Inside Plants: Arginine For Impotence

These plants can help treat impotence naturally.

| September/October 1998

On Sundays, my dad and I bicycle thirty miles together. One of our favorite roads runs past a huge sunflower field, and we’ve noticed that the farmers never harvest the seeds. For some unknown reason, they leave the dried flowers standing for the birds to enjoy.

When I mentioned this to Jim Duke, the co-author of this column, he quickly pointed out that not harvesting the seeds is wasteful, in part because sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus) are the highest plant source of arginine, an essential amino acid that we can only get from our diet or supplements. Arginine supplements are used medicinally for a variety of ailments.

Jim has been particularly interested in arginine because of the recent hype over the impotence drug Viagra (sildenafil). Whenever Jim hears about promotion of a new miracle drug, he immediately starts thinking about which plants might do the same job, only more safely. In his mind, there’s always an herbal ­alternative—whether it’s already known or yet to be discovered.

The advantages of arginine

Impotence often accompanies cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, enlarged prostate, and/or hypertension, and may also be caused by a host of medications that are used to control these conditions.

One of arginine’s functions is to increase our bodies’ production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes and dilates blood vessels, promoting better blood circulation to the heart, brain, and bladder. Studies have shown that arginine supplements (1.5 g to 30 g a day) are helpful in treating angina, high cholesterol, hypertension, heart attack, and stroke, which may be because the arginine increases nitric oxide levels. Nitric oxide also relates to sexual function in men. Sexual excitement acts on key pelvic nerves, which call nitric oxide into action—the blood ­vessels expand and the penis becomes engorged, which creates an erection.

Arginine is also needed to increase the output of human growth hormone, which gives us big strong muscles, smooth skin, lean bodies, and lots of energy—like a growing child. Human growth hormone may also play a role in fertility, lowering cholesterol, and improving all the cardiovascular conditions that nitric oxide does.

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