Damiana can cause mild gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, headaches, and weight loss, if it is taken in excess or for an extended period of time. The serious side effects of this herb are quite rare, though they can occur at times. The most common side effects of damiana, and what precautions need to be maintained while taking it, are discussed in this HolisticZine article.
Damiana is the common name of two different but related species of shrubs that grow abundantly in Mexico, Caribbean, and the South and Central America. Both Turnera diffusa, and Turnera aphrodisiaca, which are commonly known as damiana, belong to the family, Turneraceae. The shrub damiana is aromatic with a strong, spice-like aroma, reminiscent of chamomile. The plant, its leaves, and the flowers contain a volatile oil that gives them their characteristic chamomile-like smell.
Traditionally, damiana leaves have been brewed as a tea and drunk for its aphrodisiac properties. Spanish missionaries were the first to record the use of damiana tea as an aphrodisiac by the Mexican Indians. This herb has also been used in traditional medicine for treating a host of ailments, including headaches, cough, erectile dysfunction, and bedwetting. However, an overdose of this herb or its excessive intake for a long time can cause some serious side effects. But before going into the details of damiana side effects, let’s take a brief look at its possible health benefits.
Damiana Health Benefits
- Though historically damiana has been mainly used for its aphrodisiac properties, there is no scientific evidence to prove that this herb does have a positive effect on human libido. But in animal studies, this herb has been observed to improve the mating behavior of impotent or sexually sluggish rats, but no difference has been observed in the copulatory behavior of sexually potent rats.
- This herb is believed to work by increasing blood flow to certain areas of the body, including the head and the genital region, which may explain its ability to alleviate headaches and boost sexual health. Apart from these, this herb may boost the level of energy and stamina, improve mood, and prove helpful in conditions like cough, constipation, bedwetting, fibromyalgia, and prostate inflammation.
- It can also alleviate the symptoms of hormonal imbalance, and thus, help women cope with hot flashes, and premenstrual and menopause symptoms. The Mexicans also use damiana for treating gastrointestinal disorders. The herbal extract prepared from damiana has been found to exhibit antibacterial activity against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. One study has also suggested that this herb may contain compounds that can produce effects similar to those of the hormone progesterone.
Possible Side Effects
So far, damiana has not been reported to cause serious side effects, if it is taken in the appropriate dosage. Some mild side effects like gastrointestinal problems can be experienced when this herb is taken for the first time. Damiana has laxative properties, for which an overdose can cause diarrhea. Other gastrointestinal discomforts that can be experienced while taking this herb or its extract are, indigestion, nausea, and vomiting.
Damiana contains a compound called arbutin, which is converted to hydroquinone by the body. The presence of excess hydroquinone in the body can cause nausea, vomiting, and tinnitus. Apart from these, a few other possible side effects of this herb are:
- Irritation of the urethral mucosa
- Low blood sugar
This herb also contains low levels of compounds similar to cyanide, and so, its excessive intake can cause serious side effects. An overdose of damiana can cause the following side effects:
- Tingling and numbness
- Muscle spasms and reduced muscle function
- A low-grade fever
- Difficulty in swallowing
Damiana is usually not recommended for people with anemia, as it can impair the absorption of iron. The methods of delivering damiana can, to a large extent determine the way it affects the body. While damiana tea, tincture, and capsules are largely considered safe, smoking damiana for recreational purposes can cause side effects like irritation of the lung tissues, hallucinations, and seizures.
People allergic to this herb on the other hand, can develop an allergic reaction that can manifest in:
- Hives or skin rash
- Breathing difficulty
- Unusual swelling of the face, tongue, and the lips
The safety of damiana for pregnant and breastfeeding women has not been properly evaluated. Therefore, it is better to avoid this herb during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Damiana can also affect the blood sugar levels, for which diabetic patients should maintain caution, and check their blood sugar levels at regular intervals while taking this herb or its supplements. It is advisable to discontinue the use of damiana at least 2 weeks before a surgery.
This herb can interact with diabetes medications. Diabetes medications are used to lower the level of blood sugar, and damiana is also known to do the same. So, taking them simultaneously can lower the level of blood sugar below the normal range. So, it is better to not take this herb without consulting your health care provider, if you are using blood sugar-lowering medications for diabetes.
Never take damiana without consulting your physician, if you have any of the following medical conditions:
- Breast cancer
- Psychiatric disorder
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
The FDA has not reviewed damiana for its safety or effectiveness, which should be kept in mind while considering to use this herb for treating any medical condition. It is also important to consult a health care professional and herbalist before using any herb or herbal supplement for therapeutic purposes. Finally, be sure to purchase herbal supplements only from a reliable source, in order to minimize the risks associated with contamination.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be considered as a substitute for professional medical advice.