April 26, 2019
Here’s How Diet, Sleep, Superfoods and Lifestyle Choices Affect Your Libido
Naturopathic doctor, Dr. Olivia Rose, shares insights on how diet, supplements, herbs, acupuncture and sleep affect your sex drive and overall health. She reveals what foods you should eat in the morning, what substances you should avoid at night, and how hormones play a role in libido.
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You can find a quick summary of the episode below. (Thanks to Dr. Olivia for providing these notes!)
1. What is naturopathic medicine? Tell us about your practice.
- Naturopathic medicine is a health care system that blends modern scientific knowledge and evidence with traditional and natural forms of medicine. As NDs, we assess the whole person by providing physical examinations, nutrition, lifestyle and mental health assessments and we refer for blood work at our local labs when necessary.
- I have a general practice, however, I do tend to focus on women and men’s health, gastrointestinal health, immune, skin and children’s health. Lifestyle, nutrition, herbs and acupuncture are the modalities I use the most.
2. What is the most common sex-related problem patients present with? (We’re assuming low libido is up there.) What are some lifestyle causes of low libido?
- Low libido is common, especially in women. At least women tend to talk about it more, vaginal dryness, pain during sex and erectile dysfunction in males come up frequently.
- Lifestyle causes of low libido include poor diet (e.g. not enough or an excess – too much alcohol, caffeine, sugar, fat, processed foods, and also eating too little – not eating frequently enough, not having enough of the key micronutrients such as iron and B12 and macronutrients (missing healthy fat, protein etc.) which are important for blood circulation and hormone health; metabolic syndrome is a condition characterized by high blood pressure, central obesity, elevated blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels that increase your risk for stroke, heart disease and diabetes, inactivity – being active maintains good circulation to your pelvic floor and genitalia. Regular physical activity also helps to balance your hormones and maintain healthy testosterone levels. Stress – relationship, workplace, environmental – can play a role.
3. How does diet affect libido?
- Your diet can play a huge role in sexual desire. Going back to the not enough or too much diets – both can affect libido. Your libido relies on circulation and if your diet isn’t conducive to promoting healthy circulation, your libido will be affected.
4. How does diet effect mood and relationships more generally?
- Diet and digestion are closely tied to mood. Certain foods and additives in our food supply can have a negative effect on your mood such as MSG – some people are sensitive to MSG and report feeling sluggish, depressed or angry after consuming it. However, the first thing I do before even changing anyone’s diet is to make sure they are eating regularly. Eating at regular intervals can make a huge difference in regulating your mood. It also helps to balance your blood sugar and insulin. I emphasize a diet that contains enough protein with each meal because protein gets broken into the amino acids we require to make our hormones.
5. Can herbs/supplements be used to address libido? Can herbs/supplements be used to improve mood (and relational interactions)?
- There are many herbs that have traditionally been used for sexual enhancement and mood stabilization for centuries.
- Fenugreek is a popular culinary spice in South Asian dishes and in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s backed by promising research that it can increase sexual arousal and orgasms. It’s thought to contain plant chemicals that serve as precursors to estrogen and testosterone.
- Maca – This root vegetable from Peru can be found in supplement form. It’s a member of the broccoli and cabbage family and it is a good source of minerals and vitamins. It’s associated with increasing fertility and boosting sexual desire and stamina. In one study, taking a powdered Maca supplement was associated with a significant reduction in psychological symptoms including depression and anxiety and sexual dysfunction compared to the placebo. More research is needed but it seems that this herb is able to exert these effects without altering your hormone profile.
- St. Johns Wort – I use St. John’s Wort on it’s own or in combination with other herbs to treat mild to moderate depression and the hot flashes related to perimenopause.
6. Are there other alternative treatments (e.g. acupuncture)?
- Acupuncture and pelvic physiotherapy are other treatments I typically recommend. Acupuncture is great at reducing stress and boosting circulation to the pelvic area. I refer to pelvic physiotherapists who can assess the pelvic floor and recommend specific exercises that can make a world of a difference.
7. Sleep really tends to affect relationships. What foods should we consume/avoid to help get a better night’s sleep.
- My go to remedies for sleep – 1st make sure you’re not going to bed completely hungry – or you may wake up in the middle of the night. Supplement wise, especially for anxious or tense people – it’s powdered or liquid magnesium. Magnesium is great for relaxing your muscles, calming your mood and helping with sleep. It’s thought to be the most common mineral deficiency in North America mainly due to industrial farming practices, lack of whole grains and abundance of processed foods in the standard diet.
- Foods to avoid – caffeine, alcohol, heavy & high protein meals, fatty foods, certain supplements taken in the evening, B complex, iron, multivitamin can increase your energy and interfere with sleep.
8. What can you take if you’ve lost all interest in sex (especially post-baby)?
- This is a tricky one if Mom is nursing. And it may take a while to get back to wanting to have sex again. The relationship with your partner will definitely change, hormones will be fluctuating and there will be a lot on your mind – especially for first time moms. I tend to stick with acupuncture, omega – 3 fatty acids, dietary support and ensuring adequate protein intake. I encourage nursing moms to continue their prenatal vitamins and to ensure that their iron levels are optimal. It’s also important to get your thyroid levels checked soon after delivering as sometimes an underlying thyroid issue can affect your energy, mood and sexual desire. Certain herbs may be safe but it would be best to seek the help of a ND to make sure it’s ok if you’re nursing. If you’re not nursing what you can take will depend on what is going on. Is there a nutrition issues, stress? For stress I recommend adrenal support supplements. The stress hormone cortisol can block sexual desire because think of it, when you are stressed and your body is trying to flight or fight, blood is being directed to your legs and arms and away from your pelvic floor and genitalia to be able to flee or fight off any danger.
There are certain foods and herbs that can enhance your sexual experience.
Essentially, almost any food and nutrient that is good for your heart and brain, can be good for your libido and sexual performance.
When someone comes into my office with low libido as a primary complaint there are a few aspects of their health that I inquire about. It’s not only about sexual pleasure but it’s also about overall health. Both female sexual arousal dysfunction and erectile dysfunction are independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease risk.
Lifestyle interventions that target erectile dysfunction can help improve other health outcomes including metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease risk and vice versa.
Possible Causes of Low Libido
Stress – relationships, environmental, work
Medications – Hypertension medication and some antidepressants
Health conditions – Diabetes and hypertension, metabolic syndrome (characterized by high blood pressure, central obesity, elevated blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels that increase your risk for stroke, heart disease and diabetes), inactivity
Hormone imbalance – It’s very common for me to see peri-menopausal women in practice who complain of reduced sexual desire. Some of this is due to the normal hormonal fluctuations that occur during this time but there are natural approaches to this issue that can help. One approach is to make sure there is enough physical and mental foreplay. Not just right before the sex but throughout the day. Often times it just take more time to get to pique the interest. Herbs and dietary changes can help as well.
Mental / Emotional – stress, depression, anxiety – e.g. about your health condition can worsen the sexual dysfunction; fear – e.g. fear of heart attack while having intercourse.
Foods to Include
There are certain foods that have been shown in studies to help with libido and sexual stamina.
One study found that people with metabolic syndrome who followed the Mediterranean diet had fewer issues with erectile dysfunction. The Mediterranean diet incorporates, lean meat and fish, olive oil, legumes, nuts and seeds, fruit and vegetables.
Seafood – In particular oysters which are high in zinc may help boost libido.
Other foods high in zinc include red meat, pumpkin seeds and pine nuts. I often recommend taking zinc in supplement form when necessary on a case by case basis. Zinc is a vital mineral to support healthy testosterone levels which is important for the sexual function in men and women.
Fruit – A high intake of fruit has been associated with decreased ED. ED is a global health problem with estimates of a 33–52% prevalence. Fruits contain plant chemicals known as flavonoids. Flavonoids are bioactive plant chemicals found in foods. Research has linked flavonoids to improving the function and strength of your blood vessels and reducing blood pressure. They also have anti-inflammatory effects. Fruit is a major source of flavonoids and higher total intake of fruit in one study was associated with a 14% reduction in risk of ED.
Other foods high in flavonoids include: cocoa – dark chocolate, the less processed the better, berries, hot peppers, grapes and citrus
Foods to Avoid
Excessive alcohol intake – Although alcohol may help reduce anxiety, and lower social inhibitions – too much can interfere with the body’s sexual response. The leading cause of impotence is the abuse of alcohol.
Fatty Foods – Foods that clog your arteries and interfere with the function of your blood vessels should be avoided.
Dietary flavonoid intake and incidence of erectile dysfunction.
Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content.
Physiological aspects of male libido enhanced by standardized Trigonella foenum-graecum extract and mineral formulation.
Sexual dysfunction and cardiovascular diseases: a systematic review of prevalence.
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