Would you eat libido-boosting mushrooms to enhance your sex life?

mushrooms, illustration
Can mushrooms help boost your sex life?STEVEN MCDOWELL/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY - Getty Images

Mushrooms and sex don't seem like obvious bedfellows - but the pair are the latest libido-boosting trend to make some noise. Last month, sexual wellness company Runi launched a sex serum, the 'Play Primer', which is infused with adaptogenic cordyceps and shiitake mushrooms along with CBD. What's more, mushrooms' pleasure-enhancing benefits are now being discussed on TikTok, and Harrods is selling a natural 'blue pill' for women that's packed with extracts of the humble vegetable for a cool £1,100.

But what does the research say about whether mushrooms are really an aphrodisiac - in the same way that chocolate and oysters are purported to be? And should you be slurping them up in soup or as a plant-based burger filling like there's no tomorrow? After all, they're a well-known source of B vitamins, selenium, zinc, and copper as well as being rich in fibre and protein. Although, it's worth noting that the 'funghi' effect on sexual wellness centres less on the food itself and more on the ingredient's saucy compounds taken in supplement form.

Just to clarify that we're not talking psychedelic 'magic' mushrooms - which create a hallucinogenic effect when consumed - but medicinal mushrooms. 'This latter term refers to a group of mushrooms that are known to have powerful therapeutic properties,' says Clarissa Berry, nutritionist for DIRTEA. 'The most widely used include lion's mane, cordyceps, reishi, chaga and turkey tail and many of these have been used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.'

How do they work? 'Research is now beginning to explore the mechanisms, but we understand that medicinal mushrooms act as adaptogens, which means that they help bring the body into a state of harmony and balance,' explains Berry. 'They increase resilience to stress and each have a host of other health benefits, including the ability to regulate mood, improve sleep, sharpen focus, increase energy levels and boost immunity.' Now, onto the even sexier stuff...

Which mushroom boosts sex drive?

While you may be under the very reasonable impression that mushroom types extend at most to 'portobello' and 'white button', that's not quite the case when it comes to medicinal mushrooms. If you're focused on sexual pleasure, then there's one in particular that you need to know: cordyceps.

Photo credit: chengyuzheng - Getty Images
Photo credit: chengyuzheng - Getty Images

'This mushroom has been used for thousands of years by Tibetans, Nepalese, Chinese and many other cultures as a potent natural aphrodisiac,' explains Dr Naomi Newman-Beinart, a nutritionist and specialist in health psychology, who works with Link Nutrition. 'Tibetan farmers first noticed the effects of cordyceps on libido when their yaks, while grazing on the fungus in the Himalayan mountains, began to display notable signs of increased energy, vitality and virility. They tried boiling it as a tea for themselves and never looked back.'

Exactly how does it help libido?

'There is a growing body of evidence that shows cordyceps supplementation improves sex drive in women,' says Berry. 'For example, one study in China demonstrated an 86% increase in female libido.' Other studies show similar and significant improvements in sexual desire and function. Research has found it to increase testosterone, while a review concluded that it could enhance libido and sexual performance.

However, the research is still ongoing, so the exact mechanisms by which it can help aren't yet clear. 'It is thought that cordyceps supports the adrenal and reproductive organs, improving cellular energy production and oxygenation for holistic as well as libido-enhancing benefits,' explains Dr Newman-Beinart. 'These include improved stamina, physical and mental performance and clarity, energy levels, oxygenation and lung capacity and even stress management.'

However, because the research is still in the works, Giulia Guerrini, lead pharmacist at Medino, urges caution. 'At the moment, there is no evidence that cordyceps can help with sexual dysfunction and fertility,' she points out. 'Some research on rats have shown that specific active compounds in the mushroom can impact testosterone and estradiol production. But so far the studies are too small and inconsistent for us to say anything about its ability to treat specific conditions.' Although, this is not to say that a link between mushrooms and boosted sex drive won't eventually be scientifically established.

What is the best way to harness its benefits?

This is entirely up to you. Most medicinal mushrooms are now available as a powder which can be mixed into drinks like hot water. The best quality use a 'dual extraction' process that ensures the beneficial active compound is protected, and are finely pulverised to ensure they are as bio-available as possible to the body.

'Taking mushrooms internally is by far the most effective way to get the best out of them,' explains Dr Newman-Beinart. While cordyceps - unlike various pharmaceutical alternatives - has no known side effects, obviously you should steer clear if you're allergic to mushrooms.

Photo credit: Edalin - Getty Images
Photo credit: Edalin - Getty Images

As for cordyceps-infused arousal serum? It claims to work by being absorbed via your genital area directly into your bloodstream. ‘However, ingesting a pure cordyceps extract - under the tongue via the salivary glands - or in another form, such as an adaptogenic coffee, will ensure the active compounds reach your system and work their magic,’ notes Zain Peer, co-founder of London Nootropics.

Already taking medications? Guerrini advises checking with your GP or another medical professional before starting to supplement with cordyceps. And, if it's not quite right for you, then here's how yoga can help improve your sex life.

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