Revive Your Sex Drive: The Top Reasons For Low Libido
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.
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The Top Underlying Causes Of Low Sex Drive
Instead of settling for blah, or taking another pill, I suggest getting to the root of sex drive issues.
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 (1) 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 (2) 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 (3) 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.
12 Things That Lower Male Sex Drive
The issue of erectile dysfunction and/or low sex drive is so closely tied to self-worth and masculinity that it often goes untreated due to shame and isolation that keeps this silent epidemic going. The men I see in my functional medicine clinic usually come in for other health problems and do not even mention these as a concern. It’s not until I’ve gone through many health questions that they finally tell me their bedroom struggles.
It’s time to end the stigma once and for all.
Low testosterone is the root of ED and low libido. Symptoms of this hormonal issue can manifest in other areas as well such as irritability, enlarged breast tissue, and weight gain. If any of these symptoms sound familiar take a deeper look at your health and determine if any of these factors may be possible triggers:
1. Ongoing stress
Stress is no bueno and can affect every area of your health. Hormones included. It doesn’t matter how clean you eat if you are feeding yourself a giant slice of stress every day it won’t do you any good. A study (4) out of Russia found that stress can directly affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HBG) axis, impairing communication between your brain and testicles.
2. Poor sleep
Quality, uninterrupted sleep is necessary for your body to restore hormones. Research found (5) that men with poor sleep patterns or health problems like sleep apnea had lower testosterone levels.
3. Statin drugs
Even though mainstream medicine likes to give cholesterol a bad name, it is actually essential for optimal health. In order to have a healthy sex drive, you need a healthy brain and hormones, and for those you need proper cholesterol levels. Because cholesterol is needed to make testosterone studies have shown (6) that statin drugs (which lower cholesterol) also lowered testosterone.
We like to associate estrogen with women and testosterone with men, when in fact, women and men produce both of these hormones, just in different amounts. Guys make estrogen by converting testosterone in the liver by an enzyme called aromatase. What I often find is that over-aromatization happens and too much testosterone is converted leaving an imbalance of estrogen. Thankfully there are some great superfoods that inhibit (7) aromatase:
- Black or Green Tea
- Red Ginger
5. Insufficient exercise
Exercise, love it or hate it, is needed stay healthy and can increase (8) testosterone levels by 250 percent. Time to hit the gym!
6. Nutrient deficiencies
Zinc in particular has powerful testosterone boosting abilities. Studies have shown that when people were given 250 mg of zinc a day for six weeks their testosterone levels increased.
7. HPG-axis dysfunction
Like I mentioned earlier, this miscommunication between your brain and testicles can lead to ED and low sex drive. Adaptogens are my all-time favorite when it comes to naturally bring balance to wrecked health problems. Not only will these herbs clear up this brain-testicular communication they can also help to lower stress and inflammation:
8. Low DHEA levels
This hormone is a precursor to testosterone. In one study, (14) when DHEA was given after HIIT training it increased testosterone by 200 percent more than just HIIT training.
9. Low magnesium
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body and essential for hundreds of necessary pathways including testosterone optimization. Research has found (15) that 10 mg of magnesium per kilogram of body weight can improve testosterone in just four weeks.
10. Not eating enough fat
Fat is often put into a bad light by mainstream medicine who encourages us to rather reach for low-fat yogurt and skim milk. However, fat is exactly what your brain and hormones need to function. Studies have even shown (16) that low-fat diets lower testosterone levels after just eight weeks.
11. Low vitamin D
Vitamin D is needed by every single cell of your body to function properly. When supplementation is implemented it has been shown (17) to increase by testosterone by 25 percent.
12. Lack of antioxidants
Tea is my love language. Specifically green tea. And studies show that the antioxidant EGCG, which is found in abundance in green tea, boosts testosterone. (18)
As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.
- Behre HM, Simoni M, Nieschlag E. Strong association between serum levels of leptin and testosterone in men. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1997;47(2):237‐240. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2265.1997.2681067.x
- Lanzi R, Luzi L, Caumo A, et al. Elevated insulin levels contribute to the reduced growth hormone (GH) response to GH-releasing hormone in obese subjects. Metabolism. 1999;48(9):1152‐1156. doi:10.1016/s0026-0495(99)90130-0
- Hämäläinen EK, Adlercreutz H, Puska P, Pietinen P. Decrease of serum total and free testosterone during a low-fat high-fibre diet. J Steroid Biochem. 1983;18(3):369‐370. doi:10.1016/0022-4731(83)90117-6
- Fomicheva EE, Filatenkova TA, Shanin SN, Rybakina EG. Ross Fiziol Zh Im I M Sechenova. 2009;95(3):290‐296.
- Barrett-Connor E, Dam TT, Stone K, et al. The association of testosterone levels with overall sleep quality, sleep architecture, and sleep-disordered breathing. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008;93(7):2602‐2609. doi:10.1210/jc.2007-2622
- Schooling CM, Au Yeung SL, Freeman G, Cowling BJ. The effect of statins on testosterone in men and women, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC Med. 2013;11:57. Published 2013 Feb 28. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-57
- Balunas MJ, Su B, Brueggemeier RW, Kinghorn AD. Natural products as aromatase inhibitors. Anticancer Agents Med Chem. 2008;8(6):646‐682.
- Khoo J, Tian HH, Tan B, et al. Comparing effects of low- and high-volume moderate-intensity exercise on sexual function and testosterone in obese men. J Sex Med. 2013;10(7):1823‐1832. doi:10.1111/jsm.12154
- Yuan-Li Huang, Sew-Fen Leu, Bi-Ching Liu, Chia-Chin Sheu, Bu-Miin Huang, In vivo stimulatory effect of Cordyceps sinensis mycelium and its fractions on reproductive functions in male mouse Life Sciences Volume 75, Issue 9, 16 July 2004, Pages 1051-1062 doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lfs.2004.01.029
- Nehal M. Belal, Eman M. El-Metwally and Ibrahim S. Salem, Effect of Dietary Intake Ashwagandha Roots Powder on the Levels of Sex Hormones in the Diabetic and Non-Diabetic Male Rats World Journal of Dairy & Food Sciences 7 (2): 160-166, 2012 DOI: 10.5829/idosi.wjdfs.2012.7.2.1109
- M. S. Fahim, Z. Fahim, J. M. Harman, T. E. Clevenger, W. Mullins & E. S. E. Hafez (1982) Effect of Panax Ginseng on Testosterone Level and Prostate in Male Rats, Archives of Andrology, 8:4, 261-263, DOI: 10.3109/01485018208990207
- Sethi J, Yadav M, Sood S, Dahiya K, Singh V. Effect of tulsi (Ocimum Sanctum Linn.) on sperm count and reproductive hormones in male albino rabbits. Int J Ayurveda Res. 2010;1(4):208‐210. doi:10.4103/0974-7788.76782
- Kamla Kant Shukla M. Sc., Abbas Ali Mahdi M.Phil. Ph.D, Mohammad Kaleem Ahmad M.Sc., Satya Narain Shankhwar M.Ch., Singh Rajender Ph.D., Shyam Pyari Jaiswar M.S., Mucuna pruriens improves male fertility by its action on the hypothalamus–pituitary–gonadal axis Fertility and Sterility Volume 92, Issue 6, December 2009, Pages 1934-1940 doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.09.045
- Liu TC, Lin CH, Huang CY, Ivy JL, Kuo CH. Effect of acute DHEA administration on free testosterone in middle-aged and young men following high-intensity interval training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013;113(7):1783‐1792. doi:10.1007/s00421-013-2607-x
- Cinar V, Polat Y, Baltaci AK, Mogulkoc R. Effects of magnesium supplementation on testosterone levels of athletes and sedentary subjects at rest and after exhaustion. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2011;140(1):18‐23. doi:10.1007/s12011-010-8676-3
- Wang C, Catlin DH, Starcevic B, et al. Low-fat high-fiber diet decreased serum and urine androgens in men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005;90(6):3550‐3559. doi:10.1210/jc.2004-1530
- Pilz S, Frisch S, Koertke H, et al. Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men. Horm Metab Res. 2011;43(3):223‐225. doi:10.1055/s-0030-1269854
- Yu PL, Pu HF, Chen SY, Wang SW, Wang PS. Effects of catechin, epicatechin and epigallocatechin gallate on testosterone production in rat leydig cells. J Cell Biochem. 2010;110(2):333‐342. doi:10.1002/jcb.22541
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.
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