LIVE BETTER: Ladies, Meet the Hidden Force Behind Your Sex Drive

LIVE BETTER is a guest series on healthy living by Dr. Krista Lowe, ND. 

Sex. It's something we all do, but it's also something we rarely talk about publicly (unless you’re watching Sexual Education or the Grace and Frankie series on Netflix). This is especially true when someone is talking about their lack of sexual desire. But with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I think it’s time we ditch the taboo and get real. Let's talk about low sex drive.                 

If you're feeling like your libido has taken a nosedive, know that you're not alone in your experience. Sex drive ebbs and flows, and millions of women have dealt with low sex drive at one time or another. There are many factors that can affect someones sex drive, such as your relationship dynamic with a partner, pain during sex*, body image, sexual satisfaction, history of trauma, mental health, and use of different medications. But if none of these are the issue, and you used to have a healthy sex life, then you might feel like you’re going crazy. What on earth is causing you to feel disinterested?    

(*don’t be afraid to seek out the help of a pelvic floor physiotherapist if this is the case.)       

Enter: your hormones. Your hormones influence everything in your life—your appetite, metabolism, sleep, and even your libido! So much so, that having a low libido is a sign that your hormones may be out of balance. Other symptoms of hormonal imbalance include: acne, problems maintaining weight, irregular periods and vaginal dryness.    

So which hormones should you investigate? 

There are many hormones that play a role in your sex drive. These include your levels of testosterone*, estrogen, progesterone, thyroid hormones, stress hormones, prolactin, oxytocin, and several of your neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine and GABA). Depending on which hormone you are investigating you can test for them through your blood, saliva and urine. It is also important to note that cholesterol plays a role in healthy hormone levels, as it is a precursor to a number of hormones.

(*That’s right, although testosterone is usually talked about in regards to men, women also have testosterone.)  

What lifestyle changes can you do to support your hormonal health?

This depends on which hormones are out of balance. For example, if you’ve recently had a baby and your prolactin levels are high due to breastfeeding, it is normal to have a lack of sexual desire—as prolactin competes with dopamine (a hormone that drives your sexual desire). However, if you are exhausted due to a lack of sleep and living in a state of chronic stress, or if you have a low libido due to being on an SSRI or finasteride, then the treatment will be very different.  

So with so many different hormones and scenarios, where should you start? The most valuable thing you can do is to find a practitioner who will really listen to how you're feeling and investigate which imbalances you may be experiencing!       

In the meantime, to encourage a return to balance you can… 

1. Eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

These are important in supporting your central nervous system, which plays a role in sexual function. Healthy fats are crucially important in supporting hormonal health. There was a time where a low fat/high fiber diet was a fad, but low fat diets can actually decrease your levels of testosterone among other hormones, which support sex drive.   

This doesn’t mean you should decrease your fiber content though. Fiber is important, as it supports your body in metabolizing and excreting estrogen properly. This is particularly important as many women are estrogen dominant. An imbalance of the ratio between your estrogen (high) and progesterone (low) can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, PMS and a lower sex drive. At least 25 grams of fiber from cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale) is especially important, as they also contain a compound called DIM (di-indolyl methane) which helps the liver break down estrogen.  

2. Decrease your consumption of processed foods and excess sugar. 

Even products that are marketed to be healthier alternatives to sugar, such as diet soda, can increase your risk of weight gain and metabolic syndrome, which can affect your hormones. Also, it can be valuable to decrease your consumption of dairy products, as they also have an impact on your hormones, specifically insulin-like growth factor.  

3. Make sleep and your bedtime routine a priority! 

Sleep is when your body repairs itself. If you would like to learn more about sleep and your hormones, read more here.   

4. Don't forget to include strength training in your exercise routine! 

Strength training is important in maintaining healthy testosterone levels (important for sex drive) and muscle mass in both males and females. So find a gym/workout/studio that you find fun, but also challenging. Personally, I’ve been loving the resistance training at Lagree Fitness lately.     

5. Retrain your brain and use stress management techniques. 

It can be hard to get into the mood when you are feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Chronic stress increases your cortisol levels and can cause you to feel distracted when things are getting hot and heavy! Rewire your brain's stress response through a daily meditation practice and try to become more conscious about how you handle your stress in general.  

6. Support your body with selected plant-based supplements.    

Maca is helpful in increasing sexual libido in postmenopausal women while improving symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Tribulus terrestris has been studied to improve sexual desire in women by possibly increasing their testosterone levels.

And shatavari is an Ayurvedic herb that is referred to as “she who has a hundred husbands” and it is popular in treating different reproductive conditions in women by improving female reproductive health and hormones

(Keep in mind it is important to work with a practitioner when trying different herbs).

Remember, low sex drive isn't something to be ashamed of. It just might be a sign that your hormones are a bit out of whack. Work with a practitioner to get to the root cause, so you can get back to being your beautiful, sexy, confident self!    

References

  • Akhtari, et.al. (2014) Tribulus terrestris for treatment of sexual dysfunction in women: randomized double-blind placebo - controlled study. Daru. 22: 40.
  • Giatti, et.al. (2018) Post-finasteride syndrome and post-SSRI sexual dysfunction: two sides of the same coin? Endocrine 61(2): 180-193.
  • Gonzales, et. al. (2016) Acceptability, Safety, and Efficacy of Oral Administration of Extracts of Black or Red Maca (Lepidium meyenii) in Adult Human Subjects: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Pharmaceuticals (Basel): 9(3).
  • Hamalainen, et.al. (1983) Decrease of serum total and free testosterone during a low-fat high-fibre diet. J Steroid Biochem 18(3): 369-70.
  • Hamilton, et.al. (2013) Chronic stress and sexual function in women. The journal of sexual medicine. 10(10): 2443-2454.
  • Kraemer, et.al. (1998) The effects of short-term resistance training on endocrine function in men and women. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 78(1):69-76.
  • Logan (2004) Omega-3 fatty acids and major depression: A primer for the mental health professional. Lipids Health Dis 3:25.
  • Nettleton, et.al. (2009) Diet Soda Intake and Risk of Incident Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes Care. 32(4): 688-694.
  • Pandey, et.al. (2018) Impact of stress on female reproductive health disorders: Possible beneficial effects of shatavari (Asparagus racemosus). Biomed Pharmacother. 103: 46-49.
  • Qin, et.al. (2009) Milk consumption and circulating insulin-like growth factor-I level: a systematic literature review. Int J Food Sci Nutr 7: 330-40.
  • Souza, et.al. (2016) Efficacy of Tribulus terrestris for the treatment of hypoactive sexual desire disorder in postmenopausal women: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Menopause 23(11):1252-1256.
  • Suzuki, et.al. (2007) Dietary fiber intake and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer defined by estrogen and progesterone receptor status—A prospective cohort study among Swedish women. IJC 122(2).

About the Author: 

    Dr. Krista Lowe is a good friend of BKN founder Carly Stein and a BKN ambassador. She is an expert in health and wellness, and is a naturopathic physician practicing out of Tall Tree Health in Victoria, BC. You can find her on Instagram  @natmedicine.