Little pink pills

UK scientists are split over whether a pill dubbed 'female viagra' actually works.

The little pink pill, a supplement containing an extract from French pine bark called pycnogenol, goes on sale this month. Manufacturers claim the supplement is the female version of the little blue pill – Viagra – the blockbuster erectile dysfunction drug that earned its manufacturers nearly $2 billion in annual global sales before its patent expired in 2013.

High street supplement chain Holland & Barrett started stocking the little pink pills, called Lady Prelox this month and stocks are already running low.

Lady Prelox
Holland and Barrett

The manufacturer of Lady Prelox, Nord Pharma, claims its product "boosts libido and increases arousal in women", because it "encourages blood flow to the reproductive organs as well as the brain".

One small study looked at 100 women aged 37 to 45 who followed a management programme to improve their lifestyle, diet, exercise, and stress control. Half of the women also took Lady Prelox. The study - funded by Nord Pharma - found women who took the supplement showed a larger improvement in the Female Sexual Function Index, a medical tool for evaluating female sexual health.

Erectile dysfunction in men can be caused by conditions that affect the flow of blood to the penis. But doctors are far from sure if poor circulation is an important cause of sexual dysfunction in women, or whether improving circulation would help treat sexual problems.

Dr Graham Jackson, chairman of the Sexual Advice Association and a cardiologist at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals in London, said there was no evidence that the circulation theory behind Lady Prelox was correct.

He told the Daily Mail: "We know that in men sexual dysfunction is mainly a vascular problem. We don't have any concrete evidence of this in women yet, but I suspect there may turn out to be a link.'

Dr Jackson warned wouldn't work unless were already aroused. "These aren't aphrodisiacs. If you're not turned on by your partner, no amount of tablets will help."

However, Dr Andy Heeps, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Queens Hospital in Romford, Essex, said he remained unconvinced. "Female sexual dysfunction is a complex area. There's no single cause and so there's no single magic bullet."