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Let's talk about sex: Loss of libido after menopause

Loss of libido is a common symptom of menopause, and sometimes also continues into postmenopause. However, there are changes to your lifestyle you can make to help counter this. Changes to libido after menopause are due to changes in your hormone levels during menopause.

Oestrogen and libido

During menopause oestrogen levels decrease, which is what causes a women's monthly cycle to stop. This also brings on other changes, such as hot flushes and night sweats. This drop in oestrogen also causes vaginal dryness and soreness, which can make sex painful and cause women to feel less enthusiastic about it. However, there are ways to help with this dryness.

It can be distressing to see changes occurring to both their body and their mood. Most of these changes are related to the decline in oestrogen and can take some adjusting to.

For some women, seeing physical changes such as skin becoming less elastic, breasts losing their shape and body shape changing can be difficult to accept. It's important to remember that many women experience these changes and feelings and there is help available in many different forms.

Many women report that a decline in libido does not adversely affect their relationship, however, it is often a source of tension between partners. Trying a vaginal lubricant can make sex more comfortable.

Other postmenopausal symptoms such as stress urinary incontinence, hot flushes, insomnia and depression may also contribute to a loss of libido or feeling uncomfortable about having sex.

As well as oestrogen decreasing during menopause, testosterone also decreases. Although testosterone is generally thought of as a male hormone, women do have lower levels of it, too, which decrease with age.

It appears testosterone may begin decreasing from an earlier age for women, so it is not directly related to menopause, but does cause a decrease in sexual desire. Currently, there is no safe pharmaceutical product recommended for women to increase testosterone and limited studies of supplements.

HRT

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most commonly prescribed medication for menopause. It is effective for hot flushes and night sweats, vaginal dryness, and generally makes women feel better. However, how safe it is as a treatment is in question and many women are increasingly looking for other, natural solutions.

There are also some herbal supplements which may be beneficial if taken during menopause. While none have specific claims about their libido-boosting effects, they may help reduce some of the other symptoms which can also affect libido.

Natural alternatives

There are some foods which may naturally boost libido for women, including:

Watermelon

Watermelon is known to act like viagra does in men because it contains a nutrient called citrulline, which is converted into arginine, an amino acid, within the body. Arginine then boosts nitric oxide which increases blood flow and relaxes blood vessels. Increased blood flow may lead to better orgasms.

Oysters

Typically thought of as an aphrodisiac, oysters really are beneficial for increasing libido. They contain high levels of zinc, which has been found to trigger a surge in the sex hormones. A study also identified that oysters contain two very rare amino acids, which when given to female rats increased their progesterone levels. Progesterone is a female sex hormone and increases sexual motivation.

Nuts, seeds and avocados

These foods supply a rich source of healthy fats which may help with increasing libido and decreasing vaginal dryness, thus making sex more pleasurable and less painful. Walnuts and flaxseeds provide a good source of omega 3 for those who rarely eat oily fish. Avocados are also a rich source of vitamin B6 which is a key vitamin for libido.

Oily fish

Oily fish is a rich source of omega 3 which may increase libido and prevent negative moods. Depression and other mental health conditions can reduce libido in people of any age, so managing these symptoms can help to boost libido.

Fruits and vegetables

Asparagus are rich in antioxidants which have been found to improve libido, especially when combined with a Mediterranean diet (one which includes plenty of vegetables, wholegrains, fruit and fish). Sweet potatoes, berries, tomatoes and dark green leafy vegetables are particularly rich sources of omega 3.

Saffron

Saffron appears to be a libido booster for both men and women. It may also help improve insomnia and anxiety, which may also be experienced by women during menopause. Add saffron to cooking wherever possible to improve your health and libido.

For more advice and information about the menopause, select Menopause from the Your health menu above.

Hannah Bailey BSc is a qualified nutritionist with a BSc in Public Health Nutrition from Sheffield Hallam University and is now studying for a Masters to become a nutritional therapist.

Find out more about Hannah Bailey.

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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.