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Forget Viagra, a tablet made from ginseng could boost a man's love life: Research claims herbal remedy really does work

  • Ginseng has been used in Chinese herbal medicine for thousands of years
  • Now study claims it can help men with impotence in just eight weeks
  • Impotence affects one in 10 men in the UK at some point in their lives

It's long been used by the Chinese as an aphrodisiac, but new research claims tablets made from ginseng really can perk up a man's love life.

A South Korean study found men with erectile dysfunction improved their performance in the bedroom after taking the tablets for just a few weeks.

Although some previous studies have suggested ginseng can help tackle impotence, many have been conducted in mice.

The latest research involved more than 100 men who had been diagnosed with erection problems. Impotence affects one in ten men in the UK at some point in their lives.

Although drugs such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra have revolutionised treatment in the last ten years, around 30 per cent of men who take them see no improvement.

For these men, the only other options are to inject drugs straight into the penis, or use a pump that manually increases blood supply to the organ.Neither is very popular.

While herbal remedies like ginseng have been touted as alternative treatments, the evidence to support their use has been lacking.

Ginseng is a plant that has been used for thousands of years to bolster overall health.

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'Will taking a probiotic pill make you feel less anxious? Scientists suggest that the bacteria in our guts may affect our brains and mood'

14 Jan 2014

Claire Parkinson was desperate to find something to help her young son, Giovanni, cope with his constant digestive gripes, such as painful stomach upsets and wind that had afflicted him since babyhood.

Despite her initial scepticism, Claire, 31, a mother of three from Lewisham, South-East London, decided to try giving Giovanni, who was 11 at the time, a dietary supplement containing probiotic bacteria, having read about their claimed benefits on the internet.

Probiotics are live bacteria which, when consumed, are thought to colonise the stomach with bugs that help digestion. Their beneficial effects are not wholly proven, although there is some evidence they might help with a range of problems, including diarrhoea and food allergies.

Claire says the probiotic supplements quickly made a substantial difference to the frequency and intensity of her son's tummy upsets.

But something unexpected also happened. The behavioural problems linked to her son's Asperger's syndrome were also significantly reduced, she says.

Asperger's is a form of autism that causes difficulties with communication, interaction and imagination. Asperger's children may have problems relating to others, and have narrow and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests.

Claire claims that since taking the probiotics, Giovanni has been less anxious and there have been 'big improvements' in his concentration and general behaviour.

Coincidence? Perhaps not. Scientists have long suspected that stomach bacteria may have an effect on how the brain works.

Now, increasingly, studies are providing evidence that the bacteria in the gut may 'communicate' with the brain, improving mental health and behaviour in conditions such as anxiety, and possibly even autism and Asperger's syndrome.

Dr Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California in Los Angeles, has been examining MRI images of the brains of volunteers to see what bearing their gut bugs have on their brains.

In one analysis of 60 people, he found that connections between different regions of the brain differed depending on which type of bacteria was most abundant in the gut.

In another study, where several probiotics were given twice a day to a group of healthy women aged 18 to 55, their anxiety levels were reduced compared to women given a placebo or no treatment.

Brain scans found that the circuits involved in anxiety were not as sensitive, according to his report in the journal Gastroenterology last June.

Dr Kirsten Tillisch, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, who worked with Dr Mayer, says: 'Time and time again, we hear from patients that they never felt depressed or anxious until they started experiencing problems with their gut. Our study shows the gut-brain connection is a two-way street.'

Meanwhile, another researcher, Professor Stephen Collins of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, colonised the gut bacteria of anxious mice with bacteria from fearless mice. 'The [anxious] mice became less anxious, more gregarious,' he reports.

The reverse also worked; bold mice became timid when given the microbes of anxious ones.

Perhaps more controversial is the possible link between gut bacteria and behavioural disorders such as autism.

One report, in the authoritative journal PLOS One, recently speculated that the effect of Western-style diets - high in fat, sugar and salt - on gut bacteria might be contributing to the incidence of autism.

It must be noted that this is only a theory. However, the idea that the carbohydrate-heavy standard Western diet may be a problem is one to which Mayer and Tillisch subscribe - they believe that compared with diets high in vegetables and fibre, the Western diet means fewer beneficial strains of bacteria grow, allowing 'worse' gut bacteria to flourish.

'His behaviour in class became so disruptive that we had to take him out of school for months and teach him at home,' she says.

Claire was initially sceptical about probiotics, but decided to try them out of desperation when all else had failed.

Giovanni has now been taking them for 18 months. He is calmer and 'certainly has seemed a lot more settled at school', says Claire, who is also mother to Alice-Sara, ten, and Harley, four.

'He has even started to do handwriting, which is a miracle. Previously, he would work only at a computer.'

However, the National Autistic Society is adamant that there is no 'cure' either for Asperger's syndrome or autism.

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