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Lifting Female Libido: Foods May Matter
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Fish fats, Mediterranean diet, and chocolate may help fan smoldering amorous fires

by Craig Weatherby

The links between food and love have a very long history, including the Romans' belief that oysters enhance male desire and performance.

In fact, the scent of oysters resembles the most potent female pheromone, TMA.

Oysters are also rich in zinc, which is vital for sperm production, and in amino acids that raise testosterone levels in male rats (D'Aniello A et al. 1999).

Be that as it may, Viagra® is probably a far more effective male performance enhancer, compared with the odoriferous mollusk.

In any case, our focus here is on foods that may uplift female libido.

Female sexual dysfunction approaches epidemic proportions

Millions of women suffer from one or more types of female sexual dysfunction (FSD), including low libido (sexual desire), inability to become aroused, lack of orgasm (sexual climax), or painful intercourse.

These problems stem from various physical causes like diabetes, heart disease, nerve disorders, hormone problems, and certain drugs, including antidepressant drugs.

Key Points

  • Female authors say fish oil lifts libido; research provides some support for their suggestion.
  • Women with sexual dysfunction were found to benefit from Mediterranean-style diets; Men with ED also benefited.
  • Amorous reputations of chocolate and caffeine cause controversy.

Psychological causes include stress, anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and past sexual trauma.

Two recent surveys of American women found that the most common sexual problem reported is low sex drive or libidoaffecting about one-third of women who report sex problemsfollowed by difficulty with orgasm (Lutfey KE et al. 2008; Paik A and Laumann, EO 2005).

Recent findings suggest that lack of libido is a common problem, and the authors of the most recent report made two key observations (Lutfey KE et al. 2008):

  • “…assumptions underlying research on women’s sexuality, especially those focused on Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD), have largely promoted an ideal that follows from the male model, one which is oriented to sexual performance: orgasm is central, desire is high, arousal is abundant, and lubrication is readily achieved.”

  • “To the extent that female sexual activity, problems, or satisfaction are viewed as possible targets for pharmaceutical or psychological intervention, the accuracy of such information is a high stakes issue.”

Given the stakes involved, it was unfortunate that the authors of recent sexual health surveys did not include questions about nutrition, which surely plays a part in libido and sexual functioning for men and women alike.

Menu for romantic rewards

Recently, two female authors called the omega-3s in fatty fish and fish oil serious libido-lifters.

Sex educator and author Dr. Yvonne Kristín Fulbright touted the benefits of omega-3 fish oil in a FOX News article titled Can You Eat Your Way to Better Sex? (Fulbright YK 2005):

I’m a big fan of fish oil. I take two tablets every morning because there are so many health benefits. So I was delighted when I learned that animal and human studies show that fish oil raises dopamine levels in the brain… Dopamine can stimulate the release of testosterone, your hormone of sexual desire…”

And Dr. Fulbright added a key caveat: “You want to avoid fried fish since often it is cooked in oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, which cancels out the effect you want” (She was referring to the fact that dietary omega-3s and omega-6s compete for passage through the same metabolic pathway).

Last year, environmental consultant Marrena Lindberg recommended fish oil highly in her book The Orgasmic Diet, which

presented a diet and exercise plan designed for “…the millions of women unable to reach orgasm, or for those who want to improve their sex lives.”

The Orgasmic Diet offered four main prescriptions for lifting women’s libidos and enhancing their experience of sex:

  1. Take ample amounts of fish oil
  2. Keep your diet low in carbohydrates
  3. Get ample exercise, including vaginal routines
  4. Avoid refined sugar and caffeine, which Lindberg calls “orgasm killers”

Lindberg says she discovered her program when, in response to becoming pregnant, she stopped antidepressants and caffeine and started taking lots of fish oil.

As she wrote, “My libido not only picked up, it took off. I became a maniac. My husband was ecstatic!”

Can abundant omega-3 intake make the brain a sexier organ?

In a chapter titled The Magic of Fish Oil, Lindberg explains that fish oil, like Viagra, increases nitric oxide levels in artery linings: an effect that increases blood flow to the brain and sex organs (Das UN 2007).

Ms. Lindberg also says that omega-3s raise brain levels of serotonin and dopamine: neurotransmitters that regulate mood and testosterone levels.

There is substantial, albeit inconclusive evidence that would explain Ms. Lindberg’s experience and support her claim.

Serotonin is the brain’s main “feel-good” chemical, and there is preliminary clinical evidence suggests that omega-3s support healthy brain levels of the neurotransmitter.

(Prozac-type antidepressant drugs prevent serotonin from being re-absorbed, but yield adverse side effects that include reduced libido.)

Harvard University psychiatrist Andrew Stoll, M.D. says that omega-3s keep cell membranes more fluid, making it easier for receptors to respond to neurotransmitters like serotonin (Foreman J 2005).

And studies led by NIH clinical researcher Joseph Hibbeln, M.D., link low levels of omega-3s in cell membranes to low levels of serotonin in people with aggression and impulse-control problems (Hibbeln JR et al. 1998).

What about dopamine? This neurotransmitter raises testosterone levels, which is even more important for women’s libido than for men’s.

Conversely, anti-psychotic drugs that occupy dopamine receptors are linked to sexual dysfunctions such as loss of libido, erectile and/or lubrication problems and orgasm and ejaculation disorders (Knegtering H et al. 2007).

Recent experimental results indicate that fish oil may help maintain brain levels of dopamine (See “Omega-3 DHA May Help Deter Parkinson's Disease”).

Despite these indirect indications of potential benefitand enthusiastic endorsements of fish oil by Lindberg and Fulbrightthe ability of omega-3s to lift libido and drive desire remains an unproven hypothesis.

As a researcher from France’s equivalent of the US NIH wrote recently, “Though omega-3 fatty acids (from fatty fish in the human diet) appear effective in the prevention of stress, their role as regulator of mood and of libido is a matter for discussion pending experimental proof in animal and human models” (Bourre JM 2005).

Chocolate and caffeine present mixed passion-boosting pictures

Marrena Lindberg recommends eating up to half an ounce of dark chocolate every day, because some of its constituents may increase dopamine levels.

In addition, cocoa contains theobromine: a cousin to caffeine which acts as a much weaker stimulant but boosts production of opiate-like endorphins. Cocoa also contains anandamide and phenylethylamine (PEA), which exert mild mood-elevating effects.

Italian researchers found no difference in sexual arousal or satisfaction between women who consumed chocolate daily, compared with those who did not consume the cocoa-rich confection. However, they did not ask women to describe the relative darkness (i.e., cocoa content) of the chocolate ingested, which could affect the results significantly (Salonia A et al. 2006).

Ms. Lindberg argues that caffeine causes sharp fluctuations in brain serotonin levels, which would blunt the libidinous impact of dopamine.

But some research suggests that caffeine acts as an aphrodisiac in people aged 60 and older. Researchers found that elders who drank coffee daily were more likely to describe themselves as sexually active (62 percent) versus those who did not indulge in java (38 percent).

And it seems plausible to propose that caffeine’s proven antidepressant effects could promote sexual activity.

Mediterranean diet shows sexy results

Last summer, researchers from the University of Naples, Italy reported the results of a clinical trial in women diagnosed with two common, apparently related conditions:

  • Female sexual dysfunction (FSD)
  • Metabolic syndrome, which is the combination of unhealthy blood fat profiles, inflammation, and excess abdominal fat believed to promote diabetes and heart disease.

The Neapolitan team divided 59 women into two groups. Half were assigned to eat a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grain and olive oil.

After two years, the women were re-tested for scores on the female sexual function index (FSFI), in which higher scores indicate better sexual health.

The Mediterranean diet group showed marked improvement in their FSFI scores, from an average of 19.7 to value of 26.1, and lower levels of inflammation, while the women on the control diet showed no improvements.

As the researchers wrote, “A Mediterranean-style diet might be effective in ameliorating sexual function in women with metabolic syndrome” (Esposito K et al. 2007).

Interestingly, the Neapolitans had similarly positive results from a parallel trial in men with metabolic syndrome and erectile dysfunction. After two years, men placed on a Mediterranean diet showed reduced inflammation and improved erectile function, compared with a control group (Esposito K et al. 2006).

Omega-3s, dark chocolate, tea, and Mediterranean diets may or may not be cures for diminished desire, but it can’t hurt to give these healthful choices a try!


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