S-E-X. You can’t get enough of it in your 20’s, and then at some point in life, it can start to feel like a chore.
There are other things that just seem much more appealing during those few minutes of downtime, like taking a nap, or watching a little reality TV, or even just getting the laundry done. What can you do about it?
There are many factors that can affect sex drive, such as whether or not you are in a relationship, how you are getting along, body image satisfaction, dietary intake, medication use, depression or history of sexual abuse. But if you don’t have any of those issues, how come you still aren’t in the mood?
Hormones that affect sex drive in females.
For starters, it might help to know that about ¼ of women of reproductive age and ½ of postmenopausal women suffer from decreased libido. So if you thought you were alone in this, you are not. In addition, it’s normal for sex drive to wane if you’ve been in a relationship for a while or are simply getting older.
Even though we haven’t exactly identified which hormones dictate sex drive, we do know that hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, are abundant when we are younger, and diminish as we age. And from nature’s perspective, this is logical because we don’t need to keep trying to make babies once we hit a certain stage of life.
In order to check up on these hormone levels as you age, Parsley Health doctors perform lab tests to evaluate the health of your sexual function. Since we know our bodies are producing less estrogen and testosterone, a critical determinant of the production of these hormones is cortisol, the stress hormone made in the adrenal glands that can also be tested, often with a saliva test.
Cholesterol, that famous lipid we’ve been trying to lower for the past few decades, is also worth measuring because having some around actually serves a purpose. One of its jobs is to act as a precursor of a number of hormones. Cholesterol can either follow one pathway to turn into cortisol or follow a different pathway to form testosterone and estrogen. So when cholesterol is very low, or stress is very high, we create less estrogen and testosterone—which might help to explain why you experience a boost in libido on vacation when stress is low.
Foods that affect sex drive.
One of the biggest factors that might be affecting your sex hormones is your dietary intake. Getting in enough foods rich in omega-3 fats help to support nerve and neurotransmitter actions that aid in sexual function while foods rich in zinc such as pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, spinach, and eggs support proper and speedy blood flow to all the right places. However, a diet that lacks essential vitamins and minerals and is filled with chemical preservatives and sweeteners might be having the opposite effect on your mojo.
For example, research shows that processed, chemically-derived food products such as diet soda can increase your risk of weight gain and cause hormonal dysfunction, leading to weakened sexual desire. Inadequate fat consumption from low-fat diets can significantly decrease testosterone levels, making it harder to get in the mood. Separately, conventional meat and dairy products which are produced from animals that are grain-fed and injected with hormones may slow digestion and disrupt your body’s natural hormonal balance.
So what is the best diet for sex drive? A varied, whole foods based nutrition plan that emphasizes organic plant foods, healthy fats, and well-sourced animal products is an essential initial step to correcting a diminished sex drive. You can also get a boost from certain herbs and supplements.
Top 5 herbs and supplements to naturally boost female sex drive.
When everything seems to be in about as good a place from a diet and lifestyle perspective as it’s going to be yet your sex drive is still low, there are some natural herbal supplements that might be helpful in nudging your body’s libido in the right direction.
1. Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
This plant is native to the Peruvian Central Andes and has been used in South America for years to improve fertility. There is some evidence that about 3 mg per day improves sexual desire and may be specifically helpful in those taking SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) antidepressants. The effect appears modest, but there are no known side effects, and as a bonus, it may also enhance energy and quality of life.
2. Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
This is a plant high in isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen (aka plant estrogen). One study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology International found that post-menopausal women who took 80 mg of red clover isoflavones over 90 days improved not only libido but also mood, sleep, and energy.
3. Korean Red Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
There have been some small studies of this herb that show it improves sexual desire in females at a dose of 3,000 mg per day. In the smaller of these studies, 2 of 28 women developed vaginal bleeding, though another study of 72 women reassuring found no change in estrogen levels at that same dose and did not report episodes of vaginal bleeding.
4. Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris)
This plant originated in Ayurvedic medicine and has been studied in both post-menopausal women and women of reproductive age with decreased sexual function. A dose of 7.5mg per day of extract in pre-menopausal women and 750mg/day (in tablet form) in menopausal women benefitted them in regard to many aspects of sexual dysfunction, including desire and lubrication. It increased testosterone levels in the post-menopausal women, which may, at least in part, explain it’s effectiveness.
5. Lady Prelox®
This is a combination of a few herbs and nutrients that have shown some benefit to female sexual function: Pycnogenol® pine bark extract, L-arginine, L-citrulline and Rosvita® rose hip extract. It was studied in pre- and post-menopausal women and both populations experienced improved sexual function.
6. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum)
Fenugreek is a plant that is cultivated worldwide and whose seeds are commonly used in South and Central Asian cuisine. The seeds also have roots in Ayurvedic medicine where they have been celebrated for their anti-inflammatory and libido-boosting effects. Some studies show the mighty herb positively influences sex hormones by increasing the activity of both testosterone and estrogen. One such study investigated the effects of fenugreek extract supplemention on 80 women who reported low sex drive. The experimental group took 600 mg of fenugreek daily and, compared to the placebo group, observed a significant increase in sexual desire and arousal by the end of the eight-week study. Typically, fenugreek is well tolerated but may interfere with certain medications, cause digestive distress in sensitive individuals, and should not be taken during pregnancy.
Precautions with using herbs to increase female libido.
The natural supplements reviewed above are included because they have been tested in randomized controlled trials, meaning they were compared with a placebo. This is key when evaluating libido since what happens between our ears is incredibly influential on our sex drive.
But it is important to put these studies into context – they are small studies, usually with fewer than 100 participants, and each herbal supplement for sex drive has best tested in only a handful of studies. That means you should recognize that, though they appear to be safe to use, we don’t know a lot about how long to take them, or if they are safe for everyone.
It’s best to work with your Parsley Health doctor to help you determine which natural supplement may be right for you and to help rule out any more serious underlying issues that may be contributing to your low sex drive.
With that caution in mind, if you want to increase your libido, manage that stress with some deep meditative breaths, set up a little romantic mood lighting and music, and, if your healthcare provider gives the okay, try one of these supplements.
Final thoughts on how to naturally increase sex drive.
- Several factors can affect sex drive in women, such as whether or not you are in a relationship, how you are getting along, body image satisfaction, dietary intake, medication use, depression or history of sexual abuse.
- High levels of cortisol suppress our sex hormones, which can lead to a lower libido.
- Introducing restorative practices like meditation and yoga can go a long way in reducing cortisol levels and may help increase your libido.
- Herbs and supplements can help improve your libido naturally, but it is best to work with a doctor to help you determine which is best for your needs.