The Truth About Aphrodisiac Foods, or, Do Oysters Really Make You Horny?

Painting by Sandro Botticelli
Aphrodite, from whom the word "aphrodisiac" originates, is pictured on a suggestive shell.
It is said that Giacomo Girolamo Casanova, the notorious 18th-century lover, ate 50 oysters each morning for breakfast to increase his sexual stamina. Earlier, herbalist Nicholas Culpepper wrote that asparagus "stirs up lust in man and woman." And back before we even had a word for aphrodisiac, the Aztecs named avocados ahuacuatl, or "testicle tree." The belief in foods as sexual stimulants is not a modern myth.

It's not entirely based upon science either, though. Though some foods possess chemical properties that could increase testosterone or estrogen levels, thereby increasing sex drive, others are considered sexy purely because of their appearance. The Food and Drug Administration maintains that aphrodisiacs are myths with no basis in science.

Still, some people swear by them. So, in honor of Valentine's Day, we bring you some of the foods commonly believed to have aphrodisiac powers, and a bit of research to determine whether or not you're wasting your time by stuffing yourself silly with walnuts.

Photo by David Monniaux
If they worked for Casanova, they just might work for you.
In March 2005, American and Italian scientists announced that there is some truth to the idea that bivalves can get folks all hot and bothered. In the study, the scientists took raw oysters and used a process called high-performance liquid chromatography to pinpoint specific amino acids present in the oysters. They discovered D-aspartic acid (D-Asp) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), which they injected into rats. These amino acids worked with other chemicals in the rats' bodies to produce testosterone in male rats and progesterone in females, which increases libido. The conclusion: "Yes, I do think these molluscs are aphrodisiacs," said the head of the research team, Dr. George Fisher, a professor of chemistry at Barry University. "If the male is having difficulties, they have to eat a lot of mussels or oysters." And if that doesn't work, there's always the slurping and sucking and vague resemblance of oysters to female anatomy.

Hot peppers
It's all about the capsaicin in hot peppers. They don't actually release any sexually stimulating chemicals, but the effects of the capsaicin in the body mimics the effects -- waves of heat, flushed cheeks, sweating, increased heart rate -- of sexual arousal. They also release endorphins, which make you happy and, sometimes, ready to go!

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