Low libido is a common issue these days, yet few people talk about it. Many are just too embarrassed to talk about the absence of physical intimacy in their relationship, especially when it once had such a special bond. Understandably, this becomes an increasingly sensitive issue as many couples try to avoid the awkward situation of having advances refused and hearing the “I’m too tired” explanation again. Addressing the lack of lovin’ in your life is a difficult, emotional thing to do but it might interest you to know that nutrition and lifestyle play a fundamental role in supporting a healthy libido.
Whilst some foods have been acknowledged for their aphrodisiac properties (and we’ve packed them into our FREE Valentine’The Fitter Food Valentines Meal Plans Day meal plan) for many people one of the most effective means of ‘getting in the mood’ is probably a glass of wine as most libido issues are part and parcel of broader health issues. The calming effect of alcohol helps you to wind down, relax and switch the body out of the adrenaline fuelled ‘fight or flight’ mode into ‘repro’ mode. Now let’s get one thing straight we’re NOT recommending you start knocking back vino as the nutritional solution to your libido issues, this is a really slippery slope so don’t go there! We are simply using this example to highlight the point that the absence of that fruity feeling is most likely due to a combination of factors that govern the balance of your sex hormone levels.
Once again paleo guidance comes into (fore-) play here (sorry couldn’t resist!!) as stress, sunlight, nutrition and other liftstyle factors play an essential role in supporting your sense of physical desire and sexiness.
Hormones & Libido: Estrogen
Adequate hormone levels are imperative for reproduction and therefore support a healthy sex drive by making us feel happy, healthy and of course a little horny. For women estrogen plays a role in the sensations experienced by the clitoris and the lubrication of the vagina, as pleasure (and the ease of it) is an important part of intimacy, having estrogen levels within healthy ranges across the month is very important.
Both men and women need a certain amount of estrogen, however, our environments are becoming more ‘estrogenic’ as certain chemicals behave like oestrogen in the body, these are known as xenoestrogens and include pesticides/fertilisers, plastics and hormones excreted into our tap water. All of these cause a significant imbalance in the sex hormones and may lead to something known as “Estrogen Dominance.” Estrogen dominance (as the name suggests too much estrogen!) is slowly transforming us into a nation of bigger boobs, bums and bad moods.
It’s not helping our growing epidemic of chronic diseases as higher levels of estrogen encourages fat deposition in the breasts, hips and thighs and is strongly associated with a number of cancers including breast, ovarian and prostrate. Estrogen and testosterone are antagonists so if one is high the other will likely be too low, this is a recipe for disaster as far as action in the bedroom is concerned!
Nutrition plays an important role in modulating estrogen by aiding the detoxification of excess estrogen and ensuring you have a healthy balance of reproductive hormones. Healthy fibrous foods and good gut bacteria play a significant role in binding to estrogen and supporting its excretion from the body. Protein also pays a key role as it is essential liver detoxification. The following foods should be regularly included in your nutrition and a quick glance will illustrate how paleo eating, in particular, supports hormonal balance:
- Egg yolks
- Fermented foods e.g sauerkraut, kimchii
- Bone broth
- Cruciferous vegetables e.g broccoli, kale, cabbage
- Green tea
Hormones & Libido: Testosterone
Testosterone is the hormone primarily responsible for libido in both men and women. Men have a wonderfully simple means of assessing their testosterone levels each morning by waking under a tent (or a marquee if you’re blessed in that area!) You can use this as a guide to having adequate testosterone and even as feedback from your body about your aptitude to train.
Women also need adequate levels of testosterone and unfortunately many have chronically low levels – one of the likely drivers of this is long-term use of the contraceptive pill, which increases levels of estrogen and progesterone and suppresses testosterone. The following will all squash levels of testosterone in both men and women by disrupting levels of other hormones like insulin (master hormone), cortisol (stress hormone) or by increasing estrogen:
- Soya consumption
- Refined sugar consumption
- Oral contraceptives
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of dietary fat
- Too much body fat (fat cells produce estrogen)
- Excess exercise
- Zinc deficiency
- Drinking unfiltered tap water
Again ancesteral diets come into play here by highlighting the fact that our modern day lifestyles and environment are wreaking havoc with our health. It is a great starting place to boost your libido as ancestral health advice encourages some almost forgotten principles and healthy habits, including eating more fats and zinc rich seafood or grass fed meat, moving daily, exercising sensibly, managing stress, sleeping more and avoiding processed foods.
Hormones & Libido: Progesterone
Progesterone plays a significant role in ovulation, pregnancy and fertility in women but is also important for men. Progesterone therapy has been used anecdotally to help treat erectile dysfunction but this may be more to do the way it helps reset the balance between the stress hormones and the sex hormones. Progesterone has an intimate relationship with the stress hormones; adrenaline and cortisol which have been established as “anti-erection,” you haven’t got time to be a stud muffin if your life is in danger!
The biggest thing both men and women can do to ensure optimal progesterone levels is manage stress. Progesterone and cortisol sit on a similar hormone pathway in the body, the precursor to these hormones is a mother hormone known as DHEA. Depending on the feedback from the body (are we stressed or sexy?) the body will decide whether to convert DHEA into progesterone (for procreation) or cortisol (to leg it from danger). Known as the ‘cortisol steal’ this can be a huge factor in a sub optimal sex hormone production:
Worth noting here that cholesterol is a precursor for our sex hormones so never fear cholesterol, a couple of egg yolks a day could keep the lack of libido at bay.
Progesterone deficiency is very common in women and is often driven by this cortisol steal and estrogen dominance (especially given most of have had extended periods on the contraceptive pill at some point in our life). When you look at the symptoms of progesterone deficiency below (taken from The Hormone Cure by Dr Gottfried) it’s easy to see why many women may not feel like popping on the frilly underwear these days:
Adaptogenic herbs including Siberian ginseng, maca, ashwaganda and licorice can be helpful in improving the balance of the reproductive hormones, especially in their ability to modulate the stress hormones, however, this must be complimented by lifestyle changes to reduce and manage exposure to stress going forward, otherwise you’re fighting a losing battle.
Sexy Time of The Month
Women’s hormone levels fluctuate at different times of the month based on the menstrual cycle, so whilst a man with healthy hormonal balance is likely up for it any day (and don’t we know it!) women may observe feeling saucier around certain days of their cycle. Testosterone levels and the sexual desire that accompany it start to increase from day 24 through to day 14. Testosterone is highest around ovulation and therefore it makes sense that this is the point in the month when women feel friskier on these days. Note to the guys, show interest in all future TOTM discussions.
The clause here is that any hormonal imbalance will disrupt this natural cycle, symptoms of estrogen dominance including premenstrual syndrome will do absolutely nothing for a woman’s sex drive.
Hormones & Libido: Thyroid Hormones
Thyroid hormone health is also an important consideration for libido. Active thyroid hormones known as T3 act upon the cells within the body and play a significant role in metabolic functions including reproduction. We’ve lost count of the number of clients who have approached us diagnosed with hypothyroidism and offered nothing but increasing doses of hormone medication as a solution when there is a great deal you can do with nutrition and lifestyle.
Some thyroid conditions are auto-immune in nature, the most common being Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, however, paleo nutrition can be hugely supportive for this by advocating the elimination of gluten, dairy, omega 6 and addressing gut function. Check out Paleo Mom for further guidance and advice. It goes without saying that if you are following this gut and hormone friendly nutrition 80-90% of the time (and of course managing sleep, stress and exercise) you stand a good chance of protecting yourself against the expression of all auto-immune diseases.
Incidentally, paleo nutrition can go a little wrong for thyroid health if interpreted as a low carbohydrate diet. We advocate most people eat around 100-150g daily and adapt as per their activity levels as carbohydrates are vital for converting inactive thyroid hormone into active thyroid hormone in the liver. On our fat loss plans we guide people through the importance of a daily serving of the appropriately named CoC (carbohydrates of choice). Adding some fruit, root vegetables, honey, new potatoes or sweet potatoes into your daily menu can support thyroid hormone health and transform your energy and enthusiasm in the bedroom.
One Final Note: Feeling Sexy
One final important consideration is to actually ‘feel’ sexy and much of this can be helped or hindered by your relationship. It’s easy to get swept away in work, family, chores other day-to-day stuff and forget to say “I love you” or “you look hot today.” Physical contact is hugely important, who doesn’t love a hug? It actually enhances the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. So it’s also important to invest time together and escape the bind of your usual routine so you can just ‘be in the moment’ of love. Matt has some more advice on this in his blog this week.
Have an awesome Valentines Day!