29 March 2011
Aphrodisiac plants put under the microscope
by Kate Melville
The scientists who examined findings from recent research into the aphrodisiac properties of plants say that both ginseng and saffron appear to enhance sexual function, while there is evidence that other plants increase sexual desire. The meta-study of natural aphrodisiacs conducted by University of Guelph researchers will appear in the journal Food Research International.
"Aphrodisiacs have been used for thousands of years all around the world, but the science behind the claims has never been well understood or clearly reported," said researcher Massimo Marcone. "Ours is the most thorough scientific review to date. Nothing has been done on this level of detail before now."
The study notes that while drugs like Viagra can treat erectile dysfunction, they do not increase libido and have potentially harmful side-effects. "There is a need for natural products that enhance sex without negative side effects," co-researcher John Melnyk contends. "Drugs can produce headache, muscle pain and blurred vision, and can have dangerous interactions with other medications."
For their meta-study, the researchers examined hundreds of previous studies on commonly used aphrodisiacs to investigate claims of sexual enhancement. Only those studies meeting the most stringent controls were included, states Marcone.
Improvements in sexual function were found in three plants; panax ginseng, saffron and yohimbine (a compound from yohimbe trees in West Africa).
Only two plants - muira puama and maca root (both from South America) - were found to have any effect on sexual desire. Despite its purported aphrodisiac effect, chocolate was not linked to sexual arousal or satisfaction, the study notes. "It may be that some people feel an effect from certain ingredients in chocolate, mainly phenylethylamine, which can affect serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain," Marcone said.
Marcone said that the findings support the use of plants for sexual enhancement but urged caution as "there is not enough evidence to support the widespread use of these substances as effective aphrodisiacs." He also warned people to stay away from other supposed aphrodisiacs such as Spanish fly and Bufo toad. "While purported to be sexually enhancing, they produced the opposite result and can even be toxic," he stressed.
Source: University of Guelph