Have a lot of “headaches” lately? You’re not alone. Ten percent of women who report sexual issues identify low libido as a primary concern, per research published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. Meanwhile, 14.4 percent of men have reported a lack of sexual desire within the past year, according to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Though nutrition certainly isn’t the only factor that influences libido, it’s a big one, according to Kaely McDevitt, R.D., a dietitian who focuses on hormonal health.
“In order for men and women to manufacture sex hormones at appropriate levels, their nutritional needs have to be met in two different ways,” she says. The first: sufficient calorie intake. The second: ample amounts of the right micronutrients to fuel sex hormone production.
Basically, without the right nutrients (and enough of them), the body lacks the materials it needs to build the hormones that fuel your sex drive.
There are seven nutrient deficiencies that can affect your libido. Here’s what you need to know about them.
Zinc may be one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies in the world—and it plays a direct role in sex drive. “It is involved in testosterone production, which is important for both men and women,” says Brandye Manigat, MD, an OB-GYN and libido coach in California.
Read More: Are You Getting Enough Zinc?
Ideal zinc levels should be between 0.66 and 1.1 mcg/mL (micrograms per milliliter), says Manigat. Zinc-rich foods include grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Supplements (Manigat recommends 30 milligrams a day), additionally, can help you increase your levels.
“Just make sure you take a multivitamin to keep your copper levels normal, too, as zinc can deplete copper,” she says.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These good-for-you fats are known to help improve heart, brain, and eye health, and even support your mood. Without enough in your system, you’ll feel generally crummy, and your libido may take a hit as a result.
“If you are not feeling well overall or are super-tired, you will not be interested in any extracurricular activities—not even sex,” says Manigat.
Signs that you’re short on omega-3s include irritability and other mood changes, as well as fatigue. Manigat recommends consuming 1.1 to 1.6 grams of omega-3s per day by increasing your consumption of omega-3-rich foods or supplementing. (A few good food sources: flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, and eggs.)
3. Vitamin D
“Vitamin D deficiency may lead to decreased production of sex hormones, like estrogen and testosterone,” says Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., owner of eatrightfitness. As a result, it can be quite the libido killer.
In addition to spending time outdoors, Adams recommends filling your plate with vitamin D-containing foods, including egg yolks and fatty fish. (Certain cereals and dairy products are also fortified with the nutrient.) The goal: 10 to 20 micrograms (or 400 to 800 IU) daily.
Ultimately, though, “it may be difficult to get the amount you need strictly from your diet (especially if you don’t consume dairy),” Adams says. “So, supplementation may be your best option.”
4. Vitamin B12
Many of the B vitamins play key roles in reducing stress and fatigue, boosting mood, and supporting healthy hormone function.
One that gets good buzz: vitamin B12. “B12 is known for its energy-boosting effects,” she says. Low B12 can contribute to fatigue and mood swings, both of which impact one’s desire to have sex.
To increase B12 levels (Manigat recommends at least 220 pmol/L), boost your intake of grass-fed meats and seafood. You can also supplement with 200 micrograms of B12 twice a day.
Magnesium plays hundreds of roles in the body and has been linked with increased dopamine levels, which are directly connected to testosterone, according to Manigat. (Remember, both men and women need healthy T function to maintain sexual well-being.)
“If you do not have enough magnesium, you may experience leg cramps, muscle spasms and pain, fatigue, and insomnia,” Manigat says.
Consume magnesium-rich foods (like green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds) daily, she says. Supplementing with 300 to 400 milligrams of magnesium daily can also help.
H2O may not be a vitamin, but it’s certainly an essential nutrient. “Without enough water, our bodies don’t function optimally and we become dehydrated and fatigued, and experience headaches, muscle cramps, and constipation,” says Adams. “All of this adversely affects our sexual desire.”
Read More: Are You Dehydrated Without Even Knowing It?
Adams recommends drinking at least 80 ounces of water per day (more if you exercise frequently).
7. Nitric Oxide
Though also not a vitamin, nitric oxide can affect your sex drive. This chemical is important for vasodilation (the relaxation of blood vessels), which helps blood flow more freely to all parts of the body, including the extremities, explains Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D.N., dietitian and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen. “If you don’t have good blood flow throughout the body, you can’t expect the parts of the body that depend on blood flow to perform,” she says. (Yes, we’re talking about sexual organs here.)
“You can increase the amount of nitric oxide in your body by eating foods naturally high in nitrates,” she says. A few examples: beets, celery, watercress, and arugula. Foods high in flavanols (which help the body produce nitric oxide) like cocoa can also help. Largeman-Roth likes adding unsweetened cocoa powder and cocoa nibs to smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal, and yogurt.
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