by Dr. Will Cole
Millions of people struggle with low or no sex drive, although it makes people uncomfortable to talk about it. My patients rarely mention libido as an issue they would like to address until I ask them about it, and the naked truth (so to speak) is revealed: women who dread having sex with their partners and would rather sleep, men who can’t get an erection, and couples who have gone for months or years without having a healthy physically intimate relationship.
It amazes me how many people settle for health problems like a low libido because they think it’s normal or a part of aging, or they are just too embarrassed to find out what to do about it. Just because something is common doesn’t make it normal, and healthy people should have a healthy sex drive, even into their golden years.
Instead of settling for blah, or taking another pill, I suggest getting to the root of sex drive issues. Here are some of the most common reasons for a low sex drive that I see in my functional medicine practice:
1. Low iron
Iron helps get oxygen into your cells. If your levels are low, a low sex drive can be the result.
What to do: Get your iron and ferritin levels tested to see if yours are sub-optimal. If they are, I suggest first working with your doctor to rule out any internal bleeding. Once that is cleared, you can work on replenishing your iron stores. Eat more iron-rich foods like grass-fed liver or beef, as well as plenty of dark green leafy vegetables and beets.
2. Adrenal fatigue
Adrenal fatigue happens when your brain is not able to communicate well with your adrenals. The brain-adrenal axis problem can result in cortisol levels that are either too high or too low, and this can leave you feeling exhausted and more interested in eating junk food than having sex.
What to do: Having struggled with adrenal fatigue myself in the past, I know firsthand that a comprehensive approach must include stress and sleep management. In addition, adaptogenic herbs, and healing foods are some of my top tools to rehab from adrenal fatigue.
3. Sluggish thyroid
Every cell in your body needs your thyroid hormones to function optimally. If your thyroid hormones are sluggish it’s likely your sex drive will also be low.
What to do: I suggest getting comprehensive thyroid testing because there are many underlying thyroid problems that don’t show up on basic thyroid labs. Depending on your results, check out my list of different strategies to support optimal thyroid health.
4. Gut problems
Your gastrointestinal system, aka your “second brain,” and gut-brain connection problems like leaky gut syndrome, can affect your hormonal system, leaving you with no sex drive and fatigue.
What to do: Clean up your diet to heal your gut, and find out what your body loves and hates with an elimination diet. I also like using specific food medicines like bone broth and celery juice to aid in gut healing.
5. Sex hormone imbalance
Hormone levels can be tricky, and need to stay in perfect balance for optimal health. When your estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone levels are out of ideal range, you may feel totally uninterested in sex.
What to do: Start by having a comprehensive sex hormone panel done. I run both blood and saliva hormone testing to get a full perspective. Adaptogens can be powerful remedies as well. Shilajit and mucuna pruriens are two herbs I use in my Sex Hormone Boosting Elixir.
6. Insulin resistance
High insulin levels can lead to low sex drive and infertility, and insulin-related conditions like metabolic syndrome and PCOS can also cause facial hair growth in women, hair loss in both men and women, and acne, all of which can make you feel more self-conscious than sexy.
What to do: Run fasting glucose and HgbA1c levels to see if you are insulin resistant. Nutrients like chromium, NAC, and bitter melon are three insulin sensitizers that I suggest for my patients.
7. Medication side effects
One issue that is often overlooked when it comes to low libido is medication. Common pharmaceuticals like antidepressants, blood pressure medications, painkillers, and antihistamines can all cause low sex drive, problems with sexual pleasure, and erectile dysfunction.
What to do: Talk with your doctor about any alternatives to the medications you are currently taking that might have fewer sexual side effects. Also consider a functional medicine approach that focuses on getting healthy rather than medicating, so your doctor can reduce and eliminate medications where possible.
Even if your health habits are pure as the driven snow, a brain full of stress can still destroy your health and zap your sex drive.
What to do: Try managing your stress aggressively. Some good tools include mindfulness meditation, yoga, and tai chi, or even talk therapy.
9. Leptin resistance
This lesser known hormonal problem occurs when your hypothalamic brain cells aren’t communicating with leptin, a hormone released from fat cells. Leptin resistance has been shown to lower testosterone levels, which decreases libido in both men and women.
What to do: If your leptin and CRP inflammation levels are high, I suggest completely avoiding simple starches, refined sugars, all grains, and even high-fructose fruit.
10. Low growth hormone
Studies show that high insulin reduces your body’s ability to make growth hormone, which lowers sex drive by altering testosterone levels.
What to do: Ginkgo bilboa and the appropriately named horny goat weed are two herbs that can support healthy growth hormone levels.
11. Nutrient deficiencies
Low levels of nutrients such as zinc and vitamin D can wreck your sex life.
What to do: Get your levels tested and supplement accordingly, preferably working with a doctor who understands how to use food as medicine and/or who is knowledgeable about nutritional therapy.
12. Insufficient healthy fats
Healthy fats like coconut oil, avocados, ghee, and olive oil help your body manufacture hormone and keep your brain working as it should. One study found that people who ate a low-fat diet had significantly lower testosterone levels.
What to do: Eat more healthy fats! Start off slowly to wake up your gallbladder, allowing yourself time to find out exactly which fats your body feels the best on. Read my article on the subject for a full guide on healthy fats.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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