Men's Health, Women's Health | July 26, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Sexual activity is a big part of life that has traditionally been seen as separate to our physical health, but there has been an increasing research trend that links sex with health.
Intimacy and mutual pleasure are great joys of life, but it appears that the positive effects of sexual activity go way beyond emotional satisfaction. Research suggests that a happy sex life can have a profound impact on our stress levels, cardiovascular health, immune system function, pain levels, mood and overall satisfaction with life.
Sexual activity can deliver a powerful hit of anti-stress chemicals. This concoction of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin) suppresses the release of stress hormones like cortisol and reduces fear in general .
Reaching orgasm changes the way we react to stress by activating different parts of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is in charge of using logic to negotiate with the amygdala when it reacts anxiously to stressful stimulus. Long-term stress can cause hyperactivity in the prefrontal cortex and people with an over-active prefrontal cortex tend to be oppositional, argumentative and obsessive. But there is relief at hand – orgasm slows this part of the brain down, giving A-type personalities much-needed break from mental chatter. The effect can last days after the event. 
The long-term stress-relieving benefits of partnered sex may only come from satisfying sex, though. The social security and emotional support gained from a happy, long-term sexual relationship can give enduring stress relief, but one-night-stands don't do much for stress beyond 78 hours after coitus.
The connection between coupling and cognition is gaining the interest of researchers, and so far the evidence is positive. Studies have suggested that regular sex can create new brain cells and help to sustain better cognition in later life  . Two major trials showed that older people who had frequent sexual activity rated higher on pattern recognition and number sequence tests  . Part of the connection here may be oxytocin – the “bonding hormone” that is released during orgasm. Some dementias are characterised by a lack of oxytocin, and treatment with this hormone can improve the social aspects of living with dementia .
Beat the winter cold by keeping warm between the sheets – regular sexual activity may boost your immune system. One measure of the immune system's health is immunoglobulin A (IgA). This protein is secreted in body fluids as a first defence against bacteria and other pathogens. Studies have shown that having sex twice a week can boost the amount of IgA found in saliva and vaginal secretions, indicating a healthy and robust immune system  .
But more isn't necessarily better – other studies showed that people who had sex more than three times a week had lower IgA levels than those who refrained from any sexual activity . Moderation is key!
Beyond the obvious benefits of aerobic exercise, sexual activity causes chemical reactions that have a physiological impact on heart health. Oxytocin regulates how tightly blood vessels constrict during times of stress, and regular doses of the bonding hormone can help to keep blood pressure within a healthy range. Later in life, the quality of sexual relationships matters. Good quality sexual partnerships promote cardiovascular health, and specifically reduce risk of hypertension . However, broken hearts and bad marriages are related to poor cardiovascular health, particularly after the age of fifty .
Sexual bonding with a partner can stimulate the release of natural pain killers from the brain. Endorphins are naturally occurring opioids with similar chemical structures to morphine – you've probably heard of marathon runners experiencing an “exercise high” because of endorphin release, but sexual activity doesn't need to be energetic to get the same benefit. While orgasm gives the biggest rush of endorphins, the amount released from gentle physical touch is often enough to provide some relief for chronic pain .
Aside from the obvious in-the-moment high that sex can bring, a rich sex-life can make life happier. Studies have shown that regular sexual activity (defined as twice a week or more) is associated with a lack of depression in older adults. But one group of researchers showed that sex may help to improve mood and total quality of life in everyone, not just prevent depression – a study from 2017 showed that by increasing the number of times they had sex in a week, people experienced an increased “positive psychological well-being”, defined as having positive outlook and overall feeling of life satisfaction .
How can you maintain regular sexual interest as you age? It may not be as difficult as you think. The Baby Boomer generation continues to redefine the “norms” around sex as they move into their 60s and 70s, with studies showing that most people in this generation experience only a slight drop in frequency of sexual activity as they age .
Horny Goat Weed Epimedium is a strong aphrodisiac that gained the common name of “horny goat weed” after a Chinese goat herder observed increased sexual activity in his herd after they ate the plant's leaves... Or so the story goes. Epimedium contains a chemical called icariin that promotes blood flow to the genitals and brain .
CAUTION: Because of its cardiovascular effects, it may not be safe for people with cardiovascular issues.
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Maca (Lepidium meyenii) is a plant from Peru, and its root has been used as a traditional aphrodisiac. Recent research shows that it may help to relieve sexual dysfunction and increase sexual desire in postmenopausal women, and relieve erectile dysfunction. It may also help to relieve issues associated with ageing, including insomnia, gastritis and mood changes .
CAUTION: As maca is part of the brassica family, eating it raw may interfere with thyroid hormones. Check with your naturopath that it is right for you.
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Asian Ginseng Panax ginseng is used to promote healthy erections and boost libido by promoting blood flow and stimulating the release of desire-related neurotransmitters like dopamine. It may also help to improve male fertility and sperm quality .
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Products recommeded may not be suitable for people with certain health issues and can interact with some medication. Please check with your pharmacist or doctor before using.
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