Your body is composed of a variety of different hormones, which carry messages between your organs and cells. Hormones are secreted by glands in your endocrine system to help the body stay balanced and function optimally. Aging is associated with a loss of sex hormones in both men and women. Replacing these lost hormones can restore lost feelings of well-being, sex drive, energy levels and reverse bone and muscle loss associated with aging.
Although a common symptom of decreasing hormones is low libido for both men and women, this is not an inevitable consequence. The three major hormones that have the greatest effect on libido are: testosterone, progesterone and estrogen.
In the symptomatic population of surgically or naturally menopausal women, a low level of free testosterone often accompanies a complaint of reduced sexual desire. Testosterone is often referred to as the “the hormone of libido,” because it plays a significant role in your sex drive, whether you’re a man or a woman. Proper levels of testosterone have many benefits for your libido, including sexual desire, energy, mood, improved erection and increased genitalia sensitivity.
A study done by researchers in the Netherlands on healthy, premenstrual women showed that sublingual testosterone triggered a significant increase in genital arousal, along with an increase in sexual desire. They also noted that there is a lag period of 4.5 hours after taking the testosterone before sexual sensations soar. This may be because steroid hormones cause neurophysiological alterations in the sensory centers of the brain – a process that can take several hours to several days. They also noted that measurable vaginal arousal increased steadily over the 4.5 hour period.
Although testosterone is the key hormone when addressing a decreased libido, estrogen and progesterone are equally important, since they can affect testosterone levels. Inadequate estrogen levels in women can reduce the effectiveness and efficiency of testosterone, and too much estrogen in men can have the same effect. Estrogen and progesterone also have an effect on libido, especially in women; physical changes like vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy and painful uterine contractions are all related to abnormal levels of these two hormones.
Estrogen is found in greater amounts among women. Its main function in the body is growth and development. It stimulates growth of fat cells and the inner lining of the uterus called the endometrium. There are three different forms of estrogen: estradiol, estrone and estriol. Estradiol is considered to be the main player during most of a woman’s reproductive life. This is replaced by the more “toxic” estrone just before menopausal symptoms begin, with falling levels of all estrogens. Estrogen is considered essential for brain health, and deficiencies result in hot flashes (thermoregulation) and problems with libido, memory, cognition and multitasking. Many women refer to this as “brain fog.” Estrogen also acts as an antidepressant, and deficiencies can lead to problems with mood swings and fatigue. In addition to its effects on the brain, estrogen deficiencies are also associated with hair loss, thinning of skin, premature wrinkles, and osteoporosis.
Progesterone performs a balancing act for estrogen. It antagonizes estrogen-driven growth of the inner lining of the uterus called the endometrium. It is also neuroprotective, and deficiencies are associated with increased anxiety and problems with sleep. Progesterone also strengthens bones and supports cholesterol and libido. An imbalance in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone, such as those occurring before menopause, can lead to many problems including weight gain, anxiety, bloating, fluid retention, headaches, excessive uterine bleeding and fibroid tumors of the uterus.
Testosterone plays similar roles in men and women, only men require ten times the amount. It supports libido, energy, bone density, memory and well-being. Deficiencies are associated with decreased libido, fatigue, muscle loss and accelerated weight gain. Too much testosterone can cause aggression, depression, impotence and excessive libido.
It is also important to consider that exercise vastly impacts your libido, mainly through increasing testosterone levels, and the correct diet can also have a huge impact on your libido through the effects of nutrition on hormone production.