WEDNESDAY, March 16, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- Throughout the ages, foods such as asparagus, almonds, avocado, bananas, basil, chocolate, eggs, figs, foie gras and, of course, raw oysters have been touted as aphrodisiacs.
But in the age of Viagra, the scientific community considers these claims to be nothing more than wishful thinking. All these foods can be part of a fabulous meal, but the aftereffect is more likely to be weight gain and the need for a nap than a night of rapturous lovemaking.
However, a new study by American and Italian chemists claims that at far as oysters, clams and mussels are concerned, the ancient claim may be true. Their finding was presented March 16 at the American Chemical Society annual meeting in San Diego.
"The supposition for centuries was that oysters, clams and mussels have been thought to have aphrodisiac properties," said researcher George Fisher, a professor of chemistry from Barry University, in Miami Shores, Fla. "And they were eaten raw for that purpose."
Until recently, there was no scientific basis for that belief, Fisher added. But what he and his colleagues have discovered is that mussels, clams and oysters contain compounds that have been shown to be effective in releasing sexual hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. These compounds are D-aspartic acid and NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate).
"We found there might be a scientific basis for the aphrodisiac properties of these mollusks," Fisher said.
Not so fast, says food myth expert Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, an associate professor of medicine from Harvard Medical School. "The findings are certainly interesting, but we still have a ways to go before saying that there is scientific evidence that clams, oysters and scallops boost libido," he said.
Shmerling asks this: When D-aspartic acid and NMDA are digested, do they still lead to sex hormone release? And do they release enough estrogen or testosterone to matter?
"Testosterone is thought to play a more major role in libido in men and women than estrogen alone; in fact, estrogen release could reduce libido in women. And while it's hard to predict what, if anything, mollusk-induced estrogen release would do in men, it probably would not increase sex drive," Shmerling said.
In addition, Shmerling wonders if animal studies linking D-aspartic acid and NMDA to the release of sex hormones is even relevant to humans.
"This is a good example of the headlines getting well ahead of the science," Shmerling said. "It will take much more compelling evidence -- with human subjects -- to prove a link between seafood and libido."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration can tell you more about aphrodisiacs.