You may wonder how on earth gut health and libido could be connected. Many online resources only talk about the mostly widely-known causes of low libido like hormone imbalance, depression and medication side effects. However, it’s important to think of your health (including sexual health) in holistic terms. The human body is incredibly complex, and there are many links you wouldn’t expect. If you suffer from a low libido, you will most likely benefit from taking steps to improve your gut health. Better digestive well-being will also help prevent and treat other disorders that can cause low sex drive, like anxiety, obesity and depression.
Gut Health and Libido: Surprising Connections
When people talk of “gut health,” they refer to the digestive tract in its entirety — the esophagus all the way through the rectum. Of course, suffering from commonplace digestive distress or from more serious digestive disorders easily puts one out of the mood. This is proven by studies documenting the high rates of sexual dysfunction among people with gut health problems.
Your digestive tract’s main role is obviously to digest food and absorb nutrients. However, it also contains millions of neurons that play a role in emotional response. For this reason, the gut is often referred to as a “second brain.” This is the reason why we sometimes feel emotions in our stomachs—for example, a sinking feeling in your stomach when you’ve heard bad news or getting butterflies when thinking about your loved one. The complex nerve network in your gut is also referred to scientifically as the enteric nervous system. This nervous system communicates back and forth with your brain in ways that science is only beginning to understand. Of course, your desire for sex is closely linked with your emotional state, and therefore it becomes more obvious that your libido could be connected to your gut health.
Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness. It also happens to play a role in sex drive. Though many people think of serotonin as being contained in the brain, in fact about 90 percent of your body’s serotonin is produced in your gut. When something goes wrong with your digestive health, it can disrupt serotonin and therefore your libido. You need a healthy balance of gut bacteria for normal serotonin production, according to studies done on mice.
Your gut contains a rich microbiome of living bacteria. Though these bacteria are their own species, they are an integral part of the human body. The balance of your internal ecosystem has been linked to different mental states. For example, one study found that shy and introverted mice, once given a medication to change their gut bacteria, became “bold and adventurous.”
The key word to remember about optimal gut health is balance. Having plenty of beneficial bacteria, having little or no harmful bacteria, efficiently flushing out all waste, and preventing inflammation will keep your internal ecosystem in balance and help rev up your sex drive.
How to Improve Gut Health
Many aspects of modern life have a negative impact on gut health. A disrupted internal microbiome can lead to mild symptoms or to full-blown digestive diseases. Chronic stress, alcohol consumption, frequent antibiotic use and eating lots of processed foods are some examples of things that deplete your beneficial gut bacteria. To treat and prevent low libido caused by poor gut health, avoid these things religiously. Processed high-carb foods such as bread, baked goods, sweets and soda are especially bad for your gut health.
Fiber from unprocessed plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds is great for the balance of your microbiome. Fiber essentially helps to clean out the gut and prevent the accumulation of rotting waste, which can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria species. Artichokes, garlic, dandelion greens and chicory root are rich in a certain type of fiber that the beneficial microorganisms in your system feed off of, so including these foods in your diet can further improve your gut health.
Collagen, gelatin and glutamine are substances that can help keep the lining of your digestive tract healthy. Bone broth is a good source of all of these. This is a good alternative to improve your gut health if you are someone who experiences digestive discomfort when eating lots of fiber.
Inflammation is a key cause of gut health problems and you can reduce inflammation in your gut by avoiding refined sugars and processed foods. Add foods to your diet that have anti-inflammatory properties such as wild salmon, blueberries, dark leafy greens, turmeric and ginger.
Research shows that getting plenty of exercise is beneficial for your gut flora. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week. Exercise has the added benefit of improving blood flow and serotonin levels, so breaking a sweat boosts your libido through several pathways.
Fermented and cultured foods, also called probiotic foods, are great for re-balancing your digestive bacteria. Here are some examples of such foods that you should include in your diet:
- apple cider vinegar
- raw, unpasteurized cheese
- natto, tempeh, and miso (all forms of fermented soybean)