Some people vouch for the effect of foods on their sex drive, but extravagant claims for aphrodisiacs are not borne out by scientific studies. While sexual function may be our physical response to a cascade of hormones, sexual drive is basically maintained by an active mind in a healthy body. Here are the essentials:
1. A healthy sex life depends on good nutrition. Good nerve function, healthy hormone levels, and an unobstructed blood flow to the pelvic area are essential to sexual performance. To keep these systems in working order, a diet should be based on legumes, grain products, and other complex carbohydrates, with plenty of fruits and vegetables and modest levels of protein; this diet provides plenty of vitamins and minerals. Particularly important are citrus fruits for vitamin C to strengthen blood vessel walls, and low-fat dairy products, enriched or fortified cereals, whole grains, and green vegetables for riboflavin to maintain the mucous membranes that line the female reproductive tract.
2. Vitamin E and sexual function. Although there are no confirming clinical studies, many experts believe that without a good supply of this vitamin from oils, margarine, nuts, seeds, green vegetables, and wheat germ, sexual function is likely to suffer.
3. Get going. Fatigue and depression are common culprits in sexual complaints. These conditions are often linked, and both may be helped by a program of regular exercise, which stimulates the production of endorphins (mood-elevating brain chemicals). In some cases, iron-deficiency anemia may be responsible for fatigue. A diet that includes meat, fish and shellfish, nuts and seeds, legumes, enriched or fortified grains and cereals, leafy greens, and dried fruits helps to replenish iron stores.
4. Get zealous over zinc. It is known that zinc is tied to sexual function, although its importance to the sex drive has yet to be explained. Without enough zinc, sexual development in children is delayed, and men, too, need zinc to make sperm. Zinc is found abundantly in foods of animal origin, including seafood (especially oysters), meat, poultry and liver, as well as eggs, milk, beans, nuts, and whole grains.
5. Minimize saturated fats. People readily accept the link between a high intake of saturated fats, elevated blood cholesterol levels, and a buildup of atherosclerotic fatty plaques on the blood vessels around the heart. It’s less well understood, however, that similar plaques develop on the myriad tiny vessels in the penis. Without free-flowing circulation, the penis cannot physically respond to messages from the sex drive.
6. Curb alcohol, knock-out nicotine. Alcohol’s effect on sexual function was neatly stated by William Shakespeare, who noted that wine “provokes the desire, but takes away the performance.” Excessive alcohol lifts behavioral inhibitions, but this liberating effect may be canceled out by its depressant effect. Alcohol also has an action similar to the female hormone estrogen. This can have a devastating effect on masculinity, causing impotence and shrinking of the testes in men who drink heavily. Nicotine, on the other hand, is an enemy of the arteries. Nicotine not only promotes the formation of atherosclerotic plaque in the penile blood vessels but also constricts them.
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