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Healthy Turn-Ons

Sexual stimulants may be a myth, but some healthy foods can actually function as 'nutridisiacs'

By Tracy A. Smith

Since the evolution from asexual reproduction (one parent) to sexual reproduction (two parents), humans have gone to fantastic lengths to inspire passion. The search for aphrodisiacs is as old as our ancestors' bones and as current as today's paper.

Worldwide, certain plants and animals are being decimated because of their traditional use as sexual stimulants. Millions of dollars are spent on medical research to discover the neurotransmitter for desire, and some men think nothing of injecting a syringe into their penis. People will try anything to enhance their sex lives.

Anything may include rhinoceros horn, historically considered an aphrodisiac. The notion more than likely comes from the horn's phallic shape. The "law of signatures" is an ancient belief that if something looks similar to what a person needs--in this case, an erection--that something is the ticket. Mimetic consumption applies to antlers, sea cucumbers, ginseng and snake blood, among other things.

Reproductive organs from various animals also follow this logic. The penis and testicles of tigers, elk, horses, dogs, seals and rabbits find their way into the Far East apothecary.

Spanish fly is another mythical aphrodisiac that just won't die. It supposedly turns innocent maidens into nymphomaniacs. In truth, Spanish fly is a powerful poison. The active ingredient is the ground-up beetle Cantharis vesicatoria, found in southern Europe. It contains a blistering agent used primarily to remove warts. It is so toxic that it can induce kidney failure. Authentic Spanish fly is illegal; products that claim to contain it are useless and, one hopes, harmless substitutes.

So, do aphrodisiacs exist? No and yes. Experts agree that there is no one prosexual that acts on men and women equally. But there exist countless means, from native herbs to erotica, that can fire up a flagging libido legally, safely and cheaply.

Some foods touted for centuries as sexual stimulants are now being corroborated as such by scientific research. Since Pliny's day, for instance, oysters have enjoyed a randy reputation. Lots of zinc is found in this humble bivalve, and zinc helps the production of testosterone and increases sperm production. For women, zinc helps sustain adequate lubrication.

Another ancient aphrodisiac, raw honey (think honeymoon), contains B-complex vitamins that enhance sexual health for both genders. The sugar helps manufacture sperm and provides quick energy for erotic exercise. Legumes, noted for being one of many estrogen-replacement foods, were banned in medieval convents, not for causing flatulence, but because they seemed to make the nuns a bit squirrely.

Morton Walker, author of Sexual Nutrition, calls healthy foods "nutridisiacs." "It's sad," he says, "that people look for extracurricular items such as Spanish fly and black rhino horn when certain nutrients in food are beneficial to healthy libido and genitalia." For example?

"Tropical fruits like pineapple, papaya, kiwi, mango, banana, citrus. These have oral chelating agents that help clean the arteries to allow for a good erection as well as allow blood into the clitoris."

Jack Challem, editor of The Nutrition Reporter, a newsletter that summarizes vitamin research, reports that vitamin E, the so-called sex vitamin, has had its salacious status since 1922 when researchers found that its absence in rats caused sterility. However, it is the ability of vitamin E to stimulate the heart and therefore circulation that concerns us here. Blood flow, again.

One natural remedy is said to have produced objective evidence for efficacy: yohimbe, a West African tree bark extract. It helps erection by stimulating the vaso-dilators of the penis. However, this "natural" herb can be highly toxic and should be administered only under a physician's supervision.

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From the February 8-14, 1996 issue of Metro

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