June 5, 2001 -- Most women don't live like the sexually provocative characters on Sex and the City and, in fact, may often experience significant downtime in the boudoir.
But new research about the nutritional supplement ArginMax, sponsored by the company that manufactures it, suggests it may improve some women's sexual desire and overall satisfaction.
Industry-sponsored research is not unprecedented. Pfizer Inc., sponsored the trials for the impotence drug Viagra, which were eventually evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration for its ultimate marketing to men. But nutritional supplements can be sold without FDA approval.
Although more women report dissatisfaction with their sex life compared to men, there is no product like Viagra for women. Surveys show that sexual dysfunction, defined as low libido, slow arousal, difficulty reaching orgasm, and painful intercourse, occurs in 43 percent of women. Only 31 percent of men report sexual dysfunction.
Supplement Provided Satisfaction
The study, led by Dr. Mary Lake Polan, the chair of the department of gynecology/obstetrics at Stanford University, found that women between the ages of 22 and 73 who had lacked sexual desire reported an improved satisfaction with their sex life after taking the supplement for four weeks.
Forty-six women taking the supplement were compared to 47 similar women who took a placebo. Neither the researchers nor the women knew what they were taking.
The women rated their sexual functioning before and after the study, Polan says. Sixty percent taking the supplement reported improvement in their overall sex life, while only 38 percent taking placebo described such a benefit.
Sixty-four percent of the women reported improvement in sexual desire versus 43 percent in the placebo group. Improvements also were reported in clitoral stimulation, clitoral sensation, reduction of vaginal dryness and satisfaction with their sexual relationship.
Amino Acid Arginine Key
Polan is reporting her findings at the Congress on Women's Health and Gender-based Medicine in Washington, D.C., today and says her results will soon be published in the Journal of Women's Health and Gender-based Medicine, which is peer-reviewed, that is, vetted by fellow professionals.
ArginMax contains gingko, ginseng, damiana, L-arginine and 14 other vitamins and minerals. L-arginine is an essential amino acid that is believed to work by increasing nitric oxide levels in the body, and blood flow in a analogous fashion to how Viagra works in men.
The company says the other ingredients have been used traditionally to improve sexual performance.
Polan belongs to the scientific advisory board of Mountainville, Calif.-based The Daily Wellness Company, which makes the supplement, and holds stock options in the firm.
The only FDA-approved product specifically for women with sexual dysfunction is a mixture of estrogen and testosterone, approved for post-menopausal women. Doctors are able to prescribe testosterone gels or patches, even though these products are not specifically approved for women.
Skepticism About Findings
Dr. Alan Wabrek, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y., says he is very doubtful about the supplement research.
"I would be very skeptical that some pill would solve a huge component of women's sexual difficulty that a number of women struggle with," Wabrek says. "Clearly, this is a preliminary study and four weeks is not enough time to draw any real conclusions."
"I think it is unwise for women to go out and start buying this product."
He also says Polan's relationship with the company calls into question her research, as she has a vested interest in the success of the product.