Romantic love, aphrodisiacs and sexual prowess, I was not surprised to receive a question from one of my readers about the link between diet and sex drive.
The reader in question complained of a low sex drive and wondered if any foods, besides seafood with its high levels of zinc and iodine, could help her improve her situation.
A sensible approach
If you suffer from a low sex drive then the first step is to consult your GP or gynaecologist (in the case of women) or urologist (in the case of men) for a medical check-up. There are many different physical conditions and factors that can contribute to a low sex drive.
a) Physical factors
Physical factors can include hormone imbalances, hypo- or hyperthyroidism, severe conditions like diabetes or heart problems, high blood pressure, anaemia, obesity, impotence, and many other conditions.
Hormone imbalances, such as a lack of testosterone in both men and women, may contribute to a low sex drive. In addition many medications including blood pressure pills, psychotropic drugs and certain anxiolytics, can cause lack of libido or impotence as side-effects.
When you visit your doctor, remember to discuss the role of any physical condition you have and the effect of any medications you may be taking, on your sex drive. The doctor will be able to advise what countermeasures can be used to rectify the situation (for example small doses of testosterone in women may improve the individual’s sex drive; iron supplements can cure anaemia and exhaustion, and so on).
b) Psychological factors
Psychological factors can play a cardinal role in determining if you have a strong sex drive or not. Anyone who is stressed, anxious, depressed, or suffering from mental exhaustion will not have the inclination to make love to a partner.
Once again it is up to you to decide if you are unravelling psychologically and if you need some expert assistance from a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. In some cases couple therapy can achieve wonders when it comes to improving sexual performance and satisfaction.
Studies have shown that pronounced obesity not only decreases male sex hormones, but can cause erectile dysfunction (Lima et al, 2000; Reis et al, 2009). Weight-loss improves the condition and can in most cases reverse the loss of erectile function. So make sure that your weight is not interfering with your sex drive.
What about dietary factors? There is no single food that will magically improve your sex drive, but what you eat can make a significant difference to your general health and well-being and thus also influence how you perform in bed.
If you and your partner eat a well balanced diet that provides you with all the nutrients you require for good health, then the chances are that you will perform better in all aspects of life and you will be less stressed, freeing your brain to concentrate on more pleasant activities.
Basic Balanced Diet
A basic balanced diet consists of:
Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (at least 5‑7 portions a day) to provide phytonutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin C and dietary fibre.
Lean meat (4 times a week to prevent iron- and vitamin B12-deficiency anaemias), fish (at least 3‑4 times a week to supply zinc and omega-3 fatty acids) and eggs (4 per week, but not more, so that your blood cholesterol levels don’t get out of hand).
3 servings of fat‑free or low-fat milk, yoghurt or cottage cheese a day (these are the best source of highly available calcium in the human diet; calcium not only prevents osteoporosis, but helps with the transmission of nerve impulses).
Whole, unsifted grains and cereals (3‑4 servings a day to provide readily available energy, dietary fibre and B vitamins).
Legumes (cooked or canned dry beans, peas or lentils or soya) as often as possible (to boost dietary fibre intake and provide cholesterol-free, protein-rich meals).
Poly- or monounsaturated oils (olive, canola or avocado oil) or soft margarine (3 tablespoons a day for those essential fatty acids).
If you eat this type of diet you will not really need to take any vitamin or mineral supplements, but if you feel that you are not getting sufficient vitamins and minerals from your diet (i.e. if you have not been eating a balanced diet for a while), then it may help to take a complete vitamin and mineral supplement for a month or so.
Avoid the following:
Very rich of fatty foods and fatty food preparation (this increases your fat intake and can lead to heart disease and gallbladder problems).
High intakes of salt which can cause hypertension in susceptible individuals.
Excessive intakes of alcohol which can hamper sexual performance and even cause impotence.
Excessive quantities of stimulants like caffeine in coffee, tea, and caffeine-spiked “energy” drinks which can make you jittery and contribute to feelings of anxiety.
The setting is as important as the meal
How you serve and enjoy your food can also contribute to subsequent sexual performance. Rushed meals and meals eaten while watching TV or trying to control screaming kids, are not conducive to relaxation.
Try to have a light, but delicious meal with candles and romantic music playing in the background at least once a week, so that you and your partner can relax and reconnect. It may take some planning to feed the children earlier and put them to bed, to prepare the right foods and to not watch TV, but the ultimate goal is worth the extra effort.
Spending time savouring a meal with a moderate amount of your favourite wine should not just be reserved for Valentine’s Day, but a feature of our adult lives to ensure that we all have an adequate sex drive.
(References: Lima N et al (2000). Decreased androgen levels in massively obese men may be associated with impaired function of the gonadostat. International Journal of Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders, 24(11):1433-7; Reis LO et al (2009). Erectile dysfunction and hormonal imbalance in morbidly obese male is reversed after gastric bypass surgery: a prospective randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Andrology, Dec 16 2009)
(Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc, February 2010)
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