The Weird History of Oysters as Aphrodisiacs

[mashshare]

If you believe everything you read on the Internet about libido, you’ve probably heard that Casanova maintained his fabled Venetian stamina by eating raw oysters every day for breakfast. It’s anyone’s guess how that rumor began, but it’s especially perplexing how it has morphed into the claim that oysters are aphrodisiacs–a food myth that has stuck in our minds for centuries, despite the absence of scientific evidence.

Not that scientists haven’t tried to support it. About a decade ago, a group of young scientists were studying mussels in Naples, Italy (because, where else?) when they came across an amino acid known as D-Aspartic acid inside some of the mollusks. They presented the finding to a group of chemists at a convention, knowing that D-Aspartic acid was once found to increase the level of sex hormones in lab rats. To entice convention attendees, the researchers put the word “aphrodisiac” in the title of their presentation, and the crowds went wild.

A few media outlets heard about the presentation and began publishing stories like this one: “Raw Oysters Really are Aphrodisiacs says Scientists.” But the scientists never said that. In fact, the scientists were undergraduates who never even tested oysters–just mussels. Their findings didn’t focus at all on D-Aspartic acid’s impact on the human body, and no published study came out of the research, notes George Fisher, the chemistry professor at Barry University who oversaw the students’ project.

All these years later, Fisher says he still gets calls from people asking about the study that never was. Meanwhile, the Internet is full of cheeky references to the libido-boosting powers of oysters, which might actually have more of an effect on your sex drive than the questionable chemistry of those wet and humble creatures, says Nancy Amy, a nutritionist and toxicologist at the University of California. “There’s an amazing placebo effect with aphrodisiacs,” she says. “It’s very culturally specific and there’s no scientific evidence, but if you think it’s going to work, then there’s already a 50 percent chance that it will.”

So sure, there might be something to these ridiculous claims, but that something is certainly not science. Sorry, Casanova.