SEX BOOSTER — CORDYCEPS (CORDYCEPS SINENSIS)
POWER BENEFIT: Enhances sexual function; increases energy and endurance; may boost immunity.
THE SCIENCE: Also called caterpillar fungus, this rare mushroom has been used by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries to treat fatigue, cough, and sexual dysfunction. Research suggests that cordyceps has antioxidant properties and increases blood flow to the organs. Cordyceps is highly valued in China for building sexual energy over time by enhancing kidney yang and replenishing kidney yin; its considered a potent sexual tonic, says Laurie Steelsmith, N.D., a Honolulu-based naturopathic physician, and author of Natural Choices for Womens Health. Cordyceps was essentially unknown in the West until 1993, when a group of Chinese runners broke several world records and attributed their stellar performance to a cordyceps-based tonic. Recent studies suggest that it may boost oxygen uptake during exercise, helping the body work more efficiently.
HOW TO TAKE IT: Two 400 mg pills once or twice a day; Steelsmith recommends the hot-water extract made by JHS Natural Products (jhsnp.com).
CAVEATS: Do not use while nursing or pregnant or when running a fever. Cordyceps may affect glucose metabolism, so people with diabetes should be sure to monitor their blood glucose levels.
MOOD LIFTER — 5-HTP (5-HYDROXYTRYPTOPHAN)
POWER BENEFIT: Relieves depression, anxiety, and insomnia; enhances mood; may ease migraines and promote weight loss.
THE SCIENCE: A derivative of the amino acid tryptophan, this nutrient is converted into serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter. Serotonin promotes a sense of well-being, decreases depression, and makes the glass look half fulland 5-HTP helps the body synthesize more serotonin in a more natural way, says Russell Canfield, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque. Its also a great sleep promoter, lengthening and deepening sleep; it appears to promote the particularly restorative stage-four deep, dreamless sleep, when growth hormone is released. There's also evidence that the supplement decreases carbohydrate cravings. Safety concerns have lingered regarding 5-HTP since 1989, when contamination of a related supplement, L-tryptophan, led to its removal from the market. It was reintroduced in 1996. I believe that the current manufacturing process for tryptophan is safe, Canfield says.
HOW TO TAKE IT: Begin with 50 to 100 mg once or twice a day. Can be slowly increased up to 400 mg daily.
CAVEATS: Drowsiness and temporary nausea may occur. Seek a physicians guidance if youre on an SSRI antidepressant (e.g., Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil), since excess serotonin can cause confusion, rapidly fluctuating blood pressure and heart rate, agitation, and loss of coordination.
FATIGUE FIGHTER — RHODIOLA (RHODIOLA ROSEA)
POWER BENEFIT: Boosts alertness and energy; enhances concentration; fights fatigue; may improve performance capacity and help prevent stress-related illness.
THE SCIENCE: Sometimes called golden root or Arctic root, this high-altitude herb has long been used in Russia to boost energy and fight fatigue. Its classified as an adaptogen, which means that it helps the adrenals work better to adapt to various kinds of stress, says Jamey Wallace, N.D., medical director of the teaching clinic at Bastyr University in Seattle. It can enhance concentration levels and alertness, and help people through stressful periods. While not a substitute for sleep, he notes, rhodiola can be particularly helpful in countering exhaustion from excessive physical or mental activity. Research suggests that rhodiola can increase physical work capacity and shorten the recovery time between bouts of high-intensity exercise.
HOW TO TAKE IT: 100 mg once daily before noon; can be increased to twice daily.
CAVEATS: To avoid sleep disruption, take this herb first thing in the morning. Prolonged use may lead to bouts of irritability and insomnia, so reserve rhodiola for brief periods of excess stress.