Pros and cons at the health food store.
Saw palmetto: The Seminole Indians originally used this extract of the Serenoa repens berry as an aphrodisiac. Although there is no evidence of its efficacy as such, it is widely used in Europe to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)--enlargement of the prostate common to the aging process--accounting for approximately 38 percent of all medications prescribed for BPH by Italian doctors. The herb appears to prevent the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, a more potent form of the hormone that may trigger the prostate to grow.
Valerian: Swiss researchers found that subjects given a pill containing this plentiful wild herb at bedtime fell asleep much faster and slept better than those given a placebo. It can be taken as an herb tea, prepared with a teaspoon (one to two grams) of the dried root, or with 200 to 300 milligrams of the extract containing 0.8 percent valerenic acid, available at most drugstores. Be warned, however, that it stinks!
While most products sold in health-food stores are harmless, some may not be:
Ephedra: A popular ingredient in nonprescription asthma drugs, this herb is often promoted as a muscle builder and weight-loss agent. There is no good evidence to support these claims, however, and long-term use may be harmful, especially with certain underlying medical conditions.
Comfrey: Touted as an anti-balding agent, it contains agents known to cause cancer and obstruct blood flow in the liver. "This may be the worst concoction sold on the market," says Dr. Tyler. "I wouldn't ingest it for anything, yet many people do."
Yohimbe: Don't confuse this one with yohimbine, a legitimate prescription drug derived from the bark of an African tree and used to treat impotence. Sold as an aphrodisiac, yohimbe is potentially harmful. An overdose can lead to paralysis, stomach problems, and even death.