Natural Sexual Health

Written By:
WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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Confidence and health are vital for men and women inside and outside of the bedroom. When sexual desire, performance and health decline over time, we blame age as hormone levels and functionality change. However, the way you feel about yourself doesn’t have to change, too. Many natural remedies can help the body cope with physical and emotional changes to benefit libido and sexual well-being.

Man-o-pause: Fact or Fiction?
Also referred to as man-o-pause, andropause is a gradual process similar to female menopause, resulting in decreased testosterone levels starting when men hit their 40s or 50s. A report from the World Health Organization suggests that a 70-year-old man’s testosterone levels are 10% of what they were during his youth (1).

Recent studies show andropause is not just a biological issue; environmental conditions and premature aging affect testosterone levels, too (1). Higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, due to our country’s hectic lifestyle can encourage symptoms.

Low levels of testosterone are also linked to conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, obesity, metabolic syndrome and decreased libido (2). Low levels of testosterone are natural at older ages, but if symptoms become more frequent, consult a physician.

Natural Remedies and Erectile Dysfunction
The inability to achieve and sustain an erection (i.e., erectile dysfunction [ED]) affects 15% of 40-year-old men and 15–20% of 65-year-old men (3). It can be caused by various factors such as alcohol overconsumption, low circulation or extreme fatigue.

Psychological factors enable ED symptoms in about 10–20% of cases, and can be related to stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem (3). Physicians treat ED with oral medications, injections, sex therapy or surgery (3). But with a physician’s approval, natural remedies may help, too.

For instance, ginkgo biloba benefits blood circulation and sexual desire. It can help with the release of nitric oxide, which triggers dilation of the blood vessels needed to form an erection. Studies suggest ginkgo was more effective than the prescription medicine, papaverine. While receiving gingko extract, 95% of the participants showed significant increase in penile blood flow after six months (4).

Meanwhile, ginseng contains adaptogens that help the body return to a natural state of balance. They help one cope with stress, physical exertion and sleep deprivation. Studies indicate ginseng helped men with impotence by stimulating sexual desire, erectile function and satisfaction. Evidence shows that 60% reported the ability to maintain an erection (5). The study also concluded that ginseng enhances nitric oxide production.

It is also said that yohimbine can be used to increase libido, though additional research is needed (6).

Sensual Support for Women
Female libido is more complex and tends to be more emotional than biological. Sexuality is rooted in affection and self esteem, connecting the mind, body and spirit (7). Most women want to be intimate with their partner, but many physical and emotional elements can put a damper on the mood.

Physical ailments such as medical conditions, oral medications, stress or fatigue can have counteractive effects on arousal. Hormonal fluctuations during menopause can often make a woman feel less sexually excited. Furthermore, the quality of a relationship, age, upbringing, well-being and other emotional factors affect sexual desire for women (8).

According to Sandra Lieblum, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sexual and Relationship Health at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, 30–40% of women claim they have a low sex drive. Similarly, in a recent study, it was reported that 36% of women who were having sex weren’t enjoying it (8).

Findings show that many herbal supplements such as those that support stress and mood may have positive effects on libido and satisfaction with one’s sex life. Studies conducted on topical massage oils indicate an increase in arousal and satisfaction due to ingredients like evening primrose oil, borage seed oil, angelica extract and coleus extract (9).

Natural Aphrodisiacs
Although many foods have been debunked as aphrodisiacs, research shows that chocolate contains key ingredients to help increase dopamine, the main romantic hormone in the brain.

Chocolate not only symbolizes sensuality, but some functional chocolates also contain beneficial amino acids to naturally help increase libido (1):
• Theanine and GABA: calming amino acids that stimulate dopamine levels which increase arousal.
• 5-HTP: supports serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical.
• Glycine: works with GABA, enhancing its effects and maintaining the body’s healthy sugar levels that stress can deplete while fueling the brain.
• Taurine and guarana: help sustain dopamine levels facilitating sexual excitement.

Natural herbs can facilitate physical and emotional effects before and during sex by enhancing mood and decreasing tension, stress or insecurity (10):
• Cayenne pepper: contains capsaicin that increases blood flow and helps with arousal and digestion.
• Ginger and ginkgo: increase blood flow to the genitals and increase sexual sensation.
• Yohimbine: dilates blood vessels and releases norepinephrine, which supports erections.
• Angelica: benefits stress, circulation and digestion.
• Gotu kola: Supports the central nervous system, sex drive, mood and energy.
• Lemon balm: soothes and elevates mood. WF

References
1. J. Gray, Venus on Fire, Mars On Ice (Mind Publishing, 2010).
2. “What Low Testosterone Can Mean for Your Health,” http://men.webmd.com/what-low-testosterone-can-mean-your-health, accessed Sept.17, 2012.
3. “Erectile Dysfunction Basics,” www.webmd.com/erectile-dysfunction/guide, accessed Sept. 17, 2012.
4. H. Cass and J. English, Basic Health Publications User’s Guide to Ginkgo Biloba (Basic Health Publications, 2002).
5. H. Cass, Basic Health Publications User Guide to Herbal Remedies (Basic Health Publications, 2004).
6. “Vitamins and Supplements Lifestyle Guide,” www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/supplement-guide-yohimbe, accessed Sept. 27, 2012.
7. “Give Your Libido a Lift,” www.webmd.com/sex/give-your-libido-a-lift, accessed Sept. 27, 2012.
8. “Revving Up Women’s Sex Drive,” www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/guide/revving-up-womens-sex-drive, accessed Sept. 27, 2012.
9. “Oil May Help with Women’s Arousal Problems,” www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/news/20030130/oil-may-help-women-with-arousal-problems, accessed Sept. 27, 2012.
10. N.K. Nickell, Nature’s Aphrodisiacs (Crossing Press, 1998).

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, November 2012