What is libido?
Libido is the desire for sexual pleasure that a person has, both men and women. There may be times when our libido temporarily decreases – due to stress, anxiety or depression, among others – but this should not be the norm; it is also important to keep in mind that it varies greatly between individuals and does not remain constant at all stages of life, especially in women.
It is understood that sexual desire will be influenced by mood, the situation in which we find ourselves, lifestyle and, of course, physical attraction to the other person. But, really, what physiological mechanisms increase or decrease libido?
I will briefly explain that hormones play an essential role in libido, since depending on the level of estrogen/testosterone we have, we will be more predisposed to feel more or less sexual desire. Women are more hormone dependent because the arrival and withdrawal of menstruation will mark a before and after in relation to estrogen levels. Once we enter menopause, there is a significant drop in estrogen and, along with it, a significant drop in libido. Men, normally, are not going to have these large hormonal spikes and are going to be more regular throughout their lives.
As I mentioned above, lifestyle will also be a key factor in increasing sexual appetite and regulating hormonal balance. It should be noted that fertility in both sexes is also determined by the lifestyle we lead; that is, eating habits, mental and emotional health, hormonal balance and physical exercise.
As you can see, sexual health and libido are a cocktail that combine different factors but that, erroneously, we tend to attribute to only one: physical attraction.
What we know about hormones and sexual desire
The main factor that differentiates men from women is in the hormones: high testosterone level in men and high estrogen level in women. These hormones are the ones that regulate the formation of sexual organs, voice tone, hair, breasts in women, fat accumulation, etc.
It has been seen in multiple studies that the average level of testosterone in men has decreased significantly in recent decades. It is a fact and it is not only an aesthetic problem -more fat accumulation in the abdomen, breasts, change of voice-, but it is also linked to mental and physical health problems such as depression, loss of muscle or lack of sexual desire.
- The decrease of testosterone in men decreases sexual appetite.
- Androgens influence desire in women. In men they manifest decreased sexual desire and erectile dysfunction.
- Estrogens in women act directly on libido; if estrogens are low, desire also decreases.
- The elevation of prolactin during pregnancy in a woman -it can also be elevated in men- decreases libido in both sexes.
Enemies of the libido
- Alcohol: constant and chronic alcohol consumption will favor an oxidative and inflammatory state that will alter, to a greater or lesser extent, the production of eggs and sperm, in women and men respectively. In men, especially, it damages spermatozoa and affects hormone secretion, acting directly on the testicles and causing testosterone levels to decrease while estrogen levels increase. As a consequence, sex drive is reduced and spermatogenesis – sperm production – is also reduced.
- Abdominal fat: aromatase is an enzyme that converts male hormones into estrogen and is found mainly in fat cells. Thus, the more excess fat, the more aromatase activity and, consequently, the more estrogen. It is a vicious circle in which aromatase generates estrogens due to excessive fat accumulation and these estrogens will further enhance weight gain.
- Stress: stress activates a survival response in the body – for obvious ancestral reasons – and «turns off» the non-essential ones, and for your stressed brain, sex is definitely not essential. Stress will release cortisol in the adrenal gland and this substance alters testosterone levels.
Nutrition and libido
The demonization of fat and its elimination from some diets that are so fashionable today, we should know that it directly harms our sexual health, since most hormones, including estrogen and testosterone, are synthesized from fat. We need healthy fats! Avocado, nuts, oily fish, seeds, virgin olive oil and coconut are some options. Don’t confuse them with saturated fats or trans fats, those that come from processed products are of no interest to us at all; these can be margarines, sunflower oil, pizzas, fried foods and so on.
Foods with a high glycemic index, a diet too rich in carbohydrates and a high intake of animal protein are detrimental to fertility. These eating habits are not going to generate health, so try to remove any refined flour, processed or meat derivatives from your regular diet.
Regarding micronutrients, selenium, vitamin A, D, C, E and B vitamins, calcium, zinc, magnesium and folic acid will have a positive impact on increasing libido. The essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 mentioned above are also included, here I explain all about healthy fats.
Some of the foods that will help us to decrease aromatase activity are: licorice, mushrooms, flax, sesame, cinnamon, green tea, citrus fruits, berries, celery, asparagus, pistachios, hazelnuts and cruciferous vegetables.
As for dietary supplements we can find some that help increase libido because they provide all the nutrients needed to achieve good sexual health. Nowadays there is still not much scientific evidence in humans, so the first option will always be to change the lifestyle.
- Tribulus: some studies have shown that this plant helps increase sperm count, increases libido and acts as a testosterone booster and helps increase muscle mass, so it is often used in sports.
- Maca: is an Andean root that boosts male and female drive. It is rich in L-arginine, calcium, zinc, vitamin E and C and B vitamins. A great hormone regulator, it promotes fertility and libido and helps regulate the menstrual cycle, among many other functions.
- Korean Ginseng: in addition to being an excellent energizer, it has been found to act in a similar way to Viagra, as it cancels the effects of stress, relaxes and tones the body.
- Catuaba bark: contains a series of phytochemicals that are responsible for its stimulating and toning effect, with a long tradition of use as an aphrodisiac, especially to promote erection, and also for its benefits on memory and the nervous system.
- Fenugreek: is a plant that has shown significant results in terms of raising testosterone, although the pathway responsible for this effect is not yet evident.