Boost your libido with these aphrodisiac foods

Dr Clare Morrison (MBChB), Annie Hayes
Photo credit: Westend61 - Getty Images

From Netdoctor

An aphrodisiac is defined as a food, drink or other thing that stimulates sexual desire. Throughout history, aphrodisiac foods and plant-based remedies have been consumed in the hope of inspiring lust between amorous couples.

Today, certain ingredients retain their reputation as bona-fide libido boosters – but is the link between libido and nutrition an urban myth? We take a look at the world of aphrodisiacs, including aphrodisiac foods, aphrodisiac supplements, and the vitamins and minerals associated with libido, stamina, and sex hormones:

How do aphrodisiacs work?

Many so-called aphrodisiacs have a placebo effect – you believe they will work and therefore they do, explains Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director of Healthspan.

‘However, some pro-sexual herbs have been compared against a placebo to rule out this effect and have been found to have a genuine action,’ she says.

Supplements such as St John’s Wort, Muira Puama, Korean Ginseng, Ginkgo, and L-arginine have been linked to improvements in sexual health, including sex drive. Those that have a genuine physiological effect may work by improving your energy levels, acting directly on brain chemicals, or stimulating natural hormone production in the body, Dr Brewer says.

Alternatively, they may ‘raise low mood to overcome the loss of sex drive linked with depression; increase blood flow to the reproductive organs, which may produce feelings of engorgement, tingling or throbbing; or stimulate erotic dreams or thoughts.’

Certain vitamins and minerals also play a key role in reproduction and libido – a lack of zinc, for example, lowers testosterone levels. ‘If you have a low libido, the first step is to look at your diet and to consider taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement,’ she adds.

Vitamin A

Essential for the production of sex hormones, including testosterone, she explains. Plus, a higher intake of plant-based vitamin A (carotenoids) is linked with better male fertility.

Food sources: Eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter, oily fish, meat, margarine, dark leafy greens and yellow-orange fruits.

B vitamins

B vitamins play a crucial role in energy production and stamina, Dr Brewer says. B3 enhances dilation of blood vessels during erection – an effect used to boost erectile drugs in men with diabetes.

Food sources: Yeast extracts, brown rice, wholegrain bread and cereals, seafood, poultry and meat, pulses, nuts, eggs, dairy products and green leaves.

Boron

Involved in sex hormone production, says Dr Brewer. Increased intakes have been shown to boost testosterone levels within one week.

Food sources: Almost all fruit, vegetables and nuts, especially almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanut butter, raisins, apricots, avocado and red kidney beans.

Chromium

Deficiency has been linked with lowered sex drive, she says.

Food sources: Wholegrain cereals, egg yolk, red meat, cheese, fruit and fruit juice, honey, vegetables and condiments such as black pepper and thyme.

Iodine

Deficiency produces fatigue, lowered sex drive and reduced fertility, says Dr Brewer.

Food sources: Seafood, seaweed and iodised salt.

Iron

Deficiency causes lack of energy, a common reason for low libido, she says.

Food sources: Red meat, seafood, wheatgerm, wholemeal bread, egg yolk, green vegetables, prunes and other dried fruit.

Phosphorus

Needed to maintain sexual arousal and testosterone levels, especially in older men, says Dr Brewer.

Food sources: Dairy products, yeast, soya beans, nuts, whole grains, eggs, poultry, meat and fish.

Selenium

Deficiency is linked with lowered sex drive and reduced male fertility, she says.

Food sources: Brazil nuts, broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage, radishes, onions, garlic, celery, whole grains, yeast and seafood.

Zinc

Essential for male sexual maturity, says Dr Brewer. Low zinc levels can cause low sex drive, impaired fertility and erectile dysfunction.

Food sources: Red meat, seafood, yeast, whole grains, pulses, eggs, and cheese.

11 of the best aphrodisiac foods

A long list of foods are said to be aphrodisiacs, says sex and intimacy coach Camilla Constance. ‘Some foods gain aphrodisiac status because they contain high levels of vitamins or minerals thought to be beneficial to a healthy libido,’ she explains. Others trigger mood-altering neurotransmitters – chocolate, for example, stimulates the production of serotonin. Here, we run through 11 of the best aphrodisiac foods:

1. Watermelon

Watermelon contains phytonutrients such as lycopene and citrulline, which increase the amount of nitric acid in the body and relax blood vessels, says Dr Clare Morrison from Medexpress. According to one study, the effect in the body is similar to that of Viagra. However, the effect is not just limited to men. Watermelon is also likely to increase sex drive in women as well.

2. Hot chillies

While there is little evidence to back this up, capsaicin – the compound that gives chillies their spiciness – is believed to stimulate nerve endings on the tongue; releasing sex-driving chemicals and boost libido.

3. Maca root powder

Maca, a Peruvian plant and popular superfood powder, has been found to increase libido by researchers. A 2008 study found that maca may help to boost sexual desire for those taking SSRI antidepressants, which are known to lower sex drive. Maca contains arginine, which has been linked to increased levels of testosterone, a hormone that increases libido in men and women.

Photo credit: marekuliasz - Getty Images

4. Asparagus

Thanks to its high vitamin E content, asparagus can increase blood and oxygen flow to the genitals, says Dr Warren. Asparagus also has high levels of potassium, which has been linked to sex hormone production.

5. Chocolate

Doctors at the New York State Psychiatric Institute first raised the idea of chocolate as an aphrodisiac in the early 1980s. Chocolate contains a chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA), which acts like amphetamines in the brain, triggering a release of the hormones norepinephrine and dopamine to create feelings of euphoria.

However, further studies showed that PEA levels don't rise within the bloodstreams of the even the biggest chocoholics. Unfortunately it also doesn't last long in your body, which means chocolate probably won't replace Viagra any time soon.

Photo credit: Chris Ryan - Getty Images

6. Honey

Honey has allegedly been used as a natural libido booster for centuries, though there's little evidence of its aphrodisiac properties. However it does contain boron, which helps to regulate hormone levels, and nitricoxide, which could increase blood flow during arousal.

Photo credit: Unsplash

7. Oysters

The oyster cemented its aphrodisiac status in 2005, when consumer publications reported that bivalve mollusks – which include clams, mussels and scallops – were found to have desire-inducing properties.

This is because a professor of chemistry in the United States discovered that mussels contain D-Aspartic acid, an amino acid that increases the level of sex hormones in laboratory rats. They are also very high in zinc.

‘A lack of zinc can lead to low sex drive, low sperm count, impaired fertility and impotence in males,’ says Dr Brewer. ‘Many men are deficient, as zinc is so important for male sexual health. Each ejaculate contains around 5 mg zinc – one third of the daily requirement.’

8. Sauerkraut

High in vitamin C and lactic acid, sauerkraut is said to be responsible for increased sexual activity in males, Dr Brewer says. After 450 volunteers ate three plates of German pickled cabbage a day, 90 per cent said that jaded sexual appetites had been banished and they were able to make love every day for up to 30 minutes, researchers in Pittsburgh found.

9. Truffles

Speaking of pheromones, apparently truffles – not the chocolate variety, the fungus – have a musky scent reminiscent of human pheromones. If you decide to go down this route, don't bother with bottled or tinned truffles, as they're not especially flavoursome.

Photo credit: Getty Images

10. Steak

According to studies at the University of Texas, steak could boost female arousal. This is because lean red meat boosts levels dopamine and norepinephrine levels. Steaks are also packed-full of zinc, making them a potential aphrodisiac for men too.

11. Ginseng

A popular herb in Chinese medicine, red ginseng has been used to treat low libido and sexual function in men and women, Dr Warren explains. Research shows that it was at least twice as effective as a placebo at improving erectile function. Another study found that it may improve sexual arousal in women.

The bottom line

‘Aphrodisiacs, like so much in human sexuality, are very individual,’ says Constance. ‘What accelerates desire in one person could be very different to what accelerates desire in another.’

Rather than looking for a quick fix foods and supplements, Constance suggests taking a piece of paper, folding it in half, and listing your personal aphrodisiacs on one side, with any turn-offs on the other.

‘You can then use this list to inform your own choices and requests and share your list with your partner,’ she says. ‘It’s a very powerful way of understanding that we are all different and actually a lot less puzzling than we think we are.’

Last medically reviewed on: 17-06-2020

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