For the boys, from Brazil

Barbara Lantin on the latest batch of herbal Viagra

IF imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Viagra manufacturer Pfizer should be fizzing with pride: all kinds of alternative remedies for impotence are suddenly hitting the health food shops.

None has undergone the kind of trials to which Viagra has been subjected. But not everybody wants or needs such a powerful or expensive drug. And Viagra does have side effects. It is not suitable for patients with a history of heart disease or strokes, and can cause headaches, indigestion and facial flushing.

Some of the copycat cures are new concoctions, but one is as old as the trees. An extract of Ptychopetalum olacoides, a large South American shrub famous among Amazonian Indians for its aphrodisiac powers, has just been launched in Britain. Known colloquially as Muira Puama, or Potency Wood, it has been listed in the Brazilian Pharmacopeia since 1929 as a treatment for dysentery and impotence.

The plant was discovered in the jungle some years ago by Dr Jacques Waynberg, director of the Institute of Biosexology in Paris, who has used it in his practice for the past decade. He supervised a trial in which 2,000 men from urban areas all over France were given Ptychopetalum olacoides extract for 10 days. The subjects, aged between 19 and 69, had sought treatment from their GPs for impotence or lack of libido.

After 30 days, 63 per cent reported a significant improvement. The highest success levels were recorded among men who had complained of loss of libido or of general erectile dysfunction. There were no side-effects.

“I am confident that Ptychopetalum olacoides has a role to play as an alternative treatment for erectile dysfunction,” says Dr Waynberg. “It is suitable for people whose impotence is not caused by severe psychiatric disturbance, drug addiction or organic disease. I would give it to young, healthy people who have a temporary disturbance or to older people with longer-term problems.”

Mark, 35, a printer from Beckenham, in Kent, found it worked for him. “Our sex life had dropped off since our second child was born two years ago. I felt tired and stressed out a lot of the time and just lost interest. Sometimes, sex was fine, but at other times, it didn’t work. I found I was thinking about what happened last time and would lose confidence.”

Mark took it for 10 days. “I feel more in the mood for sex now and perform properly. If the problem came back, I’d take it again.”

It is not known how Ptychopetalum olacoides works, but it is thought to contain fatty acids that operate on the neurological system, improving both the psychological and physical aspects of sexual function. “It is a gentle medicine that does not have to be prescribed, so people can take responsibility for their own private life,” says Dr Waynberg.

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