What is the link between diet and libido?
This is the question that was posed by two friends of mine on a recent road trip to Tahoe. Well, to be fair, the question wasn’t exactly presented in those terms. My friend turned to me and said, “You’d be so proud of me. I feel incredible, and I’m horny all the time, and I think it’s because I’ve been eating so many fruits and vegetables.” She called it “veg vag,” a term I’ve never come across, and as Urban Dictionary doesn’t know what it is, it’s clearly an obscure bay area term.
Although we probably think of aphrodisiacs as the bridge between food and sex, nutrition and reproduction are intrinsically linked. Unfortunately, there is little comprehensive research to explain exactly how, meaning I can only attempt to draw together connections from the studies we do have on these topics.
Let’s start with the factors the affect libido
It’s all about those hormones
It seems obvious that libido or sex drive is regulated by hormones; however, in many ways libido is still a mystery. The first thing to state is that male libido differs from female libido, and androgens play a role in both. Androgens or male sex hormones are not only the precursors to estrogen, but are also traditionally linked to both male and female sex drive. The most common and well-known of these is of course testosterone. Female sex drive however goes beyond just testosterone/androgen levels. Estrogen levels have also been found to have a positive effect on sexual motivation according to a recent study at the University of Santa Barbara, while progesterone has been found to have a negative effect. This may explain the increase in libido many feel during ovulation and the decrease at the onset of menstruation. You can find the published study here.
But, nerves and blood flow also play a role
Not only is healthy hormone balance essential to sexual appetite and performance, but so is nerve function and unobstructed blood flow to the pelvic area. This one is pretty straight forward: higher sensitivity and greater blood flow leads to increased arousal.
And let’s not forget the power of the brain
Sex drive, confidence, and body image are innately tied. It’s hard to forget that society greatly affects our sex life. Americans often correlate a certain weight range with physical attractiveness and sexuality. Being outside of this range can greatly affect confidence and in doing so harm libido. I often hear stories about the dating life of my participants. I was greatly effected by one that was told to me the other day. My patient had told her boss that she was thinking about getting back into the dating scene, and her boss’s response was, “You might want to lose some weight first.” As horrified as I was when I heard this, it exemplifies a common view that weight is tied to attractiveness, that our dating lives will fix themselves when we “fix” our bodies. Martin Binks, Ph.D and clinical psychologist has done a number of studies involving obesity and quality of life. One study done at Duke University, showed diminished self esteem correlated with a decrease in sexual activity among the morbidly obese. Libido is often strongly mental, and therefore strongly routed in self-esteem. Developing more body confidence could in turn lead to a better sex life.
So, let’s tie these in with diet…
In the simplest of terms, I would define a healthy diet as one that is high in micronutrients and includes balance and variety. Vitamins and minerals act as cofactors and coenzymes in many of the processes in your body including those associated with reproduction. Therefore, a balanced diet should theoretically help your body function properly throughout your day as well as in the bedroom. Zinc in particular, is strongly linked with reproduction. Although the mechanisms are not yet clear, zinc has been shown to increase libido in both males and females. Zinc deficiency is also associated with poor sperm quality in males and miscarriage and infertility among females. So ladies and gentlemen, better start eating those oysters!
Another explanation for an increase in libido with a healthy diet is psychological. Eating a diet rich in micronutrients makes you feel better. You may have more energy, feel lighter and less bloated, and as a result of both of these things feel more confident and comfortable in your own skin. All of these things contribute to a better sex life.
Energy levels also play a role. A unhealthy diet or one where you take in too many or too few calories can leave you exhausted. Sex takes energy and burns calories. It’s hard to get in the mood if you’re not getting enough calories or if you’re taking in way too many calories, so be careful about how much you’re eating.
We know that testosterone is the number one hormone associated with sex drive, and testosterone levels may be associated with weight and insulin sensitivity. In 2010, a study published in Diabetes Care found an inverse relationship between BMI and testosterone levels in men with type 2 diabetes. Higher BMI is associated with lower testosterone levels in males with type II diabetes. It is possible that decreasing your waist line could help raise your testosterone levels, and therefore increase libido.
What can I eat for a better sex life?
- Avocados: avocados are high in unsaturated fat and low in saturated fat, which is better for heart function. Better heart function= better blood flow= better sex
- Oysters: It’s obvious, but these are one of the best sources of zinc
- Soy: Soy is controversial, but it does contain isoflavones, which mimic estrogen. This is great for women going through menopause, but I would warn younger woman to eat only in moderation, as it can increase your risk of breast cancer.
- Arugula: Arugula is packed full of trace minerals and antioxidants, which have been shown to increase libido
- Chocolate: cacao is high in methylxanthines, which have been shown to increase libido