What is Damiana?
Damiana (Turnera diffusa) is a herb that grows wild in the climates of the West Indies, Mexico, Central America, Southern California, and Texas. Historically, it was sought out for anxiety, nervousness, depression, digestive issues and as treatment for sexual withdrawal. The aromatic leaves and stems of the small shrub were gathered for medicinal use by the native people of these lands. This included the Mayans, indigenous people in Mesoamerica. The Mayans made a drink from the leaves of Damiana, added sugar and drank it as a tonic perceiving it as a broad treatment for wellness. This usage was recorded by Spanish missionaries who saw the favored drink being prized by the Mayans for the “giddiness and loss of balance” it inspired in them.
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Being of the genus Turnera, the two species of Damiana used are Turnera Aphrodisiaca and Turnera Diffusa. Damiana thrives on dry, sunny, and rocky hillsides. The shrub itself grows up to two meters high. Its stems are woody and its leaves are approximately ten to twenty-five centimeters in length and they are generally described as pale green with hairy ribs. It bears little yellow flowers that bloom throughout the summer months which develop into fruits with a fragrance that has been described as “sweet” and a flavor similar to that of figs with a rough, three-chambered shell.
Although the chemical make-up of Damiana is not fully understood, researchers have been able to detect volatile oils which makes physicians urge caution when consuming Damiana. Gonzalitosin, flavonoids, tannin, arbutin and a substance known as damianin (noted for its brown color and bitterness) are also present. In addition, the following phosphates are extracted in trace amounts, cyanogenic glycosides, thymol, and essential oils known to contain cineol, cymol and pinene.
Documents that are over one hundred years old show that Damiana chas been used for centuries for a variety of conditions. This ancient herb has been used by practitioners of alternative medicine or hobbyists curious about alternatives looking into its potential.
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Damiana Benefits and Uses
Damiana’s traditional usage among natives of the lands in which it was found had led medical professionals to seek out its benefits as an alternative to standard prescriptions. It is a favorite among herbalists, but only a few studies have been conducted to prove its alleged effects.
Damiana has lived up to its ancient reputation as a sexual stimulant for both males and females. A study on impotent rats conducted in Italy in 1999, showed an increased percentage of successful discharge. The clinical study also showed that the sexually sluggish rats showed an increase in sexual activity. It showed no effect on the sexually active rats that were dosed. This was the only clinical study in regards to the usage of Damiana for this purpose, however it is theorized that Damiana increases sexual activities in two ways. The first is that it enriches the oxygen supply, thus stimulating the genital area. The second attribute is that longer term use improves performance by way of increasing sexual fitness. It has also been implied that the anti-anxiety effects Damiana has on the brain (see below) are also effective in treating sexual dysfunction. Damiana’s use extends to the purpose of treating erectile dysfunction in males and helping females achieve vaginal wetness and an easier climax. An American drug company was awarded a patent on a drug combination including Damiana for treating sexual impotency. The other ingredients included in the patent are L-arginine, ginseng, ginkgo and various other vitamins and minerals that have shown in early research to treat sexual problems in conjunction with Damiana. Despite the years of usage by native people in its countries of origin, there has yet to be a clinical test of Damiana on humans.
Although there is no scientific evidence, there is many anecdotal reports that suggest Damiana balances hormones.
Damiana is said to have a relaxing “cannabis-like” effect on those who drink it soaked in hot water as a tea. The relaxing effects of the herb have made it a traditional treatment for mood disorders such as hypochondria, obsessive compulsive disorder, neurosis, paranoia, etc. This psychosomatic quality may account for the usage of the herb as an antidepressant along with other applications that involve a psychological aspect such as debilitation, bed-wetting, menstrual irregularities, gastric ulcers, and constipation. No testing exists for the usage of Damiana as an antidepressant and therefore, there is no conclusive evidence.
Breast Cancer Treatment
It has been suggested that Damiana can be used to treat breast cancer when bound to progesterone receptors. In 1998, researchers put this theory to the test via a clinical study. The in vitro study resulted in the conclusion that some aspect of Damiana has a helpful effect when applied to cancer cells in such a way.
Activity Depressant in the Nervous System
Damiana has shown to be effective as an activity depressant when it comes to the central nervous system. This has been confirmed by research and, as of now, two patents have been filed on treatments within the U.S. for hunger suppressing dietary aids containing Damiana. The manufacturers of said patents disclosed the thermogenic qualities of Damiana as well as its role as an anxiety depressant. This was the purpose for its presence in the orally consumed capsules.
Among the plethora of uses for Damiana among ancient natives of the West Indies, Mexico, Central America, Southern California, and Texas, a notable application is its use as a digestive aid. Among other qualities, it is said to serve as a laxative, a diuretic, as well as treatment for nervous stomach, colic, and dyspepsia. The use of Damiana as a digestive aid has no scientific evidence as no testing has taken place.
The use of Damiana as a traditional treatment for diabetes appears to have some scientific merit as well. Mice treated by researchers in 1984 showed hypoglycemic activity in response to an infusion of leaves. The effect of this Mexican study was repeated in hyperglycemic rats. The oral infusions showed a lowered level of glucose in the blood of the rats. However, a study conducted in 2002, in an attempt to replicate the effects with a mixture extracted from the leaves of Damiana, there was evidence of no activity classified as hypoglycemic. It has been suggested that, since the 2002 study was administered via an ethanol mixture, the conflicting results of these studies need the application of Damiana via the more traditional method of soaking the leaves to make a tea in order to be effective. This theory further suggests that the active chemicals of the herb, determined to be hypoglycemic, are somehow ineffective when presented in the form of alcohol. Researchers argue that these results show that consumption of Damiana tea may adversely affect medications for diabetes.
Damiana Side Effects, Toxicity, Interactions and Safety
Although typical Damiana intake has historically been shown to be safe, physicians caution against intake of medicinal levels of it under certain conditions. Uninhibited intake may prove problematic to those with diabetes. The hypoglycemic effects shown in animals in response to Damiana presents the possibility that it may make any human taking the herb experience dropped blood sugar levels. Physicians warn diabetic patients to monitor their blood sugar levels accordingly for possible effects.
For this reason, doctors warn against intake before a major surgery as well. Damiana’s effects on blood glucose levels cause concern among the medical community in that it may cause a patient to be unable to control blood glucose levels before, during and after surgery. For this reason, it is recommended that one stop taking Damiana or products containing Damiana at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Anemics and others at risk of suffering from iron deficiency are warned against taking in medical doses of Damiana as it may reduce the absorption of iron.
One of the many traditional uses of Damiana is that of an abortive. For this reason, physicians warn against taking it during pregnancy and while breast-feeding.
Damiana Tea, Capsules, Tinture, or Blend?
Cultivation missions all across Latin America have made damiana and products containing damiana available for mass consumption in a variety of forms. It can be found in several combinations marketed for whichever affliction said combination is manufactured to treat. Most methods of herbal commerce made these products available in tea blends, capsules, tables, liquid tinctures and extracts. Damiana can also be smoked but there are no medical documents that suggest what type of dosage should be used. Some people even make damiana brownies.
Most herbalists agree that damiana is best taken in conjunction with other herbs, vitamins and minerals, so a blend is considered best. There arent many blends available on the market so it might be best to make your own. My personal preferred method to consume Damiana is as a tea. There is just something soothing about consuming a warm tea made our of natural Damiana leaves.
Because clinical testing regarding Damiana is limited, there is no doctor recommended dosage. Herbalists, physicians and those interested in taking damiana consider their age, health and several other factors. It is generally recommended that one consult their doctor, pharmacist and product labels before beginning a regimen. If one wishes to take the traditional method of tea, the standard dosages call for two to four grams of dried leaves in a cup of boiling water at a rate of two to three cups taken daily. For tinctures and liquid extracts, the labels typically recommend that one consumes two to four milliliters. Powdered leaves in tablets or capsules are typically directed to be taken in three to four grams or in smaller increments twice daily.