Libido is described as a persons sex drive or desire for sex, and it can vary from person to person for many different factors. Libido can fluctuate throughout the life at different ages, as well as from changes in exercise or stress levels. A healthy libido can help us feel mentally, physically and emotionally well, so consuming foods that support the libido can only improve our overall health and wellbeing.

Nutrition can have a role in libido for a number of reasons. For example, eating well can improve stamina and blood flow to the heart and other parts of the body, which in turn will boost the libido.

When it comes to gender, it is thought that men have a typical higher libido compared to women, which may be due to their higher levels of testosterone. However, research has shown overtime that libido of men and women can actually be very similar, but a woman’s libido may be more effected by certain factors such as stress, compared to that of a man.

Through this blog, we will be exploring the specific nutrients and foods that increase libido as well as other areas of health and life.

Signs and reasons for low libido levels

There are certain signs that can lead to a low libido and reasons for it.
Signs include:

  • No desire or interest in sex, including masturbation.
  • A decrease in thoughts around sex.
  • Feelings of concern around having a low desire for sex.

Reasons for a low libido can include:

Certain medical conditions

This may include having cancer or kidney failure, chronic pain or type 2 diabetes, all of which can negatively influence sexual desire. Maintaining a consistent healthy diet can possibly help to reduce the risk of certain health conditions, which may help to improve libido.

Mental health conditions

Certain health conditions such as depression and anxiety, may reduce libido. Some evidence has previously shown that certain diets can have a strong influence on mood and mental health, so practicing healthy eating habits is important here.

Medications

Having to take certain medications to manage various health issues may come with side effects, which can have a negative influence on libido. This includes certain medications to manage hypertension (high blood pressure), those for cancer treatment, as well as hormonal drugs such as progesterone and certain types of hormonal contraception like the combined hormonal pill and the progesterone only contraceptive pill. 

Hormonal imbalances & ageing

Menopause is a stage in life where a woman will experience a cessation to her periods. Menopause can contribute to a reduced libido, which is thought to be due to the lower production of hormones in the ovaries, leading to a rapid loss in oestrogen, and a reduction in testosterone production. During menopause, it has been shown that up to 40% of women experience reduced sexual libido.

Having low levels of testosterone, no matter the gender, has been reported to contribute to reduced libido and sexual pleasure. Those with low levels of testosterone are more likely to have higher levels of fatigue and distress, which may also influence libido.

Stress

Research has shown high levels of chronic stress related to lower levels of libido in women. Interestingly, another study looking at stress and libido in males and females found that financial stressors and stressors related to low socioeconomic status showed lower libido in women, but not men.

Ageing

Some research has shown that a decline in sexual desire above the age of 60 has been shown in woman compared to men, with chronic illness also linked with reduced libido. This correlates well with women going through menopause, as hormonal imbalances and changes can have a direct influence on libido for this population.

Alcohol, smoking and drug use

Drinking excess alcohol and improperly using drugs has been linked to reduced libido. One study showed that reduced libido in males was linked to excessive alcohol intake, and another study, which looked at illicit drug use in men, found those who abused drugs were prone to reduced sexual libido. Smoking is also linked to lower sex drive compared to not smoking.

Key nutrients for boosting libido

There are certain nutrients that are key to help boost libido. These include;

Protein, and in particular, amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks for protein, and are a key substance in producing testosterone hormone. A low protein diet has been linked to reduced sexual libido issues later in life.

Zinc is a nutrient that is linked to the production of testosterone, with a zinc deficiency increasing the risk of developing hypogonadism in men, which is where the sex glands produce little hormones.

Magnesium intake may also influence libido, as testosterone levels are linked to overall magnesium levels. Magnesium can also slow down ageing, which in turn can help improve libido for the long term.

Vitamin D supplementation in those who have vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency has been shown to improve sexual functioning and desire in women. This may be because there are vitamin D receptors in the ovaries and uterus, and decreased vitamin D levels can reduce the level of sex hormones, such as testosterone.

Omega 3’s are essential fatty acids that support with managing anxiety and depression, which can otherwise effect our mood and libido. Because omega 3 fatty acids are also involved with dopamine production, increased omega 3 levels could improve mood and libido.

Antioxidant treatment has been shown to increase the male sex hormones in infertile men. The antioxidants given included vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D and E, minerals such as magnesium and selenium, and other compounds such as coenzyme Q and L-arginine, an amino acid.

    Fibre intake in the diet has been associated with the sex hormone-binding globulin, as fibre can reduce the amount of globulin that finds to testosterone, which can otherwise reduce the effectiveness of testosterone.

    Foods that increase libido

    Obtaining these nutrients above will come from a variety of food sources that can help with increasing libido. Here are the top 20 foods that increase libido. 

    1. Apples
      Certain antioxidants present in apples, provide a number of health benefits. The antioxidant is a type of flavonoid, and is known as quercetin. Quercetin can help reduce erectile dysfunction and improve circulation. Regular intake of quercetin can reduce blood pressure, which therefore can improve overall blood flow to the genital area.

      Apple

    2. Meat
      All meats contain a range of amino acids, which have been linked to improve sexual function. These include L-arginine and carnitine, as well as meats being high in the mineral zinc. These have all been shown to improve blood flow, which is important in libido, and can help to reduce erectile dysfunction.
      However, we would not recommend a high intake of red meat, as this can increase intake of saturated fats. In large amounts, this can increase risk of heart disease and may also lead to weight gain, which would have a negative influence on libido.

      Meat

    3. Watermelon
      This fruit contains an amino acid known as citrulline, which is converted into another amino acid called arginine, in the body. Higher arginine levels have been shown to increase blood flow and lead to vasodilation.Watermelon
    4. Oysters
      The reason that oysters are well known for their properties on improving libido is due to their very high zinc levels. Zinc is important to help increase blood flow, which may improve blood flow to sex organs, as well as zinc being important in testosterone production.

      Oyters

    5. Ginger
      Research into ginger and it’s influences on libido have found that ginger supplementation helped to improve sexual arousal. Ginger has been shown to also increase blood flow, which may positively impact libido.
      Ginger
    6. Pomegranate
      A great source of antioxidants, which have been shown to help reduce erectile dysfunction and improve blood flow. Pomegranate juice consumption has also demonstrated a positive increase in testosterone production and improved blood pressure scores.

      Pomegranate

    7. Spinach
      Spinach is a plant that provides a good source of magnesium, a mineral that can help improve blood flow and testosterone production. Spinach is also a source of iron, and iron deficiency has been shown to negatively influence libido in women, so a healthy intake of iron can reduce this likelihood.Spinach
    8. Avocado
      These fruits are high in certain nutrients such as vitamin B2 and B6, which aid the production of certain hormones. Vitamin B6 supplementation in premenstural women has been shown to improve symptoms, as well as improving premenstural depression. Avocados are also a rich source of monounsaturated fats, which can support a healthy heart and better blood cholesterol control.
      Avocado
    9. Strawberries
      A great source of vitamin C, which has been linked to boosted testosterone production. This in turn can improve libido and support stress levels. Like with other berries, strawberries promote the production of a hormone known as oxytocin, which can control and influence sexual desire.Strawberries
    10. Coffee
      Coffee is a great source of caffeine, providing a dose of antioxidants. It also helps with energy levels and research has shown that moderate caffeine intake, such as 2-3 cups of coffee per day, can reduce chances of erectile dysfunction.

      Coffee

    11. Nuts & seeds
      Both nuts and seeds are great sources of L-arginine, an amino acid that is converted into nitric oxide in the body and supports healthy blood flow. Nuts and seeds also provide a non-animal based source of omega 3 fatty acids, further supporting blood flow.

      Nuts and seeds

    12. Chilli peppers
      In particular, chillies contain a component known as capsaicin, which may offer several health benefits. It has been shown to improve sexual behaviour in male rats, though human trials are yet to show the same.Chillies
    13. Beetroot
      These brightly coloured vegetables are high in compounds known as nitrates, which are known to help expand blood vessels and improve blood flow, a process called vasodilation. Research has shown that supplementing with beetroot juice significantly increases blood flow to muscles, which in turn can help with performance and libido.Beetroot
    14. Red wine
      Similar to apples, red wine is a source of quercetin. The quercetin can help improve blood flow. Research has shown that moderate intake of red wine in women was linked to higher sexual desire and function. However, drinking wine or any alcohol in excess will have a negative effect on libido and increase the risk of sexual dysfunction, as discussed later in the article.Red wine
    15. Salmon
      The omega 3’s found in salmon can help reduce cholesterol and plaque build up in arteries, which can otherwise negatively impact blood flow. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and triglycerides in the body, and salmon is also a great source of other nutrients important for libido, such as zinc.
      Salmon
    16. Broccoli
      Certain cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli contain a chemical called indole-3-carbinol, which is known to help reduce oestrogen effects. This can help men who may have a higher oestrogen level, as this can otherwise negatively influence libido, as high oestrogen can impact penile erection.Broccoli
    17. Bananas
      A great source of potassium, which helps with vasodilation, increasing blood flow. Another compound found in bananas known as bromelain, also helps to increase blood flow and libido.Bananas
    18. Extra virgin olive oil
      This type of oil is high in mono-unsaturated fats, a heart healthy fat that can reduce risk of heart disease and cholesterol. This can help improve circulation of blood throughout the body and to sexual organs. Consumption of monounsaturated fats can help to improve androgen hormone production, which includes testosterone.
      Extra virgin olive oil
    19. Maca
      Certain nutrients found in the maca plant may improve sexual desire, particularly the phytochemicals that it contains. A study conducted in 2015 showed that maca supplementation improved libido in women who experienced sexual dysfunction. However, better designed studies are needed to investigate this link.
      Maca

      Foods that increase libido for men

      There are certain foods, along with those in the list above, that can help increase libido for men. These include:

      Raspberries
      Raspberries are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals, which can help enhance endurance and libido.

      Pumpkin seeds
      Very high in an amino acid called arginine, which is converted into nitric oxide within the body. The nitric oxide is well understood to help dilate blood vessels, allowing for more blood flow, which is part of stimulating libido.

      Pistachios
      A study previously showed that supplementing with pistachios daily  for 3 weeks helped men with erectile dysfunction (ED) see significant improvements in gaining and maintaining an erection. This could be due to their arginine content as well as pistachios being a good source of antioxidants.

      Fenugreek
      Used as a herb in cooking, as well as a supplement, research suggests fenugreek may boost testosterone levels, which in turn can support an increase in libido. This is because fenugreek contains compounds such as furostanolic saponins, which are meant to reduce symptoms related to low testosterone production, with low libido being one of these.

      Foods that increase libido for women

      Aside from the top 20 foods, other ingredients can be included in the diet, which have been researched for female libido:

      Ginseng
      A supplement from the root of a plant, ginseng has been studied in the past, showing that it can improve sexual function and libido in postmenopausal women, however the study noted that the effect was not significant and more research is needed.

      It is also a good source of nitric oxide, which can help with vasodilation and increasing blood flow. Be cautious with ginseng, as it may lead to side ffects such as nausea and headaches, and can interact with certain medications such as blood thinners, so consulting a doctor is important before taking.

      Saffron
      Saffron has been shown to have a significant improvement on sexual arousal in women who were taking antidepressants and were supplemented with saffron for 4 weeks. A 2019 review of looking at previous research on saffron and sexual desire found that saffron was effective in improving sexual dysfunction.

      Common diets and how they affect libido

      There are several diets that promote foods that can help support libido. For example, the Mediterranean diet, which is likely the most widely studied diet in terms of it’s effects on libido, has been shown to support in this context.
      The diet revolves around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish, and olive oil, which are all high in antioxidants, as well as being low in refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and sugars.
      Previous randomised control trials have looked at the long-term influence of this diet on arousal and libido, and have found that those who follow the Mediterranean diet have better sexual function, even in those with preexisting health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

      Other diets, such as a plant based diet containing whole foods from plants, may also support improved libido, however specific research is needed. As plant based diets contain many of the foods listed above that can support libido, it is a promising area of research. One study did find that a plant based diet over time reduced incidence of erectile dysfunction.

      On the opposite spectrum, Western diets, which are higher in processed foods, sodium, saturated fat and refined carbohydrates, can be linked to a reduction in libido. This is because these foods are linked to health conditions such as high body fat, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. Certain health conditions can lead to a reduction in libido, as this review here showed for cardiovascular disease.
      A diet high in sodium can reduce the dilation of blood vessels, which has been shown to hinder libido due to a reduction in blood flow.

      What foods you should avoid that decreases libido?

      Certain foods and drinks have been shown to negatively influence libido. This includes:

      Saturated fats

      Foods high in saturated fat include red meat, processed meat, high fat dairy like butter and cream, as well as refined carbohydrate products such as cakes and doughnuts.
      These foods can negatively influence libido, as they can lead to an increase of cholesterol in the vessels, which overtime, can impact blood flow and circulation, increasing risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). In theory, this may reduce circulation to sex organs, which can negatively influence libido. Research has shown that CVD is correlated to erectile dysfunction in men, which can reduce libido overtime. 

      Binge drinking

      Although the thought of drinking alcohol can be relaxing, the fact is that regular alcohol intake has been shown to reduce testosterone levels, and impact the nervous system, reducing nerve sensitivity. These changes may reduce libido and arousal. Fatigue and dehydration associated with binge drinking will also lead to reduced desire in sexual activities. 

      Liquorice root

      One study found that supplementing 7g of liquorice root daily in men showed a 26% drop in testosterone levels, after only 1 week. This could then have a negative impact on libido in men. However, it is important to note that this research applies to liquorice root and not the sweets, which often do not contain liquorice root. 

      Mint (in high doses) 

      Although research has only been carried out in rats, it was shown that mint supplementation had a negative influence on overall testosterone levels. Note that in this study, rats were given a high dose of mint, so improper or irregular consumption of mint is not advised.

      If these foods and drinks above can be reduced, improvements in libido are likely to be seen.

      What about soy?

      Although there is a belief that soy products can reduce testosterone levels, human research has not shown this to be the case. This has only been found in an old rat study, though human trials have shown no effect on testosterone levels with soy consumption. Therefore, moderate soy consumption is believed to have no influence on testosterone levels in males.

      How long does it take for diet changes to impact libido?

      This can largely depend on the overall quality of dietary changes a person is making. If someone is overweight or obese, this has been shown to negatively impact libido. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that weight loss can improve libido, as outlined in this review, as well as this review, that looked at the literature over 5 years.

      Aside from dietary improvements, other factors discussed below can further enhance libido, which may improve results sooner.

      Other tips to increase your libido

      There are several other areas of health and lifestyle that can be modified, in order to improve libido. These include:

      • Sleep
        Reduced sleep has been shown to negatively influence libido in women, therefore working on good quality sleep and long sleep duration can improve overall sex drive. However, other research has shown that lack of sleep can increase sexual arousal, but not sexual frequency, and therefore more research is needed.
      • Reducing alcohol
        As discussed above, alcohol dependance increases risk of sexual dysfunction, and therefore reducing alcohol intake and keeping to a moderate alcohol intake, may help to support a healthy libido.
      • Stopping smoking
        Smoking negatively impacts blood flow around the body, so stopping smoking will improve the blood flow to organs over time, which can therefore help with overall improved libido.
      • Stress management
        Research has shown that higher self-reported stress in daily life is linked to a lower level of sexual activity and satisfaction. Many studies have involved female subjects, showing that acute stress conditions respond to lower sexual arousal compare do those in control groups. Another study showed high levels of the hormone cortisol correlated with lower levels of genital arousal in women, and therefore, working on reducing cortisol levels can better help improve overall arousal and libido.
      • Meditation
        Mindfulness has been shown in a systematic review to favour variables of male sexuality, such as sexual functioning, though libido itself has not been specifically researched with it’s connection to meditation. One review did show that  mindfulness-based therapies improved arousal and sexual desire as well as satisfaction, though more research is needed.
      • Exercise
        Regular exercise has been shown to have a positive influence on sexual desire, in males and females. A systematic review found that consistent aerobic exercising such as running, swimming or cycling, is a hopeful non-drug intervention for improving erectile function in men.
      • Improving relationships
        Sometimes the cause of low libido can be due to relationship problems. Seeking support from a therapist or working on improving relationships with sexual partners can help to enhance libido and desire.
      • Supplements
        Certain supplements claim to support libido, however, supplementation is not regulated and therefore, unproven claims for many types of supplements can be made. Though, there are a few supplements which have potential to be beneficial.
        These include L-arginine, mentioned above, found in certain foods. This amino acid is converted into nitric oxide in the body, which helps open blood vessels and improves blood flow. This in turn can help with sexual arousal and libido. However, there are certain side effects of supplementing with this, as a study that previously looked at L-arginine supplementation in heart attack survivors had to be stopped, as some of the subjects died after taking the supplement.
        Another supplement, known as yohimbine, comes from the bark of a tree, can improve blood flow and possibly erectile dysfunction. However, yohimbine may lead to high blood pressure and damage heart function, as well as other possible side effects, and is therefore not recommended.
      • Testosterone therapy
        Research in men with low testosterone and low libido has shown that testosterone therapy can significantly improve testosterone levels along with the benefit of improved libido.
      • Sex therapy
        Speaking to an experienced sex therapist can support with improving sex drive, and understanding why someone may have sexual difficulties.

      Having support from a dietitian can help you to improve libido, as well as ensuring that you are eating a balanced and well varied diet. Get in touch day to book in a session with our private dietitians.

         

         

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