Men's Health, Sleep Disorders, Women's Health, Stress | January 2, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Libido (or sex drive) is influenced by a host of environmental, biological and psychological factors. Stress, nutritional deficiencies and relationship issues impact our levels of physical energy, hormones and biochemistry – the interlinked physiological factors that directly control sex drive. With so many pieces to the puzzle, figuring out why your libido is low can be overwhelming (and add even more stress!). But taking a “head in the sand” approach ultimately makes the problem worse.
If you don't know where to start – don't worry. We've got you covered.
Here are the six most common, interlinked causes of low libido and some easy ways to begin addressing them.
A low libido can be one of the first signs that you are exhausted. Arousal requires energy. Sex burns a lot of kilojoules, but before you even get between the sheets, there's a lot of biochemistry involved in sexual interest, from the synthesis and release of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, to the increased heart rate and flow of blood and oxygen to the sex organs for arousal. All of that demands lots of energy, and libido will be one of the first things to go if you are running on empty.
A very simplified way of looking at energy is to break it down into an equation:
Energy in (kilojoules from food)
Energy out (resting metabolic rate + the energy used in daily life).
This model says that as long as you're eating enough kilojoules to meet your energy out requirements, your libido (and every other bodily process) should be up and running. Pregnant and lactating women, and professional athletes are commonly at risk of falling short of their daily kilojoule requirements but everyone else generally meets theirs pretty easily.
Functional medicine introduces the idea that there's more to energy than kilojoules. There are plenty of opportunities for things to go awry between eating your daily kilojoule requirement and the biochemical processes of breaking down food into units of energy. Absorption issues in the gastrointestinal tract, not getting enough exercise, increased energy needs due to underlying illness, sluggish liver detoxification, or a diet rich in processed foods will all drain your energy and leave little fuel for your libido.
Meeting your daily kilojoule requirements by eating a whole food diet, and exercising at least 3 times a week can help to boost your energy levels and your libido. See a qualified nutritionist or naturopath to screen for underlying reasons for fatigue.
In any gender, an imbalance of progesterone, oestrogen, testosterone and DHEA can cause a change in libido. Specifically, when testosterone is low due to underproduction or over-conversion, interest in sex can plummet. Other hormones can be involved too. For example, lactation and breastfeeding come with a surge of prolactin which naturally suppresses libido.
In men, the natural process of ageing causes a gradual decrease in circulating testosterone, sometimes referred to as “andropause”. Similarly to menopause, where oestrogen decreases, the declining level of sex hormones results in a concurrent decrease in sexual desire or enjoyment.
Thyroid dysfunction can also significantly alter sex drive, energy levels, and how the body deals with stress.
The stress hormone cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and is released to help the body cope with stress. One of its side effects is the suppression of testosterone, resulting in diminished sexual desire, quality of physical arousal, and ability to orgasm. Cortisol is usually quickly metabolised, but chronic low-level stressors can cause the adrenal glands to keep producing it. This ongoing supply causes a prolonged suppression of testosterone, leading to chronically low libido. It's important to note that emotional stress isn't the only type of stress. Pushing yourself physically with overtraining or high intensity workouts also raises cortisol levels.
Supplementation with vitamin C, glutamine and phosophatidylserine (a nutrient in soy beans) has been shown to decrease cortisol levels and support testosterone levels during times of stress.
Meditation, yoga, or even just practicing the art of resting will help to support your body metabolise stress hormones and give you the energy needed for sexual arousal and orgasm.
Beyond stress, seriously mental health issues including depression and anxiety can cause decreased interest in sex and/or enjoyment during sexual activity. See a qualified health practitioner for assessment if you may be at risk.
Some medications come with side effects of decreased sex drive, arousal or ability to reach orgasm. Antidepressants, tranquillisers, the oral contractive pill and some contraceptive implants commonly cause these side effects. Sometimes an adjusted dose or trying an alternative medication can bring your libido back, but never stop taking medication or adjust your dose without speaking to your doctor first.
Suffering from an insufficiency of any nutrient can result in fatigue, but there are a few nutrients that are specifically indicated in cases of low libido.
Zinc assists in the production and activity of testosterone. Symptoms of a deficiency include anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, and sadness, so of course boosting your intake of zinc may also boost your interest in sex.
Dietary sources include classic aphrodisiacs like oysters and chocolate, as well as (the slightly less sexy) pumpkin seeds, cheese and wheat germ.
Iron and copper are essential trace nutrients used in reproduction, and a deficiency in either can cause a serious lack of libido. However, an excess or a disturbed ratio between the two can have the same effect, so see a qualified nutritionist for assessment and advice before supplementing.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are needed for the production of hormones and their function throughout the body. Walnuts, avocado and salmon are great sources.
B vitamins are the key to bountiful energy levels, and are needed for the production of neurotransmitters that lead to arousal and orgasm. Supplementation is generally safe and effective, but a diet rich in whole grains, legumes and eggs will help keep levels up too.
They say that the brain is the most powerful sexual organ, but the heart must be a close second. Problems with a relationship in or out of the bedroom can have a serious impact on sexual desire. But even without relationship problems, “desire discrepancy” (a difference in libido between partners) is highly common, if not inevitable, in long-term relationships. The good news is that it can be worked on and resolved.
Feeling safe, respected, and intimate (e.g. engaging in non-sexual affectionate touching) with your partner in a relaxed environment can help to bring your levels of desire into alignment. Talking it out can also help. While dissatisfaction with sex can be an emotionally charged conversation to have, it may shed light on communication and relationship skills that you and your partner could benefit from developing.
Of course ongoing relationship issues can cause stress, contributing to spikes of cortisol and biochemical suppression of libido. Seeking out relationship counselling or speaking to a trusted friend to help work through your worries may help to relieve the tension.
A decrease in sex drive might just be a dip in desire while you go through short-term stress, illness or hormonal imbalance. Or it might be more of a long-term plateau due to chronic disease, ageing, or ongoing relationship issues. Either way, a qualified naturopath or nutritionist can help to identify the cause and support your body through the process of regaining your sex drive.
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