It’s February, and little red and pink hearts are showing up just about everywhere you go, and songs like the classic by John Paul Young are on the airwaves. Special date-night menus are appearing at nearly every restaurant. And flower shops are preparing for one of their biggest days of the year. And if you have someone special you’re wooing or being wooed by, you may be looking for a unique way to prepare for a romantic evening. This brings us the subject of this article: foods that increase libido.
And as lovely as romance in the air can feel, perhaps more importantly, The American Heart Association has designated February as American Heart Month in hopes of eradicating heart disease and stroke. What may come as a surprise is that there’s a very strong connection between love—or more accurately, libido (i.e., sex drive)—impotence, and heart health.
The Link Between Heart Health and Sexual Function
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction (ED) (the inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sex), affects about 1 in 10 male adults on a long-term basis and affects most men from time to time. If it happens less than 20% of the time, that’s not unusual and likely doesn’t require treatment. You may just be too tired or stressed, or you drank too much alcohol. But regular impotence (over 50% of the time) is not considered “normal” at any age and likely means there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. 1
Contrary to popular belief, ED is not a normal part of aging. Rather, some of the most common causes include: 1
- Vascular disease (e.g., atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which account of 70% of physically related causes of ED)
- Endothelial dysfunction (dysfunction of the inner lining of the blood vessels and smooth muscle), leading to inadequate blood supply to the heart and penis 2
- Kidney disease
- Neurological diseases
- Prostate cancer
Several studies have found that men with ED have a higher risk of heart disease. One study, for example, found that 57% of men who had bypass surgery and 64% of men who had been hospitalized for heart attacks experienced ED. What’s more, ED can predict that men will start showing symptoms of heart disease within five years, especially if they’re smokers or have a family history of heart disease. 1
In other words, the process that leads to heart disease also leads to ED—and ED is an early indicator of heart disease. 2
Because ED may be the first clue that something is going wrong with the circulatory system, it’s essential to discuss it with your doctor. There’s no reason to be embarrassed, and the discussion could help save your life with early screening and treatment.
Heart disease and ED also share many of the same risk factors, such as: 2
- Alcohol abuse or misuse
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Low testosterone
Life-Changing Choices That Boost Libido
The happy news is that changing your lifestyle can have a very positive effect on your heart and sexual health. Some of the key variables include:
- Avoid smoking
- Take control of high blood pressure
- Exercise regularly
- Practice healthy sleep habits
- Behave altruistically 3
- Reduce stress
- Improve your relationships
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce the consumption of refined sugars
- Avoid refined vegetable oils
- And of course, eat a nutritious, mostly whole-food diet!
Foods that Increase Libido (and heart health)!
Many foods have a reputation for putting folks in the mood for romance, but are there really foods that increase libido? There isn’t quite enough research to answer definitively, but science does give us a clue. Here are 17 foods that could help you get your groove on (and boost heart health to boot):
With high amounts of vitamins E, B6, and folate, this tasty vegetable may both support the production of sex hormones and help stimulate arousal—in both men and women. What’s more, folate and other B vitamins may help improve sperm DNA to support fertility. 4
Avocados are another healthy source of folate and B6, which can help stimulate the production of sex hormones and arousal.
Foods that are rich in flavonoids (some of which can increase blood flow through a process known as vasodilation) have been shown to reduce the risk of ED. And those with anthocyanins, which are found abundantly in blueberries, cherries, and blackberries, for example, were found to provide the greatest benefits. Eating more fruit in general has been found to reduce the risk of ED by 14%, and combining flavonoid-rich foods with regular exercise further reduces the risk by 21%. 5
4. Dark chocolate
It’s hard to be up for romance if you’re feeling stressed. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, which activates happy endorphins. It can increase both serotonin and dopamine to help us feel happier and less stressed. Another essential component of chocolate is theobromine, which is a mild stimulant. And because chocolate provides flavanols, it may also promote blood flow and help relax the arteries. 6 Just watch for the high sugar content of most chocolates and remember the darker (75% or more), the better, and less is more when it comes to your chocolate consumption.
5. Fatty Fish
Omega-3 fats like those found in salmon and sardines have long been shown to help improve heart health. They can help “reduce inflammatory markers, decrease cardiac death, and increase endothelial NO [nitric oxide] production,” which can help improve erectile and vascular health. 7
Ginger has such a wonderful, unique flavor, and it’s been shown to have “considerable anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-platelet, hypotensive, and hypolipidemic effects.” 8 While more studies are needed, when five grams or more have been consumed, ginger appears to have substantial heart-health benefits. And again, if it benefits the heart, it benefits the libido.
7. Grass-Fed Steak
Beef, it’s what’s for a romantic dinner! By providing zinc and iron, beef can help transport oxygen and boost energy. It also provides B vitamins and protein to fuel your performance. Finally, it can help stimulate the release of dopamine, which is vital to the brain’s pleasure centers.
8. Green Tea
While you may just think about sipping on some tea to relax, one of the compounds in green tea—polyphenols called catechins—may help increase nitric oxide, which can help increase the size of blood vessels and improve blood flow. 9
9. Hot Peppers
Hey there, hot stuff! The capsaicin in hot peppers has been shown to increase metabolic rate, stimulate endorphins, plump up the lips, and get the blood flowing. 10, 16 And the hotter, the better. Just remember to use gloves or wash your hands really, really well after handling peppers, as it can be painful to touch sensitive body parts like the eyes, lips, and er, down below with the oil on the fingers.
Loaded with zinc, which supports testosterone and growth-hormone levels, 11, 12 oysters have long earned a reputation as an aphrodisiac and for supporting a healthy sex drive and performance. A single oyster provides 8 mg of zinc or about 73% of the daily requirement for guys.
11. Pine Nuts
Another food that’s full of zinc is pine nuts, which is a key ingredient in pesto. To keep it light, add them to a zoodles dish rather than carb-loaded pasta, so a heavy belly doesn’t get in the way of your romantic evening.
12. Pomegranate Juice
Pomegranate juice is a natural source of nitrates, which the body converts to nitric oxide, known to powerfully improve blood flow. 13
13. Pumpkin Seeds
Another source of the oh-so-sexy mineral zinc, pumpkin seeds provide about 10 mg per 3.5-oz serving.
Spinach provides magnesium, flavonoids, and nitrates, which is vital for blood flow, 14, 15 especially to the extremities to help increase arousal and pleasure for both men and women.
The antioxidants in strawberries help stimulate circulation. Plus, they’re a decent source of zinc.
A rich source of omega fatty acids, which boost dopamine levels and arginine (an amino acid that supports the production of nitric oxide), walnuts help relax blood vessels as well as improve circulation. In other words, they’re a food that increases libido and reduces the risk of heart attack.
With the amino acid citrulline (plus more lycopene than cooked tomatoes), watermelon may help relax blood vessels and improve circulation, making it a sweet choice as a food that increases libido.
Foods that Increase Libido: A Wrap-Up
While specific foods provide the nutrients your body needs to increase libido, there is no magical food. However, to boost your sex life, you can’t go wrong if you follow the same lifestyle recommendations as those for a healthy heart. That includes a positive attitude, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and eating nutrient-rich foods that increase libido like those listed above.
And just as important as the foods that increase libido are those foods that diminish performance. That is, remember to avoid foods that are highly processed and filled with cheap, refined oils and sugars—which can damage your heart health and sexual performance. You’ll also want to avoid too much alcohol or caffeine.
However, changing your diet alone may not be enough. If you are experiencing ED or low libido, work with a doctor you trust to help you revitalize your sex life. You may not just be improving your time in the bedroom but staving off heart disease, a “widow-maker” heart attack, or a stroke.