It’s a classic present for Valentine’s Day, and now a new study suggests that chocolate could boost men’s sex drives.
An injection of a hormone found in chocolate was found to make men more aroused when they were exposed to the smell of perfume – or images of women’s faces.
The simple jab could boost performance between the sheets of those suffering from with a low libido.
Known as ‘kisspeptin’ it’s named in recognition of its discovery at Pennsylvania State University – the town where Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses are made.
Co-senior author Dr Alexander Comninos, of Imperial College London, said: “Psychosexual disorders have a major detrimental impact on wellbeing and can be highly distressing not only to those affected but also their partners.
“Despite the high numbers of people with these disorders, there are currently limited treatment options.
“Our study shows that kisspeptin can boost brain activity related to attraction and intriguingly this boosting effect is even greater in men with a low sexual quality of life.”
Up to one in three men suffer from a sexual problem, such as low desire, which is psychological rather than physical.
These can harm relationships and fertility. One of the most common is loss of libido, or sex drive, which is often linked to personal issues, stress or tiredness.
It can also be a sign of an underlying medical problem such as reduced hormone levels – or without any of these problems.
Despite the high clinical burden, there are few treatments due to ignorance about the brain processes. Kisspeptin has been dubbed ‘a Viagra of the mind.’
The study published in JCI Insight involved 33 heterosexual men aged 18 to 34 who underwent MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scans as they smelt a popular fragrance and viewed female faces.
This particular scent, Chanel No. 5, has previously been shown to be associated with sexual arousal.
What’s more, on seeing the faces, kisspeptin had a greater effect in men who had lower sexual quality of life.
The team are now hoping to perform the first clinical trials in patients who have been diagnosed with low libido.
They have previously shown kisspeptin enhances how the body processes sexual arousal. The latest results highlight its impact on grey matter.
Attraction is a fundamental process that triggers onward sexual arousal, sexual activity and often reproduction.
Dr Comninos said: “This builds on our previous work that identified a role for kisspeptin in sexual arousal.
“Now we have found kisspeptin may actually enhance the processing of smell and facial attraction, which are often the first steps to sexual arousal.
“We hope our growing understanding of how kisspeptin boosts parts of the brain involved in attraction and arousal can ultimately lead to new ways of treating people affected. However, we still have a long way to go.”
Kisspeptin is a naturally occurring chemical that stimulates the release of other reproductive hormones inside the body.
The researchers wanted to see whether this hormone can be used to stimulate regions in the brain that govern attraction in young healthy men with normal libido.
Co-senior author Prof Waljit Dhillo, based in the same lab, added: “Attraction is usually the first step to sexual arousal and it’s encouraging to see that kisspeptin can also boost brain activity relating to this.
“This new finding helps us further understand the brain activity of people with psychosexual disorders which could lead to therapeutic targets.”
One in 10 men in the UK are believed to have sexual problems, many suffering a lack of libido caused by relationship issues, stress and anxiety.
This can cause problems for couples trying for a child and advised to have regular sex throughout the month. Kisspeptin is hoped to hold the answer.
The team believes this fresh insight could lead to new therapies to tackle psychosexual disorders, and plan to carry out further studies to explore this.
The discovery could also lead to better treatments for stress and depression.