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Expert: How safe is the Mukombero you are consuming?

A 2022 social-ecological research on the Perceptions and Determinants of Sexual Enhancement Drug Use among Men and Women in Ghana – and mirrored in other sub-Saharan African countries- found that more men than women had used aphrodisiacs in the six months prior to the study.

These aphrodisiacs include “any food or drug that enhances sexual arousal, desire, pleasure and performance.”

For women, despite their unfavourable views about sexual enhancement drugs due to perceived negative health implications for themselves and their partners, the use of aphrodisiacs was associated with being employed, engaging in physical activities, having good health, having multiple sexual partners and taking alcohol. For men, positive use of aphrodisiacs was linked to being religious and having multiple sexual lovers.

“Research reports show that an increase in unfulfilled sexual desires and sexual dysfunction globally has led to a rise in the prevalence and use of approved and unapproved aphrodisiacs/sexual enhancement drugs in many places. As in many other sub-Saharan African countries, the commonly used sexual enhancement drugs that are approved by the national regulatory body in Ghana take the form of alcoholic/non-alcoholic drinks and pills/capsules usually made from herbal ingredients,” stated the study in part.

One such herb that is popular in Kenya as an aphrodisiac is white ginger, commonly known by its local name- Mukombero. It is commonly sold by hawkers and in open-air markets either as one piece or in bundles.

Commonly used by men, the plant is first and foremost popularly known to enhance one’s libido over other health benefits it possesses.

To understand the science behind Mukombero and whether it really enhances one’s sexual prowess, Nairobi News spoke to Mr Inyangu Agara, a Nutritionist who reaffirmed that the African plant has a history of being utilised for its aphrodisiac effects and facilitating appetite.

“Its way of enhancing libido and appetite is not completely known, but several compounds in mondia whitei (the scientific name for White’s Ginger/Mukombero) most probably contribute to such effects. The first one is Sterols which are believed to have a libido-boosting effect. Sterols are structurally similar to human sex hormones such as testosterone and appear to influence libido indirectly by means of backup and balancing of the hormones.

The second compound is Alkaloids which are associated with mood elevation and increased libido but the research does not yet reveal any specific effects in Mondia whitei. Third are the Saponins which are examples of chemicals that have multiple biological functions involving libido. They can affect different pathways of interactions in the body, such as hormone regulation and neurotransmitter activity and fourth are the Flavonoids which are antioxidants. Their exact role in improving libido is not yet clear, though they surely help to maintain the overall health by removing oxidative stress and inflammation which could in turn help sexual function,” began Mr Agara.

The fifth compound found in Mukombero are the bioactive compounds like phenols, tannins and essential oils that have “synergistic actions leading to the additive effect on this herb’s overall aphrodisiac properties.”

By nature of it being a plant, and not commercially processed pills and portions that enhance sexual wellness, many users rarely think twice about consuming Mukombero. Some chew the roots, others ground it into a powder to make teas and juices or cook it in food.

But then, as is with everything, too much of something can be poisonous.

“Besides a variety of advantages for sexual health, mondia whitei may also cause unwanted consequences and adverse reactions. However, scientific research concerning these aspects is still in the preliminary stages,” continued Mr Agara before listing some of the consequences and reactions Mukombero consumers may end up facing.

According to Mr Agara, consumers may have allergic reactions such as redness, itching or other symptoms of respiratory distress such as wheezing or shortness of breath; gastrointestinal issues such as abdominal discomforts, nausea, diarrhoea and bloating when consumed in large amounts; and interactions with medications especially those that regulate hormones and anticoagulants.

“If you are using medications for conditions such as hormonal disturbances, blood thinners or medications that regulate blood pressure, it is imperative to ask your health care provider for advice before using mondia whitei to prevent interactions. Additionally, the impact of mondia whitei on hormonal balance potentially explains its ability to introduce hormonal imbalance in some people. Such changes could cause severe problems like increase or decrease in sexual desire, depression or problems with menstruation in women,” explained Mr Agara.

He went on to mention the quality and purity concerns of Mukombero, saying that because it is an unregulated plant, its quality, purity and consistency disparity is of great concern across different products and brands.

“It is vital to select credible resources and things in order to reduce the probability of injection or tainting. The ongoing traditional use of mondia whitei for many years is the only evidence that has supported its safety profile. Therefore, complete long-term safety data from scientific studies is lacking. This implies that the long-term or heavy use risks and side effects are not vastly studied,” added Mr Agara.

Finally, some Mukombero consumers may end up dealing with psychological effects. This is evidenced by physical symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness and insomnia.

“Like any natural remedy and alternative approaches to life, the use of mondia whitei should be undertaken with caution. If you are expecting, nursing, have existing medical conditions or if you take medications; before starting any new supplement regimen, consultation with a healthcare provider is recommended. This will determine its (Mukombero use) safety and suitability to the personal health situation,” continued Mr Agara.

For those who will continue using Mukombero, in light of the above adverse effects, it is recommended that it should be consumed in regulated amounts and combined with dietary and lifestyle changes such as exercising and balancing one’s weight, eating healthier and drinking responsibly, sleeping better, managing stress and stop smoking to improve the libido.

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