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On average, one in four Americans is struggling with a problem: low sexual desire – and the numbers go up even more after the age of 50. If you’re one of the millions of people looking for solutions to challenges with your sexual health, you may think that only prescription drugs and hormonal therapy can help your libido. Ahead, we look at natural approaches that can add more “sizzle” to your sex drive.
Low libido refers to a reduced desire for sex. Libido is centered on desire, not sexual functions such as the ability to become aroused, ejaculate, or have an orgasm.
The symptoms of low libido include:
- A lack of spontaneous sexual desire in general
- A lack of interest in any sexual activity – whether alone, or with a partner
- A lack of thoughts or fantasies about sex
- A preoccupation or anxiety about your drop in or lack of sexual desire or absence of a sex life
A number of factors can contribute to low libido, including:
- Prescription medications.
- Diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and neurological conditions among others.
- Low sex hormone levels, including low estrogen, low testosterone, and low DHEA. Low libido in women is even more common after pregnancy and breastfeeding, during perimenopause and menopause, and in men over 50, as testosterone levels decline.
- Nutritional deficiencies, including zinc deficiency.
- Lifestyle issues, including lack of sleep, lack of exercise, cigarette smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and recreational drug use.
- Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, poor body image, and chronic stress.
- Relationship problems with your sexual partner.
Hypothyroidism is a well-known cause of lack of libido in both men and women. Having a comprehensive thyroid evaluation, treating newly diagnosed hypothyroidism – and optimizing thyroid treatment in thyroid patients – are all key steps in addressing thyroid health as a contributing factor or cause of libido problems.
For more information on the connection between hypothyroidism and low sex drive, watch Paloma’s Speaker Series event, “How to Revive Low Libido with Hypothyroidism.”
If you’re struggling with low libido, it’s important to know that a number of prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause side effects that impact sexual desire. If you’re taking any medications that fit the following categories, discuss it with your health care provider:
- Anti-anxiety medications in the benzodiazepine family
- Anticonvulsant medications
- Antidepressants (including, antipsychotics, MAOIs, SSRIs, SNRIs, and tricyclic antidepressants)
- Treatments for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
- Cancer treatments (including radiation and chemotherapy)
- Heart and blood pressure medications (including, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, diuretics, and statins, among others)
- Hormonal contraceptives such as a birth control pill
- Opioid pain relievers
- Steroid medications
- Antifungal drugs
- Marijuana, and medical marijuana
There's no question that a balanced, nutrient-rich diet can help ensure healthy sexual function. But there are several key nutrients that are known to have a particular impact on sexual desire and function. They include:
- Vitamin A: an important precursor for sex hormone production Vitamin B3
- Vitamin B3: (niacin), which supports energy, metabolism, and blood flow
- Vitamin B6: which helps estrogen and testosterone function
- Vitamin B12: which helps with red blood cell production, and energy
- Vitamin C: which helps reproductive hormonal balance and immune health
- Vitamin D: which helps with depression, stress, and immune function
- Vitamin E: often called the "sex vitamin," helps with blood flow to reproductive organs, and plays a key role in sex hormone production
- Zinc: a mineral that helps support sex hormone production
- Magnesium: a mineral that which helps with sex hormone production, as well as relaxation and the quality of sleep
- Selenium: a mineral that is helpful for sex hormone production
- L-arginine: an amino acid that helps open blood vessels and increases blood flow
The foods that are high in these nutrients, and are therefore most often recommended to help enhance and improve libido include the following.
- Meats: Protein-rich meats like beef, chicken, and pork are rich in zinc and l-arginine.
- Seafood: Oysters, which are high in zinc, are one of the best-known food aphrodisiacs. Other seafoods that can help libido include lobster and crab, and fatty fish like salmon.
- Herbs and spices: There are a number of herbs and spices used in cooking that are considered libido-boosters. They include nutmeg, saffron, garlic, basil, ginger, fennel, and cloves.
- Vegetables: Some vegetables are known to help enhance sexual desire, including peppers (especially hot peppers), spinach, beets, asparagus, celery, and truffle mushrooms.
- Fruits: While the evidence isn't robust, nutritionists point to the libido-enhancing benefits of specific fruits, including strawberries, watermelon, bananas, pomegranates, apples, red grapes, cherries, grapefruit, pineapple, blueberries, citrus fruits, apples, figs, and avocado.
- Nuts and seeds: Filled with zinc, protein, and l-arginine, the best nuts and seeds for libido are cashews, almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans, hazelnuts, and walnuts.
- Chocolate: Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is a well-known aphrodisiac. It helps boost mood and enhance feel-good brain chemicals associated with sexual desire.
- Drinks: Coffee, black tea, and green tea can stimulate the nervous system and help open blood vessels. Red wine -- in moderation -- helps you relax and lowers inhibitions.
Soy is on both lists of foods to eat-- and foods to avoid for libido. On one hand, as a phytoestrogen, in larger quantities, soy may mimic the function of estrogen for women and help libido. But too much estrogen can dampen sex drive in both women and men. When it comes to soy foods, consuming them in moderation is likely the best course of action.
The best studied supplement for libido is maca (Lepidium meyenii.) Genuine maca -- a cruciferous root vegetable -- is grown in the high Andes of Peru and has been used for millennia as a libido-booster. Studies have shown that maca has the ability to enhance sexual desire and sexual function, without actually manipulating the levels of sex hormones. Maca is available in powders and capsules. One challenge is that much of the maca available on the market is from China, not Peru, and is not particularly potent. It is also mainly sold in raw form. Traditionally, maca is not consumed raw, and it's of concern because raw maca is a goitrogen that may slow down thyroid function. (If you're interested in trying maca to help libido, we recommend you learn about a company called Whole World Botanicals. They were the pioneers in introducing authentic Peruvian maca to the U.S. market several decades ago. Their line of Royal Macaproducts, which include both a maca powder and capsules, are organic Peruvian maca that is properly heated and cooked.
Other supplements that are reported to improve sexual desire include:
- Ginkgo biloba
- Tribulus terrestris
Numerous supplements that include these herbs and botanicals alone, or in combination, are available and marketed for libido enhancement.
In addition to thyroid and nutritional support, pay attention to other important lifestyle factors that can help you resolve low libido, including:
- Incorporating active stress reduction into your daily life
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Avoid dehydration
Optimal thyroid function is a foundation for a healthy sex drive, and a first step in helping get your spark back! Regular thyroid screening and monitoring is an essential part of thyroid management, and the Paloma Complete Thyroid Blood Test kit makes thyroid testing – and regular thyroid screening – easy, convenient, and affordable, letting you test right from home. Your home thyroid test kit comes with everything you need for sample collection and testing of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), free T3, free T4, and Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) antibody levels, with the option to add on reverse T3 and/or vitamin D. Your thyroid test kit is sent directly to your address, requires an easy finger prick, and you send it back to the lab with pre-paid shipping. Your thyroid lab results are released to your secure online dashboard within days, similar to the wait time for in-person lab results, without the inconvenience.
You then have the option to schedule a virtual visit with one of our top thyroid doctors. If you require hypothyroidism treatment and ongoing management, Paloma’s doctors will work with you to prescribe whichever thyroid medication can safely normalize your thyroid function and best resolve your symptoms.
And if your plan is to incorporate libido-boosting foods and supplements into your diet, consider scheduling a consult with one of Paloma’s registered nutritionists. As experts in healthy eating for optimal thyroid function, the experienced team of Paloma nutritionists can help you make nutritional choices for your optimal thyroid health and an improved libido!