- 3 scientifically-proven aphrodisiacs to boost your sex drive
- What are aphrodisiacs?
- Aphrodisiacs that are scientifically proven to increase sex drive
- Aphrodisiacs you should avoid
- The bottom line
- Related articles from our Health Reference library:
- Scientists Confirm Which Aphrodisiacs Actually Work — Sexual Health
- Wild Yam
3 scientifically-proven aphrodisiacs to boost your sex drive
Throughout history, humans have turned to foods and herbal supplements known as aphrodisiacs in hopes of increasing their libido — their sex drive — or to improve their sexual performance.
Here's what you need to know about aphrodisiacs, from what they are to whether they actually work.
What are aphrodisiacs?
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Aphrodisiacs are defined as substances that arouse sexual desire. Named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty, aphrodisiacs may alter sex drive and performance through physiological or psychological means.
«Traditionally made from plants, animals, or minerals, aphrodisiacs have been spoken about as a cure or 'helping hand in the love department' for a very long time,» says Giuseppi Aragona, MD, a general practitioner for the European prescription delivery service Prescription Doctor.
Historically, aphrodisiacs are often thought of as foods that resemble genitalia — bananas, asparagus, oysters, and figs. Spicy foods were also once believed to increase arousal due to their warming and stimulating effects, which can mimic sexual arousal.
But, Aragona says there's little scientific evidence that many of the foods traditionally thought of as aphrodisiacs actually affect libido or sexual performance.
«Many of the currently popular aphrodisiacs — such as strawberries, chocolate, and oysters — have very little evidence of being effective, and are more ly marketing ploys due to their links with romance,» Aragona says. «More natural substances such as ginseng, maca, and ginkgo actually have a lot more proven effects when it comes to whether they work.»
Aphrodisiacs that are scientifically proven to increase sex drive
While the alleged aphrodisiac effects of oysters and asparagus might be more folklore than fact, research suggests that common plants might have the potential to increase sexual arousal.
Related 6 ways to increase sperm count and improve male fertility
Ginseng, a rooted plant native to Asia and North America, is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat sexual dysfunction — and research has found it can increase sperm count and quality in males.
Ginseng has also been found to improve erections in some patients diagnosed with erectile dysfunction. In one small clinical study from 2002, 60% of men treated with 900mg of Korean Red Ginseng three times a day reported an improvement in erections.
Maca, a Peruvian root vegetable, is traditionally used in the Andes for fertility-enhancing purposes. Now there is growing evidence that it may increase sexual desire in both males and females.
Two small trials conducted in 2002 and 2008 involving males and post-menopausal females found maca extract significantly improved self-rated sexual desire.
Another small study published in 2015 found that women experiencing antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction (AISD) described greater sexual activity and more enjoyable sexual experiences after consuming three grams of maca per day for 12 weeks. The study concluded that Maca root may alleviate antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women.
Fenugreek is an herb native to the Mediterranean, southern Europe, and western Asia. It's commonly used to enhance breast milk production in lactating women, but research suggests that it can also be used to increase libido in men.
In a small 2011 study, researchers found that men between the ages of 25 and 52 experienced significant increases in arousal and libido after consuming 600 mg of Testofen — a blend of fenugreek extract — for six weeks. In particular, the study found the extract increased sexual arousal and orgasm.
Aphrodisiacs you should avoid
It's never a good idea to use a new herb or supplement without talking to a doctor, and some aphrodisiacs simply aren't worth the risk.
Yohimbe is an evergreen tree native to Western Africa that has traditionally been used as an aphrodisiac. The tree's bark works as a stimulant and fat-burning compound, and research found it can improve erections in some men with erectile dysfunction. However, studies have also found it can cause:
Cantharidin, also known as Spanish fly, is another aphrodisiac that has been used for thousands of years as a sexual stimulant. But, cantharidin produces blisters on contact and is extremely risky to ingest. Cantharidin poisoning can produce gastrointestinal and urinary-tract irritation along with kidney dysfunction or failure.
The bottom line
Aphrodisiacs have been an object of obsession for ages. But, when it comes to taking supplements that could affect your health and hormones, it's best to talk to a medical professional first, especially a doctor of osteopathic medicine, who can help you get to the root of the problem.
Related articles from our Health Reference library:
Scientists Confirm Which Aphrodisiacs Actually Work — Sexual Health
Sex, and how to make it better, has long been a topic of study — and a much-needed one: 43% of women and 31% of men report having sexual dysfunction, according to the Cleveland Clinic. From ancient fertility deities to modern erectile dysfunction drugs, we've literally tried every so-called miracle cure in the pursuit of great sex.
Aphrodisiacs — named after the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite — are any food or drugs that arouse sexual desire or pleasure. But despite their long-standing history, the limited scientific research done on natural libido boosters has produced little clinical evidence supporting their effects, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Most recently, a team of scientists reviewed approximately 50 studies done on the most popular animal- and plant-based aphrodisiacs and OTC supplements on the market. Here's what their findings, published in the journal of the International Society for Sexual Medicine in 2015, and other health authorities have to say about which ones pack the potency they claim.
Always consult your healthcare provider before taking any supplements and with any questions about your sexual health. A doctor can look into underlying medical conditions, offer suggestions, or refer you to a sex therapist or counselor.
Worth trying? Not really.
Legendary lover Casanova supposedly downed 50 oysters a day to boost his virility and sexual stamina. Why? Because they contain zinc, which is essential for testosterone production. They also contain certain amino acids and serotonin, two factors linked to feeling pleasure. However, research has failed to connect the mollusks with actually enhancing sexual drive.
Any positive differences you personally experience from visiting the raw bar may stem from another reason: the placebo effect. Simply believing a certain food will get you in the right mood can make all the difference, according to Berkeley Wellness.
Worth trying? Yes.
This herb is already a popular herbal remedy, but preliminary studies show that it may help with erectile dysfunction. Research on its effect on women is limited, but one type, Korean red ginseng, has been shown to boost sexual arousal in menopausal women. Ginseng is generally safe, the Mayo Clinic states, but may cause insomnia.
Worth trying? Nope.
Even the early Aztecs believed chocolate boosted virility — an attitude probably shared by loads of Russell Stovers-bearing men on Valentine's Day. Cacao does contain components linked to increased serotonin production, which was believed to boost desire.
Heartbreakingly, though, the scientists found no evidence to support this claim. When they compared chocolate consumers and non-consumers, there was no difference.
But don't throw out your chocolate bars yet: There is still evidence that it has other benefits from increasing heart health to boosting memory.
Worth trying? Yes.
This root vegetable, native to Peru's Andes region, has been used for centuries for fertility, arousal, and hot flashes. It's typically taken ground up in pill or powder form.
Researchers found a few promising studies that indicate it might help healthy menopausal women with sexual dysfunction, as well as men with erectile dysfunction.
While they acknowledge that more research is needed to determine dosage, they did find that maca is generally considered safe, but remember that the FDA does not review or approve any dietary supplements for safety or efficacy.
Worth trying? Nope.
For centuries, honey has been attributed with injecting romance into marriages. (The term «honeymoon» is rumored to have originated in 16th century England with the newlywed tradition of drinking mead, made from fermented honey, for a month after their vows.
) Unfortunately, no reliable studies prove it's aphrodisiac effectiveness. And researchers warn against trying «mad honey,» a product made in Turkey that claims to be a sexual stimulant.
Made from a specific type of nectar, it contains toxins that can lead to heart complications.
Worth trying? Maybe.
Ginkgo biloba is an extract from an ancient species of tree used in traditional Chinese medicine as a remedy for depression, sexual dysfunction, and other ailments as it may increase blood flow.
But the research behind it is inconclusive and ginkgo can interact with other medications Xanax, antidepressants, diabetes drugs, and even ibuprofen.
The bottom line: The Mayo Clinic advises taking caution because even though taking ginkgo extract appears to be safe, it can also increase your risk of bleeding.
Does it work?Nope.
In pill form, wild yam has been used to treat gastrointestinal issues. And the extract is added to creams that claim to ease menopausal symptoms and boost arousal. But the 2015 scientific review states that no studies found a significant sexual improvement for people using wild yam products.
Worth trying? Yes.
While researchers say most vitamins don't do anything significant to boost sexual function, they found that the combination supplement ArginMax has more potential do the trick.
A blend of vitamins A, B-complex, C, E, zinc, Korean ginseng, ginkgo, and Damiana leaf, it had a demonstrable effect on women's desire and satisfaction in some small pilot studies.
As always, consult with your doc before starting any supplement regimen.
Worth trying? Nope.
Chasteberry (often sold as Vitex) comes from the chaste tree and has long been taken for menstrual and menopausal concerns.
And although some preliminary research indicates it may ease PMS symptoms, there is no evidence that it boosts desire.
It may also interfere with birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, so definitely skip it if you take either, the National Institutes of Health recommend.
Worth trying? Maybe.
Nearly 20 years after Viagra hit the market, the FDA finally approved a prescription medication for low sexual desire in women in 2015.
Flibanserin — sold under the trade name Addyi — is a daily pill that may boost sex drive, but can cause potentially serious side effects low blood pressure, sleepiness, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and fainting, especially if mixed with alcohol, according to the Mayo Clinic.
A doctor may also recommend estrogen therapy in the form of a vaginal ring, cream, or tablet to improve sexual function.
Then there's always non-medical strategies limiting alcohol consumption, getting more physically active (outside the bedroom, that is!), and simply talking with your partner about s and diss, all of which can have a positive effect on sexual function and satisfaction.
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