Herbal Viagra’ Passes Rat Test
Anti-impotence supplement shows promise

By Richard Saltus Globe Staff

A concoction touted as an “herbal Viagra” without the side effects has shown it can prevent impotence in rats, giving at least a measure of scientific support to the briskly selling product known as “BetterMAN”.

Developed by a Marblehead biologist born in China and familiar with traditional remedies, the supplement is aimed at two of middle-age men’s biggest complaints – erectile difficulties and frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Though mainstream researchers are skeptical, BetterMAN’s developer, Peipei Wu Wishnow, claims it can restore and maintain male potency while also reducing the need to urinate at night that occurs in many older men with enlarged prostate glands.

Unlike Viagra, the blockbuster impotence drug that men take an hour or two before sex, BetterMAN is taken daily with rest periods of a few days. By some mechanism that isn’t understood, the herbs affect the man’s physiology to restore sexual potency without the need for before-sex treatment each time.

Thus, an erection seems “like a normal reaction” because the herbal brew “is not like something you have to take and wait,” said one user, a 72-year-old retired military man from the Boston area who requested anonymity.

“This increases the spontaneity and frequency” of sex compared to the delayed action of Viagra, said Wishnow.

However, until now, proof of BetterMAN’s effectiveness has been scant. Although Wishnow reports good results in a small sample of men, the product has not undergone any stringent or large-scale clinical testing, as would a prescription drug, and the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t allow such food supplements to be advertised with medical claims.

But BetterMAN can produce a better rat, according to the study published in the Journal of Urology – that is, a rat whose potency isn’t diminished by the same fatty diet that hampered erections in rodents that didn’t get the product.

The lead author of the report, Dr. Tom Lue, a urologist at the University of California in San Francisco, said he was approached by Wishnow’s company, Interceuticals, and he agreed to test the product because of an interest in herbal remedies fostered by his father, who was a Chinese herbalist.

After months of feeding the animals a high-cholesterol diet, Lue used an electrical current to stimulate erections in the animals. The rats that didn’t get BetterMAN had only half the normal erections as those that got the herb treatment, Lue reported.

“What the mechanism is, we don’t know,” said Lue. But the experiment ruled out a placebo effect because the rats were under anesthesia during the testing.

Lue said he would not recommend BetterMAN for people without more testing, but several independent pharmacists in the Boston area estimated that hundreds of their customers were using the remedy, a mixture of 18 herbs, and reporting good results.

The herbal remedy usually begins to show benefits after about two months of daily use, said Wishnow, a biologist who did graduate work at MIT and the California Institute of Technology. The cost of treatment with the herbs is about $40 a month and is available at Wishnow’s Web site, www.BetterMANnow.com.

Viagra costs about $10 per pill. Some insurers cover a limited supply of Viagra, often four pills per month. If a man wanted to use it more often, he would have to pay out of pocket and at that point the herbal remedy might be cheaper since it has a fixed cost.

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