Top Three Herbs for Men: What Every Man Should Have in His Medicine Cabinet

By Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, AD, DN-C, RH

Each of the ancient natural healing systems seeks to nourish, restore, and balance the body functions that have been bruised by the ups and downs of daily life. These symptoms of aging, from arthritis to fatigue, to cognitive decline, can take their toll on anyone and everyone. Keep the body and mind clean, clear and rejuvenated is the work of a lifetime.

Generally, compared to women, men tend to be the warmer gender. In other words, his physiology is likely to be humming along just a little faster. (Remember who has those cold feet under the covers. Not us guys.) Over a lifetime, the goal for a man is to keep his tissues warm and lubricated, and to have a well-functioning repair system and a strong immune system.

While good habits along the lines of diet, sleep, and stress management goes without saying, herbal remedies can tip the balance toward long-term health. Let’s take a look at an herb from each of the “big 3” natural healing systems: Chinese, Ayurveda, and Western.

Ask any person on the street to name the first herb that comes to their mind. It’s likely to be ginseng, an herb that is well known, yet shrouded in myth.

In the spirit of this wide-ranging action, ginseng has been shown in human studies to have a long-term anti-stress effect, improve physical and mental performance, memory and reaction time, and to enhance mood. Ginseng increases physical working capacity in humans in many ways, including stimulating the central nervous system and lowering blood pressure and glucose levels when they're high and raising them when they're low.

In one study, a preparation of Asian ginseng, together with vitamins and minerals, was tested among 232 people who complained of daily fatigue. Those taking the supplement had improved energy, better concentration and less anxiety.[1]

A double-blind study tested the effect of ginseng on reaction time during exercise. Fifteen nineteen-year old soccer players performed an incremental bicycle exercise with intensity increasing every 3 min until exhaustion. Ginseng shortened their reaction time at rest and during exercise. And ginseng improved psychomotor performance during exercise without affecting exercise capacity.[2]

Recently, scientists from Korea, the epicenter of ginseng culture, studied whether ginseng extract would influence exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation responses. Eighteen male college students took ginseng or a placebo and then performed a high-intensity uphill treadmill running task. Inflammation markers were significantly decreased during the recovery period and plasma glucose and insulin responses reduced markedly. These results suggest that ginseng could reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammatory responses, an all-around plus for exercisers.[3]

A 2015 study found that active constituents in ginseng had significant benefit for erectile function in diabetes.[4]

Ginseng is generally indicated for daily, consistent use in moderate doses. Do not use ginseng as a short-term stimulant, say Asian herbalists. “Ginseng and other adaptogens work best after long-term (one-three months) moderate use by regulating hormone levels and other biological functions to protect us against the damaging effects of chronic stress,” says herbalist Christopher Hobbs, author of The Ginsengs.[5] A typical dose of moderate quality ginseng powder in capsules is 4,000-6,000 mg per day.[6]

Ashwagandha is the main tonic, especially for men, in the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia, holding a role similar to that of ginseng in Chinese medicine. Though unrelated to the true ginsengs, it appears to share their many properties and actions. Ayurveda considers this long-term building herb to be a rasayana, or particularly powerful rejuvenative. The name Ashwagandha means, “like a horse,” connoting that it is regarded as a premier sexual tonic.

And the sexual enhancement is not just in folk herbalism. An animal study showed that extracts of Ashwagandha increased production of sex hormones and sperm, presumably by exerting a testosterone-like effect.[7] In another double blind clinical trial, Withania (3 g/day for 1 year) was tested on the process of aging in 101 healthy male adults (50-59 years of age). Significant improvements in hemoglobin, red blood cells, hair pigment and seated stature were observed. Serum cholesterol decreased, nail calcium was preserved and 71.4% of those who received the herb reported improvement in sexual performance.[8]

In addition to its sexual action, Ayurvedic herbalism uses Ashwagandha for general debility and exhaustion, emaciation, memory loss, nerve diseases, cough, anemia, and insomnia. Modern clinicians are most likely to employ it for chronic fatigue, anxiety, insomnia and chronic heart and vascular disorders, where it is often combined with the famous Terminalia arjuna (arjuna bark).

Ashwagandha is one of the most promising herbs for building overall health. Science is only beginning to confirm the encouraging signs for this valuable Ayurvedic herb. A scientific article published by Los Angeles researchers review a host of confirmed benefits: anti-inflammatory, antitumor, anti-stress, antioxidant, immunomodulatory, hemopoietic and rejuvenating properties. The scientists say that it also appears to exert a positive influence on the endocrine, cardiopulmonary, and central nervous systems.[9]

A 2015 study was conducted to examine the possible effects of Ashwagandha root extract consumption on muscle mass and strength in healthy young men engaged in resistance training. The report states that Ashwagandha supplementation is associated with significant increases in muscle mass and strength and suggests that Ashwagandha supplementation may be useful in conjunction with a resistance training program.[10]

A typical dose of Ashwagandha is about a gram per day, taken over long periods, up to many years, as a rejuvenator, but, since Ashwagandha is very safe, larger quantities are often used in Ayurveda short term- say 1- 10 grams per day for acute conditions

In India, Withania is given with pungent, heating herbs (ginger, pepper, etc.) to increase its tonic effects.

Feel like you are about to burst a gasket? Maybe your body is sending you a message. Bursting something is all too likely to happen if you don’t keep your blood pressure under control. Your heart pumps blood into your arteries, which carry that blood throughout your body. Blood pressure is simply the force of blood pushing against those blood vessel walls. Normal pressure is less than 120/80. You’re about to pop, though, if it crests above 150/90 (stage 2 hypertension). Men are notorious for ignoring heart symptoms, so let’s add a famous heart herb to the mix.

Hawthorn is widely regarded in modern Europe as a safe and effective treatment for a variety of heart and circulatory disorders. The entire plant contains an assortment of bioflavonoid-like complexes that seem to be mainly responsible for the actions of this herbal medicine. The berries have been used traditionally, but modern research has confirmed the content of active ingredients in other parts of the plant.

Hawthorn has reduces resistance in arteries and improves circulation throughout the body.

Several studies have shown that hawthorn extracts have benefit for lowering blood pressure.[11] [12] [13] A British study successfully used hawthorn to lower blood pressure in diabetics.[14] You may have to wait for 2-4 weeks before the herb takes effect.

A 2015 study looked at a group of 80 patients with angina. After twelve weeks effects of consuming a hawthorn extract, they had significantly lowered the risk of atherosclerosis and heart problems.[15]

Standardized extracts with total bioflavonoid content (often 2.2%) or oligomeric procyanidins (usually 18.75%) are often used. A usual dose is 80-300 mg of the herbal extract in capsules, two to three times per day. You may also use a tincture of 4-5 ml three times daily. If you are using the berry in capsules, tea or even jelly, the recommendation is at least 4-5 grams per day. The effectiveness of hawthorn may still be increasing even after one to two months, so it should be considered a long-term therapy.

K.P. would like to offer a free webinar — "Healthy Weight and Healthy You" — to readers of this article.

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[1] Phytotherapy Research, 1996, vol. 10, no. 1.

[2] Ziemba AW, Chmura J, Kaciuba-Uscilko H, Nazar K, Wisnik P, Gawronski W. Ginseng treatment improves psychomotor performance at rest and during graded exercise in young athletes. Int J Sport Nutr 1999 Dec;9(4):371-7
Dept. of Applied Physiology, Medical Research Center, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland.

This study was designed to determine the effect of ginseng treatment on multiple choice reaction time (RT) during exercise. Fifteen soccer players (age 19.07 +/- 0.62 yrs) were placed in a double-blind manner into one of two groups: ginseng (n = 7), receiving 350 mg of ginseng daily for 6 weeks, or placebo (n = 8), receiving a placebo daily for 6 weeks. Before and after the treatment all the subjects performed an incremental bicycle ergometer exercise with intensity increasing 50 W every 3 min until volitional exhaustion. RT was measured before exercise, and then in the last 2 min of each exercise load. Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and lactate threshold (LAT) were also determined from the exercise test. Ginseng treatment was found to shorten RT at rest and during exercise, shifting the exercise load associated with the shortest RT toward higher exercise loads. Neither ginseng nor placebo influenced VO2 max and LAT. In conclusion, ginseng extract does improve psychomotor performance during exercise without affecting exercise capacity.

[3] Am J Chin Med. 2011;39(3):441-50.
Effects of Panax ginseng supplementation on muscle damage and inflammation after uphill treadmill running in humans.
Jung HL1, Kwak HE, Kim SS, Kim YC, Lee CD, Byurn HK, Kang HY.

The purpose of this investigation was to determine whether Panax ginseng extract intake would influence exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammation responses. Eighteen male college students were randomly assigned to either an RG intake group (RG, n = 9) or a placebo group (P, n = 9). All subjects performed a high-intensity uphill treadmill running task (two rounds of 45 min at 10 km/h speed with a 15 degree uphill slope separated by 5 min of rest). The RG group ingested 20 g/day of Korean red ginseng extract (mixed with 200 ml of water) three times/day for seven days prior to performing the uphill treadmill exercise test and for four days after the treadmill test, while the P group ingested 200 ml of water containing Agastachis Herba on the same schedule. Plasma creatine kinase activity (CK) and interlukin-6 (IL-6) levels were measured at pre-exercise and 24, 48, 72, and 96 h post-exercise; the IL-6 level was also measured at 1 and 2 h post-exercise. To evaluate insulin sensitivity, the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) was performed 24 h post-exercise. Plasma CK level in RG was significantly lower than that in P 72 h post-exercise (p < 0.05), and IL-6 level was significantly decreased in RG during the 2 h and 3 h recovery period compared to that of P (p < 0.05). Plasma glucose and insulin responses in RG were significantly reduced compared to those of P (p < 0.05). The results of this study suggest that RG supplementation could reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammatory responses, resulting in improvements in insulin sensitivity.

[4] J Sex Med. 2015 Mar;12(3):611-20. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12779. Epub 2014 Dec 1.
Ginsenoside Rg3 improves erectile function in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.
Liu T1, Peng YF, Jia C, Yang BH, Tao X, Li J, Fang X.

[5] Personal communication

[6] Murray, Michael T., The Healing Power of Herbs, Prima, 1995, p.276.

[7] Abdel-Magied EM, Abdel-Rahman HA, Harraz FM. The effect of aqueous extracts of Cynomorium coccineum and Withania somnifera on testicular development in immature Wistar rats. J Ethnopharmacol 2001 Apr;75(1):1-4

[8] Kuppurajan K, et al, J Res Ayu Sid, 1, 1980:247. [from: Bone K, “Withania somnifera”, Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs, (Queensland, Australia: Phytotherapy Press), 1996:137-41.]

[9] Mishra LC, Singh BB, Dagenais S. Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review. Altern Med Rev 2000 Aug;5(4):334-46

[10] J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Nov 25;12:43. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0104-9. eCollection 2015.
Examining the effect of Withania somnifera supplementation on muscle strength and recovery: a randomized controlled trial.
Wankhede S, Langade D, Joshi K, Sinha SR, Bhattacharyya S.

[11] Ammon HP, Handel M. [Crataegus, toxicology and pharmacology, Part I: Toxicity (author's transl)]. Planta Med 1981 Oct;43(2):105-20

[12] Petkov V. Plants and hypotensive, antiatheromatous and coronarodilatating action. Am J Chin Med 1979 Autumn;7(3):197-236

However great the success in the therapy of hypertension, atherosclerosis and ischemic heart disease has been gained today by recent efficient drugs, the definite healing of patients is not yet attained. The late discovery of reserpine, such an efficient drug of plant origin against hypertension, convinced so far reluctant scientists to consider the chemical compounds of the plant world. With respect to this traditional medical knowledge, it seems necessary to define more accurately the specificity of these healings-sometimes recommended unspecifically for a whole branch of medicine. This experimental verification should not use inconsiderately the present-day classification of diseases; there should be an awareness that conventional experimental methods in pharmacology are often unsuitable for revealing the real biological activity of one or another medicinal plant. The interest in the millennial empirical field of health care is acknowledged by the World Health Organization which promotes research and development of traditional medicine, along with investigations into its psychosocial and ethnographic aspects. These studies cover a number of plants growing in Bulgaria that have a healing effect in hypertension, atherosclerosis and ischemic heart disease according to the data of traditional medicine. Using screening methods, extracts and chemically pure substances were investigated; extraction was done with solvents such as water, ether, chloroform, dichloretan, ethanol, methanol, and acetone. Most of the experiments were carried out on anesthetized cats, rabbits and dogs. The substances tested were applied mainly intravenously, and in some experiments orally. Chronic experiments were also carried out on wakeful dogs with induced hypertension, on animals fed on an atherogenic diet, and on animals with induced arrhythmia and coronary spasm. Data are presented of clinical examination of some plants or of active substances isolated from them. Major results of these studies are presented for the following plants: Garlic, Geranium; Hellebore; Mistletoe; Olive; Valerian; Hawthorn; Pseucedanum arenarium; Periwinkle; Fumitory. For another 50 plants growing in Bulgaria and in other countries the author presents his and other investigators' experimental and clinical data about hypotensive, antiatheromatous and coronarodilatating action.

[13] Schulz V, Hansel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician's Guide to Herbal Medicine. 3rd. ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag; 1998:97.

[14] Walker AF, Marakis G, Simpson E, Hope JL, Robinson PA, Hassanein M, Simpson HC. Hypotensive effects of hawthorn for patients with diabetes taking prescription drugs: a randomised controlled trial. Br J Gen Pract. 2006 Jun;56(527):437-43.Related Articles, Links
Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition, School of Food Biosciences, The University of Reading, Reading.

BACKGROUND: Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) leaves, flowers and berries are used by herbal practitioners in the UK to treat hypertension in conjunction with prescribed drugs. Small-scale human studies support this approach. AIM: To investigate the effects of hawthorn for hypertension in patients with type 2 diabetes taking prescribed drugs. DESIGN OF STUDY: Randomised controlled trial. SETTING: General practices in Reading, UK. METHOD: Patients with type 2 diabetes (n = 79) were randomised to daily 1200 mg hawthorn extract (n = 39) or placebo (n = 40) for 16 weeks. At baseline and outcome a wellbeing questionnaire was completed and blood pressure and fasting blood samples taken. A food frequency questionnaire estimated nutrient intake. RESULTS: Hypotensive drugs were used by 71% of the study population with a mean intake of 4.4 hypoglycaemic and/or hypotensive drugs. Fat intake was lower and sugar intake higher than recommendations, and low micronutrient intake was prevalent. There was a significant group difference in mean diastolic blood pressure reductions (P = 0.035): the hawthorn group showed greater reductions (baseline: 85.6 mmHg, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 83.3 to 87.8; outcome: 83.0 mmHg, 95% CI = 80.5 to 85.7) than the placebo group (baseline: 84.5 mmHg, 95% CI = 82 to 87; outcome: 85.0 mmHg, 95% CI = 82.2 to 87.8). There was no group difference in systolic blood pressure reduction from baseline (3.6 and 0.8 mmHg for hawthorn and placebo groups, respectively; P = 0.329). Although mean fat intake met current recommendations, mean sugar intake was higher and there were indications of potential multiple micronutrient deficiencies. No herb-drug interaction was found and minor health complaints were reduced from baseline in both groups. CONCLUSIONS: This is the first randomised controlled trial to demonstrate a hypotensive effect of hawthorn in patients with diabetes taking medication.

[15] Daru. 2015 Dec 19;23:54. doi: 10.1186/s40199-015-0137-2.
Comparison of the effects of Crataegus oxyacantha extract, aerobic exercise and their combination on the serum levels of ICAM-1 and E-Selectin in patients with stable angina pectoris.
Jalaly L, Sharifi G, Faramarzi M, Nematollahi A, Rafieian-Kopaei M, Amiri M, Moattar F.

Karta Purkh ("K.P.") Khalsa is one of the country’s foremost natural healing experts, the recent President Emeritus of the American Herbalists Guild, and director for the National Ayurvedic Medical Association. He mentored in Ayurveda with Yogi Bhajan for 32 years. K.P. has presented over 200 times at professional conferences, has written over 3,000 articles on health topics and is the author or editor of 30 books on health, including his latest, The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. He teaches Ayurveda, herbalism and nutrition at two naturopathic medicine Universities. K.P, who worked as the senior research scientist and herbalist for Yogi Tea for 30 years, is the only American to hold the title Yogaraj in Ayurveda. K.P. is also the first person to be dual-credentialed in herbalism (RH) and Ayurveda (AD). Visit K.P.’s website by clicking here.


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This article appears in: 2018 Catalyst, Issue 25: Perspectives on Spirituality