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Aphrodisiacs April 15, 2010

Posted by Dr. Jacqueline E. Campbell in Health, Wellness.
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One of my favourite television shows is called Bizarre Foods, aired on the Travel Channel. It is hosted by an adventurous spirit named Andrew Zimmern who travels the world searching for and sampling “ bizarre foods “. In one episode, filmed in Japan he ate a beating frog’s heart, thought by some to “improve potency “. We do not have to go Japan to learn about aphrodisiacs. Every day my E mail inbox is flooded with offerings of “love / sex boosters “ from spammers . So I began to wonder, what does Cupid use? A fork or an arrow?

Aphrodisiacs are substances that evoke or stimulate sexual desire. In order for a substance to be a true aphrodisiac, it has to create desire – not improve performance and ability. So for the record neither Viagra nor Cialis are aphrodisiacs. Research has found that some foods, herbs and supplements do stimulate the production of hormones or other chemicals that affect libido however scientists are unsure whether those chemicals are produced in a high enough quantity for us to really notice the difference.

Aphrodisiacs derive their name from the Greek goddess of sexual rapture, Aphrodite. Philosopher and physician Pliny the Elder believed that the blood of a bat, collected on wool and placed under the head of a woman, would make her lusty. It is interesting to note that some of the classic aphrodisiacs actually contain nutrients critical to sexual function.

Male and female sex drives are controlled by hormone levels, the major player being testosterone. If we do not have enough testosterone, then sexual interest (also known as libido) can decrease . Stress, fatigue and depression can negatively affect libido. When we encounter something sexually stimulating , a chain reaction begins. First, signals are sent from the limbic lobe of the brain via the nervous system to the pelvic region. These signals instruct blood vessels to open. In turn this opening of blood vessels (also called dilation) creates an erection – in both men and women ( female erectile tissues are found in the clitoris and surrounding the vaginal entrance ). At the same time, our brains begin to release norepinephrine and dopamine, neurotransmitters that tell our bodies that what we are feeling is good and pleasurable.

People throughout history have made aphrodisiac associations with animals that are known to be virile and prolific reproducers. Rabbits, tigers, goats and bulls have reputations for prolific reproduction, strength and/or virility. Throughout history people have ingested the sex organs of these animals to enhance sexual performance.

In days of old, when people developed their love potion theories, they relied heavily on “food porn” and so whatever resembled genitalia was used to obtain desire .There are some symbolically phallic foods- asparagus, carrots, bananas ( both fruit and flower have a phallic shape ; the fruit is rich in potassium and B vitamins both essential for sex-hormone production), cucumbers and avocados (called the “testicle tree” by the Aztecs). The vulva – looking oyster ( high in zinc, a mineral necessary for sperm production) is undoubtedly king among edible aphrodisiacs. There are others including figs, peaches, pomegranates and eggs. Many of these foods are full of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that can help keep sex organs and hormones running in peak condition .

Other foods thought to have aphrodisiac properties:

Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a mood regulator that contributes to chocolate’s amphetamine-like effects and may stimulate production of dopamine . Chocolate also contains arginine, an amino acid the body converts to nitric oxide .Viagra works by increasing nitric oxide levels in the body, thereby opening up blood vessels in the penis.

Garlic increases circulation. There was a time, long ago, when Tibetan monks were not allowed to enter the monastery if they had been eating garlic because of its reputation for stirring up passions.

Honey is rich in B vitamins and boron which helps the body metabolize and use oestrogen. In medieval times, people drank mead, a fermented drink made from honey, to promote sexual desire. In ancient Persia, couples drank mead every day for a month (the “honey month” or “honeymoon”) after they married in order to get in the right frame of mind for a successful marriage.

Aphrodisiac herbs include ginkgo biloba , which opens blood vessels, improving circulation and helping to restore the ability to achieve erection and ginseng which energizes the body, and boosts the production of testosterone in men and women. Black cohosh and dong quai , herbs which help regulate hormones can be beneficial to women. Horny goat weed, yohimbe and muira puama are herbs which may be beneficial to men.

Patients ( 9.5 out of 10 times men !) frequently ask me for recommendations to “ improve mi performance “. My reply is “ stay in good physical condition , adopt a healthy lifestyle , respect your partner and yourself . Do not believe that one herb or concoction to going to bring life to the almost dead ! “. The fact is that good “ penile health “ is associated with good blood flow to the genitalia . Diabetes ,hypertension , high cholesterol levels , peripheral vascular disease ( poor circulation ) , obesity and inactivity can cause erectile dysfunction. The most meaningful sexual relationships begin with respect – for your partner and yourself – and understanding his or her needs.

DR. JACQUELINE E. CAMPBELL B.Sc. (Hons) M.Phil. (Pharmacology) M.B., B.S.

Dr. Jacqueline Elaine Campbell is a family physician whose special interests are Pharmacology, and the use of Alternative/Complementary Medicine in the treatment of diabetes and other diseases that are common in Jamaica.

She is the author of A Patient’s Guide to the Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus.




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