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Better Lovin' Through Biochemistry?


Romance in a Bottle? continued...


Although the people who sell it are barred by FDA regulations from making any extravagant claims, the fact that they're pushing it as "Romance in a Bottle" is a strong hint that they want their customers to believe they're buying a six-pack of burnin' love. In other words, an aphrodisiac.


Just to get technical for a minute, it should be noted here that there's a clinical distinction between aphrodisiacs, which are reputed to enhance libido and contribute to sexual excitement, and sexual stimulants, which provide a physiologic boost that may in turn may make it possible to have better sex -- or even sex at all. Niagara and tiger testicles fall under the category of aphrodisiac. Viagra and the spicy mixture cooked up by the Yequana are examples of sexual stimulants.


The Yequana potion has at least one respected scientist convinced that "natural Viagras" are out there waiting to be found, but how do you how do you tell a real over-the-counter aphrodisiac or stimulant (if they even exist) from sex-fool's gold?


"The problem is that there are so many things that are advertised out there," says Alvaro Morales, MD, professor and chairman of urology at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. "I recently saw at my barber's [in a magazine] an advertisement for some sort of a cream. They don't say what it is, and they say 'it's just like testosterone,' but on the other hand they say 'this doesn't contain testosterone.' So what is it?"


Morales tells WebMD he knows of three herbals reputed to have sexual stimulation properties, but that only one -- yohimbine -- appears to have any merit. He says that ginkgo biloba and ginseng are also alleged to be sexual stimulants, "but from what I've read in the literature, neither is effective."


Unlike most other nonprescription products, yohimbine, derived from an African tree, has been extensively studied, and appears to have a modest effect on erectile function in some men by increasing the flow of blood into the penis and decreasing outflow that can cause the organ to lose rigidity.


Morales says he believes yohimbine is effective, but in just a small number of patients. "In patients with severe erectile dysfunction it's a totally useless drug, but patients with modest problems ... tend to respond better," he says.

Hope Springs Eternal

When it comes to the question of aphrodisiacs, however, we're on a lot shakier scientific ground. The clinical evidence for the existence of true aphrodisiacs (apart from human hormones) is about as convincing as the proof that Elvis still lives. That hasn't stopped people from trying, though:


Typing the word "aphrodisiac" into a web search results in close to 70,000 hits -- a large number of which point to web pages where some huckster somewhere is trying to make a buck off the nookie challenged among us.

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