The Health Benefits of Horny Goat Weed

The Herb That Is Often Called a "Natural Viagra"

Horny goat weed tea, powder, capsules and tablets

Verywell / Anastasiia Tretiak

Horny goat weed is a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine. As its nickname, "natural Viagra," implies, some people use horny goat weed to improve sexual function and arousal.

This article discusses the possible health benefits and side effects of taking horny goat weed. It also shares recommended doses and what to look for when buying this supplement.

Also Known As

  • Epimedium
  • yin yan huo
  • dâm dương hoắc

Health Benefits

The health and sexual benefit claims for horny goat weed go back thousands of years.

According to folklore, a Chinese goat herder noticed that his flock had heightened sexual activity after eating the plant. This led to the discovery of the plant's aphrodisiac qualities. So, if you were wondering where this herbal remedy got its name, now you know.

Horny goat weed contains chemical compounds known as phytoestrogens, plant-based substances that have the same effects as the estrogen your body produces. This is why some people suggest that it can influence hormones and bone health.

Alternative medicine practitioners propose that horny goat weed is useful in complementary therapy to treat certain conditions.

These include:

Horny goat weed is also thought to improve circulation by thinning the blood. It has also been used to help symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), sharpen memory, and boost energy.

There have been limited studies examining the benefits of horny goat weed. The main studies are in vitro (conducted in test tubes) or animal studies. Erectile dysfunction and bone disorders are the two most common conditions that have been studied.

Recap

Horny goat weed is sometimes used in alternative medicine. This herbal supplement may improve blood circulation and help treat bone diseases like osteoporis and osteoarthritis.

Erectile Dysfunction

Many people call horny goat weed the "natural Viagra." While there is a lack of quality research, some evidence suggests that horny goat weed can help males who have certain types of sexual dysfunction.

Horny goat weed contains a substance called icariin. Icariin can block a protein linked with erectile dysfunction called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5). Normally, the body suppresses PDE5 levels. In males who have erectile dysfunction, it may not be suppressed the way it should be.

Scientists found that icariin acts in the same way as Viagra (sildenafil) by suppressing PDE5 activity. However, the action was weak, even in a test tube study. Compared to icariin, Viagra was 80 times more effective.

That’s not to say horny goat weed won't improve a man’s ability to have an erection. The supplement may stimulate blood flow enough to trigger a positive response in males who have mild to moderate erectile dysfunction.

Bone Health

Phytoestrogens are plant-based estrogens found in horny goat weed and other plants. They are believed to imitate the action of estrogen. It's. been suggested that phytoestrogens can help treat bone loss that occurs due to low estrogen levels in postmenopausal females.

Scientists backed by a research grant from the Shanghai Municipal Health Bureau and the Hong Kong Competitive Earmarked Research Grant tested this theory.

  • In the study, 85 late-postmenopausal women took either a placebo (sugar pill) or a phytoestrogen supplement extracted from horny goat weed. All of the women also took 300 milligrams of calcium per day.
  • Two years later, horny goat weed extract appeared to help prevent bone loss. The phytoestrogen group had better bone turnover markers (the measure of how well bone is being remodeled).
  • Horny goat weed wasn't linked with any negative effects that women experience when taking estrogen, such as endometrial hyperplasia (irregular thickening of the uterine wall).

Additionally, icariin may help slow cartilage from degrading in people with osteoarthritis. And animal studies suggest that suppressing PDE5 can help preserve the collagen found in cartilage.

Recap

Research found that the phytoestrogen in horny goat weed can help prevent bone loss in post-menopausal women. The women in the study also didn't experience any negative effects from the supplement.

Possible Side Effects

According to the National Institutes of Health, appropriate doses of horny goat weed are considered safe. High doses can be toxic to the kidneys and liver.

Talk to your healthcare provider before you use horny goat weed to treat any chronic condition. They can check to see if it would interact with any drugs you're taking (including blood thinners and blood pressure medications).

Recap

Certain people shouldn't take horny goat weed:

  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • People with bleeding disorders
  • Individuals with low blood pressure or irregular heartbeat
  • Women with hormone-sensitive conditions (endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and cancers of the breast, ovaries, or prostate)

Since horny goat weed can slow blood clotting, don't use it before surgery.

Horny goat weed capsules

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dosage and Preparation

You can find horny goat weed in many drug and health-food stores. It's available as a capsule, powder, tablet, or tea.

Some practitioners believe that an appropriate dose is 5 grams per day. However, more evidence is needed to recommend a specific dose.

Always check the label of any horny goat weed product you purchase. Similar varieties may have unwanted effects. Epimedium saggitatum and Epimedium grandiflorum are normally used in Chinese medicine.

What to Look For

Before taking this herbal supplement, talk to your healthcare provider. There are different variations of horny goat weed. Plus, not all of them are considered safe for all people. Your dose and whether it's safe for you depends on several factors. These include your age, sex, and medical conditions.

If you do choose to take this supplement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends looking for a Supplement Facts label on the product you buy. This label contains important information, such as the amount of active ingredients per serving. It will also list other ingredients that may affect your health.

Look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third-party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International.

A seal of approval from one of these organizations doesn't guarantee that the product is safe or effective. But it does assure you that it was properly made, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and doesn't have harmful levels of contaminants.

Summary

Horny goat weed is an herbal supplement that some people use to treat erectile dysfunction and stimulate sexual arousal. Some research points to the positive effects that phytoestrogens in horny goat weed have, especially on bone health.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • National Institutes of Health. "Horny Goat Weed." MedlinePlus Supplements. Bethesda, Maryland; updated April 2015.
  • Shindel, A.; Xin, Z.; Lin, G. et al. "Erectogenic and neurotrophic effects of icariin, a purified extract of horny goat weed (Epimedium spp.) in vitro and in vivo." J Sex Med. 2010; 7(4 Pt 1):1518–28; DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.1688.x.
  • Zhang, W.; Li, R.; Wang, S. et al. "Effect of Chinese traditional herb Epimedium grandiflorum C. Morren and its extract Icariin on osteoarthritis via suppressing NF-kappaB pathway." Indian J Exp Biol. 2013; 51(4):313–21; DOI: 10.1359/jbmr.070405.