What is Damiana?
Damiana otherwise known as Turnera diffusa is a small aromatic shrub found in various parts of North and Central America. It commonly grows on the rocky hillsides of dry, sunny regions including Texas, California as well as Mexico and other parts of Central and South America.
Reaching around 2 meters in height, it bears a solitary easily identifiable yellow flower. As well as Turnera diffusa, a similar species known appropriately as Turnera aphrodisiaca is also referred to as Damiana. Damiana contains several flavonoids including arbutin with anti-oxidant activities believed to be responsible for many of the plant’s therapeutic benefits.
Traditionally, Damiana leaves have been utilized by the Mexicans and Mayan Indians for their aphrodisiac qualities and their ability to boost sexual potency. Apart from its use as an aphrodisiac, this herb has also been used to treat mild depression, anxiety and stress.
Damiana is also used as a general health tonic and a digestive aid; it is believed to be a mild laxative with the ability to treat constipation. Damiana is sometimes used as a natural high with many claiming that it has stimulant effects similar to small doses of cannabis.
Like many natural and herbal remedies, we have little to go on other than anecdotal reports and its long history of use but there have been several scientific studies looking especially at the aphrodisiac claims of the herb. This article will take a closer look at the claims made regarding Damiana and examine whether or not it is worth adding to your list of supplements.
What is it used for?
1. As an aphrodisiac
Damiana’s claim to fame is probably its historical use in treating a broad range of sexual issues. If I had a dollar for every natural remedy that purported to improve the libido, I would be a rich man or at the very least a lot less poor so I approach these claims with a healthy degree of skepticism.
Countless foods and herbs from oysters to oats to saw palmetto have been acclaimed through the years for their ability to aid sexual performance for both men and women but very often the scientific evidence is lacking.
However, when a remedy so steeped in traditional use demonstrates similar abilities under laboratory conditions, the claims become far more difficult to dismiss. Indeed, several pieces of published research have gone a long way to confirming that its use as a bedroom tonic is far more than a mythical folk remedy.
Damiana is not only used to help men regain their sexual prowess, taking Damiana supplements is also said to benefit women’s sexuality which is great news for couples that need to inject a bit of fire into their relationship. Nobody is sure why Damiana has such a positive effect on the libido but one theory is that it promotes blood flow to the genital regions. Others have suggested that its libido enhancing ability might be a side effect related to the herb’s estrogen suppression activity.
Before raising your hopes too high however, it must be pointed out that the only research up to now has been carried out on laboratory rats. A study published in 2009 demonstrated that sexually exhausted rats treated with Damiana improved their sexual behavior significantly. Rats given Damiana were more likely to achieve more than one ejaculation and the post ejaculatory period was reduced before repeat sexual activity.
Analysis from the same research found that caffeine, flavonoids and arbutine were the main active compounds in the extract. Researchers concluded that Damiana was a possible alternative treatment for sexual dysfunction. (1)
A number of other animal studies have come to the same conclusion but concede that Damiana needs to be fully tested on human subjects before it can be fully recommended as an aphrodisiac.
Given that these results have proven positive so far, it is tempting not to wait and to give the treatment a go. Before you take the plunge on this or any other herbal remedy, you should remember that herbal remedies are not regulated in the United States. Make sure that you check the dosage information on the label carefully and speak to your doctor.
2. For the mind
Damiana is popular in some parts of Europe, most notably Germany, as an herbal remedy for stress and other nervous disorders. There is no research to confirm its efficacy for stress and anxiety but a compound called damianin present in the plant has been proven to produce a calming effect on the nervous system.
Damiana is said to produce a mild euphoric effect on the mind and the Mayan and Mexican people have been using it as a mood enhancer for centuries; it seems likely that these traditional uses have some grounding in fact. It has been used to treat a variety of stress related symptoms such as upset stomach, bed wetting and to calm the nerves.
It is also said to provide an energy boost and increase stamina which might be linked to its aphrodisiac uses as well as helping to combat fatigue and lethargy. Unlike many prescription pharmaceuticals, Damiana is considered to be safe in moderate doses and might help those suffering from anxiety and other nerve related problems.
3. Stomach ulcers
Damiana has also been used to treat a number of gastric complaints including peptic ulcers. Its effect is likely due to the plant’s arbutin content and a study published in 2012 set out to evaluate its ability to treat two types of ulcer. The researchers concluded that Damiana possessed anti-ulcer activity which they attributed to the anti-oxidant effects of arbutin. (2)
4. Weight loss
Like so many other herbal teas, there are claims that Damiana can help those of us that need to shed a few pounds or at least bring our weight under control. Some people suggest that it works as a mild laxative by loosening the stools and cleansing the system but there is some evidence that it is more effective when combined with other plants.
A Danish study published in 2001 combined Damiana with yerbe mate and guarana and discovered that this combination of herbs produced a thermogenic effect and also suppressed the appetite. The study examined the effect of this combination on 47 overweight patients to determine its weight loss effect at 10 days, 45 days and 12 months.
The patients who were given the combination of herbs in capsule form before their main meal lost significantly more weight than the placebo group for the first 45 days. The researchers concluded that the combination supplement significantly delayed gastric emptying which resulted in patients feeling full faster. (3)
5. Bladder Infections
According to documentation, damiana has traditionally been used in South America to treat urinary problems and bladder infections. These traditional uses are not supported by modern scientific research but that does not necessarily mean that these anecdotal reports are false.
When trying to determine the effectiveness of a herbal remedy on a bladder issue, it is difficult to quantify its exact effect. How much of the effect is down to the herb and how much is due to the water with which it is consumed is open to debate as consuming extra fluid typically helps to ease bladder pain and urination.
It is possible that damiana can be consumed as a natural way to improve digestion. It can help to facilitate the breakdown of fats and sugars in your digestive system while improving the way you absorb nutrients. This not only ensure that your digestive system is working at its best but also ensures you are getting all the necessary benefits from the food you eat.
Damian may also help keep your digestive tract clean from toxins which can hinder digestion and leave you feeling sick. It is also believed to help treat indigestion and constipation because of its laxative properties.
7. Other uses
As well as the more common uses referred to above, Damiana has been used to treat headaches, vaginal dryness, as a method of delaying the menopause and for asthma. There is no evidence other than traditional use to suggest that the herb is effective for these conditions.
How to take it
Damiana is available in several different forms. It can be bought as a tincture or in capsules but is most commonly drunk as a tea.Smoking the leaves is apparently possible but is not recommended. Damiana essential oils are also derived from the plant.
Dried Damiana leaves are available loose or in tea bags and you should read the label to get the dosage instructions. Many experts recommend that you start with between 2 and 4 grams of dried Damiana before your three main meals each day.
Potential Side Effects and Precautions
Damiana is considered safe but hallucinations have been reported when it was taken in extremely high doses (200 grams).
- If you are pregnant or nursing, you should stay on the side of caution and avoid taking Damiana as we do not yet know enough about its effect on the infant.
- People with preexisting liver conditions should avoid taking damiana.
- Diabetics should be careful when using Damiana as it may affect blood sugar levels.
- Because it affects blood glucose, you are recommended not to take Damiana within 2 weeks of any planned surgery.
- If you are buying the plant there is an issue of False Damiana (Turnera ulmifolia) being widely sold as they are easily mistaken.