Love Potion #1
I held my nose. I closed my eyes. I took a drink!
I didn’t know if it was day or night.
I started kissing everything in sight, but when
I kissed the cop down at 34th and Vine,
He broke my little bottle of Love Potion #9 — Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, had plenty of exotic elixirs to spark the sex drive, but, regretfully, she kept the recipes to herself. She did lend her name to the generic love potion — aphrodisiac — but these days the word conjures up disreputable images of “Spanish fly” (which, by the way, is made from dried beetles) and other powdery wastes of time. Still, people everywhere swear that certain foods give them a libidinal lift, from old standbys, such as oysters and chocolates, to the out-and-out bizarre (crushed rhinoceros horn, bear gallbladder, and dried bull scrotum). Many look for a magic pill that will fan their cooling (m)embers to flame again, and I wish it were as easy as telling them to pop a few candy-coated mollusks.
Oysters do contain zinc, necessary for the production of the male sex hormone testosterone, but you’d have to be very low in the zinc department and eat an awful lot of them to notice any difference in your desire or performance. According to Cynthia Watson, MD, author of Love Potions (Putnam), there’s a better chance of arousal from oysters by simply noticing their visual and tactile resemblance to the female vulva.
Chocolate is a more likely candidate, says Watson, because it contains phenylalanine, “an amino acid which increases the brain’s levels of the neuropeptide phenylethylamine, one of the body’s natural aphrodisiacs.” Again, it would take quite a bit of chocolate to induce overpowering lust, and the subsequent indigestion and weight gain (to say nothing of the Hershey wrappers scattered all over the bedroom) would probably undermine any sexual stimulation. The hard fact is that to maintain potency, you need to exercise and eat a balanced diet of unprocessed foods, with a slight emphasis on proteins. Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates that protein-rich meals increase levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, two chemical neurotransmitters that stimulate the sex drive, while carbohydrates raise levels of serotonin, which may put your libido to sleep.
In study after study, a low-fat diet ends up being the key to better days and livelier nights. The poor dietary habits that cause atherosclerosis buildup endanger not just your heart, but your sex life as well. Just as unclogged arteries are critical for delivering blood to the heart muscles, the penis needs a free-flowing circulation to create and maintain a quality erection. Research at Boston University Medical School and the New England Research Institutes in Watertown, Mass. found that men with higher cholesterol levels were more likely to have problems with arousal, erection, and sexual performance.
The fat-laden diet is a double whammy. Not only does it promote clogged arteries, it also reduces testosterone. Within four hours of drinking a super fatty milkshake, study subjects at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center in Salt Lake City showed a reduction in testosterone levels by as much as 30 percent. Study participants given low-fat shakes showed no such effect. Researchers believe that excess fat interferes with the body’s ability to manufacture testosterone, impairing sex drive and performance. In her book, The Better Sex Diet: The 6-Week Low-Fat Prescription for Increased Sexual Vitality, Potency & Health (Living Planet Press), Lynn Fischer recommends maintaining a fat intake in the range of 10 to 20 percent to increase sexual energy. Fischer is speaking to both sexes: Studies show that women with circulatory challenges are more likely to complain of decreased desire and fewer orgasms, and that adopting a low-fat diet seems to improve their sexual response, especially as they get older.
Barking Up The Yohimbe Tree
There is little evidence of the sexual effects of specific nutrients, herbs, hormones, and synergistic formulas, but a few do seem to crank up the heat (if for no other reason than the people taking them believe that’s what they’ll do). Most promote adequate blood flow to the penis or help maintain testosterone levels. Of course, anyone considering using supplements for medical purposes should consult their physician. That said, here are a few of the more promising “aphrodisiacs” around.
To create an erection, pelvic nerves trigger the production of nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels; the smooth muscles in the penis swell, trapping blood in the organ. L-arginine is a key source of nitric oxide; it is present in chocolate, popcorn, gelatin, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-wheat bread or, more powerfully, as a supplement; it works best combined with vitamin B-5 and choline. Niacin, also known as vitamin B-3, lowers cholesterol and increases blood flow by dilating blood vessels. It is found in figs, avocados, brewer’s yeast, wheat and rice bran, peanuts, and various whole grains and seeds. The warm “flush” feeling in the neck and joint excites many users who swear it enhances arousal. John Morgenthaler, co-author of Better Sex Through Chemistry (Smart Publications), says that niacin triggers a pivotal histamine necessary for quality orgasms. In Male Sexual Vitality (Prima), Michael T. Murray, ND recommends inositol hexaniacinate, which yields better results with fewer side effects than standard niacin.
Ginkgo biloba and panax ginseng also serve as vasodilators. Several studies, including one published in the Journal of Urology, found that the extract from the Japanese ginkgo tree may be useful in treating erectile problems resulting from poor blood flow. Ginseng has a long-standing reputation as an overall medicinal agent, though much of its folklore is viewed with skepticism by Western scientists. The word is Chinese for “essence of earth in the form of man;” the genus panax is from the Latin panacea or “cure all.” Natural Health Secrets From Around the World (Shot Tower) quotes the Atharva-Veda, an ancient medical text of India, as saying, “Ginseng causes an aroused man to exhale fire-like heat.” The herb is more readily accepted as a stress reducer (through its support of the adrenal gland) and an antioxidant that can lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
Yohimbe or yohimbine, originally derived from the bark of an African tree, is now synthesized as yohimbine hydrochloride and is the only legally prescribed aphrodisiac-like medication in the United States (though it has numerous side effects and should not be used by people with high blood pressure). The drug blocks certain nerve receptors, sustaining arousal by maintaining vasocongestion in the penis. According to Morgenthaler, about one-fourth of the men who take yohimbine for erectlie dysfunction are significantly helped (with up to 43 percent showing some response). However because it works better for psychogenic rather than organic impotence, this may be only a placebo effect.
Muira puama, a Brazilian folk remedy known as “potency wood,” has a reputation “as a sexual enhancer and as a treatment for impotence and frigidity,” says Watson in Love Potions. According to Murray, research from Paris has found muira puama to be partly effective for a majority of subjects with erectile problems, and that taking it with yohimbine appears to affect arousal. It is not known how muira puama works, but it is milder than yohimbe and has few side effects.
What’s left? Well, put down your Pepsi and pick up some sarsaparilla, an old-time soda flavoring (similar to root beer) that has turned out to be a sexual booster. The plant contains phytosterols, which form the raw material of testosterone. Sarsaparilla was the aphrodisiac of choice of some early native American tribes.
Finally, some good news for Starbucks: Of 2,000 people over age 60 polled at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, those who consumed at least one cup of coffee a day engaged in more sexual activity than those who abstained. Study leader, Ananias C. Diokno, MD (my classmate in that awesome UST Medicine Class of 1965), said it may have been the caffeine that stimulated the java imbiber, but that more research is needed before coffee is touted as an aphrodisiac, especially since too much caffeine can lead to sleeplessness and a decrease of testosterone.
The Most Potent Aphrodisiac Of All
Actually, the closest thing to a real love potion may not be the seeds and syrups and supplements, but the stuff we use to wash them down: plain ol’ H2O (Remember that erections are mostly blood and blood is mostly water!) A healthy diet, including plenty of water — combined with exercise and stress reduction — will help you feel better, look better, and function better.
Let’s face it: It’s the mind that orchestrates the moving parts, and the mind is the most potent aphrodisiac of all. If you are looking to jump-start your sex life, try taking time to smell, feel, touch, and savor your spouse. Enthusiastically embracing the beauty and wonder of the human body is Love Potion #1.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
AN APPLE A DAY By TYRONE M. REYES, M.D.
Updated February 10, 2009 12:00 AM