TRIBAL AND HERBAL MEDICINE USES
Historically, all parts of muira puama have been used medicinally, but the bark and roots are the most-utilized parts of the plant. It has long been used in the Amazon by indigenous peoples for a number of purposes. Native peoples along the Brazilian Amazon's Rio Negro river use the stems and roots from young plants as a tonic to treat neuromuscular problems; a root decoction is used in baths and massages for treating paralysis and beri-beri; and a root-and-bark tea is taken to treat sexual debility, rheumatism, grippe, and cardiac and gastrointestinal weakness. It's also valued there as a preventive for baldness. In Brazilian herbal medicine, muira puama still is a highly-regarded sexual stimulant with a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac. It has been in the Brazilian Pharmacopoeia since the 1950s. It is used as a neuromuscular tonic for weakness and paralysis, dyspepsia, menstrual disturbances, chronic rheumatism (applied topically), sexual impotency, grippe, and central nervous system disorders.
Muira puama is employed around the world today in herbal medicine. Early European explorers noted the indigenous uses and the aphrodisiac qualities of muira puama and brought it back to Europe, where it has become part of herbal medicine in England. It is still listed in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (a noted herbal medicine source from the British Herbal Medicine Association); it is recommended there for the treatment of dysentery and impotence. It is also used in Europe to treat impotence, infertility, nerve pain, menstrual disturbances, and dysentery. In Germany, muira puama is employed as a central nervous system tonic, for hookworms, menstrual disturbances, and rheumatism. Muira puama has been gaining in popularity in the United States, where herbalists and health care practitioners are using it for impotence, depression, menstrual cramps and PMS, nerve pain, and central nervous system disorders.
Scientists began searching for the source of muira puama's efficacy in the 1920s. Early researchers discovered that the root and bark were rich in fatty acids and fatty acid esters (the main one being behenic acid), essential oils (including beta-caryophyllene and alpha-humulene), plant sterols, triterpenes (including lupeol), and a new alkaloid-which they named muirapuamine. Scientists resumed researching the plant's constituents and pharmacological properties in the late 1960s and continued into the late 1980s. These studies indicated that the active constituents also included free long-chain fatty acids, sesquiterpenes, monoterpenes, and novel alkaloids.
The main plant chemicals found in muira puama include: alpha-copaene, alpha-elemene, alpha-guaiene, alpha-humulene, alpha-muurolene, alpha-pinene, alpha-resinic acid, alpha-terpinene, arachidic acid, allo-aromadendren, behenic acid, beta-bisabolene, beta-caryophyllene, beta-pinene, beta-resinic acid, beta-sitosterol, beta-transfarnesene, borneol, campesterols, camphene, camphor, car-3-ene, caryophyllene, cerotic acid, chromium, coumarin, cubebene, delta-cadinene, dotriacontanoic acid, elixene, ergosterols, eugenol, essential oils, gamma-muurolene, hentriacontanoic acid, heptacosanoic acid, lignoceric acid, limonene, linalool, lupeol, melissic acid, montanic acid, muirapuamine, myrcene, nonacosanoic acid, para-cymene, pentacosanoic acid, phlobaphene, stigmasterols, trichosanic acid, and uncosanic acid.
BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITIES AND CLINICAL RESEARCH
In one of the early studies, researchers indicated that muira puama was effective in treating disorders of the nervous system and sexual impotence, and that "permanent effect is produced in locomotor ataxia, neuralgias of long standing, chronic rheumatism, and partial paralysis." In 1930, Meiro Penna wrote about muira puama in his book Notas Sobre Plantas Brasilerias. He cited physiological and therapeutic experiments conducted in France by Dr. Rebourgeon that confirmed the efficacy of the plant for "gastrointestinal and circulatory asthenia and impotency of the genital organs."
The benefits of treating impotence with muira puama have been studied in two human trials in France, which reported that muira puama was effective in improving libido and treating erectile dysfunction. In one French study among 262 male patients who experienced lack of sexual desire and the inability to attain or maintain an erection, 62% of the patients with loss of libido reported that the extract
In other recent clinical research, muira puama extracts have been reported to have adaptogenic, antifatigue, antistress, and beneficial effects on the central nervous system. A specially-prepared extract from the root of muira puama has been patented for its ability to "relieve physical and mental fatigue" and for "ameliorating a weakened constitution." Researchers in Brazil documented a definite central nervous system effect of the bark in studies with mice. The bark of muira puama also has demonstrated a mild, short-lived, hypotensive effect. The root was found to inhibit stress-induced ulcers, while the leaf demonstrated an analgesic effect. Another U.S. patent has been filed on muira puama, citing that it can "reduce body fat percentage, increase lean muscle mass and lower cholesterol" in humans and animals with long-term use (and with no toxicity noted). The newest research confirms muira puama's traditional use for memory and nervous disorders. Brazilian researchers reported in 2003 that an alcohol extract of muira puama facilitated memory retrieval in both young and aged mice and noted it may be beneficial for Alzheimer's patients. Their next study published in 2004 reported that an alcohol extract of muira puama protected and increased the viability of brain cells in mice (partly through an antioxidant effect) which may be beneficial for stroke victims. Toxicity studies with mice published in 1983 indicates no toxic effects.
CURRENT PRACTICAL USES
While so-called aphrodisiacs have come and gone in history, muira puama has retained its stature and may well provide one of the more effective natural therapeutic approaches for erectile function and libido enhancement. Before trying to self-treat, however, men should always seek the advice of a health practitioner if suffering from erectile dysfunction or impotency; this often can be an early warning sign of vascular insufficiency and/or underlying heart problems.
To achieve the libido and potency effects of this particular plant, proper preparation methods must be employed. The active constituents thought to be responsible for muira puama's potency and libido effect are not soluble in water - taking bark or root powder in capsules or tablets will not be effective because these chemical cannot be digested or absorbed. High heat for at least 20 minutes with alcohol is necessary to free the volatile and essential oils, terpenes, gums, and resins found in the bark and root which have been linked to muira puama's beneficial effects.
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