A healthy sex drive is a marker of vitality and health. So if your libido is low, that could be an indication that something is going on with your mental or physical health, most often hormonal imbalance. Despite how common low libido and hormonal imbalance is, people still feel pretty embarrassed about it. But there is no shame in your low sex drive game! In today’s podcast and blog, I answer a listener question: What’s up with my low sex drive?! to get to the bottom of why your libido might be low.
Reasons for Low Libido can be Emotional, Psychological or Circumstantial
Relationship issues - feeling emotionally disconnected from your partner
History of sexual abuse
Cultural beliefs around Women’s bodies and shame
The term “guilty pleasure” says it all; if we experience ANY pleasure with our female bodies (food, sex, physical touch, fun, relaxation), then that necessitates feelings of guilt. And even though we can mentally reject those old paradigms as we shift into a new one, when ideologies are so deeply baked into us, we can have unconscious beliefs that guide our decisions and even our physical bodies. Remember that most of what we do is driven by the subconscious. So even though we might not be able to articulate in our brains “I feel guilty when I receive pleasure or I feel unworthy of receiving pleasure”, the subconscious thoughts are really running the show and driving behavior.
In the book Feminine Genius, author Liyana Silver talks about the unconscious beliefs of women:
“Needs make you weak. Get rid of all needs. Ask for nothing; take nothing. Get busy giving and doing--but make sure you do it all by yourself. I can’t need much because I don’t deserve much. I am a mistake. I am not wanted. I don’t deserve to be here. I have to earn my existence.”
How many women can relate? How many women at the deepest core of their being feel this way? And this can extend to so many aspects of our being -- how we feed ourselves, how we treat ourselves, how we speak to ourselves, how we let others treat us and speak to us, with seeking pleasure, with our sex lives.
I speak often about how modern medicine is failing women. But these old, ingrained beliefs are, too. When we rob ourselves of pleasure, it is actually detrimental to our health.
Sex is a health-supporting activity.
Intimacy, orgasm and pleasurable touch (include self-touch) releases a hormone called oxytocin, often referred to as our “bliss hormone”. Oxytocin has a number of effects on our bodies, including:
Can reduces anxiety and stress
Reduces pain - natural analgesic
Naturally suppresses appetite
Buffers against harmful effects of high cortisol
Improves the immune system (especially helpful for those of us with autoimmune disease)
Increases T regulatory cells
Increases muscle health and repair in elderly
Promoting oxytocin is beneficial for our emotional and physical health. Sex and pleasure is beneficial for our emotional and physical health.
Don’t overlook these old, deep belief patterns. They could be contributing to your low libido. But, if you normally have a robust and healthy sex drive and all of a sudden that turns on a dime, that could be an indication there was a hormonal shift.
Let’s look at some of the hormonal causes of low libido.
Stress and Adrenal Exhaustion
The idea that we have to be highly productive in order to feel worthy keeps us in overdrive. Perfectionism keeps us in overdrive. Trying to perform well, be of service and look good while doing it puts us into overdrive. I call it the Modern American Woman Syndrome. It is SO common and I see it with SO many of my clients.
Your Hormone Revival™ , my 12 week hormone balancing program, goes WAY in depth into all of this, but here’s a snapshot of how this impacts us physiologically:
HPA axis (hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis) is command control for your stress response. It’s supposed to turn on during acute stress -- this is our fight or flight response -- and then turn off when the acute stress is over, and put us into our parasympathetic mode, which is the regulatory state for our body and our hormones.
Unfortunately in modern day, it’s rarely if ever turned off. So we’re constantly stimulating stress hormone production, and the more we’re doing that, the less we’re focused on other hormones, like thyroid and sex hormones.
As biological beings, our two main goals are survival and reproduction. But we always prioritize survival over reproduction.
So issues at the level of the HPA axis - often called adrenal fatigue - can lead to low libido in and of itself, as well as hormonal imbalance. If your body thinks its in a life or death situation, it won’t stimulate you to get all randy to go reproduce. Your body is smart. It’s not going to try to bring children into a perceived unsafe environment. This is why stress and adrenal issues are a leading contributor to infertility.
Other hormone problems that can lead to low libido:
Progesterone is a female sex hormone that prepares the uterus for pregnancy. It’s made in the ovaries pre-menopause and in the adrenals post-menopause.
Symptoms of low progesterone:
Low sex drive
Anxiety, irritability, mood changes
Irregular menstruation, short cycles or mid-cycle spotting
Insomnia or sleep disturbance
Headaches and migraines
Causes of low progesterone:
Chronic stress and HPA dysregulation
Low cholesterol/low fat diet: Cholesterol is the original building block for ALL your hormones, including thyroid hormone. We We need cholesterol to make pregnenolone (often referred to as the Mother of all Hormones), and then that goes on to make progesterone.
Low body fat, eating disorder, calorie restriction, over-exercise
High prolactin levels
Estrogen dominance: Either you’re making too much estrogen, exposed to too much estrogen through diet or environment, or your estrogen is out of balance with progesterone
“Estrogen” is the name of a class of hormones including E1 (estrone), E2 (estradiol) and E3 (estriol). Like progesterone, estrogen is made primarily in the ovaries pre-menopause and in the adrenals post-menopause. Estrogen is a BUILD hormone - it stimulates the growth and maturation of reproductive organs and breasts, promotes vaginal mucosal thickness, as well as skin hydration.
Symptoms of low estrogen:
yeast infections, recurring UTIs, Vaginal dryness, painful intercourse (these things would make someone less likely to want to have sex)
Causes of low estrogen:
Chronic stress, HPA axis dysfunction
low cholesterol, low fat diet
low body fat
We think about this as the “male hormone’ but ladies make it and need it, too. (For example, we need healthy testosterone levels to be receptive to sexual advances from our partner.)
While men make it in the testes, we make it in the ovaries, and a little bit in the adrenal glands. About 50% comes from the conversion of androgens, including DHEA.
Therefore, DHEA deficiency can also contribute to low testosterone. DHEA is a stress hormone and it can be low with chronic stress and adrenal fatigue.
DHEA naturally declines with age, but chronic stress will prematurely decline DHEA levels.
Symptoms of low testosterone:
low muscle mass
Causes of low testosterone:
Low cholesterol, low fat diet
low body fat, ED, calorie restriction, over-exercise
chronic stress, HPA axis dysfunction
blood sugar dysregulation
trans fats, soy, alcohol, refined sugar - all linked to low T
Smoking weed - low T
Obesity: our adipose tissue/fat cells can convert T into E through aromatization
Mold + biotoxins
Oxidative stress (heavy metals, infections)
Certain medications - corticosteroids, statins, opioids, beta-blockers, SSRIs, BC
How can you balance your hormones?
Eat a nutrient dense diet.
You can use the principles outlined in Fueled+Fit™ to shift towards a nutrient-dense, whole foods approach to eating.
Balance your blood sugar.
The Carb Compatibility Project™ uses low carb high fat principles to optimize your health and metabolism. We need fat and cholesterol to build hormones, so higher fat diets help with hormone regeneration.
Find ways to manage your stress.
Listen to Episode 63 of the Funk’tional Nutrition Podcast as a starting point.
Support your liver’s phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification pathways.
Liver health and proper detoxification is necessary for hormone balance. The Carb Compatibility Project™ takes a Food As Medicine approach to liver health.
Get environmental hormones out of the picture.
You don’t want to continue to expose yourself to chemicals that mess up your hormones while trying to promote hormonal balance. Here are things to avoid:
Plasticizers are endocrine disruptors - they scramble up your hormones. AVOID whenever possible & as much as possible. Don’t let your food sit in plastic. NEVER store or heat your food in plastic. Choose your health over convenience.
PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS & COSMETICS
Many popular products (even the luxury ones) contain xenoestrogens, which are chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body. This creates a hormonal imbalance in the body.
My favorite company to use and support is Beautycounter.
Cleaners & other household products
HARD NO to anything with synthetic fragrance like scented candles, Glade plug-ins, scented hand soaps, bathroom sprays, etc.
Nontoxic cleaners I like:
DIY (I use hydrogen peroxide, water + essential oils)
The all purpose cleaners from doTERRA and Young Living are also top faves of mine
Episode 68 of the Funk’tional Nutrition Podcast was all about clean water -- and how things like hormones can turn up in our drinking water.
If you’re looking to restore hormone balance and function, you really want to start with lifestyle medicine, deep nutrition, avoiding exposure to environmental hormone disruptors, and potentially adding in some supplements and botanicals. These things combined are SO powerful to restore natural reserves and regain resiliency. This is exactly what we do in the 12 week process of Your Hormone Revival™.