Nutrition and Libido

By Sonja Cassen

Oysters, chocolate, horny goat weed, ginseng and ginkgo biloba. What do all of these have in common? They are all purported natural sexual stimulants. Sex is a big deal in this country. Walk into any corner convenience market, and you will find the counter strewn with energy supplements and ways to increase stamina, all packaged into an easy to swallow capsule. Do they really work? Yes and no. Like many pills and supplements, they may work temporarily, but are not a long-term solution to a problem.

Type in the word “libido” or “sex drive” into a search engine, and thousands of pages come up with myriad of ways to naturally, or pharmaceutically, enhance one’s sexual desire. Pfizer has the immensely popular blue Viagra pill for men, and the pink pill for women is being worked on. Many companies have different products/cures to increase one’s libido. The truth of the matter is however, that unless one has an illness or medical condition that interferes with the body’s hormones or reproductive system, having a healthy libido can be achieved by following a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a healthful diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, engaging in plenty of exercise, getting enough sleep, and avoiding drugs and alcohol. Seems simple enough doesn’t it?

Our sexual appetite and drive is controlled mainly by our endocrine system. Our endocrine glands, such as the testes, ovaries, pituitary and adrenal glands, have specific nutritional needs as does the rest of our body. We can’t forget that our bodies operate as a whole system, and nourishing, or depriving, one aspect will affect the rest. The hormones testosterone and estrogen, which are produced by our endocrine glands, are integral parts of a healthy sex drive and having a healthy hormonal balance is key to homeostasis within the body.

Many supplements contain vitamins and minerals for sexual arousal that can be found naturally in a healthful diet. The B-complex vitamins are one example. The B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin are needed for adequate energy metabolism and the ability to break down ingested nutrients into fuel for the cells of the body. Niacin often gets extra attention due to its role in blood circulatory flow. Excessive depletion of these vitamins leads to diseases such as pellagra, but even mild deficiencies can be culprits in general fatigue of the body. General fatigue means that there is no extra energy left over for extra-curricular activities such as sex.

Vitamin B-6 has been linked to both immune functions and steroid hormone production and activity. The other B vitamins such as B-12 and pantothenic acid, are also needed to help lower stress and boost the immune system. Again, everything is connected because with a lowered immune system and high stress, one is more likely to get ill. Who feels like having sex when they are ill? The body is too busy trying to repair itself.

Zinc is a mineral that has been linked to sexual satisfaction due to its role in testosterone production, sperm production, and its numerous functions associated with sexual maturity. Zinc is closely related to vitamin A in that their deficiencies often occur together with a zinc deficiency limiting the availability of vitamin A. Vitamin A is widely known for not only its role in reproduction and growth, but its importance in keeping our skin and epithelial cells healthy.

Exercise plays an important role in our sexual health because it not only makes us feel better about our bodies, but it gives us more stamina and endurance, and stimulates the body to release more “feel good” hormones. In addition, the more someone exercises, the more they are stimulating the circulatory system, which causes more blood flow to the genital region which is what many drugs and herbal supplements are trying to do.

Getting enough sleep, or the lack thereof, has been linked one’s general mood. Not getting enough sleep can make one irritable, tired, depressed and stressed out. Not exactly the mood-enhancing characteristics of a healthy libido. On the contrary, adequate sleep can help restore the body and help one feel more relaxed and happy, as well as help one avoid stimulants such as caffeine. Caffeine in too large of a dose can overstress the adrenal glands by causing them to release too much of the hormone cortisol. This in turn stresses out the body and causes general fatigue, again leading to a decreased libido.

Alcohol interferes with sex drive as it not only displaces needed nutrients from the diet, but it also depletes necessary vitamins and minerals. The most notable of these are the B vitamins, which we know are essential to a healthy sex drive. Alcohol may temporarily act as a mood enhancing substance, and is widely used as so, but the long and short-term effects such as infertility, heart disease, obesity, and psychological disturbances are not worth it.

Bottom line, taking care of your mind and body will increase your likelihood of not only a healthy libido, but a longer, more healthful life free of various lifestyle afflictions. By eating a diet of lean meats, complex grains, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and taking care of one’s body through appropriate exercise and sleep, one can thwart the risk factors associated with an unhealthy life.

And the oysters, they are always on the list of aphrodisiacs due to their high content of both zinc and dopamine, one of the “feel good” hormones.

Here are some links to find out what foods contain the mentioned vitamins and minerals:
http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12.asp
http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminB6/
http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/zinc/
http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/niacin/

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