Monday, February 13, 2012

Upshot: Will eating Oysters Enhance Sexual Activity

This is the conclusion to the series on oysters as aphrodisiacs: good or bad science, started on January 27.

First, as a conclusionary statement, oysters are among the foods most likely to support high levels of sexual activity, both desire and performance. Everything being equal, eat oysters, enjoy good sex.

Second, eating oysters won't guarantee great sex.  Most often, everything is not equal. Human beings are too complex for such a simple equation. A simple equation might read:

Expectations for good sex by all involved,  plus bodily requirements, plus inputs enhancing attitude, expectations, desires, ambiance, and requirements, may well result in good sex.

The principal arguments for oysters as aphrodisiacs have all been addressed in the last two week's posts.
1) According to the dopamine hypothesis, since oysters have been found with elevated levels of dopamine, eating oysters will increase dopamine production in humans. As stated, untrue. Dopamine cannot pass the blood-brain barrier; it must be manufactured in the brain according to brain requirements. However, oysters do provide the human body with chemicals that are precursors to dopamine production in the brain, which is where motivation is parsed according to predicted reward. Oysters do provide the  amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine, used to synthesize several catecholamines, among which dopamine is one.

As indicated in the dopamine January 27 post, there will be competition in the body at the cell level, whereby cells will try to pull out amino acids before they even reach the BBB, but if they arrive and are transported, then dopamine production can be said to be supported by oysters. Further, something must be triggered in the reward-seeking system to activate further production and release of dopamine, such as the expectation of reward, based on previous experience/knowledge. Also as previously indicated, dopamine is not so much about liking something but more about wanting, seeking, and anticipating.

The third hypothesis is basic nutrition; if oysters contain zinc, then eating oysters can supply this element as a nutrient. Zinc is involved in sperm production as well as other metabolic processes that require zinc. So eating oysters can provide zinc, which is instrumental in sperm production.

The second hypothesis concerns two chemicals found in clams and mussels that were linked in one experiment in 2005 to heightened sexual activity in rats. No experiments involved either oysters or humans. So this hypothesis is so far not well supported by evidence.

 Net: oysters are a great food choice if good sex is the main driver for menu decision-making. Oysters will not guarantee good sex, but if all the other parameter requirements are met, oysters are a great choice for the menu component of a sexual process. Remember, just thinking that oysters are aphrodisiacs supports sexual activity.

To me this subject is surpassingly interesting, because it deals not only with how external stimuli affect human bodily functioning, not only with how mind affects the way the body works (i.e., consciousness), but also how culture impacts all of this and how altogether they affect what happens on a second to second basis for a specific event. What goes on in the brain and what goes on in the rest of the body as well as the culture can be illuminated through the lens of "eating oysters for aphrodisiac outcomes". What we see and smell and touch, what we anticipate and imagine, are all part of the reward system that helps us engage in activities that have previously promoted survival, mating, and reproduction.

This blog is titled "reward in the cognitive niche"  to cue readers that I am especially concerned not only with species in the cognitive niche, e.g., Homo sapiens, but I am also concerned with prime motivators of this particular species, namely reward. I think for individuals in relatively developed counties, using a modified version of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs model, more people are motivated by reward than by fear of deprivation of basic needs. Of course there are exceptions, especially at this recessionary time in history. But as a rule, if you reside in the cogntive niche, your sources of pleasure extend way beyond just acquisition of the target (e.g., eating good food). Cognitive species are rewarded by anticipating, imagining, inventing, remembering, and so much more that relates to pleasurable experience.

Reward can be translated into the human experience of pleasure attained both when an activity is anticipated or when it has been consummated.  Pleasure can be seen as the reward humans get for engaging in activities that have, over evolutionary time, resulted in the likelihood of the survival of a species. All of the "oysters as aphrodisiacs" hypotheses relate to anticipated reward. The sight, taste, and smell of oysters trigger dopamine circuits, primed to anticipate and facilitate the attainment of experiences that have proven rewarding, from evolutionary perspectives, over evolutionary time.

Dopamine has been a critical neurochemical in this "oysters as aphrodisiacs" series of five posts. Dopamine can be summarized as the tag for experiences that have resulted in positive outcomes, evaluated from an evolutionary perspective. A good looking oyster (healthy, nutrient-rich, raw and unspoiled by processing) triggers dopamine release. If all the required ingredients for further dopamine production are present in the body, the release will continue. Oysters provide many of the elements required for dopamine production, which affects motivation and desire, and sexual performance, the object of desire.

Dopamine is not really about pleasure; it is more about motivation, seeking, and finding events that have previously been associated with good feelings. While dopamine does is predict rewarding events, more importantly, it assigns values to events that are part of a global valuing system oriented towards species survival and helps us prioritize what has been really important to us as individuals and species. If something is extensively linked to feelings of pleasure, it will dominate both conscious and unconscious processes and emerge as a dominant driver of action.

Speaking for myself: when I see oysters I am triggered sensually. Oysters are slurpy; briny, protected but in this moment disclosed; primitive; tasty; raw, companionable, hand-fed, and more. If I eat raw oysters with a companion, I feel connected in a primitive, promising ritual, not necessarily sexual. Wild oysters are WILD! They suggest the time when the ocean was the infinite unknown. Like caviar until very recently, oysters suggest the infinite rewards of the "just-for the-moment" disclosed unknown.

So to summarize the first research: while eating oysters with elevated dopamine will not necessarily elevate dopamine in humans, since dopamine does not pass the blood-brain barrier, oysters will provide the critical precursors to production of dopamine in the brain. and these precursors can pass the blood brain barrier. If everything else is in place for increased dopamine production, oysters will provide critical ingredients ( for increased dopamine.

Raw oysters are great foods: complete proteins, rich in the two key amino acids that are precursors of dopamine: tyrosine and phenylalanine. Eating raw oysters supplies a healthy functioning body with all the proteins that will be broken down to provide most of what is required  physiologically for normal desired sexual outcomes. The key precursor of dopamine is the amino acid tyrosine, potentially available to brain and body through eating raw oysters. Tyrosine is classified as a non-essential nutrient, since it can be synthesized in both brain and body in addition to being acquired through diet. However, the main amino acid from which tyrosine is synthesized is acquired only from diet: namely, phenylalanine. Both phenylalanine and tyrosine are found in oysters.

Eating oysters will increase the likelihood that the chemical elements required for heightened sexual activit (drive) are made available.

The second "D-aspartic acid (D-Asp) and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)" hypothesis is not yet supported by science.  Research was on clams and mussels, not oysters, and related to sexual activity in rats, not humans. See this post for a breakdown.

The third, zinc hypothesis, that eating oysters enhances male performance (with a baseline of impotence) is supported by evidence. Oysters are rich in zinc, necessary to many metabolic processes, including production of sperm.

In sum, oysters are an outstanding choice of a food that supports, both mentally and physically,  heightened sexual activity. That said, oysters consumption will not guarantee anything more than the rich pleasures of anticipating as well as rewarding consumption.

Since this blog has a Central Coast context, my recommendations for a best local source for oysters is

Santa Barbara Mariculture Company
721 1/2 West Valerio Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101


The next post, Feb 14,  features two wine recommendations and two recipes for ecologically sustainable best of the best recipes.

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