Does What You Eat Really Affect Your Sex Drive?

Does What You Eat Really Affect Your Sex Drive?

You’ve heard the myths about oysters and dark chocolate, but is boosting your sex drive through your diet really a thing? From the hormones at play to the foods to seek out, we asked Naturopathic Nutritionist at Water For Health Amy Morris for her advice on all things diet and libido.

Firstly, what are the main foods that can boost your sex drive?

There are plenty of foods which can boost your libido. Examples of these include: 

  • Dark Chocolate: As well as boosting blood flow, dark chocolate increases the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine, helping to lower stress levels and promote relaxation.
  • Oysters: Oysters have a reputation for being a libido booster – they’re packed with libido-boosting zinc, minerals and amino acids. Oysters are also packed with B vitamins which helps with circulation.
  • Watermelon: As well as being rich in lycopene, watermelon also contains citrulline, which converts to the amino acid Arginine. This helps relax blood vessels similar to the way Viagra works.
  • Ginger: Ginger is known more for its anti-nausea and circulation boosting properties, but it can also boost sex drive; try some ginger tea or grate a little ginger into curries and stir fries.
  • Oily Fish: Coldwater fish like wild salmon, sardines and tuna are overflowing with omega-3 fatty acids, and this essential nutrient not only benefits your heart but also raises dopamine levels in the brain. This spike in dopamine improves circulation and blood flow, triggering arousal.
  • Figs: These are said to stimulate fertility and the secretion of pheromones, which is what scientists say helps us to be attracted to our partners when released.

How much of these foods do you have to eat to make a difference?

There is no definitive answer to this question as everyone responds differently, although many well-known aphrodisiacs increase heart rate, raise blood pressure and improve blood flow. Consuming these types of foods can help you to feel fitter and stronger, which in turn has a positive effect on your sex drive. Some of these foods may also have a relaxing effect, and that too can help. In addition, aphrodisiacs often contain vitamins and minerals – a high nutritional value can invigorate the body and influence hormone levels, and if eaten regularly for a substantial period of time, these can lead to an increase in sexual behaviour.

What about the foods that can negatively affect your sex drive?

  • Processed foods: Processing removes most of the nutrients in whole foods, including ones that are important for an increased sex drive and the libido. A diet high in processed foods can leave you feeling low and lethargic, which can impact on your desire.
  • Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, can directly lower your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a vital hormone in fostering a sense of well-being or happiness. Low serotonin has been associated with lower libido in both men and women.
  • Alcohol: A glass of wine can get you in the mood, but drink much more than that on a regular basis and your libido will pay the price. Alcohol is a depressant that can play havoc with a man’s ability to perform, as well as dampen libido for both sexes.
  • Sugar: Sugar increases levels of the hormone insulin, which can cause you to store belly fat, lose muscle mass and cause testosterone levels to drop which is a hormone vital to both sexes. In men, belly fat raises estrogen levels, which can result in low libido and erectile dysfunction; one study has found that glucose (sugar) significantly reduced testosterone levels.

So is alcohol a no-no when it comes to libido?

There is a wealth of information and research on this topic and the conclusions are different for both men and women. For men, their sexual behaviour can be dramatically affected by alcohol with studies also showing alcohol can inhibit testosterone production, which is critical for sexual performance and libido. For women the literature is mixed, with some reporting that alcohol can increase can sexual arousal and desire, and  others showing lower signs of arousal.

What hormones are at play when it comes to the libido?

Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are hormones that affect a woman’s sexual desire and functioning, and these levels do fluctuate and can be affected by your menstrual cycle, birth control methods and even stress levels. If any are too high or too low, then a woman’s sex drive won’t be at its peak. For men, testosterone is the hormone most closely associated with the male sex drive and low levels of testosterone, or a sudden drop, are linked to a low libido in both men and women. Testosterone levels tend to be higher in the morning and lower at night. In a man’s lifetime, his testosterone levels are at their highest in his late teens, after which they slowly begin to decline.

A balanced diet can help to stop or limit the fluctuation of hormones, but also keep an eye on your stress levels, lifestyle and weight. Age also impacts hormone levels and your libido, and a hormonal imbalance could also be a sign of an underlying health condition such as diabetes or PCOS and endometriosis for women.  

Can food affect hormones?

Absolutely. For men, foods which boost testosterone includes grapes; the skin contains resveratrol that can help with sperm motility; tinned tuna, thanks to its vitamin D content; and pomegranate to fight impotence. For women, I’d advise pine nuts, which are exceptionally high in zinc and eating plenty of iron rich foods such as organic broccoli, spinach, lentils and beans. I also advise regular testing of iron levels, vitamin D, B12 and a hormone reading to check nothing is too low or out of balance, therefore causing you to have a low sex drive.

What’s the biggest nutrition mistake you see people making when it comes to their libido?

Drinking alcohol. Both men and women mistake alcohol as an aphrodisiac, but it’s more likely to be alcohol’s inhibition-lowering effects that are linked to increased sexual behaviour. Also, poor nutrition and a diet high in processed foods and sugar can contribute to low energy and lethargy which can result in a reduced sex drive. Incorporating small healthy habits, even just one thing a week, can have a huge impact on your diet and sex drive.

Anything else?

If your sex drive isn’t up to scratch, also consider addressing any mental health issues you may have. Chronic stress can cause many problems with our health and will definitely not leave you feeling in the mood for sex. Reduce stress levels by trying meditation, seeing a counsellor or just having more ‘you’ time.

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