Does your sex drive need a boost? Simple tweaks to the diet together with specific nutritional support could help boost your libido.
Struggling between the sheets? There can be many factors influencing our sex drive emotionally and physically. As we get older it can be more noticeable thanks in part to changes in hormone balance. However with the right foods and nutrients you can enhance libido naturally.
Testosterone is the hormone responsible for sex drive in both men and women. For testosterone to promote youthful sexual interest, satisfaction, and performance, it must be freely available to brain cell receptor sites. However, as people age, testosterone becomes bound to serum globulin (sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG)) and is not available to the sex stimulating centres in the brain.
The amount of SHBG is also influenced by liver health which is turn can be affected by diet and medications. One way to naturally increase libido particularly in men is to reduce the amount of SHBG. This is where nettle can be helpful. Available as a tea, powder and supplement studies have shown that constituents of nettle root bind to SHBG in place of testosterone. This means an increase in the amount of available testosterone.
Oily fish rich in the essential omega fatty acids EPA and DHA have also been shown to decrease SHBG levels making them a natural way to increase available testosterone. Omega 3 fats are important for boosting mood and improving circulation which in turn may enhance libido making them ideal for both men and women. Aim for consume 3 portions of oily fish a week (salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel etc) or include flaxseed, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts daily.
Pump Up the Protein
We all know that adequate protein consumption is vital for healthy muscle mass, but it is equally important for maintaining healthy testosterone levels. A study examined the relationship between diet and SHBG and found that diets low in protein in men 40-70 years old may lead to elevated SHBG levels and consequently decreased testosterone bioactivity.
Don’t Stress it!
It’s not just men that need testosterone of course. Slightly increasing testosterone levels—which can decrease with age—restores libido and sexual arousal in women too. The ovaries and the adrenal glands produce testosterone. Therefore the more stress you’re under the more this could adversely affect hormone levels. The adrenal glands also produce DHEA—dehydroepiandrosterone— another hormone that may influence sex drive. Nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin C play a key role in supporting healthy adrenal function. Good sources of magnesium include leafy greens, nuts and seeds, oats and brown rice.
For men the testes and prostate have particularly high concentrations of zinc. Zinc deficiency substantially reduces testosterone levels, sperm production and muscle endurance. Boost your intake with zinc rich foods including meat, shellfish, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds.
It’s not just the sex cells in the brain that need stimulation. Stimulation in the genital area is also important. Improving blood circulation to the area and relaxation in the genital area aids sexual arousal. Nitric oxide (NO) is a chemical messenger that dilates blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more quickly to various parts of the body, including the genital area. Nitric oxide is required for the ability to relax smooth muscles, for proper vaginal function, and for production of vaginal fluid. If antioxidant function is compromised, free radicals can destroy nitric oxide or limit its activity. So increasing antioxidant rich foods can be beneficial. Good options include berries, matcha green tea, pomegranate and goji berries. Foods that increase nitric oxide include beetroot, chocolate, leafy greens, citrus fruits, nuts and seeds and watermelon.
While protein generally is important for sex drive supplementing with two specific amino acids have been shown to be particularly helpful.
The amino acid arginine can help increase nitric oxide production. Arginine can therefore be helpful for both men and women. Good food sources include turkey, chicken, spirulina, pumpkin seeds, soybeans, peanuts. Many people find a supplement helpful. Studies suggest initially taking 1000mg capsules 3-4 times a day beneficial.
Another effective amino acid for men is L carnitine (found in meat, fish, poultry and dairy). Supplementing has been found to be positively associated with improved levels testosterone and may also improve sexual function through its function in protecting the body from free radical damage.
Various herbs have traditionally been used to boost sex drive.
Muira puama is reputed to enhance erectile function and orgasm in aging men. In one study of 262 men suffering from poor sexual desire, more than 60% reported improvements with muira puama. It is not clear the exact mechanism of action but it may influence levels of testosterone.
Maca has been shown to improve sexual function in both men and women. It appears to do this via a variety of mechanisms including hormone balance via the hypothalamus-pituitary and adrenal gland as well as optimising brain neurotransmitters. One study showed men and women receiving 3,000 mg maca per day experienced a significant improvement in a standardized score of sexual function compare to placebo.
Maca has been shown to support oestrogen levels in women and help alleviate vaginal dryness which can lead to pain during intercourse.
A combination of maca and cordyceps has also been shown to improve sexual function in women. Cordyceps sinensis is a natural botanical extract that targets female sexual dysfunction by promoting an increase in ATP and mitochondrial function. Since contractions of muscle depend on a sufficient supply of ATP, improving levels may aid sexual arousal.
As women age a reduction in oestrogen can be responsible for not only a reduction in libido but also vaginal blood flow and vulvovaginal atrophy, which is a form of urogenital tissue reduced deterioration. Vulvovaginal atrophy often causes vaginal dryness, irritation, itching, dyspareunia (pain during intercourse), vaginal bleeding with sex, and urinary infections. As oestrogen levels fall so can serotonin which can further reduce sexual desire and low mood.
Studies have shown that phytoestrogens found in foods or herbs – can improve vaginal dryness and hormone balance. Foods rich in phytoestrogens include flaxseed, flaxseed oil, soybeans, soy milk, tofu and miso
Another nutrient that may help relieve vaginal dryness is vitamin E. Various studies suggest that taken as a suppository in particular can be helpful. If you want to up your vitamin E foods try sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts. Skin hydrating sea buckthorn oil supplements may also combat vaginal dryness. One study showed consuming 3g daily beneficial.