Last updated by Dr Sarah Brewer on
Rhodiola rosea is an alpine plant that’s also known as mountain ginseng. The fleshy root (a rhizome) has a slight rose-pink colouration and a rose-like fragrance when cut. Rhodiola is one of the most effective adaptogenic herbs for treating stress, and also has an energising actions to overcome associated fatigue. Researchers have now identified Rhodiola as one of the most effective herbs for boosting a stress-related low sex drive.
How stress lowers your sex drive
Loss of sex drive is one of the commonest side effects of stress. In a recent survey of 2000 UK adults, 61% admitted they were too exhausted for sex after a day at work, 57% were too stressed to have sex on a regular basis, and 47% said their poor sex life further increased their stress and anxiety. These results are similar to previous surveys that found stress and low sex drive affects at least one in three middle-aged women and two out of three male executives.
Stress has profound effects on your hormone balance. When you are stressed, your adrenal glands ramp up their production of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline/epinephrine) and reduce their output of the androgen sex hormones DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) and DHEAS (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate).
DHEA and DHEAS act like master sex hormones, and are precursors for testosterone hormone which drives sexual interest in both men and women. In women, in particular, 80% of circulating DHEA and 100% of circulating DHEAS is produced by the adrenal glands, so stress has an immediate and significant effect in suppressing libido.
Stress also increases secretion of prolactin hormone in the pituitary gland. Prolactin has a powerful libido blocking effect, and is nature’s way of reducing sexual desire when pregnancy is not desirable, such as in breastfeeding women and during times of physical and emotional stress.
Stress also affects sex drive through lack of sleep, skipping meals or poor diet which reduced intakes of the vitamins and minerals needed for sex hormone balance, overindulgence in alcohol or smoking, and lack of time for exercise. This creates a vicious cycle, as lack of physical activity in itself further suppresses DHEA levels. Taking regular, brisk exercise for 30 minutes a day has been shown to boost DHEA secretion but this activity must be sustained for a continuous effect, and becomes most marked after exercising for at least one month.
Rhodiola rosea for low sex drive
Rhodiola root extract contains several unique substances, such as rosavin, rosin, and rosarin, which have beneficial effects against stress and fatigue. Rhodiola root extracts have a direct effect on the brain, to normalise levels of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. Rhodiola enhances oxygen processing and energy production in cells, and reduces over-stimulation of the adrenal glands to normalise levels of stress hormones, especially cortisol and noradrenaline. Normalising adrenal gland function and damping down excess cortisol secretion allows adrenal cells to start increasing their production of DHEA and DHEAS again.
Rhodiola root extracts showed promise in preclinical trials that assessed sexual behaviour in rats, with Rhodiola extracts increasing the number of mountings up to four-fold, according to dose. Anecdotal evidence from patients then led researchers to assess the effects of Rhodiola rosea on sex drive in stressed men and women.
Rhodiola was first tested in a trial involving 120 men and women (aged 50 plus) who took a daily supplement providing Rhodiola rosea extract plus key vitamins and minerals (Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, folate, Vitamin E and Magnesium). Over the next 12 weeks, all participants showed improvements in exhaustion, with reduced daytime sleepiness, improved sleep, concentration and memory with reduced irritability and susceptibility to stress. Libido also increased, with overall effectiveness was rated as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ by 81% of physicians, and 80% of patients. No adverse events occurred during the course of the study.
Another study assessed the effects ofRhodiola rosea in 118 people under extreme, long-term stress who were classed as having stress-related ‘burnout’. In some cases, stress was related to work, while in others it resulted from the home care of family members with severe disabilities or dementia.
All those taking part took a daily dose of 400 mg Rhodiola rosea extract (Vitano) every day for 12 weeks, and were assessed before and after using validated questionnaires that included sexual function and satisfaction with their sex life.
After 12 weeks, everyone reported significant improvements in all aspects of life, from anxiety and loss of zest for life, to exhaustion.
When it came to sex drive, significant improvements occurred, with increased interest/desire and thinking about sex, increased enjoyment of sex, increased ability to become aroused, and increased frequency of sexual activity. Overall satisfaction with their sexual life improved considerably. Side effects were few, and most were rated mild or moderate, such as ‘head pressure’ light-headedness, or nausea.
Rhodiola rose for stress-related low sex drive
Rhodiola relieves stress, and has a revitalising action to increase energy levels and libido. So, if stress and associated problems such as anxiety, sleep difficulties, lack of energy and fatigue are affecting your ability to function in the bedroom, Rhodiola rosea root extracts are worth a try.
Choose a pharmaceutical grade product, made to GMP standards, and you are likely to see a benefit within one week. Let me know how you get on.
The Vitano brand (from Schwabe Pharma) used in these studies is available from Boots.com
You can read the Patient Information Leaflet for Vitano Rhodiola rosea herbal medicine here: Vitano Patient Information Leaflet
Image credits: badagnani/wikimedia; pixabay