MCGC Nutrition

Aphrodisiacs: myths or facts?

Marie-Claire Gahel-Calouche

For centuries, humans have been trying to discover the secret to sensuality. Countless potions and lotions have been concocted in an attempt to increase arousal, but is there any scientific evidence that these “aphrodisiac foods” really work?  

The term ‘aphrodisiac ‘was derived from the name of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love but note that many ancient civilizations such as Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Roman, Greek, indigenous Zulu, and Mesoamerican cultures have long believed in the effect of foods and herbs to aid desire and reproduction. Aphrodisiac originated from a mix of folklore, mythology, and superstitions that attribute certain foods and herbs as medicine to address sexual health.  

Foods considered to be aphrodisiacs are thought to contain nutrients, vitamins or minerals of benefit or attributes associated with an increase of desire such as a suggestive shape (ex: oysters and figs), reproduction-related food (ex. caviar) and spicy foods (ex. chili peppers). Let’s look at 5 common foods listed as aphrodisiacs, the research, and see if we can separate fact from fiction. 


1- Honey   

No strong scientific evidence.  

Honey has long been hailed as a potential aphrodisiac, with its sweet and fragrant scent often associated with romance and passion. It dates to its use as a folk medicine as far back as 2100 BC! Currently, there is no or limited scientific evidence to suggest that honey can be an aphrodisiac. Despite this, many people believe that certain qualities of honey make it an ideal food for arousing the senses and stimulating sexual desire. A moderate addition to a dessert can be a sweet touch and symbolic of a romantic gesture. 


Caution: A variety of honey called ‘Mad honey, which is different from commercial honey and commonly used as an aphrodisiac should be AVOIDED. Science does not support its use as it does not have any proven benefit. Note that it is dangerous as it is contaminated with grayanotoxins which can be toxic.  


2- Pomegranates 

No strong scientific evidence. 

We have all heard of the forbidden fruit of the garden of Eden and have likely associated that fruit with an apple. However, little known, the original ‘forbidden fruit’ was possibly not the apple but rather the pomegranate. The name pomegranate is derived from the Latin ‘pomum (‘apple’) and granatus (‘seeded’). Just as the term aphrodisiac was credited to the name of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, she was also credited in Greek mythology for planting the first pomegranate tree.  

Is there a possible benefit? Though not statistically significant, drinking pomegranate juice might aid sexual health in males by potentially increasing endothelial nitric oxide levels and in turn improving blood vessel dilation. They are also rich in antioxidants which may help reduce oxidative stress and may also aid the prevention of cardiovascular disease. A healthy addition to your diet for the antioxidant benefits, but no strong evidence as an aphrodisiac. 


3- Chocolate 

Little to no scientific evidence. 

The chocolate-shaped box is iconic on valentine’s day but is chocolate, and particularly dark chocolate really an aphrodisiac? This association was made due to a chemical compound by the name ‘Phenylethylamine’ or PEA. When we feel the first signs of a budding romantic attraction, PEA is produced in larger quantities in the brain, which then leads to the production of norepinephrine and dopamine. Though chocolate is a source of PEA, its form is dietary which is quickly metabolized and never reaches the brain. So, it is false to credit chocolate to the tinkling feeling of love but rather a mild stimulant that can perhaps improve mood… probably or at least partially due to the pleasure of eating it!  

 You can read more about it here.  


4- Maca powder, Gokshura supplementation and other herbs 

Little to no strong scientific evidence. 

Many herbs have been listed as having aphrodisiac properties such as maca, chamomile, fenugreek, ginkgo, ginseng, saffron, and Gokshura (Tribulus terrestris). Note that there is no strong evidence to encourage the use of these herbs. For instance, Maca powder comes from a root vegetable native to South America and commonly termed the Peruvian Viagra. Currently, there is too few research to back claim that it aids libido. Also, Gokshura supplementation has been associated with an increase in testosterone. However, despite animal research, none of these effects have been proven in humans.  

Caution: It is important to mention that caution should be used before using any of the herbs listed as there are potential interactions with medication and supplements. If you are considering the use of any of these herbs, please consult with a healthcare professional to ensure that potential interactions between prescription medications, and other over-the-counter medicines or supplements. 


5- Oysters 

No strong scientific evidence. 

 Oysters and other seafoods have long been marketed as aphrodisiacs, with some people claiming they can help increase libido, particularly in men. In fact, oysters have been associated as an aphrodisiac since the Roman empire. But despite the common belief that these foods may be beneficial in this way, there is a lack of research to back up such claims. The main hypothesis centers on the benefit of zinc in both sperm production and hormone metabolism. Though it is true that oysters are rich in zinc, these claims on sexual health are based on animal studies with limited human research. Know that you can still love oysters as a healthy food that is low calories and nutrient dense, rich in protein, vitamins B12, zinc, copper and selenium and perhaps as a gift from the heart with potential health benefits. 


In conclusion, while there is no scientific evidence to suggest that aphrodisiac foods are effective, some can still be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. In general, your run of the mill, grocery store variety of whole fruits and vegetables, nuts and seed and commercially available honey are generally ok.  

However, a note of caution if you’re taking medications, over the counter medication or supplements: some food and supplements may have negative interactions. Natural DOES NOT always mean safe. Also, one should avoid any supplement that has the potential to be harmful or toxic. Therefore, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional before consuming any therapeutic agents, including certain aphrodisiac foods or supplements. 

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