Feature Archive

Want a Love Potion?

Alternatives to Viagra.

WebMD Feature

June 12, 2000 -- A recent American visitor to the market stalls of a Turkish spice bazaar met aphrodisiac vendors at every turn. Catching his eye, they held up their fingers, counting off how many women the traveler could make love to in a single night. On closer inspection, these supposed "love potions" turned out to be mixes of common household spices -- cloves, coriander, cumin. But when confronted, the salesmen barely missed a beat. "It's the combination!" they insisted.

For thousands of years, people in every culture have sought a magical substance that could stir the embers of an ebbing libido. Scientists have generally pooh-poohed such notions. Now the arrival of the clinically proven impotence drug Viagra (sildenafil citrate) may have increased the allure of herbal aphrodisiacs. Many people, it seems, believe herbal remedies are safer than the drug. "Some people who are afraid of Viagra take these things," says William Catalona, MD, a urologist with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Others want to avoid the embarrassment of asking for a prescription.

Yohimbé, an herb used almost entirely for sexual problems, rang up $13.7 million in sales for 1999, according to the Hartman Group market research firm.

Just how effective are these supposed aphrodisiacs? Most vendors can't cite much evidence to back up their claims. And some products touted for sexual problems can cause serious side effects. Still, a few supplements have shown tantalizing promise in preliminary studies. Here's what you need to know to make an informed choice.

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