Superfoods and sex drive
Fading sexual desire? Struggling to maintain an erection? It may be possible to spice up your sex life without going the pharmaceutical route.
Superfoods pack a huge nutritional punch, while complementary and alternative medicines are widely used to prevent and treat a variety of ills.
Good scientific research on these products isn't always available, but if your kitchen pantry is stocked with superfoods and other remedies – and your doctor has given you the okay – you'll be thrilled to know that some of these products may also give your sex life a boost.
Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
Maca, or Peruvian ginseng, is the most well-known superfood described as a natural aphrodisiac. It’s a nutritient-rich tuber vegetable (a relative of the radish) that grows 3,500 to 4,500m above sea level in Peru.
Ancient cultures traditionally used maca power to increase stamina and energy, to boost sexual function and libido, and to treat impotence.
The Spaniards used to give maca root to their horses to make them more virile, while Inca warriors were fed maca to increase their energy.
Benefits for sexual function
Maca certainly fits the bill as a nutrient-dense superfood. It contains 18 of the 22 amino acids (the building blocks of protein), unsaturated fatty acids, disease-fighting phytonutrients, vitamins and trace minerals. It’s also the only plant to contain macaene and macamide, the fatty acids responsible for sexual function.
Maca is known as "nature’s Viagra", says Australian sexologist, educator and author Juliet Allen.
According to Allen, the benefits include enhanced libido (sex drive), better fertility, increased sperm count and testosterone levels, and increased vaginal lubrication. She also notes that the superfood can help combat erectile dysfunction.
While good clinical research is still a bit scant, a few studies do support maca’s role in maintaining sexual and reproductive health. For example, researchers discovered a dramatic improvement in sperm count and motility in healthy males aged 22 to 44 years who took maca. These results formed part of a 2001 study published in the Asian Journal of Andrology.
Preliminary researched also showed that a specific maca product (Maca Gelatinizada La Molina) increased sexual desire in healthy men between the ages of 21 and 57 years. This study was published in Andrologia in 2002.
Maca generally comes in tablet or powder form. While the strength of the active ingredients varies, the typical dosage for capsules is 500mg twice daily and one tablespoon daily if it’s a powdered preparation.
Add maca powder to breakfast muesli, smoothies, juices, raw chocolate, desserts, yoghurt, baked cookies, breads and cakes as well as salad dressings.
The acai berry is harvested from acai palm trees (Euterpe oleracea) that grow in the South-American rainforests. It grows mainly in floodplains and swamps.
This cherry-sized, purple berry fruit has been part of the staple diet of the tribes that live in the tropical regions of the Amazon in Central and South America for many centuries, but it has only recently been introduced to people in other parts of the world.
Benefits for sexual function
Widely accepted as a superfood, acai berries have historically been used to treat erectile dysfunction. It’s believed to increase blood flow, which helps with male arousal.
"Although the direct impact of acai berries on sexual stamina and sex drive isn’t completely known, acai berries do have a well-researched ability to increase the general blood circulation throughout the body," reads an article on Organicfacts.net.
"Since lack of blood flow is one of the primary causes of sexual dysfunction and lack of sexual stamina, acai berries are commonly used as an alternative medicine to help patients with these conditions."
Acai is versatile and can be consumed raw, as a juice, or in tablet or powder form. It can be added to various beverages like smoothies, juices or energy drinks, or mixed into other food products such as yoghurt, jelly and ice cream.
Freeze-dried acai fruit is a good option as it maintains all its nutrients. If you buy acai juice, make sure you choose a brand that hasn’t been heated or pasteurised.
If you're allergic to pollen or other fruits, it’s best to consult your doctor and get an updated allergen test before adding acai to your diet.
Other natural libido boosters
Looking for other natural ways to spice up your sex life?
Ginseng, yohimbine and saffron are also proven performance boosters, according to Prof Massimo Marcone of the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph.
Marcone and fellow researchers investigated claims of both physical and psychological sexual enhancement by examining hundreds of studies meeting strict controls on commonly used consumable aphrodisiacs in one of the most thorough scientific reviews to date.
The results of the review, published in Food Research International (2011), are regarded as one of the most thorough scientific reviews to date. It indicated that:
- Panax ginseng, saffron and yohimbine, a natural chemical from the West African yohimbe tree, improved human sexual function.
- Increased sexual desire was reported after eating a flowering plant found in Brazil called muira puama, maca root and a mustard plant from the Andes.
- Nutmeg, cloves, garlic, ginger, and ambergris (formed in the intestinal tract of the sperm whale), are other substances linked to increased sexual behaviour in animals.
- Despite its supposed aphrodisiac qualities, chocolate wasn't linked to sexual arousal or satisfaction.
- Alcohol was found to increase sexual arousal but to impede sexual performance. Important note: Always consult your doctor before using complementary and alternative medicines, and remember to tell your doctor if you’re already using them and when new medications are prescribed. Many of these therapies may interfere with other medications.
- Complementary and alternative medicines include a wide range of vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements, nutritional supplements, aromatherapy products and homoeopathic products. They may either be listed or registered, depending on their ingredients and the claims made. In Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulates complementary medicines as medicines.
- Superfoods. No official definition exists. Registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the US, Marisa Moore, describes them as functional foods with an extraordinarily high nutrient and antioxidant content or which provide nutrients that promote health in several different ways.
- Complementary Medicines Australia
- Harvard School of Health Nutrition Source
- Australian Department of Health
- Yali Wang, Yuchun Wang, Brian McNeil, Linda M. Harvey, Maca: An Andean crop with multi-pharmacological functions, Food Research International, Volume 40, Issue 7, August 2007, Pages 783-792, ISSN 0963-9969.
- Natural Medicines,
- US Department of Health and Human Services
- Choice magazine