In our hectic lives, it’s easy to blame a lot on being too busy or stressed. But sometimes this keeps us from taking a closer look at what might actually be a health problem. Take sex, for instance. It’s easy to chalk up a low libido or even erectile dysfunction to being tired or having a busy day when we really should be taking a closer look at the underlying cause. Why is this important? Well, it turns out, having a healthy sex life is a good thing on many fronts, explains Dr. Jean-Jacques Dugoua, N.D., Ph.D., founder of the Liberty Clinic for integrative health in Toronto, Canada.
“Most people enjoy sex. It is important to mental health and healthy relationships,” he says. But there can be more to a low sex drive than meets the eye. Many people don’t realize the health benefits of having hormones in balance. “Testosterone has a lot of benefits. Having healthy levels in the long run is preventative for heart disease and mental health issues,” Dugoua explains.
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For a topic many people don’t want to talk about, sexual dysfunction has a large presence. Approximately 40 percent of women experience problems with low libido and sexual arousal, and roughly 50 percent of men in their 50s report issues with erectile dysfunction. This is why Dugoua makes a point of asking his patients about their sex life. “If a person’s sex life is normal, they won’t want to talk about it for more than five seconds,” he says. But, if they are having challenges and you ask them a question, Dugoua says it often leads to a long conversation, which is helpful to determining the root cause. “For a lot of issues pertaining to sex health, if you catch them early enough, you can do something about it,” says Dugoua.
“For men, they may feel that if it is libido, there is no pill for that. Or they may not want to take Viagra or pop a pill,” explains Dugoua. For men in their 20s or 30s, he recommends doing blood tests, as diabetes could be one of the root causes. But, Dugoua says, for the majority of men, libido issues “Most people enjoy sex. It is important to mental health and healthy relationships,” he says. But there can be more to a low sex drive than meets the eye. Many people don’t realize the health benefits of having hormones in balance. “Testosterone has a lot of benefits. Having healthy levels in the long run is preventative for heart disease and mental health issues,” Dugoua explains.
A person may have normal hormone tests, but if there is a lot of cortisol kicking around, it will prevent testosterone from doing its job of bumping up the libido. “Stress, work, school, life, family, relationships, take your pick of stressors,” says Dugoua, adding that the key is how we manage stress. “There are many ways to adjust and bring stress down. Psychotherapy, for instance, can be super helpful,” he says.
Stress is also an issue for women, but the female reproductive cycle poses additional challenges. “Women have to contend with fluctuating estrogen and progesterone. If they are having libido issues, I start with asking if they are having regular periods,” Dugoua says. If there is irregularity, then there is a possibility for the presence of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can cause estrogen levels to fall and raise testosterone levels. Likewise, for older women facing menopause, they face a dramatic drop in estrogen, which is linked to low bone mass, acid reflux and heart disease. When women have a lot of estrogen, it can increase the risk of breast cancer, and low testosterone can diminish sex drive. “We help women manage their hormones,” Dugoua explains.
For both men and women, there are some baseline lifestyle habits that can aid in a healthy sex life. In addition to managing stress, good sleep habits are very important. “A lot of people overlook sleep. But sleep is key to having healthy testosterone levels and managing stress. You build testosterone at night,” explains Dugoua. Regular exercise can also help with blood flow to the genitals; Dugoua notes that strength training in particular can help bump up testosterone. A healthy diet is also important. Dugoua recommends zincrich foods such as shellfish, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and asparagus, which can bolster testosterone. And foods such as antioxidant-rich berries are good for circulation and protecting the inner linings of blood vessels.
Several natural supplements can help with sexual dysfunction, too. Here are just a few that Dugoua recommends. As always, it’s important to consult with a healthcare specialist to make sure you are taking supplements to match your specific needs