A supplement containing Butea superba not only sent a 35-year-old man’s libido through the roof, but sent his levels of the androgen hormone DHT sky high. Thai nutritionists described the case in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism – and may well have finally succeeded in throwing light on how Butea superba works.
Butea superbais a climbing plant found in the jungles of Thailand. Local herbalists use an extract from the dried roots [see below] for a medicine against impotency. Manufacturers of sex supplements containing Butea superbaare common in Pacific rim countries, but Butea superbais starting to become popular in the Western hemisphere too.
Animal studies [Phytother Res. 2006 Jun;20(6):484-9.] [Andrologia. 2012 May;44 Suppl 1:728-33.] and a couple of small human studies [BJU Int. 2010 Jan;105(2):225-8.] [Asian J Androl. 2003 Sep;5(3):243-6.] have confirmed the prosexual effect of Butea superba.
How Butea superba works exactly is not known. One theory is that the phenols in Butea superba inhibit the enzyme Rho-kinase 2, and thus indirectly cause the amount of nitrogen monoxide in the blood vessels to rise. [J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Dec 18;144(3):483-9.] Some supplements manufacturers take this theory so seriously that they add extracts of Butea superba to their NO boosters.
Another theory is that bioactive phytochemicals in Butea superba imitate the effects of testosterone. [Braz J Med Biol Res. 2010 Sep;43(9):843-52.] [J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Jan 12;121(1):123-9.] [Maturitas. 2008 Jun 20;60(2):131-7.]
In 2012 nutritionists at Mahidol University in Thailand published a case study about a 35-year-old man who complained that his sexual interest had increased alarmingly. [Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2012 May;16(3):485-6.]
When the researchers examined the man’s blood they discovered a possible cause. The amount of DHT in the man’s blood was sky high. Normal values are between 250 and 990 picograms per millilitre, but the man had a DHT concentration of 1512 picograms per millilitre. The researchers’ diagnosis was hyperandrogenemia.
The man had been taking a capsule containing a locally-produced Butea superba extract daily for a couple of weeks. Exact quantities are not mentioned in the report. The man had started taking the supplement because he was afraid he was losing his hair.
In Asian countries men and women sometimes use extracts of Butea monosperma and Butea parviflora to counteract baldness, but the man had mistakenly thought that Butea superba would have the same effect. Instead of this, however, the supplement he used had increased the amount of testosterone that was converted into DHT.
DHT has more affinity with the androgen receptor than testosterone does. The researchers suspect that the increase in DHT concentration explained the man’s out-of-control libido. They suggested the man stop taking the supplement.
Ergonauts thinking of experimenting with Butea superba would do well to read up first on the side effects of this herb. High doses – 16 g or more – of Butea superba can damage your genes. [Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2010;74(5):923-7.]