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Looking for an aphrodisiac? Try ginseng

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Looking for food that can double as an aphrodisiac? Then consider ginseng, but don't put too much stock in the powers of chocolate, according to a new Canadian study.

A study published in the journal Food Research International tries to spell out which foods may help to increase sexual desire and which ones are all hype.

Researchers at the University of Guelph conducted a detailed review of scientific literature to determine what foods constitute true aphrodisiacs. They determined that ginseng and saffron, as well as several other less-common substances, particularly yohimbine, found naturally in trees grown in West Africa, seemed to increase sexual desire. Cloves, garlic and ginger were also found to be effective aphrodisiacs in studies involving animals.

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"Aphrodisiacs have been used for thousands of years all around the world, but the science behind the claims has never been well understood or clearly reported," said Massimo Marcone, a food-science professor who conducted the study with master's student John Melnyk.

The researchers also made surprising discoveries. For instance, although many people report higher sexual desire after consuming chocolate, the scientists found that those who ate chocolate had the same rates of sexual satisfaction and arousal as those who ate none. The explanation could lie in the fact that chocolate contains ingredients that may trigger pleasure sensations in the brain, meaning that any perceived increase in sexual desire could simply be in a person's head.

Similarly, while alcohol is believed by many to have aphrodisiac-like qualities, the study found that it actually interferes with sexual performance.

But there are several caveats to keep in mind. For instance, many studies on aphrodisiacs were conducted using animals, so their findings may not translate to humans.

Despite this new research, some scientists maintain there really is no such thing as an aphrodisiac. Some foods may make people feel more happy or more relaxed, but sexual desire is based on a number of psychological and physiological processes some experts say cannot be manipulated by a particular food.

Prof. Marcone also cautioned that there still isn't enough evidence to declare that these foods or substances could be used as effective aphrodisiacs.

He noted that further work is needed to determine if any foods or ingredients found in food could serve as a viable alternative to drugs such as Viagra and Cialis, which can come with serious side effects and which are not geared toward women.

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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