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SOS Rhino : In the News : Love Bites: Experts discuss the efficacy, safety of reputed aphrodisiacs

Love Bites: Experts discuss the efficacy, safety of reputed aphrodisiacs

  By STUART KELLOGG/Staff Writer
Daily Press
Thursday, February 10, 2005

As happens every February at the Daily Press, last week the mail brought a snowdrift of PR releases from florists and chocolatiers.

But this year there was also a fax from Chris Kilham, author of "Hot Plants: Nature's Proven Sex Boosters for Men and Women" (St. Martin's Press, 2004).

Kilham wrote: "Nobody on earth has done as much in-depth field investigation on sex-enhancing plants as I have."

An unattractive boast, it does suggest a timely pre-Valentine's Day question: Are there really such things as aphrodisiacs?

Or is it all hooey, deception and self-persuasion?

Tamar Nordenberg, a lawyer with the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, defines an aphrodisiac as "a food, drink, drug, scent or device that, promoters claim, can arouse or increase sexual desire."

Key here is the word desire.

The date-rape drug Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) is not an aphrodisiac.

And neither is Viagra (sildenafil citrate). As the manufacturer, Pfizer Inc., states clearly on its Web site, Viagra, a prescription drug used to treat erectile dysfunction, is ineffective in the absence of erotic stimulation.

What about those "hot plants" reported to Kilham by "revered shamans and native herbalists"?

In "Looking for a Libido Lift? The Facts About Aphrodisiacs" (1996), the FDA's Nordenberg writes:

"According to the Food and Drug Administration, the reputed sexual effects of so-called aphrodisiacs are based in folklore, not fact."

But folklore has been busy.

Over the millennia, swayed by the If-it-looks-like-a-duck-it-can-make-me-quack-like-a-duck theory, people have either ingested or slipped to the objects of their desire a host of foods thought to resemble genitalia.

For example: oysters, clams, ground rhinoceros horn, ginseng, bananas, celery, asparagus and garlic.

Some claim that chilies, curries and other spicy foods are love potions, probably because these trigger perspiration and make the heart beat faster, just as commonly happens during sex.

Cardamom, cloves, saffron and vanilla have also been hailed as aphrodisiacs. But maybe they simply taste good and so put the diner in a sportive mood.

As for chocolate, Nordenberg writes: "While chocolate was once considered the ultimate aphrodisiac, because of its rarity, the reputation wore off as it became commonly available."

On the other hand, one's thoughtfulness in buying a box of chocolates for a loved one may have an aphrodisiac effect -- just as can cleaning out the garage.

Might aphrodisiacs be "all in the head"?

Terry Truelove, a lead instructor in the Victor Valley College nursing department, says:

"I ask my students, 'How do you explain it when someone with incurable cancer goes to Mexico, buys an herbal remedy known not work -- and yet is cured?'

"The same may be going on with aphrodisiacs. An herb or candle, by calming a person, allows them to become aroused."

Truelove adds that even a song, because of its associations, can act as an aphrodisiac.

Some things that people eat or drink could be counterproductive or worse.

Alcohol, which lessens inhibitions when taken in moderation, decreases desire if drunk in large quantities.

Veterinarians have used Yohimbine, made from the bark of the West African yohimbe tree (Pausinystalia yohimbe), to treat impotence in stallions.

But as the Web site suggests: "Anyone interested in using Yohimbe should first decide if harder erections are worth elevated blood pressure, irritability, nausea and vomiting."

The FDA goes further, warning that Yohimbine can cause paralysis and ultimately death.

Chan Su is a topical anesthetic prepared from the skin of the Chinese toad Bufo bufo gargarizans Gantor.

When ingested, Chan Su can cause drowsiness, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, xanthopsia ("yellow vision"), cardiac dysrythmias and heart failure.

As for that frat boy nostrum Spanish fly -- the dried, crushed body of the emerald-green blister beetle (Lytta vesicatoria) -- its active ingredient, cantharidin, irritates the bladder and urethra, causing increased blood flow to the genitals.

In women as well as men, this leads to a painful engorgement of the genitals, infection of the genitourinary tract and permanent scarring of urethral tissue.

In 1772, hoping to kick off an orgy, the Marquis de Sade fed Spanish fly to prostitutes, who then became extremely ill.

Tried for poisoning, de Sade was convicted in absentia and forced to flee France.

A word to Animal House is sufficient.

Stuart Kellogg can be reached at 951-6240 or