Our sex hormones play such a significant part in our overall health and well-being. Basically they make us who we are. Studies have shown that not only do sex hormones determine whether we develop male or female characteristics but they also influence our brain to the point of leading to whether we think like a man or a woman.
When we are imbalanced in our sex hormone levels there can be detrimental consequences to our mental, physical and sexual wellbeing. It is of surprise to me to find so many of my patients have sex hormone issues and it seems these problems are starting at a much younger age. In times gone by, sex hormone imbalances just kicked in as we got older (for example, menopause). But hormone problems are now being influenced by modern-day living and presenting much earlier; not suprisingly the chief of these influences being stress and an unhealthy lifestyle.
So how do we know if we have sex hormone problems and what can we do about them if we have an imbalance? Before I answer this let us discover the role of the different sex hormones in the body; namely progesterone, estrogen and testosterone.
Your Hormone Assailants
A number of factors from lifestyle to hereditary to even normal ageing can result in hormone imbalances. The following, however, are some of the most common Hormone Assailants that can disrupt hormone balance that I encounter in clinical practice for both men and women.
Stress – the higher the stress levels the lower the progesterone levels in women and the lower the testosterone levels in men, as the body essentially ‘steals’ these hormones to rise production of the stress hormone cortisol.
Alcohol – consistent heavy alcohol intake can impair testosterone levels in men due to a direct toxic effect on the testes. In women it can impair oestrogen and progesterone levels causing menstrual period problems, infertility and even miscarriage.
Caffeine – caffeine increases stress hormone release which can, in turn, lower progesterone production in women and testosterone production in men.
Diet – a diet that is high in sugary, refined foods stimulates excessive insulin release. High insulin levels can disrupt oestrogen production and inhibit progesterone release.
Abdominal fat stores – carrying too much body fat around our middles can raise oestrogen levels causing an oestrogen-to-progesterone imbalance.
Lack of exercise – exercise helps to boost testosterone levels as well as reduce stress hormone levels. A lack of exercise has been associated with lower circulating levels of testosterone.
Lack of sleep – sleep deprivation causes excess stress hormone release, which, as mentioned above, can disrupt hormone balance.
Ageing – as we age our production of hormones naturally reduces. At menopause hormone levels dramatically reduce, which can cause various symptoms including hot flushes, poor sleep and memory, irritability, low sex drive, vaginal dryness, and a change in body fat stores to be more centred around the abdomen. Andropause is a term used to describe the male version of menopause when testosterone levels decline. This happens from about the age of 40 for men and results in a lowering of sex drive, muscle mass, and an increase in body fat stores.
Environmental hormone disruptors – there is initial research to suggest that the chemicals and hormones in our food, cosmetics, plastics and cleaning products may disrupt our hormones. As much as possible choose hormone-free meat and chicken products. Also choose natural cosmetics free from additives such as parabens. With regards to plastics make sure they as BPA-free e.g. drink bottles, containers.
Improving Your Sex Drive
Many aspects can influence sex drive including low testosterone levels, fatigue, pain, anxiety and stress, depression, relationship stress and poor communication, as well erectile dysfunction. In order to improve your sex drive you need to look at the factors affecting your libido and address these specifically.
If low testosterone is the issue (confirmed on pathology testing) then a trial of the subsequent options may be warranted:
- Tribulus terrestris – may be helpful in improving testosterone levels in men and women. It is best taken on an empty stomach at a dose of 500–1000 mg per day.
- Indol-3–Carbinol (I3C) – this is an extract from cruciferous vegetables and may help boost testosterone levels by preventing its conversion to oestrogen. Take 200 mg twice daily.
- Testosterone – this is used in cases where testosterone levels are confirmed very low, usually in men over the age of 60 years and postmenopausal women who are experiencing very low libido due to testosterone deficiency. This is prescribed by your health practitioner.