If your libido has taken a nose-dive, it’s worth investigating the quality of your diet. A healthy sex drive depends on obtaining optimum amounts of micronutrients which play a key role in the production of sex hormones. Minerals and trace elements are particularly important for regulating testosterone and oestrogen balance.
Organic diet for low sex drive
When you have a low sex drive, selecting organically-grown foods is definitely a worthwhile strategy. A wide range of agricultural chemicals (pesticides, weed killers, fungicides, fumigants, growth promoters, growth retardants and fertilisers) can affect your hormone balance and have been implicated in reduced fertility and low sex drive.
Pesticide residues are 10 to 100 times lower in organic foods compared with those which are conventionally grown. Organically grown and reared foods also contain more nutrients than commercially grown produce, partly because they contain less water and more solid matter, but also due to the more replete soils in which they are grown.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies and low sex drive
Most vitamins and minerals play a role in sexual function, and are involved in maintaining a healthy hormone balance. Lack of zinc, for example, lowers testosterone levels enough to delay puberty in adolescent males, and is associated with underactive testicles and low sex drive in adult men.
Role In Sexual Function
|Vitamin A is essential for the production of sex hormones, including oestrogen and testosterone.
A higher intake of plant-based vitamin A (carotenoids) is linked with better sperm quality and motility. Vitamin A is linked with oestrogen and testosterone levels, and ovulation, in fertile women. In post-menopausal women, topical treatments that provide vitamin A can improve libido and intimate dryness when HRT is not recommended.
|Animal and fish livers, kidneys, eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter, oily fish, meat, margarine;
Dark green leafy vegetables and yellow-orange fruits.
|B vitamins play a crucial role in energy production and stamina. Vitamin B3 enhances dilation of blood vessels during erection – an effect used to boost erectile drugs in men with diabetes. Lack of vitamin B12 and folic acid are associated with lower sperm counts. Vitamin B6 can help to reduce low libido linked with oral contraceptive pills.
||Yeast extracts, brown rice, wholegrain bread and cereals, seafood, poultry and meat (especially offal), pulses, nuts, eggs, dairy products, green leafy vegetables|
|Vitamin C||Vitamin C is essential for healthy, non-clumping sperm. Deficiency lowers fertility, especially in smokers.||All fruit and veg, especially citrus, blackcurrants, guavas, kiwi fruit, peppers, strawberries, green sprouting vegetables|
|Vitamin E||Deficiency of vitamin E is linked with reduced sperm quality and infertility, especially in smokers. In post-menopausal women, topical treatments that provide vitamin A can improve libido and intimate dryness when HRT is not recommended.||Oily fish, fortified margarine and dairy products, liver, eggs
|Mineral||Role in Sexual Function||Food Sources|
|Boron||Boron is involved in sex hormone production. Increased intakes can boost male testosterone levels within one week. In post-menopausal women, boron supplements increased oestrogen and testosterone levels and boosted libido.||Almost all fruit, vegetables and nuts, especially almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanut butter, raisins, dried apricots, avocado and red kidney beans.|
|Calcium||Calcium is needed for muscle contraction and nerve responses involved in reproduction. Calcium-channel blocker drugs used to treat high blood pressure can cause sexual problems in both men and women.||Milk, yoghurt, cheese, green vegetables, oranges, bread.|
|Chromium||Chromium deficiency has been linked with lowered mood and reduced sex drive in both men and women.||Wholegrain cereals, egg yolk, red meat, cheese, fruit and fruit juice, honey, vegetables and condiments such as black pepper and thyme.|
|Iodine||Iodine deficiency produces fatigue, lowered sex drive and reduces fertility.||Seafood, seaweed, iodised salt.|
|Iron||Iron deficiency causes tiredness and lack of energy, a common reason for low libido, especially in women.
||Red meat (especially offal), seafood, wheatgerm, wholemeal bread, egg yolk, green vegetables, prunes and other dried fruit|
|Magnesium||Magnesium is important for sperm health and fertility. Deficiency is linked with lower testosterone levels, especially in older men.||Soya beans, nuts, yeast, wholegrains, brown rice, seafood, meat, eggs, dairy products, bananas, green leafy vegetables.|
|Phosphorus||Phosphorus is needed to maintain sexual arousal and testosterone levels.||Dairy products, yeast, soya beans, nuts, wholegrains, eggs, poultry, meat and fish|
|Selenium||Selenium deficiency is linked with lowered sex drive, decreased sperm count and reduced fertility.||Brazil nuts are the richest source. Lower amounts present in other nuts, broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage, radishes, onions, garlic, celery, wholegrains, yeast, seafood, offal|
|Zinc||Zinc is essential for male sexual maturity. Lack can cause low testosterone levels, low sperm count, impaired fertility and erectile difficulties.||Red meat (especially offal), seafood (especially oysters), yeast, wholegrains, pulses, eggs, cheese|
Vitamin and mineral supplements can help a low libido
If you have a low sex drive and know your diet is not as good as it could be, consider taking an A-Z style multivitamin and mineral supplement. Select one that provides 100% of the recommended daily amount (RDA or DV) of as many micronutrients as possible – including the important minerals above.
Boron and low sex drive
Few multivitamins include boron, and those that do tend to provide a low dose for from 25mcg to 500mcg (0.5mg). Check the labels of those you are currently taking and, if it does not include boron, this is available as a separate supplement (usually promoted for bone health). The upper tolerable level for boron is 6mg per day for long term use from supplements. A dose of around 3mg per day is ideal for supporting hormone balance.
I also advise evening primrose oil supplements, as these have beneficial effects on hormone balance for both men and women.
Plant hormones can boost female libido
Many plant foods contain plant hormones with an oestrogen-like action. These include isoflavones, found mainly in soybean products, and lignans found in beansprouts, chickpeas, lentils, sweet potato and seeds – especially flaxseed and pumpkin seeds.
Although isoflavones are between one hundred and six thousand times less active than oestradiol at human receptor sites, they provide a useful oestrogen boost for older women whose levels are low.
If you follow a Japanese-style diet containing plenty of soy products (eg tofu, miso soup, edamame beans) and cruciferous vegetables (eg cabbage, broccoli, sprouts, Chinese leaves, kohl rabi), you can obtain between 50mg and 100mg isoflavones from your food per day.
If you follow a typical Western diet, however, you are likely to obtain just 2mg to 5mg isoflavones.
To increase your intake of phytoestrogens, aim to eat more:
Seeds: Almost all, especially linseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and sprouted seeds (eg alfalfa, mung beans, lentils, red clover, soy beans)
Nuts: Especially almonds, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, walnuts and nut oils
Fresh fruits: apples, avocados, bananas, mangoes, papayas, rhubarb
Dried fruits: Especially dates, figs, prunes and raisins
Vegetables: Dark green leafy vegetables (eg broccoli, Pak choi, spinach, spring greens, watercress), celery, celeriac, fennel and exotic members of the cruciferous family (eg Chinese leaves, kohl rabi)
Legumes: Especially soy beans and soy products (eg tofu, tempeh, miso, tamari), chickpeas, lentils
Kitchen Herbs: Especially angelica, chervil, chives, garlic, ginger, horseradish, nutmeg, parsley, rosemary and sage.
Honey: Especially honey made from wild flowers.
Wholegrains: Especially corn, buckwheat, millet, oats and rye. Breads fortified with soy and linseed to enrich their oestrogen content are available in supermarkets and often promoted for menopausal women.
Isoflavone supplements are also available, with suggested doses of between 40mg to 100mg isoflavones a day. If you use soy protein powder for shakes, 60g of soy protein provides 45mg isoflavones.
Isoflavone supplements providing an isoflavone called genistein may provide best results.
Click here to read more about menopause and diet.
Plant hormones can boost male libido
Men with a low libido may benefit from consuming more foods that are rich in lignans. Like their close cousins, the isoflavones, these are eaten in an inactive form and converted by bowel bacteria into the active enterolignans (eg enterolactone and enterodiol).
Lignans are unique among plant hormones in inhibiting the enzyme, 5-alpha reductase, which converts testosterone to another hormone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and can help to normalise testosterone metabolism.
Good dietary sources of lignans include flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sweet potatoes and lentils. Useful amounts are also present in curly kale and broccoli, wholegrains, stone fruits (eg avocado, peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines), pumpkins, asparagus, courgettes/zucchini, carrots, oranges and berries. Green and black teas also provide significant amounts.
Flaxseed are the richest dietary source, however, with 28 g (1 oz) seeds providing as much as 85.5 mg of lignans – the seeds must be crushed and added to food, rather than eaten whole, to maximise absorption. Flaxseed oil does not contain as many lignans but is still a great option for drizzling on food.
Lignan supplements are also available (and usually intended to support heart health).
Probiotics for sex drive
Dietary isoflavones and lignans are mostly consumed in an inactive form, attached to sugars to form glycosides. Once you eat them, intestinal bacteria break them down to release the active forms which you can absorb. Those who possess good amounts of these beneficial bacteria (eg Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species) will obtain the most benefits.
When eating a phytoestrogen-rich diet, it’s important to eat live Bio yoghurt daily, and/or to take a supplement or product containing these beneficial probiotic bacteria, to obtain the maximum benefits.
NB If you have a history of breast or prostate cancer, always follow your individual doctor’s advice about whether or not to take isoflavone or lignan supplements. Although research suggests isoflavones protect against all tumour subtypes of hormone-responsive cancers, whether they are positive or negative for oestrogen or progesterone receptors, some doctors prefer their patients not to take them.
L-Arginine for sex drive
L-arginine is an amino acid that increases your production of a substance called nitric oxide which has a powerful blood-vessel dilating action. Nitric oxide increases blood flow during arousal and is involved in the action of drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra).
Research suggests that L-arginine is the best all-round prosexual supplement for men, with trials showing it is more effective in improving erectile difficulties than placebo. It is often combined with pycnogenol (pine bark extracts) for a synergistic effect. L-arginine is also beneficial for women with studies suggsting it can boost interest in sex, arousal and satisfaction.
It can take up to six weeks for L-arginine to produce an optimum effect, and is often combined with pine bark extracts (Pycnogenol) or an amino acid precursor (L-citrulline) to enhance its effects. NB L-arginine should not be taken by those with an autoimmune condition (eg rheumatoid arthritis, glomerulonephritis) except under medical supervision. L-Arginine is restricted from sale in some countries.
Adapted from Overcoming Low Sex Drive, Nutritional, Medical and Herbal Approaches, which includes twelve nutritional medicine plans – five for men and seven for women – to help boost your low libido, whatever the underlying cause.
Female plans for women:
- Under 45 with no underlying health problem
- Who feel exhausted or stressed
- experiencing PMS
- Who are breast feeding
- Post-natal but not breast-feeding
- Over the age of 45
- Requiring a non-oestrogenic plan
Male plans for men:
- Under 45 with no underlying health problem
- Over 45 with no health problems
- Who feel exhausted or stressed
- Experiencing erectile problems
- Experiencing prostate symptoms
Expect to notice a difference within just a few weeks.
Image credits: lisovskaya/bigstock, ribeiroantonio/bigstock, Marybelle greek style yoghurt