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10 Aphrodisiacs That Actually Work, According to Science

Since the beginning of recorded time, people have been seeking the secret to sexual satisfaction. Wherever you look, there's an herb or a pill or a food that promises precisely that. Trouble is, science hasn't exactly supported any of those promises...until now!

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Korean red ginseng

We already knew that gingseng (also known as “ashwagandha”) is a natural alternative treatment for low sexual desire and erectile dysfunction. But Elizabeth West, MD and Michael Krychman, MD, authors of a study that’s a comprehensive review of all existing scientific journal articles on the subject of aphrodisiacs—approximately 50 as of 2015—found that one particular variety, Korean red ginseng, can improve sexual arousal in menopausal women.

Because ginseng can interfere with blood clotting, you should avoid it prior to surgery. And it has estrogenic effects, so you should avoid it if you’ve been diagnosed with a hormone-sensitive cancer.

Check out these other natural ways to boost your libido.

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Ginkgo biloba

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine use ginkgo biloba to treat dizziness, believing that it increases circulation and blood flow to the brain. Drs. West and Krychman found it may actually improve the sexual response of both men and women who are experiencing sexual side effects from using antidepressants with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) (although they see a need for additional research to confirm this).

Ginkgo can interfere with clotting, and that effect can be magnified if you’re already taking aspirin or any nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory and should be discontinued prior to surgery.

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A cousin of the radish, maca root, is known for improving circulation. Maca has also been scientifically proven to heighten sexual desire in men and alleviate menopause symptoms in women. Drs. West and Krychman’s study research confirms that maca may enhance libido in both men and women and improve erectile function, as well as potentially correcting sexual side effects caused by SSRIs.

That said, maca contains phytosterols and phytoestrogens, and although it has not been found to directly alter hormone levels, further research is needed to determine its potential adverse effects

Check out these 31 steamy tricks to boost your sex drive.

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ArginMax is a combination supplement containing vitamins A, B, C, and E and also Korean ginseng and gingko bilboa. Drs. West and Krychman found that it may actually do the trick, in terms of improving sexual desire and sexual satisfaction and also increasing the frequency of sexual intercourse. Specifically, in women, ArginMax was found to increase lubrication, clitoral sensitivity, and orgasm frequency.

Here’s what you need to know about sex in your 40s.

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For women only: Zestra massage oil

Zestra is a massage oil containing borage, evening primrose, and angelica root and is designed to enhance female arousal and orgasm after applying it to the clitoris and labia. Its label states that it causes “tingling” or a “rushing” sensation. Drs. West and Krychman found that studies show it to be an effective aphrodisiac for women. There are no clinical studies of Zestra usage in men.

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Fenugreek is known to help nursing mothers increase their milk supply. It also has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine as an aphrodisiac, and a 2011 study showed that fenugreek boosted sex drive in men experiencing low libido. Drs. West and Krychman found evidence that it can, in fact, improve male sexual arousal and orgasm, and that it can improve sexual function (arousal, lubrication, and satisfaction) in premenopausal women.

Because fenugreek contains precursors to estrogen and testosterone, and because in studies, its users show increased levels of hormones, the doctors recommend that people with hormonally active cancers steer clear. Fenugreek can also cause blood-thinning and so shouldn’t be used on patients using prescription blood-thinners.

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Hersynergy is an oral supplement that contains B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc, as well as 300 mg of fenugreek. Marketed toward women, it has no published data proving its efficacy. However, as we know, fenugreek shows promise as a sexual enhancer. In addition, zinc is important to the production of that all-important sex hormone, testosterone. So, perhaps clinical data will emerge over time that proves what the doctors suspect may be true about Hersynergy (i.e., that it works!).

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Horny goat weed

Horny goat weed is an herb whose name may inspire the question: which came first? The name? Or what it’s used for? In traditional Chinese medicine, it’s used to treat erectile dysfunction. Drs. West and Krychman say that its mechanism is consistent with that claim, although there have been no large human horny goat weed trials thus far. That means that proof that it works is purely anecdotal, and its toxicity hasn’t been established, which brings us to the next few, whose benefits seem to be outweighed by their risks.

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Spanish fly

Spanish fly’s reputation as a date-rape drug is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it works as an aphrodisiac (by causing blood flow to the sex organs). On the other, it can burn the mouth and throat, lead to infections, kidney failure, and even death. Does it work? Yes. Should you try it? No, according to Drs. West and Krychman. And common sense. Find out foods that can kill your sex drive.

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Potency wood

This Brazilian herb has long been known for its use in improving erectile function and improving low libido. Although Drs. West and Krychman found little in the way of clinical proof, they do recognize that a few small-scale studies show that the herb has promise as an aphrodisiac. Still, further study is required before a clinical recommendation can be made.

As Dr. Krychman tells Reader’s Digest, “Smart consumers should examine the data and recognize that data is often emerging and changing.” So stay tuned, and be sure to check out our list of these 19 foods that are natural aphrodisiacs.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.