Is your diet destroying your libido?
Heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, bottles of bubbly and a romantic dinner for two. Whether we’re in a long-term relationship, the first throes of passion, or just trying to impress a potential partner, Valentine’s is a time we use food to show just how much we appreciate and ‘like-like’ a certain someone.
It’s not only about performing in the kitchen. There’s pressure to ahem, ‘perform’ in another room too: the boudoir. But could the two be linked? If you regularly prepare the perfect meal, will it help you and your partner feel in the mood or could it cause your libido to plummet?
We spoke to Dr Leila Frodsham, Lead Consultant in Psychosexual Medicine and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, to discover more about the link between diet and libido.
The impact of modern life
If you’re having less sex than you’d like, you’re not alone. There has been a decline in the number of people having sex regularly, accordingly to research published last year in the British Medical Journal. Half the women and nearly two-thirds of the men surveyed wanted to have more sex.
So what’s causing peoples’ libido to drop?
“Anecdotally, the most common causes I see in my work are relationship issues and work-life balance pressures”, says Dr Frodsham.
“In women, it is frequently as a result of the menopause and resulting dryness of the vagina and sexual pain disorders.
“However, by far the most common cause of sexual problems is anxiety disorders. There are ways to manage all of the above and it’s important anyone concerned about anxiety or the menopause contacts their GP, who will be able to direct them towards the right service.”
While Dr Frodsham highlights that poor diet isn’t one of the main causes of low libido, she does believe it can become a symptom of one of the main causes and then in itself add to the problem.
“Anxiety and stress undoubtedly affect food choices, as do overwork and shift work. They increase the likelihood of you reaching for unhealthy food. In these situations, people are less likely to plan meals, and convenient options are often high in fat, salt, sugar and refined carbohydrates.
“Stress also contributes to the rapid depletion of magnesium, which is a mineral that can contribute to a good libido. Diets high in sugar encourage fat storage, which in turn can affect the endocrine system by producing oestriol (an oestrogen) from fat store. This reduces libido, as it causes an increase in the sex hormone-binding globulin, which mops up androgens (a group of hormones) that drive libido.
“While some people manage stress by over-eating, others use food as a means of control when things feel out of their control. They may ‘clean eat’ to excess, reducing their weight to a point where there is little body fat while also over-exercising.
“Women who over-exercise or are underweight will often find a reduction in their hormone levels, as sex hormones are made from fats. It’s important to find a good and healthy balance when it comes to diet and exercise, to ensure good libido and fertility.”
“Yes, I see lots of patients with poor diet and exercise habits who feel bad about their bodies and unwilling to undress in front of their partners”, explains Dr Frodsham.
“Many also feel so stressed about work that they come home late and eat convenience food, watch TV and sleep. Evenings are often punctuated by social media and work emails, all detracting from the likelihood of people being willing to spare the time to engage, or feel comfortable about engaging, in intimacy with a partner.”
What foods could contribute to a good libido?
There are plenty of reported aphrodisiacs but there is little evidence to support the claims. However, some vitamins and minerals have been linked to fertility. We see this with one particular Valentine’s favourite: “oysters are rich in zinc, which is essential for sperm production. Of course, they also resemble female genitalia, which may be why they are labelled as an aphrodisiac when other foods rich in zinc, such as pumpkin seeds, rarely get labelled as such”, says Dr Frodsham.
A number of foods encourage dopamine production, according to Dr Frodsham. These include “fresh fruits and vegetables, specifically blueberries, avocados and asparagus”. She also recommends foods rich in magnesium, which “is essential for hormone production and regulation and a staple part of a good diet – some magnesium-rich foods are nuts, seeds and leafy vegetables.”
What else could you do to improve your libido?
“It is important to nurture mental health and this can be achieved by reducing anxiety with mindfulness, yoga, sleeping well and ensuring time is taken away from work”, says Dr Frodsham.
“It is also important to make time to be with your partner without distraction, preferably engaging in skin-to-skin contact as this raises oxytocin levels, which contribute to a strong libido.”
While it may not seem like the most romantic way to ensure your libido is in tip-top condition, Dr Frodsham ends by explaining that getting organised could help. “Consider scheduling in time for sex so that it doesn’t get neglected”, she says.