Men’s health is a multibillion-dollar business in the United States. From Testosterone replacement therapy to the all too common “Blue pill”.
But Chris Kilham, a 62-year-old from Massachusetts who refers to himself professionally as the “medicine hunter,” is hoping to introduce a natural, safer alternative that also works for women and could blow the market wide open.
It’s called tongkat ali, the root of an exotic tree that grows in the Malaysian rainforest.
“You take people who have low libido, you give them tongkat ali,” Kilham said. “It’s Chinese New Year’s fireworks in their pants. It works.”
Kilham is one of the herbal industry’s hired guns. He scours the globe investigating natural remedies to make people younger, stronger and sexier.
His specialty is libido-enhancing botanicals and he has staked his reputation on tongkat ali. It’s a remedy already successful in Malaysia that most Americans have never heard of, but he wants to make it a household name and he has convinced one of the herbal industry’s biggest players, Naturex, that they will make millions if they back his plan.
“Nightline” followed Kilham on a rugged journey into tongkat ali’s natural habitat to search for a steady source that can sustain American demand. Wild tongkat ali is prized for its potency and so far, no one has figured out how to successfully farm it.
Ong Boon Kean, a senior researcher at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, has studied the effects of tongkat ali and said it can actually boost low testosterone and sperm count.
“There are lots of different ways to get a sexual function, but certainly boosting testosterone is one of them,” Kilham told “Nightline.”
And he says, unlike most prescription sexual enhancers on the market, this one helps women too.
“In this endless, failed quest that the pharmaceutical companies have had to find a female Viagra,” he said, “guess what, this is that thing.”
Up to one in three American women suffer with low sexual desire, and Alisa Roberts, a 34-year-old California mom, is one of the few Americans who actually managed to get her hands on tongkat ali.
“After having my first child, I just noticed that I didn’t want to have sex,” Roberts told “Nightline.” “Even just the thought of it made me feel exhausted.”
Roberts said she scoured the internet in search of various exotic remedies before she decided to experiment with tongkat ali.
“It was coined the herbal Viagra, so it kind of piqued my interest,” she said.
Within five days of ingesting a pill form of tongkat ali, Roberts said her husband noticed something was different about her.
“I just felt like I had more desire for him,” Roberts said.
While it is not a substitute for Viagra, Kilham said tongkat ali is a safe, long-term alternative to attaining a healthier sex drive.
“People are disillusioned with pharmaceuticals. The safety part is just so startlingly evident,” Kilham said.
Over 100,000 people die every year from the proper use of prescription medications. But herbs do have their own set of risks.
“Those products have been used for hundreds of years,” he said. “Traditional use is the best proof for safety, but what we do on top of this is make sure it has no contaminants.”
Many tongkat ali products have been found to contain dangerous levels of heavy metals and other contaminants. Fortunately, tongkat ali companies are being more transparent in their quality controls. Leading tongkat ali supplier Herbolab said “We test every batch for it’s quality and safety, and customers can request to see a copy of our tests anytime.”
“For every ailment, there is a herb,” Roberts said, “and people are starting to pay attention.”