Sex and sustenance

Comestibles that could spice up the time you and your partner spend between the sheets

Why is it that a box of chocs makes such a great gift for lovers?

Watermelons are packed with cirtruline, an amino acid that helps relax the blood vessels, causing blood to flow more smoothly and providing a natural stimulus to the sex drive.

Or, if you find chocolates too pricey, did you know that good 'ol watermelon should do the trick equally well?

Putting romantic feelings _ and the potentially erogenous effects of costly gifts _ to one side, there are sound scientific reasons why chocolate and watermelon _ and several other foods, too _ can add extra zest to bedroom interludes.

One of the prized ingredients in chocolate is phenylethylamine, a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter, explained Dr Tanupol Virunhagarun, director of the Bangkok Royal Life Anti-ageing Centre. Which is why biting into a bar of chocolate and then savouring it slowly can bring on a sensation of contentment and sensual pleasure.

"Dark chocolate is laden with antioxidants which are good for health in general. So it can be good for you _ both in and outside the bedroom," the doctor quipped.

Another food that can prepare the body and brain for boudoir activities, he said, is chilli. Capsaicin is the active component of chilli peppers and other plants belonging to the genus Capsicum; it can stimulate the release of endorphins, making people feel more relaxed and the mood for sex may then be elevated. People with low endorphin levels are more likely to suffer from depression, a condition that tends to kill interest in sexual activity. Good sex relies to a great extent on the effectiveness of the circulatory system, according to Dr Tanupol, and the condition of the latter can be affected by what we consume.

A healthy system keeps the heart and the rest of the body including the sexual organs well supplied with oxygenated blood, so it could be said that any food that is good for the cardiovascular system is also good for the libido.

Now back to those watermelons. Dr Tanupol explained that this juicy fruit is packed with cirtruline, an amino acid that helps relax the blood vessels, causing blood to flow more smoothly and providing a natural stimulus to the sex drive.

Garlic also has cardiovascular benefits because it contains allicin, a substance that promotes better blood flow. Also recommended are avocados; high in mono-unsaturated fats, this fruit that is usually treated like a vegetable can benefit one's sex life if eaten on a regular basis.

"Avocados can help keep the arteries unclogged, so they are good for the heart, and they can also prevent erectile dysfunction." Dr Tanupol explained.

Having healthy hormone levels and good nerve function can also affect how people perform between the sheets. And zinc, essential for the production of testosterone and sperm, is the right mineral for this job. It occurs in great abundance in raw oysters. And there's another reason for eating this shellfish, he said: it can increase levels of dopamine, a hormone that increase sex drive in women as well as men.

"But oysters are high in cholesterol. Too many of them can put your health at risk," he warned. Another rich source of zinc is pumpkin seeds and a regular intake may help prevent a deficiency of testosterone, the male hormone that plays a significant role in sexual activity. Almonds are an alternative source of zinc. They also contain selenium and vitamin E, both of which are necessary for a healthy sex drive.

"The vitamin E found in almonds can keep arteries healthy, too," Dr Tanupol noted.

Folate, aka folic acid, is another useful nutrient in this respect as it boosts the body's production of histamine, key to a healthy libido in both men and women. Foods with high folate content include asparagus and strawberries.

Dr Tanupol mentioned a study conducted by a leading university in the US which found a possible link between strawberry consumption and a man's sperm count.

Noting that people should follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly in order to maintain a healthy weight, the doctor went on to note the connection between sexual dysfunction and being grossly overweight. "Obesity can cause an imbalance in hormone levels. And low levels of testosterone can affect sexual desire," he said.

Taking a more holistic view of the matter, Dr Kraisid Tontisirin, a professor emeritus who acts as senior advisor to Mahidol University's Institute of Nutrition, noted that one can optimise one's sex drive by having a healthy body and a healthy mind coupled with a positive attitude to life.

"Anything that affects people's general health and well-being can affect their sexual health," he said "If people are physically and emotionally healthy, they are able to have healthy sex lives."

The foundation for good health, according to Dr Kraisid, is a well-balanced diet made up of a variety of nutrients. Good health can also be maintained by eating plant-based foods that are rich in antioxidants; these help protect the body's cells against damage from strong sunlight, smoke and other pollutants.

"Sometimes we forget the basic concept that underlies eating. We eat food in order to enable growth and supply our bodies with energy. And the nutrients in food work together to keep the body healthy and working properly. Sample as wide a variety of nutrients as possible. And avoid over-consumption of any particular food for long periods of time since this may cause a nutritional imbalance that could lead to health problems." Food safety also matters, Dr Kraisid continued.

"If you eat oysters raw, for instance, make sure that they are fresh and come from a reliable source since some can be contaminated with heavy metals."

The retired professor said that having a regular work-out is a sure-fire way to boost the body's production of endorphins, these so-called "happy hormones" can restore a person's libido because they reduce levels of stress, depression and other forms of emotional discomfort that dampen sexual desire. Vigorous exercise also burns fat, increases the circulation of blood and has the added benefits of promoting feelings of well-being and improved self-esteem.

"I think that when people have more energy," he said, "they are happier and feel good about themselves so their sex drive can benefit.

"But having a good sex life goes far beyond fulfilling sexual relations, you know. It can be about intimacy, tenderness, the relationship or other good things that a couple can share with each other.

"It's normal for people to have different sexual abilities and for their needs to change as they age.

"And the older one gets, the wider and deeper the meaning of sexuality can become. It's better to focus on the importance of love and on creating bonds that will endure."

About the author

Writer: Sukhumaporn Laiyok
Position: Life reporter