If a stalling sex drive is frustrating your ambitions for intimacy there are things you can do…
The absence of desire is a strange problem. Whether you’re hopelessly devoted to large glasses of crisp Pinot or large slabs of dark chocolate in front of a box set, you’re probably used to trying to curb your craving, not reignite them. What’s more, loss of libido – the sexual appetite believed by many to be an essential part of the human experience – doesn’t pose a problem to all women. Unless you’re trying to conceive, finding yourself content without sex can feel like a liberation. Lust for life doesn’t have to equate to lust for sexual satisfaction.
And yet, a loss of sexual interest does have an insidious effect on the lives of many women. A YouGov poll carried out for Relate in June 2017 found that one in five people identify a low libido, or differing libidos between themselves and their partner, as causing strain on their relationship. Furthermore, Relate counsellors also identified a gap between sex drives within a partnership as one of the top sources of pressure and stress between partners. And then there are the personal benefits: lowered blood pressure, reduced stress and – let’s face it – increased pleasure. So how do you get the magic back when your body’s forgotten the joy of sex?
The falling hormone levels that affect women as they age are usually discussed in terms of bone heath, with emphasis on bone density and the risk of conditions such as osteoporosis. Low libido is often mentioned as an afterthought, a small symptom in a long list of bigger concerns, but this important issue can be addressed, in part, by plant sources of oestrogen. “Phytoestrogens include isoflavones found in soy, chickpeas, lentils and mung beans and lignans found in flax seed, pumpkin seed and sweet potatoes,” says Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director at Healthspan and author of Overcoming Low Sex Drive (£6.99, Medilance). “They have a normalising effect on oestrogen status as they act as both oestrogen agonists (stimulating the receptors) and antagonists (blocking the receptors from interacting with stronger human oestrogens).
They therefore provide a useful oestrogen boost when oestrogen levels are low and, conversely, reduce oestrogen stimulation during high oestrogen states.”
Scientific research is revealing an increasingly complex picture of interactions between our gut – known, after all, as our second brain – and our mood and behaviours. It’s not surprising that this nerve centre should have a role in our impulse for sexual gratification. According to Dr Sarah, it’s all about releasing active nutrients from our food. “Dietary phytoestrogens are mostly present in an inactive form attached to sugars to form glycosides,” she points out. “For example the principle isoflavone glycosides in soy are genistin and daidzein. Once ingested, bacteria in the large intestines break down the sugar-isoflavones, releasing the active called genistein and daidzein. It’s therefore a good idea to take a probiotic supplement to ensure optimum activation of phytoestrogens within the gut.” Naturally probiotic foods, that’s to say those rich in live microbes, can also help. Add raw sauerkrauts, unpasturised miso, live yoghurt and bioactive drinks such as kefir and kombucha to your diet to get your gut firing on all cylinders.
Garlic, onions, leeks, chives and shallots may be known for their ‘prebiotic’ powers, providing fuel for the live microbes in our gut, but nutritionist Alison Cullen (Avogel.co.uk) believes their oestrogenic effect can improve many factors that contribute to low libido. “Supporting oestrogen levels gently in this way can assist with a raft of symptoms that include low energy, low mood, mood swings, vaginal dryness, aches and pains, fatigue and some urinary tract problems,” she points out. Alison also recommends plenty of leafy greens and wholegrains as helpful to balance hormones when loss of sex drive is due to a change in menopause medication. “When coming off oestrogen-containing HRT, it can be helpful to reduce dramatic falls in oestrogen levels by supplementing with phytoestrogens,” she advises.
Clinical research into the efficacy of aphrodisiacs is rare but a 2011 scientific review of existing studies drew some interesting conclusions. Among many sham medicines and snake oil solutions, three effective treatments for low libido emerged. Saffron, ginseng and yohimbine, an extract derived from West Africa’s yohimbe tree. The latter is available in capsule form, and ginseng is commonly sold in tea blends (such as Pukka’s Organic Ginseng Matcha Green Tea at Pukkaherbs.com) but a tastier treat would be to infuse golden saffron into stocks for rice dishes or fish stews.
Snapping up seasonal fruit is great for getting maximum nutritional load for minimum cost and food miles, but summer berries and autumn orchard fruits bring extra benefits. “Boron is a trace element found in fruit and veg, especially apples, grapes, pears, plums, prunes, strawberries, avocado and broccoli,” say Dr Sarah Brewer. “It appears to offer benefits for hormone balance and bone health as well as brain and psychological function. Studies are small, but 12 post-menopausal women followed a low-boron diet for 17 weeks and then took boron supplements (3mg a day) for seven weeks. After just eight days on boron, their production of both oestrogen and testosterone hormones doubled.”
Stock up on low no alcohol options
Most of us agree that a good glass of vino relaxes inhibitions and sets the scene for an evening of ‘intimate time’ but alcohol has been proven to reduce sexual performance, and, therefore, satisfaction.
Bring out the chocolate
Indulging your senses with a rich dark chocolate will naturally put you in a good mood but will also deliver phenethylamine, a feel-good ‘love drug’ that’s known to increase libido.
Snack on watermelon
Research from the US suggests it contains significant levels of citrulline, a phyto-nutrient with Viagra-like powers. Our body converts it into an amino acid that relaxes blood vessels throughout our body in the way that the famous blue pill does.
One in five of us identify a low libido as causing strain on their relationship - but there are personal benefits to revving up your sex drive: lowered blood pressure, reduce stress and increased pleasure!
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