Selected herbals and
human exercise performance

by
Bucci LR
Weider Nutrition International,
Salt Lake City,
UT 84104-4726, USA.
lukeb@weider.com
Am J Clin Nutr 2000 Aug; 72(2 Suppl):624S-36S


ABSTRACT

Herbs have been used throughout history to enhance physical performance, but scientific scrutiny with controlled clinical trials has only recently been used to study such effects. The following herbs are currently used to enhance physical performance regardless of scientific evidence of effect: Chinese, Korean, and American ginsengs; Siberian ginseng, mahuang or Chinese ephedra; ashwagandha; rhodiola; yohimbe; CORDYCEPS: fungus, shilajit or mummio; smilax; wild oats; Muira puama; suma (ecdysterone); Tribulus terrestris; saw palmetto berries; beta-sitosterol and other related sterols; and wild yams (diosgenin). Controlled studies of Asian ginsengs found improvements in exercise performance when most of the following conditions were true: use of standardized root extracts, study duration (>8 wk, daily dose >1 g dried root or equivalent, large number of subjects, and older subjects. Improvements in muscular strength, maximal oxygen uptake, work capacity, fuel homeostasis, serum lactate, heart rate, visual and auditory reaction times, alertness, and psychomotor skills have also been repeatedly documented. Siberian ginseng has shown mixed results. Mahuang, ephedrine, and related alkaloids have not benefited physical performance except when combined with caffeine. Other herbs remain virtually untested. Future research on ergogenic effects of herbs should consider identity and amount of substance or presumed active ingredients administered, dose response, duration of test period, proper experimental controls, measurement of psychological and physiologic parameters (including antioxidant actions), and measurements of performance pertinent to intended uses.
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