Saffron an Aphrodisiac
It can be hard separating fact from fiction when searching for that special something to liberate the libido.
Researchers from the University of Guelph in southern Ontario have published a scientific review on the merits of various substances purported over the years to be aphrodisiacs.
Some of the winners that emerge include the spice saffron and the herbal supplement ginseng. Meanwhile, the merits of chocolate are seen as "debatable," while people are warned against some of the things used traditionally as aphrodisiacs, such as Spanish fly.
"I was not a believer in aphrodisiacs to begin with," said Guelph food science professor Massimo Marcone, who led the review. "After looking at [the research], I would have to say there is substantial information and scientific data to show that there are some -few -[substances] that actually can have an aphrodisiac type of property."
The review, published in the online edition of Food Research International, says that attempts have been made for thousands of years to access the aphrodisiac qualities of various substances.
It notes the current popularity of such drugs as Viagra and cialis
to treat erectile dysfunction. Viagra and Cialis brought in $1.9 billion US and $1.7 billion US, respectively, last year for their parent companies, Pfizer Inc. and Eli Lilly and Co.
However, the research adds that these "synthetic" products can produce many side effects, such as headaches and muscle pain, on top of having potentially dangerous interactions with other drugs.
Marcone said he feels such drugs are overused and can be replaced, in many instances, with more natural substances.
"Even young people that have no problems with sexual activity are asking their doctors to give them [Viagra or Cialis], because they want some heightened effects," Marcone said.
"Some of them are mixing them with ecstasy. ... Mixing them both together is a very dangerous combination."
Saffron, a spice found in many Mediterranean recipes, was one of the ingredients this review found to have substantiated effects in enhancing sex drive and performance.
Marcone and John Melnyk, a master's student at Guelph, found studies that show saffron can be effective in treating erectile dysfunction, as well as lead to increased sexual desire and enhanced satisfaction.
Ginseng, or at least the panax variety found in Asia, was also found to help men deal with erectile dysfunction, and increase the sex drives and satisfaction levels among menopausal women.
Ginseng is often available as a supplement on drug counters, but can also be found in teas and soups.
Some studies have found chocolate to be an aphrodisiac, particularly for women. However, Marcone said the evidence available on this remains inconclusive.
"I would have to say at this point in time that the data I do see doesn't support [chocolate as an aphrodisiac], but it's getting pretty close to being supported," he said.
He noted that alcohol, in certain amounts, can facilitate sexual activity by reducing inhibitions, but greater quantities can hurt a person's physical ability to have sex.
The review warns against some substances used for centuries, such as Spanish fly and Bufo toad. While there is evidence these things can heighten sexual arousal, they are toxic to humans and can lead to serious illness or death in some cases, Marcone warned.