Like the fabled fountain of youth, aphrodisiacs – foods thought to enhance sexual prowess – have always belonged more to the realm of mythology than modern day science. But as researchers continue to unlock the unique protective and curative benefits of fruits and vegetables, what once looked like wishful thinking might soon become a prescription for overall sexual and reproductive health.
Could watermelon help you make whoopee? Along with tomatoes and pink grapefruit, watermelon is loaded with lycopene -; a powerful antioxidant widely recognized to protect against prostate cancer. Emerging evidence suggests that lycopene might also enhance male fertility.
Improvements in sperm concentration and motility were observed after 30 infertile study participants took part in a 30-day trial of lycopene supplementation. While the amount of watermelon needed to elicit similar effects has not been determined, whole fruit generally contains a variety of synergistic compounds that help to support delivery mechanisms.
Speaking of delivery mechanisms…it appears that another watermelon compound – the amino acid citrulline – may function as a natural alternative to Viagra. Both citrulline and Viagra help increase blood flow to the pelvic area, the former by increasing the body’s release of nitric oxide, the latter by destroying those enzymes that inhibit nitric oxide’s effects.
While lycopene is found in the red flesh of the watermelon, citrulline is most highly concentrated in the rind. With one compound combating free radicals and the other fighting erectile dysfunction, the two found within the same fruit may work synergistically to promote overall male reproductive health.
Promotion of sexual health goes hand in hand with prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. But while most sexual health campaigns focus on modifying sexual activity per se, very little is said about the role of diet in reducing the frequency and severity of STD outbreaks. When you consider that lowered resistance can trigger attacks of certain STDs, like genital herpes, it makes sense that immune-boosting foods might also help protect against viral eruptions.
New research suggests that eating veggies like broccoli might halt herpes flare-ups. A study done at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine found that indole-3-carbinol – a compound found in cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage – kept the herpes virus in hibernation during lab experiments (clinical studies would be needed to confirm the in vivo benefit for humans).
Lysine is another compound that may inhibit herpes viral activity. Soybeans, cooked and raw, are a super source of lysine. Lima beans also are loaded.
While more than a million people acquire herpes annually, five times that number will
become infected with human papilloma virus. Once again, prevention is the key to putting a cap on such stats, but given that HPV is considered the most common STD in the United States, it’s worth noting that for those already exposed to the virus, diet can make a difference.
Women who eat the most veggies are 50 percent less likely to have persistent HPV infections – thus reducing their risk of cervical cancer and infertility. While vegetables are more protective than fruits and juices, lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes and watermelon have the highest benefit.
As long as we’ve broached the subject of diet and reproductive health, keep in mind that low-carb diets also could reduce a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant. Animal studies conducted at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine found that even a “moderately” high protein diet could prevent an embryo from attaching to the wall of the womb or hinder its early development.
Though further research will be needed to show that the same effect may be responsible for fertility impedance among humans, the findings suggest that women’s protein intake should be less than 20 percent of overall calorie consumption during efforts to conceive. Moreover, given the role of folic acid in preventing neural tube defects, Mother Earth’s bounty of folate-rich fruits and veggies should be first on the menu of all mothers-to-be.
Jennifer Grossman is the director of the Dole Nutrition Institute. – NU