Summertime, holidays, high temperatures, light clothing – they’re all conducive to increasing libido. But if it remains stuck in first gear despite such stimulants, selective use of supplements can help both men and women to rediscover an uninhibited and fulfilling sex life.
First of all, a little nutritional fine tuning is in order …
What we eat sometimes has a direct effect on desire and so a few small adjustments may be called for:
- Limit foods containing excessive saturated animal fat and/or added sugar (biscuits, cakes, ice cream, sugary drinks, cold meats, cheese and pastries…).
- Prioritise monounsaturated fats (olive oil, olives, avocado) and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (small oily fish, rapeseed, flax seed and camelina oil).
- Opt for red fruits, any vegetables, green tea, red wine (in moderation) and spices such as turmeric, cinnamon and ginger for their rich content in vascular-protective antioxidants.
- Avoid heavy meals, choosing soup-based recipes, raw or cooked fruit and vegetables, fish, shellfish, seafood, poultry and eggs. These are rich in zinc, essential for maintaining healthy testosterone levels and preventing its conversion into oestrogen which significantly curbs male sexual desire
- Treat yourself to one or two squares of dark chocolate – with a minimum 85% cocoa – a day.
Taking some form of enjoyable exercise several times a week is also a necessary part of the recipe for staying in peak sexual form. Other factors integral to the ‘pursuit of pleasure’ include stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, getting enough sleep and losing a few pounds if necessary.
In order to stimulate the senses, reignite the libido and correct any physical impairments, it is also vital to focus on plant extracts and nutrients that specifically target these functions.
Stimulating female desire and sexual vitality
Loss of sexual desire affects one in four active women. Female libido is partly linked to two hormones, oestradiol and testosterone, but most oestradiol in the blood and almost all testosterone is bound to Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) rendering them inactive. So while it is the free fractions that are truly active, just a tiny percentage of these hormones is actually free.
Oestradiol’s key role in problems of female sexual function is well-established. It has a very similar chemical structure to that of testosterone and binds to the same SHBG sites as testosterone via an equally comparable mechanism of action, suggesting it plays a specific role in stimulating female sex drive. Low levels of free oestradiol and testosterone are thus linked to a decrease in lubrication and sexual desire.
This fall in female hormones combines with the stresses of everyday life to depress libido. To restore or boost sexual appetite, we need to take advantage of plant extracts that naturally restore female sexual desire and vitality:
(Trigonella foenum graecum
), from the fabaceae family, is traditionally used as a male sex tonic. Fenugreek seed contains around a hundred active substances including saponins, and in particular, furostanol. Some extracts are standardised in saponin glycosides, non-androgenic phytosteroids that naturally boost female sexual fulfilment. They significantly increase levels of oestradiol (+64%) and free testosterone (within female physiological limits), and at the same time reduce those of SHBG.
These extracts boost five markers of female sexual function:
- They improve the ‘imaginative’ aspect of sexuality,
- They increase sexual desire and arousal,
- They allow for greater control and ‘direction’ of sexual relations,
- They encourage uninhibited relations between partners,
- They produce a more intense or controlled orgasm.
According to studies on these fenugreek extracts standardised in saponin glycosides, women who took such supplements also increased their sexual activity frequency from once or twice a month to an average of once a week.
Earlier human studies1
had demonstrated fenugreek extract’s ability to displace a small fraction of bound testosterone, producing an improvement in sexual activity by boosting free testosterone levels, increasing sexual desire and arousal, and allowing better control of sexual relations as well as a more intense orgasm.
( (Lepidium meyenii
) is traditionally recognised for restoring vigour and energy. This outstanding anti-fatigue plant from Peru is not so much an aphrodisiac as an adaptogen, with a targeted effect on the adrenal glands. Maca extracts standardised in macamides and macaenes are used for their energising properties and their ability to stimulate sexual vitality.
- The Indian form of ginseng, Ashwagandha
is also commonly used as a fortifying and anti-stress tonic. This adaptogen root is therefore ideal for combatting physical fatigue and as a general body-booster in active and peri-menopausal women.
Low libido can also be caused by a lack of iron
. In such cases, supplementation for one to two months with 15mg of iron in the form of byglycinate is recommended for menstruating women.
Stimulating male sexuality
Plants effective at boosting male libido and performance include:
- The fruit of Tribulus terrestris
, which grows in Eastern Europe. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for treating low testosterone-induced erectile dysfunction, and decreased libido.
A number of clinical studies have associated its use with significantly increased testosterone levels in men whose levels are naturally very low. Though its active substances are not hormones, they appear to behave like them. Protodioscin in particular, stimulates Leydig cells in the testicles which produce free testosterone. This results in side effect-free increases in libido, stronger erections through relaxation of smooth muscle, increased release of nitric oxide and therefore improved blood flow in the corpus cavernosum
What exactly is NO?
Nitric oxide (NO) is essential for healthy erectile function. It allows relaxation of smooth muscle in the corpus cavernosum. This then fills with blood and stimulates constriction of the arteries, preventing almost all the blood in the corpus cavernosum from leaving. NO therefore plays a primary role in the endothelium of blood vessel walls and promotes vasodilation and erection.
- Muira puama
), which has a long history of use as an aphrodisiac and sex tonic in South America, has been the subject of two clinical trials. It increases frequency and intensity of desire and improves problems of erectile dysfunction by boosting vessel dilation.
- Tongkat ali
) produces a two-fold increase in free testosterone levels by reducing levels of SHBG. With a similar effect to that of the ‘little blue pill’, it thus increases desire and intensifies sexual performance and also improves sexual pheromone production.
- Rhodiola rosea
, also known as Siberian ginseng, increases resistance to stress and combats fatigue. Studies conducted in Russia have found it to improve erectile function in over 85% of cases – indeed a bouquet of Rhodiola rose is traditionally given to newlyweds on their wedding night …
- Mucuna pruriens
is an ayurvedic plant rich in L-dopa, the main precursor of dopamine (which activates the pleasure:reward system), which is itself a precursor of noradrenaline, associated with alertness and sexual behaviour .
), and in particular the flavonoids it contains - icariin and icariside II (its bioactive form in vivo) - are commonly used for increasing libido, desire and sexual vigour and for encouraging production of spermatozoa. Icariin has a positive effect on testosterone production and some cases of erectile dysfunction because it increases blood flow by acting on smooth muscle cells in the corpus cavernosum – inhibiting those enzymes that cause loss of erection – and by stimulating all the nerve fibres in the genital area.
- Avena sativa
contains an alkaloid, avenin, which has a similar chemical structure to that of testosterone. It binds to SHBG and thus releases more active testosterone, increasing libido and intensifying sensations of pleasure and orgasms.
- and finally, catuaba bark
) which acts on the central nervous system. Brazilians have used it for centuries - it is the country’s most famous aphrodisiac.
In addition, nutrients such as L-arginine and L-citrulline
, two non-essential amino acids, are also important. L-arginine is recognised for promoting nitric oxide production while L-citrulline, which is found in some edible plants, increases levels of L-arginine and thus indirectly improves NO production. Trials have shown that supplementing with citrulline is actually more effective at increasing arginine levels than taking L-arginine alone because it is not metabolised in the liver. L-citrulline has a delayed effect on L-arginine production with spikes of over 227% after four hours, as against 90% from supplementation with L-arginine alone. This synergy thus promotes more intense erections and prolonged orgasms.
These two nutrients can also be taken by women to improve blood flow in the genitals.
Problems with reaching or maintaining an adequate erection may be caused by other factors such as:
- stress, anxiety and lack of sleep which significantly reduce testosterone levels in favour of cortisol,
- alcohol abuse and smoking,
- excess weight, because aromatase, the enzyme that converts testosterone into oestradiol, is present in subcutaneous fat,
- certain drugs (those for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and antihistamines,).
These negative factors should be borne in mind in order to give yourself the best chance of success.
And for both sexes …
Maca, ashwagandha, tribulus and rhodiola can be taken by both men and women. Other plants and nutrients that act synergistically with these substances include:
which is a monoamine alkaloid – an endogenous neuroamine – naturally produced in the brain from an essential amino acid, L-phenylalanine. It is found in cocoa and in a blue-green algae called Klamath. Taken orally, it crosses the blood-brain barrier easily and is rapidly available in the brain where it increases concentrations of norepinephrine (a natural stimulant) and especially dopamine. Supplementation thus works very quickly to create a feeling of well-being.
This substance, named the ‘love drug’ as it is produced more abundantly in the brain during episodes of intense happiness or passionate debates, is an effective aid to improving libido and amorous feelings, with no contraindications, side-effects or risks of addiction.
Ginseng panax extracts
, standardised in ginsenosides, are well-recognised for their effects on energy, libido and stress reduction. This adaptogen plant restores physical and emotional equilibrium and can also stimulate NO production by acting on the central nervous system.
acts on the circulation and thus improves vascularisation in both male and female pelvic regions. By boosting the action of nitric oxide synthase, it increases NO and thus vasodilation. Its effect on erectile function has been particularly demonstrated in men taking antidepressants.
Group B vitamins
, especially vitamin B3 which also acts on blood vessel dilation, are essential for hormone synthesis and histamine production which contributes to the feelings induce by orgasm.
Last but not least, magnesium
, vital for managing the stress that can result from successive failures, is also important for production of NO. Low levels of magnesium are found in men suffering from premature ejaculation.