The Commonwealth Games stamp for aphrodisiacs?
If true, they will have entered yet another arena.
Meenakshi Kumar | TNN
You get more than what you can imagine!’’ screams a huge hoarding on one of the main roads of the national capital. It might have been a chocolate or soft drink ad but for the telling visual. It shows a couple in a clinch. What is even more interesting is the small print: “Official health licensee of Commonwealth Games”. Clearly, visiting international athletes will have an option of trying out desi herbal aphrodisiacs.
The ad for Musli Power X-tra does not call it an aphrodisiac, but the product does claim aphrodisiacal powers. Made of safed musli, a herb which is said to cure impotence, the pills ‘’increase libido and work as a powerful male and female sex stimulant’’, according to the product’s website. Thomas Abraham, speaking on behalf of the manufacturer Kunnath Pharmaceuticals, says they are projecting Musli as a ‘rejuvenator’, not an aphrodisiac. He also says that they were asked by CWG officials to include the line “official health licensee”. Lalit Bhanot, secretary-general, Organizing Committee, Commonwealth Games, denies having given out a letter acknowledging Musli as an official licensee. But Abraham clarifies, “This deal was finalized through an agent. We didn’t go directly to CWG. We have paid huge money for the ad and we have got all the clearances.” Abraham agrees that the Games and the product have nothing in common. “We are not expecting our sales to shoot up because of the ad. It’s out of patriotism that we have done this. Earlier we have sponsored many sports teams such as Churchill Brothers football team.”
If Abraham seems unworried about raking in the profit in the run-up to the Games, that’s because he can. His company’s product normally does good business. Other, similar, ‘rejuvenators’ of herbal and ayurvedic origin, too, reap in huge profits. Though there are no official figures, industry experts estimate the business is worth crores. That’s not surprising as prudish Indians, reluctant to talk to doctors about their sex life, prefer to find solutions at the neighbourhood chemist or the roadside jadi-booti wallah. Musli is a good example. Launched just five years ago, the product registered 100% growth last year, says Abraham.
The market in ‘rejuvenators’ is buzzing. There is a huge variety. Some claim to enhance sexual powers, others talk about “re-energizing” and “revitalizing”. They are easily available over the counter. This, even though no medical study has ever proved that aphrodisiacs can boost sexual desire or treat a related problem. The US Food and Drug Administration, too, has declared there is no scientific evidence to prove that aphrodisiacs treat sexual dysfunction.
So, what makes aphrodisiacs seem to work? The power of suggestion, says sexologist Prakash Kothari. “Most aphrodisiacs, such as rhino’s horn or ginseng, remotely resemble a man’s genitals. It’s this suggestion that makes people believe that a particular drug or food will work towards ‘curing’ the sexual problem or increase their stamina,” says Dr Kothari. Sometimes it’s the suggestive photograph on the packet that does the trick.
Mumbai-based sex therapist Rajan Bhonsle believes that these so-called sex boosters “act like a placebo. They act on the mind and convince people of their effectiveness.”
Misleading ads help the process. The Drugs and Magic Remedies Act prohibits advertising a drug with the claim it has magical qualities. But, this is routinely flouted and the Act lacks teeth, admits S Jalaja, secretary in the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH), which comes under the ministry of health and family welfare. “The Act doesn’t have strong penal provisions. Now we are trying to make the penalty stronger so that nobody gets away easily. We have invited proposals from state governments on how to amend the Act,” says Jalaja. Her department recently issued notices to the states to monitor these ads. “Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the state,” she says. Most herbal or ayurvedic products claim to be free of side-effects. But doctors disagree. They say that many ingredients in ayurvedic products can be harmful. Dr Bhonsle says he has had patients who suffered kidney failure or liver problems after prolonged use of pills or tonics. “One of the commonly used ingredients is swarna bhasma or gold ash, known to have adverse effect on kidneys and liver. But people are not aware of this and companies don’t bother to enlighten them,” he says.
But the manufacturers deny this flatly. Kunnath Pharmaceuticals offers a reward of Rs 5 crore to anyone who can prove that their product has steroids. Abraham insists “there are no side-effects. We have the word of our customers who have been using it for the last five years.”
Dr Kothari wonders how any one medicine can cure a variety of different sexual ailments. “Without knowing the constitution of a person, how can a medicine be prescribed? Besides, for ayurvedic medicines, many rules have to be followed if the medicine has to be effective. None of that is recommended on the packs.” He believes the desperate are being exploited by the ignorant. What of the CWG link then? Do some Games officials want the players to have an X-tra good time?