By Dr. Mercola
It's estimated that 30-40 percent of people around the globe experience a lack of interest in sex for at least several months in any given year.1 The reasons for low libido are complex and run the gamut from stress and other emotional difficulties to physical problems, including erectile dysfunction.
Most people do not seek help for chronic low libido, which is unfortunate because regular sex with a committed partner cannot be underestimated as a factor for reducing stress, bolstering self-esteem, and fostering feelings of intimacy and bonding between partners.
A healthy sex life can provide for a longer, healthier and, most would agree, more enjoyable life, but many are missing out on this very primal pleasure.
11 Drugs That May Cause Low Libido
Oftentimes low libido is related to your lifestyle, and that includes any medications you are taking. Many medications can interfere with your sex drive, including the 11 that follow. Considering the widespread use of many of these, it's likely that medication use is a leading cause of low libido among both men and women.
If you're taking one of these and have experienced a drop in your libido, talk with a natural health care practitioner about drug-free alternatives. Many of the drugs below are used for conditions that are better treated using non-drug methods.
1. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) Antidepressants
Sexual dysfunction is a frequent side effect of antidepressants, including the SSRIs (Prozac, Zoloft, etc.) that are often used as a first-line treatment option for depression. According to a report in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience:2
"Sexual dysfunction occurs through several brain pathways involving increases in serotonin (5-HT), decreases in dopamine (DA) and inhibition of nitric oxide synthase. Increases in cortico-limbic 5-HT result in decreased sexual desire, ejaculation and orgasm.
Consequently, it is not surprising that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI)-induced sexual dysfunction occurs in 30%–80% of patients and is a main cause of treatment discontinuation."
2. Tricyclic Antidepressants
Tricyclic antidepressants are much less widely used than the newer SSRIs, but they are still prescribed for both depression and nerve pain. Like SSRIs, tricyclic antidepressants are also associated with decreased libido.
3. Birth Control Pills
About 15 percent of women taking oral contraceptives report a decrease in libido, likely because they lower levels of sex hormones, including testosterone.3 One study also found seven times the amount of the libido-killing sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) was present in women who took oral contraceptives compared to women who never used the pill.
Even though SHBG levels declined in women who had stopped taking the pill, they still remained three to four times higher than they were in women with no history of using oral contraceptives, which suggests oral contraceptives may kill a woman's libido for the long-term. Researchers concluded:4
"Long-term sexual, metabolic, and mental health consequences might result as a consequence of chronic SHBG elevation [in women who take, or have taken, oral contraceptives."
Proscar belongs to a class of drugs called 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors, which are used to treat enlarged prostate. Your prostate gland contains an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, which converts the male hormone testosterone to another androgen called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This class of drugs inhibits 5-alpha-reductase, thereby blocking the conversion of testosterone DHT.
As a result, they may help to actually shrink your prostate, but they come with significant risks, one of which is a lower libido from the lower testosterone. You can find natural tips for prostate health here.
5. Baldness Drug Propecia
Propecia is a similar drug to Proscar, but typically used at a lower dose to prevent hair loss in men. The drug works by reducing DHT, the most potent male hormone that is linked to shrinking hair, by blocking the enzyme 5-alpha reductase. It has been linked to not only a decreased interest in sex but also to full blown impotence.
BBC News followed one story of a 26-year-old who took Propecia for male pattern baldness. He stopped taking the drug when he noticed a decreased interest in sex, then a few weeks later became impotent. Even after six months of testosterone therapy his sexual health had not been restored, and his physician suggested a penile implant as a solution.5 Many men have found that the sexual side effects do not go away once the drug is stopped.
Antihistamines, particularly Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton, are also linked to a temporary loss of libido. Once the medication is cleared from your body your sex drive should go back to normal, but if you take these medications often, such as for allergy treatment, it could pose a longer-term problem for your sex life.
7. Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states, where it is commonly used to treat pain, nausea, and other conditions. It may dampen your libido and ability to perform in men.
8. Anti-Seizure Drugs
Carbamazepine (Tegretol) is commonly used to prevent seizures, which it does by preventing impulses from traveling along nerve cells. Because it dampens nerve impulses, it may also reduce pleasurable sensations derived from sexual contact. Reduced sexual desire is common among Tegretol users. One study found, for instance, that epileptic men taking carbamazepine had changes in hormonal levels, altered semen quality, increased erectile dysfunction, and reduced frequency of sexual intercourse.6
Widely prescribed opioid painkillers (Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet, etc.) have been making headlines for their addictive potential, but they also lower testosterone levels, which may in turn lower your libido.
10. Beta Blockers
Tens of millions of Americans take beta blockers to lower their blood pressure, and these medications, too, may decrease libido. Even eye drops containing the beta blocker Timolol (for the treatment of glaucoma) may impact your sex drive. In the vast majority of cases, drugs are not needed to reverse hypertension.
There is evidence to suggest that anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax negatively affect sexual functioning,7 including lowering your sex drive.
There Are Better Ways to Treat Low Libido Than a Pill
If you're taking any of the medications above, you may be tempted to add another to your regimen to treat your low libido, or bypass it altogether with a drug to treat erectile dysfunction (ED) (i.e. Viagra). For starters, Viagra does nothing directly to enhance your libido or the fact that many cases of ED are undoubtedly emotionally based. Your brain and nervous system control your sex glands and genitals, and this is why they also control your sexual desire, as well as orgasms.
There are many similarities between men and women in regard to desire; contrary to popular belief, for example, visual images trigger sexual desire in both sexes. Likewise, anxiety, defensiveness, fear, and failure of communication are destructive psychological forces that can take a heavy toll on your libido, whether you're a man or a woman, by acting as roadblocks to desire. In case you were wondering, Viagra does carry a risk of potentially serious side effects, as well including:
Headache Upset stomach Flushing of the face Blue/green color blindness Blurred vision Vision sensitivity to light Sudden decrease or loss of vision in one or both eyes An abnormally long-lasting erection that may cause permanent damage to your penis Sudden loss or decrease in hearing, sometimes with ringing in the ears or dizziness Heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat, and death have occurred in men taking Viagra
A Natural Alternative for Sexual Dysfunction
As far as natural alternatives go, there are many options to consider including L-arginine, an amino acid that is the precursor to nitric oxide, a natural compound that helps relax your blood vessels. Nitric oxide signals the smooth muscle cells in your blood vessels to relax, so that your vessels dilate and your blood flows more freely. This helps your arteries to regain their elasticity and stay free of plaque. L-arginine may also lead to increased microcirculation in genital tissues, which results in stronger erections and better sexual responsiveness, via this nitric oxide mechanism.
In fact, this is how a leading ED drug treats erectile problems — it increases nitric oxide production, relaxing your blood vessels, which increases penile blood flow. However, the price you might pay for these ED drugs is a slew of potentially dangerous side effects, including reducing blood pressure too low. L-arginine increases the action of nitric oxide — similar to ED drugs, but without the side effects.
Scientific studies have shown that L-arginine can be particularly effective when used in combination with another natural agent, pycnogenol, which resulted in significant improvement in sexual function in men with ED, according to a Bulgarian study.8 Similarly, a pilot study published in the journal European Urology found six grams of L-arginine combined with six mg of yohimbine, a compound found in the herb yohimbe, was successful in treating men with ED.9
Strategies for Boosting Your Sex Drive
The natural protocol above may help with ED, but if you want to increase your libido, a more comprehensive program is recommended. For starters, you'll want to ensure that your hormone levels (including testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH)) are balanced and optimized. I've discussed many strategies for optimizing these hormones before, including high-intensity exercise. When it comes to an exercise plan that will complement testosterone function and production (along with overall health), I recommend including both high-intensity interval training and strength training.
Another effective strategy for enhancing both testosterone and HGH release is daily intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting helps boost testosterone by improving the expression of satiety hormones, like insulin, leptin, adiponectin, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), cholecystokinin (CKK), and melanocortins, which are linked to healthy testosterone function, increased libido, and the prevention of age-induced testosterone decline. Vitamin D also increases levels of testosterone, which may boost libido. In one study, overweight men who were given vitamin D supplements had a significant increase in testosterone levels after one year.10
8 Steps to a Healthy Sex Life (for Men and Women)
If you're in a committed relationship and find that your sex life leaves much to be desired, it's likely that your lifestyle is getting in the way. To boost your libido naturally and help restore harmony to your intimate life, use the strategies that follow.
- Reduce, with the plan of eliminating, grains and sugars in your diet. It is vitally important to eliminate sugars, especially fructose. High levels of sugar in your bloodstream can actually turn off the gene that controls your sex hormones.11
- Eat a healthy diet, like the one described in my nutrition plan, which will help to normalize your insulin levels. This simple measure has a profound influence on every area of your health, including your sex life.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels, ideally through appropriate sun exposure as this will allow your body to also create vitamin D sulfate — a factor that may play a crucial role in preventing the formation of arterial plaque that is linked to erectile dysfunction.
- Exercise regularly. Make sure you incorporate high-intensity interval training exercises, which also optimize your human growth hormone (HGH) production.
- Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol excessively.
- Be sure to get plenty of high-quality, restorative sleep.
- Consider choline and vitamin B5 supplements.The neurotransmitter that triggers the sexual message, in both men and women, is acetylcholine (ACH). With too little ACH, sexual activity goes down. One way to safely and effectively enhance ACH levels in your body is to take choline supplements (1,000-3,000 mg) and vitamin B5 (500-1,500 mg).
- Stress, too, can dampen your libido and make sex the last thing on your mind (a catch-22, since sex will help to reduce your stress levels significantly). Taking control of your emotions by learning the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can really help in this area to re-ignite your sex life. EFT is a psychological acupressure technique that can help you effectively address your stress-related thoughts and leave you feeling calmer and more able to face your challenges, whatever they may be, so you're able to focus on more enjoyable pursuits.