What to do when you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling*. The science behind regaining your lost libido.

What can you do when that lovin’ feeling is gone, gone, gone?*  And where does it go?  Are there any facts supporting the claims that aphrodisiacs can bring your sexy back**?

Lost libido can be an early warning sign or further proof that something is not quite right with your health, your diet or your lifestyle.  Not feeling the urge should not be ignored. It might in fact be an important clue in detecting what is happening and hidden in your body.

Diagnosing the reasons for a flagging libido can be complex as your body’s physiological and mental health need to be in tip-top condition for sexual desire to meet motivational influences (8).  Up to 30% of women in the USA suffer from low libido which more than likely is similar in Australia (14).

Common causes of failing libido:

  • Out of balance hormones like oestrogen, testosterone, prolactin and thyroid can deprive the libido of its major fuel (8).  Changed hormone levels aren’t just a problem for menopausal women. In all women sex hormone levels decline by 50% from their early 20s into their mid 40s (4).
  • In men a poor functioning thyroid impacts not only the urge but the mechanics as well.  Hypothyroidism such as Hashimoto’s seems to lead to reduced sexual desire and faulty ejaculatory reflex and hyperthyroidism as found in Graves may result in both premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction (10).
  • Diabetes (5) can also cause erectile dysfunction in men as well as dampening desire for women (3).
  • Undiagnosed or reoccurring urinary tract infections (12).
  • Chronic illness (7).
  • Depression (2) and many conditions having a psychological origin rather than a physical one can also impact negatively (7).  This is not a problem to ignore!  The American Journal of Cardiology highlights the increased risk of cardiac events in men who are depressed and experience erectile dysfunction (11).
  • Medications such as glucocorticoids, oral contraceptives (4) anti-depressants (15), and beta blockers (9).  It’s a good idea to always discuss these side effects with your GP and naturopath so you can look into alternatives that may work better for you.

With Valentine’s Day only a couple of days away are there any evidence-based, quick fixes for lifting libido out there?

A range of herbal remedies have some very early scientific evidence to support their use:

  • Shatavari when libido is flagging associated with peri-menopause.
  • Damiana when there is also anxiety and low mood with low libido.
  • Withania when there is stress and thyroid problems with low libido.
  • Tribulus when libido is flagging in men.
  • Passionflower when there is also anxiety and insomnia with low libido.
  • With a special mention for zinc (1).  

If you want to check-out the research supporting these claims and when not to use them here is more detail about each remedy.

Shatavari, from the Indian word for “she who possesses a hundred husbands”, is commonly prescribed in traditional medicine practices to boost libido especially during menopause.  Certainly Shatavari’s chemical structure means it may have a phytoestrogenic effect (13) and this hypothesis has been supported in early animal based evidence. This herb should not be used by pregnant women (1).

Damiana’s traditional use as an aphrodisiac has early scientific evidence supporting the claim with detected action on progesterone and oestrogen receptors as well as in inducing testosterone (1).

Damiana has not only been detect to work with men.  A placebo-controlled trial found after 4 weeks of use 77% of the women in the treatment group reported an increase in sexual satisfaction compared with 37.2% of the placebo group.  These promising results were not only from the action of Damiana as the trial used a combination with Ginkgo and L-arginine (1).

Withania’s one double-blind, clinical trial found a 3 gram dose taken for 1 year improved the sexual performance of 71.4% of healthy aging males.  Don’t use Withania to excess though because another study found in high doses it reduced sexual performance.  This herb should not be used by pregnant women (1).

Tribulus trials on animals (primates, rabbits and rats) found it improved libido and sperm production possibly increasing DHEA and testosterone but the exact mechanism is not yet known. This herb should not be used by pregnant or lactating women (1).

Passionflower’s early animal trials identified significant improvements in libido after 30 days of treatment.  Care should be taken when pregnant and if other sedative medicines are being used (1).

Zinc deficiency it is believed leads to reduced production of sperm and fertility.  Early trials on humans show that supplementing zinc may increase sperm count in men who are deemed “sub-fertile”.  The dosage to achieve this was 66 mg (in combination with 5mg folic acid) which led to a 74% increase in normal sperm count.  This dosage should only be taken after discussion with a medical professional as excessive zinc intake can be dangerous.  Zinc is best taken at night.

Zinc rich food sources include meat, liver, eggs and seafood especially oysters and shellfish and might be the reason behind the claim that oysters are an aphrodisiac.

Nuts, legumes, whole grains and seeds also contain zinc but the high phytate (say f-eye-tates) content leave the zinc pretty hard to absorb.  Phytates can be reduced through fermentation or sprouting (1).

*Lyrics from Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. In honour of Valentine’s Day how about 3.5 minutes of Maverick in Top Gun?  Top Gun was I think the first time I heard the Righteous Brothers and it was sung by a libido-raising (before the infamous couch thumping episode on Oprah) Tom Cruise.  I can still remember seeing Top Gun with my girlfriends for the first time….. probably how the groups of girls going off to see Fifty Shades of Grey feel now? Enjoy! Click here for the Youtube

**Lyrics from Justin Timberlake’s super cool SexyBack. And if you feel you need to fast forward to the 21st century after that trip down my memory lane.  I love this director’s cut version of JT: Click here for the Youtube 

1. Braun, E. & Cohen, M. (2011). Herbs & Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide (3rd ed.). Sydney: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

2. Bonierbale, M., & Tignol, J. (2003). The ELIXIR study: Evaluation of sexual dysfunction in 4557 depressed patients in France. Current Medical Research and Opinion, 19(2), 114-124.

3. Burke, J. P., Jacobson, D. J., McGree, M. E., Nehra, A., Roberts, R. O., Girman, C. J., … & Jacobsen, S. J. (2007). Diabetes and sexual dysfunction: Results from the Olmsted County study of urinary symptoms and health status among men. The Journal of Urology, 177(4), 1438-1442.

4. Burger, H. G., & Papalia, M. A. (2006). A clinical update on female androgen insufficiency: Testosterone testing and treatment in women presenting with low sexual desire. Sexual Health, 3(2), 73-78.

5. Erol, B., Tefekli, A., Ozbey, I., Salman, F., Dincag, N., Kadioglu, A., & Tellaloglu, S. (2002). Sexual dysfunction in type II diabetic females: A comparative study. Journal of Sex &Marital Therapy, 28(S1), 55-62.

6. Frank, J. E., Mistretta, P., & Will, J. (2008). Diagnosis and treatment of female sexual dysfunction. American Family Physician, 77(5), 635-642.

7. Halvorsen, J. G., & Metz, M. E. (1992). Sexual dysfunction, Part I: Classification, etiology, and pathogenesis. The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice, 5(1), 51-61.

8. Hartmann, U., Philippsohn, S., Heiser, K., & Rüffer-Hesse, C. (2004). Low sexual desire in midlife and older women: Personality factors, psychosocial development, present sexuality. Menopause, 11(6, Part 2 of 2), 726-740.

9. Ko, D. T., Hebert, P. R., Coffey, C. S., Sedrakyan, A., Curtis, J. P., & Krumholz, H. M. (2002). β-blocker therapy and symptoms of depression, fatigue, and sexual dysfunction. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288(3), 351-357.

10. Maggi, M., Buvat, J., Corona, G., Guay, A., & Torres, L. O. (2013). Hormonal causes of male sexual dysfunctions and their management (hyperprolactinemia, thyroid disorders, GH disorders, and DHEA). The journal of sexual medicine, 10(3), 661-677.

11. Roose, S. P., & Seidman, S. N. (2000). Sexual activity and cardiac risk: Is depression a contributing factor? The American Journal of Cardiology, 86(2), 38-40.

12. Salonia, A., Zanni, G., Nappi, R. E., Briganti, A., Dehò, F., Fabbri, F., … & Montorsi, F. (2004). Sexual dysfunction is common in women with lower urinary tract symptoms and urinary incontinence: Results of a cross-sectional study. European Urology, 45(5), 642-648.

13. Sachan, A. K., Das, D. R., Dohare, S. L., & Shuaib, M. (2012). Asparagus racemosus (Shatavari): An Overview. International Journal Of Pharmaceutical And Chemical Sciences, 1(2), 588-592.

14. Warnock, J. (2002). Female hypoactive sexual desire disorder. CNS drugs, 16(11), 745-753.

15. Werneke, U., Northey, S., & Bhugra, D. (2006). Antidepressants and sexual dysfunction. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 114(6), 384-397.

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