Dar es Salaam. Pharmacists at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas) say they now have scientific proof that octopus soup—popular known as supu ya pweza—can indeed boost sexual desire in men.
For many years, it was widely believed by most people living along the coast of Tanzania and the wider East Africa that octopus soup increases libido among men. But there was no scientific evidence to back up their claims.
“It should not be a myth anymore. We now have the preliminary evidence that gives us a ray of hope to prove the same effect in humans in further studies,” says Professor Eliangiringa Kaale, the Head of the Research and Development Laboratory at Muhas School of Pharmacy who co-supervised the study. The team of researchers includes three supervising pharmacists and two students of pharmacy. The study was carried out on male mice.
However, Professor Kaale is quick to warn octopus soup consumers that the new findings doesn’t mean that a cure for sexual dysfunction among men has been found.
“I strongly recommend octopus soup as a nutritious substance with the potential to boost the consumers’ sexual health but not as a medical drug to cure sexual dysfunction,’’ he said this in his office in an exclusive interview.
According to medical sources, octopus is a low calorie, lean seafood. It is rich in minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and selenium.
It’s also a good source of important vitamins including Vitamin C, Vitamin A and several B vitamins, as well as Omega-3-a nutrient that has been associated with reducing chances of heart disease, cancer and depression among people. Omega 3 also boosts immunity and aids brain development in children.
In Dar es Salaam, like in most other coastal areas of Tanzania, the demand for octopus cuts across all walks of life. Open air joints and some high end restaurants are known for making huge sums of money from selling the octopus soup and its meat.
At R&S restaurant in Buguruni, Ilala District in the city, Athuman Abdallah sells one bowl of octopus soup at Sh2000 but when you move outside his restaurant, close to the bus station, a small piece of the meat goes up to Sh500.
Abdallah says that the majority of his customers are men aged 40 years and above. He says the demand for the octopus meat is very high and most men tend to believe it really boosts their sexual desires without any scientific evidence. .
At around 6pm at Buguruni market, a man holds one small sack of about one kilogram of octopus meat. He says, “I usually drink a cup of octopus soup daily and I carry home some pieces of the meat. I can assure you that it increases the urge for ‘the game’ as well as increasing stamina.”
Radhia Shaban (35), a resident of Tabata in the city believes the octopus meat is good for her general health. “ I have heard that it can even prevent diseases such as cancer,” she says.
However, a cancer specialist at Muhimbili National Hospital, Dr Heri Tungaraza, says there is yet no scientific evidence to support the claim that octopus meat or soup can prevent the growth of cancer cells.
However, he admits, “In the aspects of sexual health, the general belief, especially among most men, has been that it increases sexual urge. We didn’t have scientific evidence to prove their belief.” But they do.
Out of curiosity, the Muhas pharmacists have been trying to establish if there were indeed any substances with aphrodisiac potential in the octopus. The study started way back in November last year.
“During the experiment, we (the researchers) observed the mice behavior over 24 hours. We subjected them to different conditions and monitored how and when the male mice mounted and penetrated the females, and if there were any ejaculations in the process.’’
“We chose mice because their genetic, biological and behavior characteristics closely resemble those of human beings. In that case, many symptoms or signs of human conditions can be replicated in the mice. It took us months to study their behavior,’’ says Nelson Masotta, from the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at Muhas who co-ordinated the study.
“The first thing we did as researchers, was to ensure that the octopus soup we collected from the market was not adulterated with drugs such as Viagra,’’ says Masotta.
“We actually collected samples of the soup from 60 busiest centres in Dar es Salaam, where the soup is mainly sold. We found no traces of Sildenafil (Viagra) or any other medical drug that boosts sexual desire,’’ says Masotta.
“We used a method called High Performance Thin Layer Chromatography to test the samples we collected from the streets. Then, we took the mice and categorized them into 5 groups and gave each group something different to feed on,’’ he goes on to say as he narrates how the new scientific evidence came to the fore.
The first group of mice was what we call the control—we gave them normal food. The second group was given a pure mixture of octopus and hot water. The third group was then fed on lower concentration of the octopus and hot water, the fourth group was given normal fish meat (kibua) and the fifth was given Viagra.
He says all the mice were subjected to the same environment to avoid bias. Masotta further explains that each male mouse was then paired with its female counterpart for a mating process so that their sexual behavior would be easily monitored.
‘Then, female mice were artificially brought into heat period and were paired in ratio of 1 male:1 female in the cage.’
“The mating phases were then closely monitored and recorded on video as soon as they appeared and disappeared. We then went ahead to transcribe their frequency of mating, their phases of sexual behavior by using video displays. The male mice that were fed on the mixture of pure extracts of octopus and hot water, demonstrated a remarkable increase in sexual vigour,’’ says Masotta.
The researchers also noted that the size of testes for male mice which were given the octopus and hot water extract were observed to be larger compared to those that were not given the same.
“Our conclusion was that the mixture of octopus and hot water led to an increase in the male hormone (testosterone) in the male mice and then caused to such behavioral change,” he says.
The aphrodisiac activity that was observed among the mice supports the earlier claims among men who have been traditionally using octopus soup as a recipe for enhancing sexual function.
Masotta also explains that they are yet to find out the exact substances within octopus soup that might have have led to increased sexual desire in animals.
“We believe, zinc, which is one of the mineral components in octopus might have caused an increase in male hormone. In further studies, we may want to measure the amount of male hormone in the blood. However, as a drug developer, I wouldn’t actually say we now have a tangible medication for erectile disorders among men.
“We also need more sophisticated equipment such as the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance(NMR) to be able to isolate and view the substance behind the increased male hormones to increase and sexual urge,’’ he says.
A reproductive health expert, Dr Dismas Majaliwa from Marie Stopes in Dar es Salaam, who did not take part in the study, believes the new findings might arouse a lot of curiosity among people with reproductive health challenges—such as those that are impotent.
“Publishing these findings can be tricky though. This might attract the attention of men suffering from impotence,’’ he says.
Research on sexual desire is notorious for being a complex undertaking. Academics exploring the science behind the desire have had a tough time dealing with backlash and being accused of bias. It is difficult to quantify something as subjective as the sex drive. But Prof Kaale says that the need to research on sexual health is as important as researching on the general health and well-being.
“There are many people out there whose relationships have been affected due to challenges arising from poor quality of sexual life,” he says.
A study published in 2014 in the Pan-African Medical Journal revealed that that there was a high prevalence of erectile dysfunction among patients with diabetes mellitus at MNH. “More than half (55.1 percent) of the patients who were involved in the study were found to have some form of erectile dysfunction,’’ the study shows. It revealed further that 12.8 % had mild dysfunction, 11.5 % had moderate and 27.9 % had severe dysfunction. It was titled, the Prevalence of erectile dysfunction and associated factors among diabetic men attending diabetic clinic at Muhimbili National Hospital.