca – This is the most common type, and comprises 60-70% of maca crops. Traditional cultures often take this type of maca daily. It can help restore balance and offset the effects of stress (as an adaptogen) and can help treat hormonal imbalance, autoimmune disease, thyroid dysfunction, adrenal fatigue, low energy levels, and infertility in both men and women. Yellow maca is considered neutral and benefits both men and women (as well as children) equally.
- Red maca – About 20-25% of maca crops are red maca. It is recommended for ailments that are chronic, and can be used to treat the same conditions as yellow maca as well as anxiety, osteoporosis, poor circulation, inflammation, and prostate problems. It is also used to treat female infertility and to balance hormones. Red maca is considered to represent the feminine side of maca and is thus more often used in the treatment of female sexual health issues rather than male sexual health issues.
- Black maca – This is the rarest type of maca and only shows up in 10-15% of maca crops. It is specifically beneficial for mental conditions, fatigue, and depression, and is often recommended for the improvement of male fertility, libido, and overal sexual health and function. It is considered to embody the “masculine” side of maca, and therefore may be the most valuable form of maca for the treatment of male sexual health problems.
Black maca has been successfully used to treat male infertility and to improve male libido and erectile dysfunction (ED), and can also be used to support an increase in muscle mass and to improve athletic endurance. It may also improve focus and reduce stress and anxiety. For men specifically struggling with prostate problems, red maca may be especially beneficial. For budget-conscious individuals or those who don’t have access to these colors of maca, yellow maca root carries many of the same properties and is also beneficial in the treatment of these sexual and mental health conditions.
Studies have demonstrated that the administration of maca root at a dose of 1500-3000mg daily for 4 months increases seminal volume and sperm count. This dose also increased overall sperm motility and motile sperm count. There was not a significant difference in the rate of improvement seen in the test subjects based on whether the patients were taking lower or higher amounts of maca; both lower and higher doses were similarly effective.
Saw Palmetto / Serenoa repens
Saw palmetto has also been known as “Old Man’s Best Friend” because of its notable, beneficial effects on male hormonal health particularly in men who are over the age of 50 years. This herb helps stop the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, thereby increasing the levels of testosterone in the body. This action not only improves male sexual health by encouraging health libido and sexual performance, but also prevents and helps treat prostate problems. Higher levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) cause the prostate to enlarge, so decreasing the conversion of testosterone to DHT prevents prostate enlargement as men age.
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While this herb can be extremely beneficial, men who are receiving hormone replacement therapy should avoid this herb until they have stopped receiving hormone replacement. Otherwise, men should take a dose of 160 mg of standardized 85-95% liquid extract twice a day, OR 400 mg of a standardized 25% powdered extract in capsule form twice daily. Selenium and lycopene have been shown to improve the efficacy of saw palmetto; take 200 mcg of selenium and 15-45 mg of lycopene daily in combination with your first dose of saw palmetto.
Tongkat Ali / Long Jack / Malaysian Ginseng (Eurycoma longifolia Jack)
Long Jack and Tongkat Ali are common names for the same plant, Eurycoma longifolia Jack (to be even more specific, this plant is yellow Tongkat Ali; there are two other plants that are also known as Tongkat Ali, but this article focuses on the yellow variety). This is a traditional Malaysian herbal medicine that can be used not only for male sexual and reproductive health, but also for the treatment of physical and mental fatigue, depression, stress, mood disorders, and high blood pressure.
Tongkat Ali has been shown to increase both testosterone and DHEA levels in men. One study done in 2021 demonstrated that administration of 200 mg of Tongkat Ali over the course of 12 weeks increased DHEA levels by 11% in a group of men between the ages of 50-70. A different study observed a 582% increase in free testosterone levels in men who took 50 mg of Tongkat Ali in combination with a multivitamin supplement for 24 weeks.
Studies have shown that Long Jack also improves erection time by 162% and erection hardness by 39%, indicating its relevance in the treatment of erectile dysfunction specifically. The herb can also improve sperm motility and concentration, making it a good choice for the treatment of male infertility as well.
Men who take Tongkat Ali should take a dose of 50-200 mg per day. Start at the lower dose and work your way up (higher doses are generally considered to produce more powerful results with this particular herb). Some individuals have taken up to 500 mg per day and there are supplements offering 1200 mg per day. Individuals who choose to take this herb should not take more than 600 mg daily, however. Results may be evident within a few hours in younger, active men, or may take a few days in older men. To receive the long-term benefits of Tongkat Ali, be prepared to take the herb for between 4-12 weeks.
Fenugreek / Trigonella foenum-graceum
Fenugreek has been used for thousands of years as both a culinary spice and an herbal medicine in Ayurvedic, Mediterranean, and traditional African medicine. It has unique effects on hormonal health in both men and women, and has also been used to treat liver and gallbladder complaints, arthritis, muscle pain, tuberculosis, ulcers, gout, and more.
In one study conducted on 60 male subjects over the course of 8 weeks, a dosage of 300 mg of capsulized fenugreek extract taken twice daily was shown to increase free testosterone levels (without decreasing total testosterone levels), improve athletic endurance, and support weight loss without a reduction in muscle mass. The glucosides in fenugreek, such as fenuside, are primarily responsible for these benefits. This glucoside (and others) stimulates the production of male sex hormones like testosterone in the testes.
Fenugreek has also been shown to lower insulin levels, which is directly connected to healthy testosterone levels; generally speaking, in healthy individuals, lower insulin levels are correlated with higher testosterone levels (and vice versa). Studies have demonstrated that this herb can quickly and safely increase libido, sexual stamina, orgasm frequency, and general energy levels through its testosterone boosting activity. Fenugreek supplementation is also connected to an increase in lean muscle mass, mostly due to its testosterone-increasing effects.
Fenugreek should be taken at a dose of 600-2400 mg per day. It may be taken all at once, or in divided doses of 300-1200 mg in the morning and 300-1200 mg in the evening. This herb is available in powder, dry herb, capsule, and tincture forms; though all of these forms are effective, if you plan to use fenugreek medicinally, the capsulized or tincture forms can be the most straightforward to work with to ensure that you’re taking the appropriate dose.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle, like saw palmetto, can be used as a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Both of these herbs work by inhibiting the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone by inhibiting 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that is responsible for this conversion. By inhibiting the conversion of testosterone to DHT, stinging nettle can increase testosterone levels and prevent the negative effects of excessively high DHT levels (such as the enlargement of the prostate and BPH).
Stinging nettle has also been used as a diuretic and as a treatment for urinary tract infections, gout, arthritis, joint and muscle pain, insect bites and other skin rashes, cough (both chronic or caused by the common cold or other conditions), inflammation, and more.
Some studies have indicated that taking stinging nettle may increase testosterone levels by up to 10%, and that combining stinging nettle with saw palmetto may increase the efficacy of both herbs in terms of increasing testosterone and supporting male reproductive health. Stinging nettle can also be combined with fenugreek, maca root, and Panax ginseng to increase its healing benefits.
Stinging nettle is a very nourishing herb rich in many nutrients, including all of the essential amino acids, calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin C, the B-complex vitamins, fatty acids (including linolenic acid and linoleic acid), and more. The herb may be taken as tea, in capsules, or as a tincture. Take 8-12 g of dried leaf or 4-6 g of dried root in capsule form daily, 2.5-5ml of tincture in water daily up to 3 times per day, or drink a tea made of 1-3 teaspoons of dried herb in 1 cup of boiling water steeped for 10-15 minutes.
Black Cumin Seed (Nigella sativa)
In some traditional medical models such as Ayurveda, Nigella sativa is an incredibly important herbal remedy for a long, long list of ailments, including not only male infertility and sexual health issues, but also cancer, chronic pain, liver and gallbladder problems, psoriasis and other autoimmune conditions, diabetes, high blood pressure, and much more.
In one study on a group of 55 men between the ages of 18-40 years, black cumin seed powder was administered to the test group at a dose of 2 grams daily for 3 months. In the test group receiving Nigella sativa powder, researchers observed a significant increase in sperm count of 39.27% by the end of the 3 months of treatment. Sperm motility also increased by 59.71% in the test group by the end of the study, and sperm viability increased by 46.83% by the end of the 3 month period. There was a 12.93% increase in sperm volume as well.
The same study demonstrated that men taking black cumin seed powder had a significant increase of nearly 50% in their follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels, as well as a notable increase in luteinizing hormone (LH) levels and serum testosterone levels. Other studies done previously also support these findings.
Though the study discussed above specifically makes use of black cumin seed powder, Nigella sativa oil is likely to produce similar effects on male reproductive health as powder. Nigella sativa is available as whole seeds, powder, oils, or capsulized forms of the powder of oils. For budget-conscious individuals, the whole seeds or powders may be the most accessible and affordable option, as well as being the purest and potentially healthiest form of this herbal supplement. The plain oil of Nigella sativa is also an excellent choice.
Rhodiola / Arctic Root / Golden Root (Rhodiola rosea)
Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb that can help regulate adrenal function and support a healthier response to stress throughout the body. In traditional medicine, this herb has been used to treat fatigue, weakness, altitude sickness, anxiety, and depression, and was used to increase stamina, endurance, and work performance. While Rhodiola rosea is generally prescribed for these purposes, it also can be a valuable herbal supplement for male fertility and general reproductive health.
In Siberia, Rhodiola used to be given to newlywed couples (both to the man and the woman) as a fertility boosting tonic, and in the Republic of Georgia, a similar custom is still observed in some areas where newly married couples are given Rhodiola roots to encourage fertility and the birth of healthy children. Traditional cultures acknowledge Rhodiola’s efficacy in improving male and female fertility, and indeed, the scientific evidence that currently exists supports this traditional use of Rhodiola rosea.
Studies have shown that administration of Rhodiola can improve muscle mass and has hormonal effects in males similar to those seen when testosterone is administered at low doses. One study in particular on a group of men struggling with either erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation demonstrated that 74% of the men experienced improved sexual function after 3 months of taking 150-200mg of Rhodiola rosea extract for 3 months. The men also experienced normalization of prostatic fluid and researchers noted an increase in 17-ketosteroids in the men’s urine (these are byproducts of the breakdown of androgens, suggesting an overall increase in these sex hormones).
Spade Flower / Ratan Purush / Pink Ladies Slipper (Ionidium suffruticosum / Hybanthus enneaspermus)
This herb is traditionally used to treat a variety of conditions, including urinary/kidney stones, urethral discharge, epilepsy, asthma, strangury (pain caused by blockage or irritation of the bladder or urethra), difficulty focusing, vomiting, dysentery, and much more. It also has a positive effect on male fertility and sexual/reproductive health, and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for this purpose.
One study on rats demonstrated that the leaf extract of Ratan Purush increased body weight and testes weight, and also improved sperm vitality and motility while increasing the percentage of normal spermatozoa. Other studies have also observed that this herb helps regulate the pH in the testes, as well as reduce sperm agglutination (where multiple sperm join together and are thus unable to swim individually).
Other Herbal Remedies with Reported Positive Effects on Male Fertility and Reproductive Health
Since there are many, many herbs that have been studied with regard to male fertility and reproductive health, it would be nearly impossible to write about them all here. So, I’ve included a short list of some other herbal remedies that may be effective in treating male infertility or other sexual or reproductive issues:
- Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
- Shweta Musali (Asparagus adscendens Roxb) – Treatment for seminal weakness; Aphrodisiac
- Bitter Kola (Garcina kola Heckel) – Aphrodisiac; Increases testicular weight; Significantly increases sperm count
- Black Ginger (Kaempferia parviflora) – Male impotence; Improves testicular function; Increases testosterone levels in the testes
- Moringa (Moringa oleifera) – Increases number of interstitial Leydig cells and serum testosterone levels; Prevents damage to testes, especially damage done by mercury; Increases testicular weight
- Banana Root (Musa x paradisiaca) – Stimulates normal testicular function; Increases testes weight; Increases testicular testosterone production; Reduces levels of follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone
- Date Palm Pollen (Phoenix dactylifera) – Increases testicular and epididymal weight;
- Pomegranate (Punica granatum) – Protects the testes against radioactivity; Increases testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle stimulating hormone levels
- Matrimony Vine / Red Diamonds / Goji Berry (Lycium barbarum)
- Olive Leaf (Olea europaea) – Protects testicular tissues from damage due to diabetes
- Meadow Sage (Salvia haematodes) – Improves epididymal sperm counts
- White Ginger / Umondi (Mondia whitei) – Increases sperm density in cauda epididymis
- Saffron (Crocus sativus) – Improves sperm parameters (even so when sperm have been exposed to cadmium)
- Safed Musli (Chlorophytum borivilianum) – Aphrodisiac; Enhances libido, sexual arousal, and sexual vigor; Improves sperm and semen parameters
- Quince (Cydonia oblonga) – Aphrodisiac
- Dracaena arborea – Aphrodisiac
- Montanoa grandiflora and Montanoa frutescens – Aphrodisiac; Improves ejaculatory ability
- Pellitory / Spanish Chamomile (Anacyclus pyrethrum) – Aphrodisiac; Erectile dysfunction treatment; Increases testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle stimulating hormone levels
- Flame-of-the-Forest (Butea monosperma) – Aphrodisiac; Increases healthy sperm production and decreases the production of abnormal sperm
- Microdesmis keayana – Aphrodisiac
- Damiana (Turnera diffusa) – Aphrodisiac
- Burdock Root (Arctium lappa) – Increases serum testosterone levels
- Bahuphali (Corchorus depressus) – Increases serum testosterone levels
- Tiger Nut (Cyperus esculentus) – Increases serum testosterone levels
- Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) – Increases testosterone secretion from Leydig cells; Improves sperm parameters (though it does not decrease sperm abnormalities); Acts against the negative effects of naloxone, carbonium tetrachloride, and lead acetate against sperm
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale) – Increases serum testosterone levels (especially in diabetic individuals); Protects sperm against toxic substances
- Summer Savory (Satureja khuzestanica) – Improves sperm quality parameters
- Combination Remedy 1– Safed Musli (Chlorophytum borivilianum), Saffron (Crocus sativus), Black Cumin Seed (Nigella sativa), and Sesame (Sesamum indicum)
- Combination Remedy 2 – Celery (Apium graveolens), Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas), Satureja (Satureja khuzestanica), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Indian Fumitory (Fumaria parviflora), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera)
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