How Sugar Can Affect Your Sex Life & What To Do About It
These days, I'm seeing many female patients—even younger ones—with libido-crashing mood disorders and other problems that interfere with their personal lives. They have a lower sex drive than they'd like or otherwise aren't "in the mood." For many of these women, I connect the dots between how lifestyle factors contribute to and exacerbate sex hormone imbalances1, including drinking and smoking, exposure to environmental toxins, and being chronically stressed. But truthfully, one of the biggest culprits I frequently see that knocks sex hormones out of balance is sugar.
How sugar affects your sex drive.
Excessive sugar can wreck your sex life, primarily through the way sugar can lead to hormonal imbalance2. (That includes sugar in "healthy" foods like wheat flour, which converts to sugar.) Sugar raises insulin and creates a hormonal domino effect. Subsequently, high insulin adversely affects other hormones.
Sugar also lowers testosterone3, a hormone deeply tied to sex drive. Out-of-balance levels can reduce desire, increase body fat, lower muscle mass, and create fuzzy memory. Sugar can also increase leptin resistance4, and research suggests leptin resistance is further linked to lower testosterone5. Furthermore, sugar is linked to increased stress and decreases in energy.
Simply put, reducing sugar and artificial sweeteners can help you feel energized and maintain a healthy sex life. Sugar jacks up insulin, and when you normalize insulin levels, other hormones also fall into place.
How to balance your hormones to support a healthy sex drive.
Besides cutting out sugar, these five strategies can help women balance hormones naturally so they feel vibrant, lean, and sexy:
1. Reconsider your medicine cabinet.
A major side effect of medications like antidepressants and birth control pills is lower libido. Birth control pills can decrease testosterone. Work with a functional doctor to find safer alternatives to these medications.
2. Heal your gut.
A diet high in processed foods, as well as antibiotics and other medications, can wreak havoc on the gut, making it difficult to produce your feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. To minimize bad bugs, eat a clean diet rich in whole foods. Avoid antibiotics when possible, and supplement with a quality probiotic to promote digestion and reduce inflammation.
3. Stick to real food.
A whole-foods diet is anti-inflammatory and helps your body produce healthy hormone levels. Phytonutrient-rich foods include leafy greens like spinach, collards, kale, cruciferous vegetables, and healthy fats like grass-fed meats, wild-caught fatty fish, and nuts and seeds. Bone broth and high-fiber foods like berries and lentils also provide libido-supporting nutrients.
4. Remove toxins from your environment.
Minimize environmental toxins, which can contain endocrine disrupters that can interfere with your sex drive. Plastics and chemicals in cleaning products, paints, and makeup can contain powerful endocrine disrupters like lead and bisphenol A (BPA). Choose natural products when you buy makeup and household products. Living clean and green becomes a big step toward rebalancing your hormones. Check out the Environmental Working Group to learn the safest products for your home and your body.
5. Make relaxing lifestyle changes.
Stress management is crucial to optimizing your libido. Unwind and utilize relaxation techniques that work best for you. I recommend meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and massages.
Sleep is also crucial. Aim for seven or eight hours of quality, uninterrupted, deep sleep every night. And exercise and movement are extremely important (but often underutilized) ways to optimize libido. Increase pleasure throughout the day with aromatherapy, creative expression, dance, and music therapy. These make great ways to increase your happy vibes.
There are also many psychological reasons people might have trouble getting aroused, including anxiety around sex, past trauma, or relationship trouble. (It's also OK to not want sex in a relationship sometimes.)
If you still struggle with libido and want to increase it, you can work with a functional medicine doctor to pinpoint underlying causes of lower libido. You may also seek out natural ways to increase testosterone levels. But age and other factors should never limit your ability to feel sexy and vital.
Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of Functional Medicine. He is the founder and director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, a 13-time New York Times best-selling author, and Board President for Clinical Affairs for The Institute for Functional Medicine. He is the host of one of the leading health podcasts, The Doctor’s Farmacy. Dr. Hyman is a regular medical contributor on several television shows and networks, including CBS This Morning, Today, Good Morning America, The View, and CNN. He is also an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show.