There's a silent epidemic going on that rarely gets discussed, and shame and isolation keep this health problem in the dark. Millions of men struggle silently with a low sex drive and/or erectile dysfunction (ED), an issue that is so closely tied to our masculinity and self-worth. Over the years, I've talked to countless men in my functional medicine clinic and have to drag it out of them, to find out if it's an issue or not. They will come in for other health problems, with no mention of ED or a low libido. It's not until I dig deeper with the many health questions we ask in functional medicine that I find out about their struggles in the bedroom.
Let's break the stigma and get personal.
Low libido and ED have everything to do with low testosterone, other symptoms of which include weight gain, irritability, and breast tissue enlargement. If you are going through any of these, I suggest looking at this list of the top reasons why I find men struggling with erectile dysfunction and a low libido:
1. Chronic stress.
We all know stress is not good for our health. (And if you didn't know, now you do.) You can be eating the cleanest foods on God's green earth, but if you're gorging yourself on stress, you are counteracting all the good healthy stuff. One Russian study found that stressors directly affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. In other words, your brain and testicles don't speak well to each other when you're stressing.
2. Poor sleep.
Quality, restorative sleep is über-important for your sex drive. One large cohort study found that men with poor sleep habits or health problems like sleep apnea had lower testosterone levels on average.
3. Statin drugs.
Cholesterol is demonized in mainstream medicine, but as I have written in the past, it's crucial for our health. Optimal cholesterol levels are needed for a healthy brain and hormones, which are essential for a healthy sex drive and performance. A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled randomized trials confirmed that cholesterol-lowering statin drugs also lowered testosterone levels, because cholesterol is needed to make testosterone!
Did you know that men make estrogen as well? Unlike women, we don't make our estrogen from our ovaries (for obvious reasons), but in the male body testosterone is converted into estrogen in the liver by an enzyme called aromatase. One common issue I find in patients is a hormonal imbalance caused by an over-aromatization of testosterone to estrogen. This over-conversion can be slowed down with aromatase inhibitors. These foods are some of the world's best down-regulators of aromatase:
- Tea (Black or Green)
- Red Ginger
5. Lack of exercise.
Of course you know exercise is good for your overall health, but did you know it can very effectively increase testosterone and sexual performance? It's true. Get your blood pumping in the gym to get it pumping in the bedroom. Exercise can increase your T levels by up to 250 percent.
6. Zinc deficiency.
If there's one micronutrient needed for healthy testosterone levels it is probably zinc. One study gave 250 mg/day of a zinc supplement for six weeks and saw a significant increase in T levels.
7. HPG-axis dysfunction.
Poor HPG (hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal) axis function, that I mentioned above, can be a major player to erectile dysfunction and a low libido. If you don't know already, I am an adaptogen superfan. This plant family is great at balancing out stress hormones, lowering inflammation, balancing that brain-testicular communication. These adaptogenic guys are extra great at boosting T:
8. Low DHEA.
DHEA is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, and one of its jobs is to be a precursor to testosterone. One study found that after HIIT training, supplementing 50 mg of DHEA increased testosterone up to 200 percent compared to those who just did the burst training. What a cool possibility to enhance the T-boosting benefits of exercise!
9. Low magnesium levels.
Magnesium is critical for hundreds of intricate pathways that keep us alive and thriving. And testosterone optimization is another reason to make sure your Mg levels are on point. Medical literature has found that supplementing 10 mg magnesium per kilogram of body weight significantly boosted T levels in just four weeks.
10. A low-fat diet.
Just like cholesterol, fat is also paramount for optimal brain and hormone function. One of the many possible side effects of a low-fat diet is low testosterone levels. One study showed that after eight weeks on a low-fat diet, testosterone levels were lowered by 12 percent.
11. Low vitamin D.
Every cell of your brilliant body needs vitamin D to vibrate at optimal capacity. Studies have shown that supplementing to optimize vitamin D levels increased testosterone levels by 25 percent. For everything you need to know about vitamin D, check out my article all about the sunshine vitamin.
12. Not enough antioxidants.
I love tea, and for good reason! Studies have shown that the beneficial tea antioxidant EGCG had some pretty rad testosterone-increasing capabilities.
Here's what to do when estrogen and testosterone get out of whack.