Millions of people are struggling with little or no sex drive, and we all need to start the conversation about it. Seeing thousands of patients, people rarely mention libido as an issue they would like to address—until you ask them personal questions—and then the naked truth is revealed: women who dread having sex with their partner and would rather sleep, men who can't get an erection, going months or years without having a healthy intimate relationship with his spouse.
It amazes me how many people settle for health problems like a low libido because they think it's normal or they are just getting older. Just because something is common doesn't make it normal. My job as a functional medicine practitioner is to get to the root cause of health problems like a low sex drive. So instead of just taking another pill, why don't we actually find out why you have the problem in the first place? Novel idea, I know.
Here are some of the common reasons for a low sex drive that I see in my medical practice:
1. Low iron
Iron is needed to get oxygen to your cells. If your levels are low, I find that one of the symptoms can be low sex drive. I suggest having your iron and ferritin levels tested to see where you add up.
What to do: If your levels are low, you have to find out the cause. I suggest first working with your doctor to rule out any internal bleeds. Once that is cleared, eating iron-rich foods like grass-fed liver or beef as well as green leafy vegetables and beets is a great way to start restoring your iron stores.
2. Adrenal fatigue
Adrenal fatigue happens when your brain is not speaking very clearly to your adrenals. The brain-adrenal-axis problems cause cortisol levels to be either too high or too low, and this can leave you feeling exhausted and more interested in eating junk food than having sex.
What to do: Having struggled with adrenal fatigue myself in the past, I know firsthand the most effective tools. A comprehensive approach that includes stress and sleep management, adaptogenic herbs, and healing foods are some of my top tools to rehab from adrenal fatigue.
3. Sluggish thyroid
Every cell of your body needs your thyroid hormones to function optimally. If your thyroid hormones are sluggish, it's likely your sex drive will also be low.
What to do: I suggest getting comprehensive thyroid testing because there are many underlying thyroid problems that don't show up on basic thyroid labs. Depending on your results, here is my list of different strategies to support optimal thyroid health.
4. Gut problems
Your gastrointestinal system is known in the medical literature as your "second brain," and gut-brain connection problems like leaky gut syndrome can affect your brain-hormone connection—leaving you with no sex drive and fatigue.
What to do: Clean up your diet to heal your gut and find out what your body loves and hates with an elimination diet. I also like using specific food medicines like bone broth and celery juice to aid in gut health.
5. Sex hormone imbalance
Hormones, like anything else in the body, are subject to the "goldilocks principle": not too high, not too low, but just right. When your estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone levels are unbalanced it can leave you feeling totally uninterested in sex.
What to do: Start by having a comprehensive sex hormone panel done. I run both blood and saliva hormone testing to get a full perspective. Shilajit and mucuna pruriens are two herbs I use in my Sex Hormone Boosting Elixir.
6. Insulin resistance
High insulin levels can lead to low sex drive and infertility. And insulin conditions like metabolic syndrome and PCOS can also cause facial hair growth in women, balding, and acne.
What to do: Run fasting glucose and Hgb A1c levels to see if you are insulin resistant. Nutrients like chromium, NAC, and bitter melon are three insulin sensitizers that I also suggest for my patients.
One issue that is often overlooked when it comes to a low libido is medication. Common pharmaceuticals like antidepressants, blood pressure medications, painkillers, and antihistamines can cause low sex drive and erectile dysfunction.
What to do: Talk with your doctor about any alternatives you may have. Also consider a functional medicine approach that focuses on getting healthy so your doctor can reduce and eliminate medications where possible.
You can eat uber healthy, throwing back kale smoothies and kombucha all day long, but if you are filling your mind up with stress, it can still zap your sex drive.
What to do: Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and tai chi are some of my favorite stress-reducing tools.
9. Leptin resistance
This lesser known hormonal problem occurs when your hypothalamic brain cells aren't communicating with leptin, a hormone released from fat cells. Leptin resistance has been shown to lower testosterone levels, which decreases libido in both men and women.
What to do: If your leptin and CRP inflammation levels are high, I suggest entirely avoiding simple starches, refined sugars, grains, and fructose.
10. Low growth hormoneStudies show that high insulin reduces your body's ability to make growth hormone, which lowers sex drive by altering testosterone levels. You can start to see how your hormones are all connected! In functional medicine we refer to this as upstream and downstream problems.
What to do: The appropriately named horny goat weed and Ginkgo biloba are two herbs that are commonly used to support healthy GH levels.
11. Nutrient deficiencies
Low levels of nutrients such as zinc and vitamin D can wreck your sex life.
What to do: Get your levels tested and supplement accordingly, preferably working with a qualified doctor.
12. Insufficient healthy fatsHealthy fats like coconut oil, avocados, ghee, and olive oil are needed to make healthy hormones and brain function. One study
found that people who ate a low-fat diet had significantly lower testosterone levels.What to do: Eat healthy fats! Start off slow to wake up your gallbladder, allowing yourself time to find out exactly which fats your body feels the best on. Read my article on the subject for a full guide on healthy fats.