How’s Your Sexual Health? Tips for Both Men and Women to Rise to the Occasion12 months ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder and the pH Labs Healthcare Team
Most people probably remember iconic Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner. He recently died of natural causes at the age of 91. Hefner was a sharp businessman who was surrounded by beautiful, young women at his Playboy mansion.
But Hefner was so much more than that. He was a pioneer of the sexual revolution, releasing the first issue of Playboy in 1953 and advocating for sexual freedom. He also fought for sex education, birth control and abortion rights during a time when these things were banned in many American states.
“[B]irth control is legal now, abortion is legal now. All those things were part of the sexual revolution that Playboy played a major part in,” Hefner said during an interview a few years ago.
He donated money to these causes and wrote The Playboy Philosophy, an extensive piece about sex’s connection to religion, politics, health and more.
And we are very sad to hear of Hefner’s passing. But it seems that if this was his time to go, it’s appropriate he left us during the month of September.
September is Sexual Health Awareness Month, a time where we all can focus on how important it is to be proactive about our sexual and reproductive health. Much has been written about practicing safe sex but relatively little about how nutrition affects our sexual health. So we will focus on the importance of good nutrition for good sexual and reproductive health.
First, despite whatever infomercials and other miracle-cure claims you may see on television, the internet and magazines, there is no one vitamin, mineral, supplement or food that will improve your sexual performance, protect you from sexually transmitted infections or guarantee conception. As the saying goes, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
But there is a lot you can do to promote and protect your sexual and reproductive health. As with your health in general, it begins with making sure you are getting the right nutrients, and in the right amounts, from the foods you eat. You likely are already getting most of them, but to be sure, consider nutritional testing to see what you may be missing so that you can correct any imbalances.
And while there are some differences in the amount of specific nutrients men and women need for optimal sexual health, both sexes need the following:
- Antioxidants. These are important for everyone, in order to protect our cells against premature aging and many illnesses and chronic diseases. But they are especially important for women, since antioxidants can help protect and promote egg health which, in turn, could make it easier to conceive. You can get antioxidants from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and even certain beverages, like green tea.
- Calcium and Magnesium. Recent studies have indicated that having enough calcium reduces some of the risks of pregnancy, such as hypertension and premature delivery. Other studies have shown that getting enough calcium is also important in helping a pregnancy proceed as it should. But there is a caveat. Calcium needs to be balanced with magnesium, since the latter helps keep your calcium levels where they need to be. In addition to dairy, you can get calcium from dark, leafy greens; magnesium can be found in whole grains, nuts and legumes.
- Iron. Research is showing more and more that having adequate levels of iron in your body can help your sexual and reproductive health in two ways. The first is that iron deficiency may cause fatigue and depression, neither of which promotes a healthy sex life. The second is that low iron levels may be related to infertility, although this is still being studied. You can get iron from meat, shellfish, leafy greens and nuts.
- L-Arginine. Since this amino acid helps increase blood flow, it may be helpful in the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED). There is not a lot of research on how effective it may be, but if you are looking for ways to treat ED you may want to talk to your doctor about L-Arginine. It is found in poultry, fish, red meat and many dairy products, so you probably are already including it in your diet.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Your heart isn’t the only organ that benefits from these fatty acids, which are abundant in oily fish. It turns out that a woman’s reproductive system (specifically her ovaries and uterus) also benefit from them. These fatty acids (the “good fats”) seem to play a role in regulating menstruation, reducing the chances of complications during pregnancy and lowering the risk of premature birth.
- Potassium. Among its other contributions to getting us healthy and helping us maintain our health, it turns out that potassium can help ensure adequate blood flow to the genital area, which is important for a healthy sex drive and the ability to reach orgasm. Bananas, potatoes (especially their skins) and kidney beans are some foods that are rich in potassium.
- Selenium. While not as well-known as other minerals, such as potassium and iron, selenium may help treat erectile dysfunction (ED). And when taken with vitamin E, it has been shown to improve sperm mobility and quality, both of which are important for conception. As our moms always told us, “eat your broccoli” and you’ll get selenium. It can also be found in turkey, nuts, brown rice and oily fish.
- Vitamin B3. This vitamin, also known as niacin, has been shown to improve erectile dysfunction (ED), especially in men that also have high cholesterol. It’s also very easy to include foods rich in this vitamin in your diet, since it is found in turkey, peanuts, mushrooms, tuna, liver and green peas.
- Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid). Both women and men can benefit from vitamin B9. For women, it has been shown to reduce the risk of fetal abnormalities, promote fertility and increase the probability that a fertilized egg will implant in the uterus. And one study showed that men suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED) were found to have lower levels of folic acid than those who didn’t have ED. Vitamin B9 can be found in lentils, spinach and citrus fruits.
- Vitamin B12. This vitamin is important for women, especially if they are trying to conceive, since a deficiency can cause anovulation (eggs not being released from ovaries) to abnormalities in the cervix. This vitamin is abundant in dairy products, poultry and shellfish.
- Vitamin C. In addition to protecting us from the common cold, vitamin C also helps keep our cardiovascular systems healthy while also promoting blood flow. This, in turn, can help with erectile dysfunction (ED). Vitamin C also is important in helping our bodies synthesize reproductive hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen and other androgen hormones. Vitamin C is plentiful in citrus fruits and strawberries.
- Vitamin D. This vitamin is also important for both male and female sexual health. For men, it has been shown that men who were deficient in this vitamin were around 30 percent more likely to have erectile dysfunction (ED) than men with higher levels. For women, vitamin D is important for overall ovarian health. You get vitamin D from the sun as well as from certain foods including salmon, egg yolks, mushrooms and fortified dairy products.
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E is an extremely powerful antioxidant that improves blood circulation, which is important for overall sexual and reproductive health. You can get vitamin E from mangos, kiwi, tomatoes and nuts.
- Zinc. While you don’t need a lot of it, this mineral is very important to reproductive health. Found in many foods from animal origin, zinc plays an important role in the production of reproductive hormones, such as testosterone, and helps in the production of the man’s prostatic fluid. Some studies suggest that zinc may also help with premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction (ED). Zinc can also be found in eggs, milk, beans and whole grains.
Things to Avoid
Don’t undo all the good that eating healthy can do for your sexual health, by undermining it with unhealthy habits. The biggest culprits to avoid are:
- Smoking/Nicotine – Constricts the penile blood vessels, making it harder to achieve and maintain an erection.
- Alcohol – While alcohol may take away your inhibitions, it acts as a depressant which can negatively affect your sexual performance (in fact, it has an effect like estrogen’s). Chronic use of alcohol can also shrink the testes.
- Saturated Fats – Just as fats can clog your arteries, they also can clog the delicate blood vessels in the penis and cause erectile dysfunction (ED).
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.