Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food. ...Hippocrates
Aphrodisiac foods, herbs or extracts increase libido, potency, or sexual pleasure. Aphrodisiacs render their effects directly or indirectly by altering hormone levels such as increasing testosterone level, stimulating nerve endings, and stimulating synthesis of nitric oxide, (a vasodilator), among others.
Folk medicine of many societies, dating back to B.C., is full of aphrodisiacs of animal and plant origin. And current use of aphrodisiacs is mostly based on indigenous knowledge and beliefs. Scientific evidence based on clinical trials, on the roles of foods, herbs and extracts on human sexuality is however very limited. Nonetheless, man’s quest for aphrodisiacs continues and below are some of the traditional natural aphrodisiacs.
Tongkat Ali, Eurycoma longifolia, is commonly used as an aphrodisiac in South East Asia. Its root extracts have been studied for their aphrodisiac activity in rats. The studies suggest that Tongkat Ali root extract increases sexual arousal in males without genital feedback. The leaves, stem and bark extracts of Tongkat Ali are also believed to have anti-tumor, anti-ulcer, anti-microbial activity and increase testosterone level.
Chinese Chive, Alluim tuberosum, is a common Chinese food. But extracts of different parts of the vegetable are also used traditionally in China for medicinal purposes. In traditional Chinese medicine books, Chinese Chive seeds are recorded as aphrodisiacs and treatment for impotence. Animal studies also suggest that Chinese Chive seed extract has aphrodisiac effect, increases libido, on males. Chinese Chive leaves are believed to relieve abdominal pain, diarrhea, snakebite and asthma.
Maca, Lepidium meyenii, is a common food in the Andean region. Natives of this region, traditionally, use roots from Maca for aphrodisiac reasons. Scientific evidences for its role as an aphrodisiac food are mostly based on animal studies. Few studies have reported that maca root extract improve sexual potency and libido in male rats.
Ambrein, obtained from Ambergris (a secretion from the gut of sperm whales), is one of the foods that are used traditionally as an aphrodisiac in the Middle Eastern countries. Some studies have shown that it increases libido in male rats.
Panax Ginseng root is a traditional Chinese aphrodisiac now commonly found in the West. Its aphrodisiac effects, improved potency, are believed to be due to its ability to increase nitric oxide synthesis and hormone levels such as dopamine and serotonin.
Spanish Fly (Cantharidin, from blister beetles), live beetles (Palembus desmestoides) and traitomids are also traditionally used to enhance sexual pleasure. The chemicals in these aphrodisiacs enhance sensation by causing irritation on the genital membranes.
As is the case with the efficacy, the side effects and safety of consumption of the many herbs, extracts and foods used traditionally as aphrodisiacs are not scientifically established. Some aphrodisiacs have been, however, reported to cause side effects including death. For example, Cantharidin has been reported as a cause of death and morbidity.
Bo Lin Zheng, Kan He, Calvin Hyungchan Kim, Lingling Rogers, Yu Shao, Zhen Yen Huang, Yang Lu, Sui Jun Yan, Lu Cheng Qien and Qun Yi Zheng (2000). Effect of a lipidic extract from Lepidium meyenii on sexual behavior in mice and rats. Urology, 55(4): 598-602.
Hu Guohua, Lu Yanhua, Mao Rengang, Wei Dongzhi, Ma Zhengzhia and Zhang Hua (2009). Aphrodisiac properties of Allium tuberosum seeds extract. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 122(3): 579-582.
Poala Sandroni (2001). Aphrodisiacs past and present: a historical review. Clin Auton Res. 11(5):303-7.
Rajeev Bhat and A.A. Karima (2010). Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack): A review on its ethnobotany and pharmacological importance. Fitoterapia, 81(7): 669-679.
Rany Shamloul (2010). Natural Aphrodisiacs. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(1pt1): 39–49.