When hormones wreak havoc with sexual arousal and wellbeing
The hormonal havoc that takes place in the run up to and during the menopause can be a real passion killer. If you feel as if your sex life has gone off the boil, you’re not alone, because it’s not at all unusual for reduced libido to become an issue for women in midlife as levels of testosterone diminish. Yes, testosterone. We may not have as much as men, but it’s a female hormone too, which is produced by the ovaries and which contributes to arousal, sexual desire and function.
It’s not just all about the hormones though, because other key factors associated with the menopause can also come into play, including emotional wellbeing and body confidence. Arousal starts in the mind, and if you’re feeling depressed, anxious, irritable or unattractive, this will make it very difficult for you to relax and get in the mood for a bit of bedroom action. Physical comfort is also crucial – the headaches, fatigue and vaginal dryness that often come with the menopause are definitely going to make it much harder to enjoy sex.
This shouldn’t mean that you have to close the door on your love life, though. Here are 4 nutrition tips to help deal with the issue, so that lovemaking is firmly back on the agenda.
Make the Most of Magnesium
Magnesium is every menopausal woman’s best friend and it can make a big difference if you’re feeling too tired, anxious or headachy for sex. If you feel as if you’re just clinging on by your fingertips, then you’d probably benefit from magnesium because we need it to produce energy. It plays a big role in calming the nervous system and helping to regulate the body’s response to stress, so that you feel more resilient and better able to cope with the challenges of your daily life. Magnesium also regulates muscle function, helping to relieve the tension which may be causing a headache or tightening the muscles in the vagina so that you don’t feel aroused.
Eating a couple of handfuls of leafy green vegetables like spinach, rocket or cabbage and adding a spoon of pumpkin or sunflower seeds to your breakfast every day will help to increase magnesium levels. Brown rice, oats and beans are also great sources of magnesium. Adding 2-3 handfuls of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) to a bath or footbath and soaking for about 20 minutes will allow the magnesium to absorb through the skin, giving you a quick and easy boost.
Deal with Dryness
Vaginal dryness is a classic symptom of the menopause and unlike other symptoms which usually settle down over time, this is an issue which is likely to continue, causing painful sex, which will definitely affect your libido. Using a natural water-based lubricant such as Sylk makes loads of sense if you want to make penetration more comfortable, but eating natural lubricants can also help to ensure the vaginal tissues stay plump and elastic.
Omega 3 fatty acids support the integrity of cell membranes, which helps vaginal tissue to remain hydrated. Ground flax seed is an excellent source of omega 3 and can be added to breakfast cereal and porridge, or stirred into vegetable soups or casseroles, adding a blast of protein, which is an extra bonus. Snack on walnuts during the day and aim to eat oily fish such as salmon or sardines at least twice a week to keep your omega 3 levels nicely topped up.
Avoid the Low-Fat Trap
Poor old fat has had a really bad rap in recent years and yet it’s absolutely essential for our health and wellbeing. In fact, the human race would probably die out without it, because we need healthy fats to make sex hormones. Many menopausal women automatically opt for low-fat versions of yoghurt, hummus and other popular foods assuming that this will help with weight management. The problem here is that most low-fat foods have added sugar or salt, because the loss of fat leads to a loss of flavour, and the added sugar is certainly not going to help any weight-loss regime. If you’re persistently following a low-fat diet, this is going to make it hard for your body to produce testosterone at a time when levels are already naturally in decline and this will directly affect your libido.
Make sure you’re eating plenty of foods that are naturally rich in fat, including egg yolk, avocado, raw nuts and seeds, oily fish and pulses, like beans or lentils. Opt for full-fat versions of yoghurt and hummus – they’re a lot tastier and if you check the label, you’ll see that they also contain plenty of healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Eat Plenty of Protein
Protein provides the building blocks for every single body cell, and this includes our hormones, antibodies, nerves, enzymes and neurotransmitters in our brain. Dopamine is one of these neurotransmitters and it plays a key role in motivation, arousal and sexual desire, so low levels will inevitably affect your libido.
It’s important to make sure that you’re eating protein with every meal and snack and women can often be very bad at that, because they often skip meals or grab something quick on the go. Adding a large spoon of nuts or seeds to your morning cereal, having unsweetened nut butter on toast or an egg will all boost protein levels at breakfast. Make sure that protein represents about ¼ of the overall meal at lunch and dinner: lean meat, fish, cottage cheese, quinoa, lentils and beans are all rich in protein.
A bit about Jackie
Nutritional Therapist Jackie Lynch is passionate about supporting women in midlife and her WellWellWell nutrition clinic is based in Notting Hill, London. Listen to her podcast The Happy Menopause for practical diet and lifestyle advice for women in midlife. Jackie is also the author of Va Va Voom: the 10-Day Energy Diet and The Right Bite: Smart Food Choices for Eating on the Go. Her new book, The Happy Menopause: Smart Nutrition to Help You Flourish will be published in 2020.