Epimedium is an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fatigue, arthritic pain, nerve pain, and sexual dysfunction. It is thought to alter levels of certain hormones and is marketed as a dietary supplement for libido. Results from in vitro studies suggest that components of Epimedium exhibit antiosteoporotic (1), neuroprotective (2) (3) (4) , immunomodulatory (5) (6), and anticancer effects (7) (8) (9), as well as anti-HIV activity (10). Epimedium derivatives may produce radiosensitizing effects (11) and reverse multidrug resistance (12) in tumor cells.
In one randomized trial, an herbal regimen containing Epimedium-derived flavonoids was shown to prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women (13). The few other clinical trials published tend to combine this herb in a botanical “recipe,” confounding the determination of any specific contributions from Epimedium or its components. Further, the safety of such phytotherapeutic compounds needs to be determined.
Patients with hormone-sensitive cancers should use Epimedium with caution as it demonstrated estrogenic effects (14). Cancer patients may experience sexual dysfunction symptoms including painful intercourse, loss of libido, and difficulty in maintaining arousal. These problems are often multifactorial and can be caused by stress, distress, and hormonal changes, as well as treatments involving surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy. Therefore, patients should consult and be monitored by a physician to properly address individual symptoms of sexual dysfunction.