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Condition - Loss of libido in women

By Alison Belcourt BA(Hons) Dip ION BANT NTCC CNHC

Loss of libido in women is more common than we think, with many women blaming their lack of sex drive on being too tired, stressed out or just not interested. It is a key complaint from women going through the menopause, when mood may fluctuate and you feel generally low. If that’s not enough, you can experience embarrassing hot flushes – erratic temperature changes – just when you least expect them. Some women find they can’t even think about making love, others want to but don’t enjoy it because of night sweats, or they suffer from vaginal dryness that makes intercourse uncomfortable and, sometimes, painful.  

The reason for these symptoms is a drop in sex hormones as the ovaries finish their job of egg production and periods disappear. Each one of the three sex hormones has a specific role to play in increasing sexual desire: oestrogen for heightened sensitivity and vaginal lubrication, testosterone for desire and motivation and progesterone for keeping hormonal balance and relaxed energy. The good news is that it is not all doom and gloom and with a little application and support for hormone balance, combined with a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition, women can still enjoy a happy, fulfilling and enjoyable sex life well into their old age. In fact, by taking a sexual relationship as a way of personal growth, sex can be much more fulfilling than early in life, when hormones are high and life experience small (see Intimacy & Desire by Dr David Schnarch. Beaufort Books 2009). 

Phytoestrogens

Although hormone production from the ovaries drops during menopause, it does not mean we stop producing the hormones completely. Our adrenal glands can take over, as long as they are not dealing with stress or being challenged by blood sugar imbalances the whole time. There are also many natural foods and herbs that contain molecules similar in structure to our own oestrogen, called phytoestrogens, which, when included in the diet, may help maintain hormone balance by filling oestrogen receptor sites: foods like soya, flax and sesame seeds, chickpeas, beans and bean sprouts, celery, prunes, runner beans, dates and wholegrain breads, to name but a few.   

The plant with the highest concentration of phytoestrogens is the soya bean. However, the form of the phytoestrogens in soya foods can be difficult to digest and absorb. Asian women who include soya regularly in their diet have less menopausal problems. The soya bean is fermented first to produce foods such as miso, soya sauce, tempeh and natto, which contain bioavailable and easily-digested soy isoflavones (phytoestrogens). The fermentation process uses a yeast to cleave off part of the phytoestrogen molecule, making it smaller and much easier for us to absorb. Fully fermented soya is available in supplement form too. The positive effects of soya isoflavones on peri- and post-menopausal women is well researched and indicates they may help maintain temperature control and support bone health. 

Vaginal tissues are very receptive to oestrogen and respond by secreting lubricating fluids that make the sexual act more pleasurable. Vaginal dryness and atrophy after the menopause is one of most upsetting factors for couples, leaving the woman feeling uncomfortable and guilty, and the man feeling unloved or rejected. This problem can be counteracted by applying a simple vaginal lubricant, but make sure it is fragrance-free and does not contain any unpleasant preservatives or additives. Aloe vera, glycerine and vitamin E oils found in such gels also add extra softness and comfort. Additional flax or hemp seed oil, which contain the omega 3 and 6 oils, as well as vitamin E (found in avocado), when included in the diet, may help restore the natural oils within the dry cells of the vagina, as well as supporting hormone balance. Arginine, an amino acid found in nuts and seeds, allows natural circulation and flow of blood to the surrounding tissues. Many herbs; such as Mexican yam, Agnus Castus and dong quai; are also rich sources of phytoestrogens. These are often blended into a rich cream, which can be applied to the skin near to the vagina or the inner thighs, in order to provide localised absorption of these natural plant compounds. Phytoestrogens may also moderate the potential effects of toxic environmental oestrogens from plastics and other chemical waste, by occupying oestrogen receptors.  

Managing Stress

The adrenal glands sitting on top of our kidneys produce hormones involved in our stress response (adrenaline and cortisol) and hormones that control our fluid and mineral balance, as well as sex hormones. Healthy adrenal glands allow us to produce sufficient sex hormones to support our sex drive and prevent menopausal symptoms. If the adrenals are functioning well, we can feel less stressed and more alive, and can have increased energy and vitality; we feel better, more sociable and more attractive. The stress hormone, cortisol, releases glucose from our body stores, in order to provide additional energy during stressful periods or if blood sugar levels drop. Cortisol is a steroid hormone made via the same initial metabolic pathway in our adrenal glands as progesterone, androgens and oestrogen. As the main function of the adrenals is to respond to “fight or flight” stress signals, it will always give priority to this pathway over and above that of producing the sex hormones.  

Therefore, in order to support your adrenal glands to make sex hormones, you need to balance blood sugar – eat regularly, avoid all refined carbohydrates – and stop the caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the stress pathway, acts as diuretic, is dehydrating and increases the excretion of magnesium, which is one of the key nutrients needed for adrenal health and balance. The adrenal glands also use B vitamins (found in meat, fish, nuts and wholegrains) and zinc. It is no surprise that foods renowned for their aphrodisiac qualities (such as oysters and shellfish) are high in zinc. To adapt to stress, the adrenals also use large amounts of vitamin C, found in fresh fruits and raw vegetables. Adaptogenic herbs, such as Siberian ginseng and rhodiola, may also provide drive and vigour. 

So, eat regularly, fill your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables and use wonderful seed oils as salad dressings for hormonal balance and support for the health of your skin and hair. Abandon the coffee and tea and replace it with more water and herbal teas. When you look good and feel alive, you will naturally feel more attractive. Your need for headaches may just disappear! 


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