dried saw palmetto
Quasarphoto/iStock/Getty Images

A 2007 survey presented in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that 52 percent of people take a dietary supplement at least once a month. Studies testing animals and humans suggest that herbal supplements can play a positive role in maintaining health and treating disease. Many herbs contain steroids, which have a direct effect on physiology and behavior. While often effective, supplements may cause adverse reactions and should be used with caution.

Saw Palmetto

Saw palmetto is an herbal extract made from the fruit of the Serenoa repens plant. Natives of the southeastern United States have used saw palmetto to treat illness for generations. A 2009 report published in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications shows that this plant contained stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol. According to the report, these steroids decreased cancer cell proliferation in petri dish cultures.

A 2008 experiment in the Journal of Urology reveals that saw palmetto may produce positive effects in human studies as well. This experiment tested the effects of saw palmetto in men with an enlarged prostrate. Such patients typically have difficulty urinating. Twelve weeks of nightly use increased urinary flow. Patients reported few adverse reactions in this study, but saw palmetto has caused drug interactions and other side effects in some cases.

Winter Cherry

Winter cherry is a herbal supplement made from roots of the Physalis angulata shrub. Used in traditional Indian medicine, administration of winter cherry allegedly helps people to cope with stress. A 2007 study presented in the Journal of Natural Products reveals that Physalis angulata contained physanolide A. During this experiment, that steroid killed cancer cells grown in petri dishes.

This herb may also provide an inexpensive treatment alternative for malaria. A 2003 report in Phytotherapy Research shows that an herbal tonic, which included winter cherry, successfully removed parasitic infection from the blood of malaria patients. While effective, winter cherry intake produced some evidence of potential side effects.

Safed Musli

Safed Musli is a Ayurvedic medicine used for centuries as an aphrodisiac. Over the years, this tonic has contained different species of chlorophytum and asparagus plants. According to an 2010 article published in Drug Intervention Today, roots of the Chlorophytum borivilianum plant serve as the main ingredient in modern preparations of Safed Musli.

Chlorophytum borivilianum contains many different substances including steroids. A 2005 analysis offered in Phytochemistry Reviews revealed the presence of stigmasterol, hecogenin, and chloromaloside. The latter steroid prevented cancer cell proliferation in culture experiments.

A 2008 study published in Phytotherapy Research illustrates the positive effects of Chlorophytum borivilianum on sexual behavior. Rats given the herb for 60 days had increased sperm count and sex drive. These results suggest that Safed Musli may help to treat human reproductive and sexual disorders.