Kate Moss should not take horny goat weed

In today’s news of misguided celebrities, I learned that supermodel Kate Moss is taking an herbal supplement in hopes of getting pregnant. Hope Carson at Celebs is reporting that:

Supermodel and long-ago girlfriend of Johnny Depp, Kate Moss almost died laughing when someone translated the name of her favorite herbal dietary supplement, Yin Yang Huo. That’s Horny Goat Weed, an aphrodisiac extracted from a Chinese plant grown high in the mountains.  Moss reportedly ingests the herb in capsule form daily in her quest to become a mother.

From British artist and punk rocker Mark D. (Mark Randall) at stuckism.com. (via Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve written twice before about horny goat weed and there’s some pretty good scientific background in these posts:

Horny Goat Weed (Epimedium spp.) is a limp excuse for Viagra, Cialis

Icariin from horny goat weed is structurally unrelated to sildenafil (Viagra®)

From these discussions, we know that horny goat weed is also known in Chinese herbal medicine as Yin Yang Huo, an herb with a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Indeed, horny goat weed does contain a compound, icariin, that has the potential to act as a Viagra-like drug – a phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor that facilitates erection in men. PDE-5 inhibitors have not been fully evaluated in women but a 2008 JAMA paper showed that sildenafil (Viagra) could reduce measures of sexual dysfunction in women taking SSRI antidepressants. Of course, increasing desire does not necessarily increase the chance of pregnancy if infertility is due to other reasons – it’s more akin to buying more lottery tickets.

The problem is that horny goat weed is a poor substitute for PDE-5 inhibitors, with the active constituent about 1/80th as effective in vascular research models than sildenafil. Moreover, I’m concerned about any woman wanting to get pregnant taking an herbal supplement of any kind. Folic acid, yes. Herbal products, no. Reports appear monthly on the contamination of herbs with heavy metals and adulteration with prescription drugs or their chemical relatives. In fact, the most important thing Moss has done to increase her odds of pregnancy -as reported by 411mania.com – was to stop using alcohol and cigarettes.

I’m not a physician but the members of the medical advisory board at BabyCenter.com are – here’s their list of recommendations for those looking to get pregnant. In addition to the folic acid recommendation, Kate may also wish to temporarily put on a few pounds (with healthy foods).

Good luck to Kate and her husband, Jamie Hince.

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7 Responses to Kate Moss should not take horny goat weed

  1. Synchronium says:

    I’m sure there was a paper out a year or so ago testing PDE-5 inhibition of icariin and several simple derivatives, one of which worked as well as sildenafil without the heart related issues.

    I intended to sell Epimedium spp. – got labels printed ‘n’ everything – just haven’t had the time to get it sorted…

  2. taytum riley says:

    looks like another eastern vs. western medicine debate. westerners tend to think that ‘herbal’ isn’t as healthy or doesn’t work as well- when in fact many of these chinese herbal fixes for common health issues are backed by 4000 years of history. next you’ll tell me chinese tea has no health benefits. baby, please.
    chinese natural medicines are by far healthier than the western way of popping pills full of chemicals that cause bad side effects- some long term. your article is not backed a shred of fact and it saddens me that it just sounds like another misinformed westerner that is overly proud of their prescription culture.

  3. Hi David

    Yin Yang Huo is a relatively mild herb that is traditionally used to enhance male, not female fertility. This is based on its traditional energetics, in which this herb is used to bolster or boost the ‘yang’ energy of the body. So Ms. Moss is getting some rather poor advice.

    As for your comments about herbs and fecundity, I have been a practicing clinician for 15 years and have helped many women get pregnant using dietary and herbal therapies. Most of these are herb-food based therapies, rather than herb-drug therapies. For example, traditional soup decoctions are made, like making a regular chicken stock, but herbs are added to the mix. These herbs are all very safe and non-toxic. Specific causes obviously need specific attention, but general measures often produce benefits with no further measures required.

  4. Karen says:

    This kinda sounds like a fact: “The problem is that horny goat weed is a poor substitute for PDE-5 inhibitors, with the active constituent about 1/80th as effective in vascular research models than sildenafil.”

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  6. taytum riley says:

    thank you. completely agree. just because something isn’t popular in western culture doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. i got into an argument with someone recently that thought that doctors that don’t speak english are at a disadvantage in practicing medicine- because he thought that all the best treatments are only taught in english- that only the western world has invented the best treatments. ridiculous. i’m angry just thinking about how ignorant some americans can be.

  7. David says:

    @tatyum – i really appreciate your comments but this is not a case of Eastern vs. Western. This case is 1) horny goat weed has no pharmacological effect on efficiency of fertilization and/or implantation and 2) there are very real concerns in the US about adulteration of herbal supplements with prescription drugs (of unknown dosage) and/or heavy metals.

    Google or NCBI me and you’ll see that I am actively interested in the pharmacological benefits of natural products. However, my enthusiasm becomes more restrained when thinking of women trying to conceive.