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Fact or fiction: Do aphrodisiacs actually work?

Are there really aphrodisiac foods and herbs that can help boost the libido? Or is it all just blatant myth?

From immemorial times, humanity has resorted to all sorts of foods and herbs to help them boost their libido and get into the perfect mood for love. Many of these ancient traditions have been carried on through history to the point that even today many still resort to these foods, drinks, and plants before and during romantic dates.

Whether it’s a glass of red wine, an exquisite piece of chocolate, or even a platter of salty oysters, it’s been said that the consumption of aphrodisiacs supposedly boosts people’s libido by helping them be in “the mood.”

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But, is it really possible? 

What are aphrodisiacs?

According to Healthline, aphrodisiacs are foods, drinks, or herbs named after the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Their use is intended to either boost a person’s sexual instinct, activate desire, or increase sexual pleasure or performance.

Throughout history, aphrodisiacs have been used in different cultures after believing that their nutrients and minerals can stimulate the love senses (sight, smell, taste, and touch).

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For example, in Ancient Rome strawberries were eaten since they related their sweet fragrance to Venus (Aphrodite), in addition to preserving their youth due to the fruit’s antioxidants.

Do aphrodisiacs actually work?

So, the question is, can aphrodisiacs really impact our libido and put us in "the mood for love?” In a certain way, they may contribute, but not in the way we think. 

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There has been a lot of research on aphrodisiacs to see if said foods lead to an increase in a person’s erotic desire. Elaine Magee, MPH, RD pointed out that there hasn't been scientific proof that human sex organs can be stimulated by food. 

Moreover, Lawrence Cheskin, M.D., director and founder of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, stated that while some foods can keep individuals in good sexual health, there's no objective evidence suggesting that aphrodisiacs can act as a "love potion."

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Yet, studies have shown that aphrodisiacs can influence us on a psychological level. Cleveland Clinic called it a 'placebo effect.'

Experts concluded that it all comes down to our mindset. "If you believe a food increases desire, the psychology of the placebo effect affects our capacity to get turned on or off,” says psychotherapist Nan Wise.

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In addition, senior lecturer Jennifer Evans added that it also depends on the situation: "You don’t think of chocolate as an aphrodisiac every time you break into Twix. You have to be in the right context."

Debunking common aphrodisiacs

Now that we've cleared up the aphrodisiac myth, why not put to the test its most common foods? 

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  • Chocolate: Let's start with one of the favorite ones— especially during Valentine's Day. This sweet aphrodisiac has been described as a chemical stimulus that boosts our pleasures. But is it? Nope. Even if chocolate carries a compound called phenylethylamine, a mild stimulant that can positively impact your mood, studies have shown that women who eat chocolate more frequently may be less interested in having intimacy! 
  • Red wine: This crimson beverage has been categorized as an aphrodisiac because of its probable benefits to heart health. But alas, medical centers have declared that the link between red wine and cardiovascular health remains ambiguous. Besides, studies have shown that, although drink consumption is linked to arousal, adult beverages can also impede intimate performance. 
  • Strawberries: Another popular aphrodisiac, especially when it’s covered with chocolate, is the strawberry. Remember when I mentioned that this fruit was considered a "sexy food" since Ancient Rome? Well, it's a shame to have to break the news, but dietitians have claimed that strawberries “don’t have any special romantic powers.” 
  • Oysters: Although loaded with zinc, a nutrient considered to improve passionate competence, and being an aphrodisiac since the days of Ancient Greece, there’s no scientific evidence to confirm that oysters have an impact on the libido. Sorry, Aphrodite! 
  • Honey: This amber gooey food has supposedly been used for centuries to improve the romance in the marriage. It’s said that ancient Greek physician Hippocrates used to have prescribed honey to patients who needed a “little help” in the bedroom. A variety of it, called “mad honey,” is even marketed as an amorous stimulant. Yet, studies published in NCBI don't recommend the use of "mad honey" since it may contain dangerous toxins. Quite an unromantic outcome, don't you think? 
  • So, if it's romance what one’s looking for, remember that it all comes down to the situation and mood of each person, not so much on the consumption of an aphrodisiac food. 

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    But, hey! One can still enjoy this food according to one's culinary tastes!

    Images from Unsplash: Jonathan Borba, Louis Hansel, Charles Koh 

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