Aphrodisiacs: Fact or Fiction?
Certain foods are just plain sexy to eat–strawberries, oysters, and chocolate come to mind–but do they endow the eater with true sexual desire?
“Aphrodisiacs have been used for thousands of years all around the world, but the science behind the claims has never been well understood or clearly reported,” says Massimo Marcone, a professor in the University of Guelph’s Department of Food Science.
Conditions such as erectile dysfunction are treated with synthetic drugs, including sildenafil (commonly sold as Viagra) and tadalafil (Cialis)–but these drugs can produce negative side effects such as headache, muscle pain and blurred vision, and can have dangerous interactions with other medications. They also do not increase libido.
Marcone and master’s student John Melnyk examined hundreds of studies on commonly used consumable aphrodisiacs to investigate claims of sexual enhancement, either psychological and physiological–results of their study appeared in the journal Food Research International. Here’s what they found:
Ginseng, saffron and yohimbine, a natural chemical from yohimbe trees in West Africa, improved human sexual function.
Wine and chocolate, improved sexual function, but their amorous effects are likely psychological.
Spanish fly and Bufo toad–while purported to be sexually enhancing, they produced the opposite result and can even be toxic.
People report increased sexual desire after eating muira puama, a flowering plant found in Brazil; maca root, a mustard plant in the Andes; and chocolate. Although despite its purported aphrodisiac effect, chocolate was not linked to sexual arousal or satisfaction, the study said. ”It may be that some people feel an effect from certain ingredients in chocolate, mainly phenylethylamine, which can affect serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain,” Marcone said.
Alcohol was found to increase sexual arousal but to impede sexual performance.
Nutmeg, cloves, garlic, ginger, and ambergris (formed in the intestinal tract of the sperm whale) are among substances linked to increased sexual behaviour in animals.
While their findings support the use of foods and plants for sexual enhancement, the authors urge caution. “Currently, there is not enough evidence to support the widespread use of these substances as effective aphrodisiacs,” Marcone said. “More clinical studies are needed to better understand the effects on humans.”