Do natural aphrodisiacs work? Here’s what scientists found about chocolate, oysters

Do natural aphrodisiacs work?. Wodicka/Getty Images

Eating chocolate and oysters to get in the mood? Scientists who looked into how effective natural aphrodisiacs are suggest that there may not be solid evidence to prop up claims that certain foods pump up our libidos.

“For centuries, man has searched for the secret to sexual satisfaction. Nearly every ancient civilization touted the benefit of a different herb or food for sexual vitality, enhancement or desire,” Dr. Michael Krychman, executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health, wrote in the study.

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He and his team combed through the research on a handful of alleged aphrodisiacs to see if they really work. Here’s what they found.

Chocolate: It’s doled out on Valentine’s Day because of its ties to romance and seduction. Krychman says that Aztecs referred to chocolate as “nourishment of the Gods,” while legends suggest that emperor Montezuma would drink chocolate to bolster his virility before meeting with his wives. The benefits of chocolate have been well-documented lately – it has antioxidants and flavonoids that feed our guts and lower blood pressure. But elements that have been singled out for helping to boost sex drive – tyramine and phenylethlamine – have no science propping them up. In studies using chocolate to enhance sexual abilities, researchers in the past didn’t find a difference between those who grazed on sweets compared to their peers who didn’t.

“While it is tempting that chocolate may have some positive effects on sexual function, the myth is not supported in the existing medical literature,” the study says.

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Honey: The sticky sweet stuff has been used to bring romance into marriages, the study notes. Just think of the word, “honeymoon,” they say as a prime example – it stems from a tradition in which newlyweds would sip on a fermented honey drink on the first new moon of their marriage. “Mad honey,” which is made from a specific nectar, is marketed as a sexual stimulant for both men and women and it’s often used in Turkey, the researchers say. Don’t use it, they warn. It’s potentially toxic. Regular honey won’t get you sick, but it’s not going to help you in the bedroom either, they say.

Oysters: The researchers note that oysters gained their claim to fame through Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Casanova allegedly ate 50 oysters per day to keep up his sexual stamina. While oysters contain zinc, which helps with testosterone production, along with amino acids and serotonin to increase our pleasure responses, there is no hard data that points to improved sexual responsivity or satisfaction.

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Ginseng: This popular herb is used in plenty of ways, from sports medicine to cancer prevention and sexual enhancement. Korean red ginseng is harvested, steamed and dried from a six-year-old tree and its users swear by its benefits in treating erectile dysfunction. After combing through seven well-controlled studies on the ingredient, the doctors say ginseng may hold some merit. The studies differed in their dosage of ginseng, but the research suggests that it might help in improving sex drive in menopausal women.

“The proposed mechanism is smooth muscle relaxation on the clitoral cavernosal muscle and vaginal walls,” the researchers explained. It doesn’t come with many side effects except for minor gastrointestinal issues and it may interfere with blood-thinning drugs.

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Ginkgo biloba: Ginkgo supplements are made from extracting from the world’s oldest species of tree. It’s used to treat blood disorders, improve memory and to fight depression. It’s also used for sexual dysfunction – the researchers say that it helps in relaxation, while increasing blood flow.

They say it could hold some merit when it comes to bedroom performance. “One small but promising study showed significant improvement in sexual dysfunction in both men and women suffering from…sexual dysfunction…,” they say.

And the rest? Other natural aphrodisiacs were studied, too. For the most part, the science rarely supported the claims, though.

“At this time, research has shown that the risks of certain products, such as yohimbine, Spanish fly, mad honey and Bufo toad, far outweigh any benefit, and these products should be avoided. However, other aphrodisiacs, such as Ginkgo, ginseng, maca, and Tribulus, have early but promising data behind them,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.

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“Future randomized clinical trials are warranted before health care practitioners can recommend most aphrodisiac products. There remain some medical concerns with drug interactions, purity, reliability, and safety,” they said.

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The full findings were published in the journal Sexual Medical Reviews. Read the full findings here.

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