All those perfectly lovey-dovey couples in the commercials and ads we see everywhere in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day make it seem like every romantic encounter is magical. In reality, our love lives aren’t quite so sweet-n-spicy. According to a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 26% of premenopausal women deal with low sex drive; after menopause, it’s 52% (1). Men are dealing with issues as well—a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism revealed that one in 4 men over 30 have low testosterone, which can be associated with low sex drive and erectile dysfunction (2). And testosterone levels just keep dropping with age.
Still, we wish we were more like those couples on TV—in a report commissioned by eHarmony, over half of respondents were unhappy with their sex lives, and top reasons for relationship stress included “too tired for sex” and “low libido/sex drive” (3). With Valentine’s making romance top of mind, more people may be seeking out natural options to help up their pleasure. Here, some of the latest science, plus extras to up the sizzle.
A lifestyle for love
“Sexuality involves physical acts that require hormonal, emotional, and psychological interplay, and it is vital that we are well-nourished, with a focus on natural, unrefined foods,” says Robin Rogosin, VP of product development, LifeSeasons, Lewisville, TX. “We also need to be well-hydrated, well-rested, and physically fit to have a healthy sex life. And it’s best to avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol.” That said, gently steering consumers in the direction of your healthy food section will be of benefit to them.
Cheryl Myers, chief of scientific affairs and education at Terry Naturally/EuroPharma, Inc., Green Bay, WI, also highlights lifestyle. “The lifestyle factors that promote sexual vitality are often the same ones that promote vitality overall. Someone who is mostly eating processed, refined foods that cause inflammation may feel sluggish and won’t feel in the mood for intimacy or much else.” Still, she grants, it’s tough to make drastic changes, so she advises pointing customers toward manageable tweaks, like adding two servings of fresh fruits and vegetables into daily meals. Then, when those changes become habit, another small step can be introduced, like cutting back on refined carbs. The same approach can work with exercise—start small (say walking around the block) then add steps as it gets easier. “Good habits create a momentum of their own,” Myers adds, “and people who switch to eating healthier foods often begin to lose their previous cravings. Small steps can yield big results.”
That said, another step can be adding a health-supporting supplement, and those that ease stress can be of major benefit. One that delivers stress relief and has been researched for its ability to improve sexual performance: Korean red ginseng. “For hundreds of years, ginseng has been used for many different purposes, including libido and stamina,” says Adam M. Goodman, VP sales, Korea Ginseng Corporation (KGC), as well as President of the NPA East Board of Directors. “Predominantly it has to do with the apoptogenic properties of ginseng, which is something people, particularly in the west, don’t think about. They just think, ‘Oh, it’s good for energy and for sex.’ But they don’t realize that it really has benefit in applications to whatever the specific individual might have a need for because of its apoptogenic properties.”
Stress, Goodman adds, is a key element. “Typically, the higher the stress level, the lower the performance level. Korean ginseng can help with that. And it’s not just Korean ginseng in that space, but eleuthero root and American ginseng as well.” Some proven payoffs of Korean red ginseng, according to a summary of research shared by KGC: Men with erectile dysfunction who took 300mg daily for two months experienced improvements in sexual desire, frequency of intercourse and satisfaction.
For those too stressed to connect (which is most of us: the eHarmony survey listed work stress as the top drain on relationship bliss), Rogosin also suggests soothing ingredients. She points to L-Theanine to improve the ability to relax and enjoy the moment.
Myers recommends an extract of a phytocannabinoid—an alkamide—found in echinacea that is available in the company’s AnxioCalm. “When extracted and concentrated in a proprietary process, these compounds are highly effective for anxiety,” she says, adding that the product has been clinically studied and found to be effective on the first day of use, without causing drowsiness, altered judgment or dependence. “When worry and anxiety interfere with sexual intimacy, taking a safe and effective supplement to foster relaxation can heighten enjoyment.”
More for the fellas
Tribulus terrestris: “Studies have been published in recent years confirming that Tribulus terrestris, standardized for its saponin content, relieves reduced sexual desire and erectile dysfunction in men, though the reasons for its effectiveness continues to be unclear,” says Rogosin. Some scientists, she says, have purported that it may influence or mimic the function of sex hormones; others have proposed that it stimulates the release of nitric oxide, independent of its effect on testosterone levels.
Eurycomma longfolia: This plant traditionally has been prized for its aphrodisiac effects, and Rogosin points to scientific reports that it contains a wide variety of phytoconstituents, including bioactive steroids.
L-Citrulline: “It has been shown to enhance the nitric oxide production that is vital to penile erection,” says Rogosin. “It follows then, that men with severe erectile dysfunction have been shown to have low levels of L-Citrulline.”
According to Bio Nutrition, Oceanside, NY, it has been used for centuries in Chinese Medicine for its libido effect (also useful for women.)
More for the ladies
Sea buckthorn: When vaginal dryness makes intercourse uncomfortable, this may help. “A published double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study found that women taking 3 grams of sea buckthorn berry and seed oil daily had significant improvements in vaginal moisture and the integrity of the mucosal tissue,” says Myers. “The researchers considered it the appropriate nutrient for postmenopausal women for excessive vaginal dryness.” She suggests that it can be used proactively to avoid vaginal dryness, which can be a serious concern for perimenopausal and menopausal women. In addition to an omega-7 sea buckthorn supplement that’s rich in omega-7 fatty acid, as well as other beneficial plant nutrients and essential fatty acids, Myers says Terry Naturally/EuroPharma also offers sea buckthorn in a topical, Omega7 Intimate Care Cream to directly moisturize and relieve dryness in vulvar tissue. “Either one, or both, are useful for promoting intimacy and libido if vaginal membrane moisture is an issue.”
Herbal blends: “Though there is a lack of scientific studies related to herbs and nutritional supplements to enhance a women’s libido, bountiful traditional and cultural knowledge provides insight,” says Rogosin. “Combining herbs such as Dong Quai, Damiana, Ginseng, and Vitex have been reported to enhance libido in women. We know B vitamins and Arginine help hormone balance and nitric oxide production, which may improve libido.”
Curcumin+turmeric essential oil: Myers notes that women may want to consider CuraMed + DIM Complex. “This formula may help reduce impediments to intimacy by encouraging a healthy balance of estrogen in the body,” Myers says. She adds that CuraMed + DIM features BioResponse DIM (diindolylmethane). The reason: “[DIM] shifts estrogen towards a healthy pathway, for better hormonal health, reduced risk of certain hormonally related cancers, and reduction in estrogen-directed fat deposits.” What’s more, the formula delivers grape seed extract (French Grape Seed VX1) “because it provides a strong defense against aromatase—the enzyme that converts androgen into estrogen.” Additionally, she says, grape seed eases the ups and downs of blood sugar, and can stop the accumulation of fat cells, which may help with hormone balance; grape seed extract also improves menopausal symptoms.
“Some people are looking for help and supportive products, but feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for it, especially from someone they don’t know,” acknowledges Myers. “That’s why taking a slightly more oblique approach can be helpful: emphasizing de-stressing supplements, products that address vaginal dryness, and for that matter, even blood pressure supporting and anti-inflammatory products that protect vascular tone for men.”
For customers who may not want to ask questions, grouping products together can save them some stress. “Sexual health sections serve the customers best when they are merchandised in a single location, so that they are easily located,” says Rogosin. “Product categories include feminine hygiene products, lubricants and other topical products, condoms/dental dams, nutritional supplements specifically for men or women, herbal products and homeopathy.”
Be the trusted source
In November 2018, the FDA warned consumers to avoid Rhino male enhancement products, which were masquerading as supplements but spiked with sildenafil and/or tadalafil—the active ingredients in Viagra and Cialis. This was followed by a voluntary recall of products in January. At the time of the initial warning, Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), said, “Addressing the spiked ingredients issue is a growing industry priority and one that UNPA will be focusing on.”
For those on the front lines of helping to protect consumers from potentially dangerous products, Myers has this advice: “Only recommend products that you trust. Investigate the companies represented in your store—ask them about their Good Manufacturing Practices, how they validate ingredients along the supply chain, and what their process is for determining ingredients in the first place. If they’re serious about the science and about helping people, they’ll be happy to answer those kinds of questions.”
“It’s true that adulteration can be prevalent in libido-related products,” adds Goodman. “But we all need to be cognizant across the board—anything that puts a black eye on the industry can make it more difficult for responsible companies.” And, he adds, “It makes it that much more important for consumers to be cognizant of what they put into their bodies. Retailers need to work with their suppliers and sales reps or brokers to get the proper education and documentation that will make them feel comfortable in turn educating their customers. It’s important especially for brick and mortar stores because that will set them apart from the e-commerce that may not engage in the same level of education and sophistication as the brick and mortar retailer. Challenge the suppliers, the brokers and all to make sure that what they are putting out there is safe. Throughout the supply chain, everyone is responsible for what the consumer is getting.” WF
Aromas that up the oh-la-la
Traditional wisdom tells us aromatherapy and essential oils can put the sizzle back between the sheets—and science proves it. Including shelf talkers near your libido-boosting supplements that clue consumers in to aphrodisiac aromas can send shoppers to your essential oils for an extra arousal assist.
For her: Neroli oil and lavender oil can both help improve sexual arousal in menopausal women (4).
For him: The combined odor of lavender and pumpkin pie can increase sexual arousal, increasing penile blood flow by 40%, according to research (5).
Little bedroom helpers
The trend toward clean beauty can apply to anything we put on our skin, so chemical-laden lubricants may be losing their appeal with customers who want to steer clear of things like propylene glycol(an ingredient that’s also found in antifreeze). For a safe, reliable alternative, point them toward lubricants that are either water- or silicone-based—Emerita brand fits the bill. And some women say they love the results of good old coconut as a lubricant. But note that these some oils can increase risk of condom breakage, so that’s a need-to-know tidbit for anyone considering it.
And on that note, these same consumers may be seeking a “clean” condom as well—products free of glycerin, parabens and petrochemicals. A brand that’s Vegan certified, PETA approved with minimal latex odor: Sir Richard’s.
1) SL West, et al., “Prevalence of low sexual desire and hypoactive sexual desire disorder in a nationally representative sample of US women,” Arch Intern Med. (2008); 168(13):1441-9.
2) A. Araujo, et al., “Prevalence of Symptomatic Androgen Deficiency in Men,”The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (2007), 4241–4247
3) “The Happiness Index: Love & Relationships in America,” www.eharmonyhappinessindex.com/, accessed January 11, 2019.
4) T. Khadivzadeh, et al., “Aromatherapy for Sexual Problems in Menopausal Women: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis” J Menopausal Med. (2018); 24(1):56-61
5) A. Hirsch, M.D., F.A.C.P., Jason J. Gruss, “Human Male Sexual Response to Olfactory Stimuli,” www.aanos.org/human-male-sexual-response-to-olfactory-stimuli/, accessed January 11, 2019