An aphrodisiac is a food or drug that arouses sexual instinct, brings on desire, or increases sexual pleasure or performance.
A myriad of pharmaceutical drugs are available and marketed specifically for their libido-boosting effects.
However, some individuals prefer natural alternatives, as they’re generally safer and tend to have fewer side effects.
It’s worth noting that many aphrodisiacs do not have the backing of scientific evidence, and some natural products may have negative effects. If you’re thinking of trying a supplement, talk to your doctor first.
This article reviews 7 science-backed aphrodisiacs that may boost your libido.
Maca is a sweet root vegetable with several health benefits.
In South America, people commonly use it to boost fertility, and its nickname is “the Peruvian Viagra.” It grows mainly in the mountains of central Peru and is related to cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage.
Animal studies found increases in libido and erectile function in rodents after consuming maca. Four other studies suggest it may boost libido in humans, too.
One small study has indicated that maca may help reduce the loss of libido that commonly occurs as a side effect of certain antidepressant drugs.
Most studies provided 1.5–3.5 grams of maca per day for 2–12 weeks.
Participants generally tolerated these intakes well and experienced few side effects. However, more studies are needed to determine safe dosages and long-term effects.
Summary: Maca is a sweet root vegetable that may help boost libido.
Tribulus Terrestris, also known as bindii, is an annual plant that grows in dry climates.
Producers of supplements often claim that they can boost libido.
Studies have suggested that it may raise testosterone levels in some animals, but science hasn’t proved that it can increase testosterone levels or fertility in humans.
Limited evidence suggests it may help boost sexual function and desire in males and females.
Summary: The Tribulus Terrestris plant may boost sexual function, but more research is needed.
3. Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba is an herbal supplement derived from one of the oldest species of trees — the Ginkgo biloba tree.
Traditional Chinese medicine uses it to treat many ailments, including depression and poor sexual function.
Ginkgo biloba is said to act as an aphrodisiac by helping relax blood vessels and increase blood flow.
Nevertheless, studies have produced mixed results.
In 1998, for example, a small study reported that ginkgo biloba reduced the loss of libido that antidepressant use caused in around 84% of participants.
Both male and female participants said they experienced increased desire, excitement, and ability to orgasm after consuming 60–240 mg of the supplement daily, although effects seemed stronger in female participants. However, this was a low-quality study, and its findings may not be reliable.
A more rigorous follow-up study was published in 2004. This study found no improvements in a similar group of participants who took ginkgo biloba.
Ginkgo biloba is generally well-tolerated, but it may act as a blood thinner. Thus, if you’re taking blood-thinning medications, make sure to check with your healthcare provider before taking ginkgo biloba.
Summary: Ginkgo biloba may have aphrodisiac effects, but study results are inconsistent. The herb may also interact with blood thinners, so consult your healthcare provider before using it.
4. Red ginseng
Ginseng is another popular herb in Chinese medicine.
One particular type — red ginseng — is commonly used to treat a variety of ailments in men and women, including low libido and sexual function.
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Several studies have observed that red ginseng is more effective than a placebo at improving erectile function.
Also, one small study found that red ginseng may improve sexual arousal during menopause.
However, these results are not universal, and some experts question the strength of these studies. They warn that more research is needed before making strong conclusions.
Most studies had participants take 1.8–3 grams of red ginseng daily for 4–12 weeks.
People generally tolerate ginseng well, but it may interfere with blood-thinning medications and the treatment of hormone-sensitive cancers.
In some cases, ginseng may also cause headaches, constipation, or minor stomach upset.
Summary: Red ginseng is a popular herb that may help boost sex drive and erectile function in men and sexual arousal in women. However, stronger studies are needed to confirm these effects.
Fenugreek is an annual plant cultivated worldwide.
Its seeds are most commonly used in South Asian dishes, but it’s also popular in Ayurvedic medicine as an anti-inflammatory and libido-boosting treatment.
And perhaps this is for good reason — this herb appears to contain compounds that the body can use to make sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone.
In one small study, men who took 600 mg of fenugreek extract per day for 6 weeks reported experiencing increased sexual arousal and more orgasms.
However, this supplement also contained 17 mg magnesium, 15 mg zinc, and 5 mg pyridoxine, which could have contributed to the results. Zinc is a nutrient that plays a key role in male fertility.
Similarly, a small study investigated the effects of a daily dose of 600 mg of fenugreek extract in women who had reported having a low sex drive.
Study results showed a significant increase in sexual desire and arousal in the fenugreek group by the end of the 8-week study, compared to the placebo group.
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Fenugreek is generally well-tolerated, but it can interact with blood-thinning medication and may cause minor stomach upset.
Moreover, due to its influence on sex hormones, fenugreek may also interfere with the treatment of hormone-sensitive cancers.
Summary: Fenugreek may help boost sexual desire and arousal in both men and women. Individuals taking blood-thinning medication should avoid it.
6. Pistachio nuts
People have been eating pistachio nuts for well over 10000 years.
They have nutritional value and are rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
Pistachios may have a variety of health benefits, including helping lower blood pressure, manage weight, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
They may also help reduce symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
In one small study, males who consumed 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of pistachio nuts per day for 3 weeks experienced increased blood flow to the penis and firmer erections.
Experts have suggested that these effects may be due to the ability of pistachios to improve blood cholesterol and stimulate better blood flow throughout the body.
However, this study did not use a placebo group, which makes it difficult to interpret the results. More studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Summary: Pistachio nuts appear to increase blood flow, contributing to firmer erections. However, more studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.
Saffron is a spice derived from the Crocus sativus flower. It’s native to Southwest Asia and one of the most expensive spices by weight.
This spice is often used as an alternative remedy to help treat depression, reduce stress, and enhance mood.
What’s more, saffron is also popular for its potential aphrodisiac properties, especially in individuals taking antidepressants.
One study observed that a group of men who took 30 mg of saffron per day for 4 weeks experienced greater improvements in erectile function than men given a placebo.
A follow-up study in women reported that those in the saffron group experienced higher levels of arousal and increased lubrication, compared to those in the placebo group.
Nevertheless, studies on saffron’s aphrodisiac properties in individuals without depression yield inconsistent results.
Summary: Saffron may help increase sex drive in individuals taking antidepressant medications. However, results in other groups remain mixed.
Well-known aphrodisiac foods that are not backed by strong scientific evidence
Several other foods are touted to have aphrodisiac properties, but there’s very little scientific evidence to support these claims.
Here are some popular examples:
- Chocolate: Compounds in cacao are often touted to have an aphrodisiac effect, particularly in women. However, studies provide little evidence to support this belief.
- Oysters: While one study reports that they may have some libido-boosting effects in rats, no studies exist to support the libido-enhancing properties of oysters in humans.
- Chasteberry: Studies suggest that this fruit may influence hormone levels and reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms in women. However, there’s no evidence that it offers any libido-boosting benefits.
- Honey: It has allegedly been used for centuries to bring romance into marriages. One variety called “mad honey” is even marketed as a sexual stimulant. Yet, no studies support this, and it may contain dangerous toxins.
- Epimedium: Also known as horny goat weed, it’s popular in traditional Chinese medicine for treating ailments like erectile dysfunction. Cell and animal studies provide some early support for this use, but human studies are needed.
- Hot chilies: According to popular belief, capsaicin, the compound that gives hot chilies their spiciness, stimulates nerve endings on the tongue, causing the release of sex-drive-boosting chemicals. However, no studies support this belief.
- Alcohol: Alcohol may act as an aphrodisiac by helping both men and women relax and get in the mood. However, a high alcohol intake can reduce arousal and sexual function, so moderation is key.
Summary: The supplements listed above are often said to help increase sexual desire. However, there’s currently limited scientific evidence to support their use as aphrodisiacs.
The bottom line
When it comes to boosting sex drive, the list of foods with potential aphrodisiac properties is very long.
However, only a small proportion of these supposed aphrodisiacs are backed by science.
If you’re interested in giving the science-backed options a try, you may want to start with small amounts and increase the dosage based on your tolerance.
Also, it’s important to note that natural aphrodisiacs may interact with some medications.
If you’re currently taking medication, make sure to check with your healthcare provider before giving these foods and herbs a try.