Blueberries, Penises & Impotence Cures

As it happened, I skimmed a headline from STAT Morning Rounds about blueberries reducing erectile dysfunction and then read a review of Maria Konnikova's latest book, The Confidence Game (about why we fall for con artists). So my first thought about blueberries and penises was this: are they putting us on? According to Konnikova, we are really gullible and we love a good story. I'd like to add that men are particularly gullible when it comes to anything that claims to make their penis work better. There's a long, reliable history:

One 17th century doctor promoted a horseradish cream (three times a day for 40 days). If you didn't want to do it yourself, the doctor would do it for you. Hmmm, makes you wonder about doctor-patient relationships then.

In the early 1920s, another doctor claimed to cure an impotent 34-year-old patient with testicle implants from a recently executed prisoner. The surgeon put one testicle inside the man's scrotal sac; he sliced the other testicle into eight pieces and wove them into the abdominal skin. Apparently, the surgery was a triumph--the man claimed to be a sexual dynamo.

We now know that the placebo effect has a huge impact on erectile dysfunction cures (check out this recent piece in STAT). And sometimes the effects are only temporary.

The testicle implants only worked for three years and then, the poor guy got fat and impotent all over again. These were the days before any kind of scientific study. No one knows why he felt better in the first place or why he slumped, again. Without any more donor balls handy, the young man refused his doctor's request to try the hormone therapies of the day.

As for the blueberry cure, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it certainly can't hurt, I mean not as much as having someone else's testicles sewn into you. And maybe the power of the placebo will make you feel like a chick magnet--at least for a while. But I'd suggest that you check out Stat News's piece about other erectile dysfunction cures. Perhaps the most reliable advice is this: Before ingesting any supposed cure, you may want to season it with a healthy serving of skepticism.

*For a detailed version of the 1920s, testicle implant, you can find it here: Young, H.H. (1937) Genetic Abnormalities, Hermphroditism, and Related Adrenal Diseases, Baltimore. Williams & Wilkins