How to Have A Healthy Libido
in Mid-Life and Beyond
A practical look at enhancing sex drive for women
By Elora Gabriel
Does sex drive have to languish or disappear as we enter our forties, fifties, sixties, and beyond? Must sexual pleasure and aliveness become a thing of the past once women hit menopause? The answer to these questions is an emphatic "NO". Healthy libido and an active sex life can be easily and effectively maintained for mid-life and older women.
The major reason for loss of libido during mid-life is that a woman's ovaries are producing less hormones. Levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone drop markedly. Usually, progesterone levels go down first, followed by the others. However, due to modern lifestyles and increased stress, more women are experiencing early menopause as well as a more difficult passage through the peri-menopausal years. It is not uncommon for women to have low levels of all hormones during their forties.
While estrogen is not responsible for libido per se, low estrogen levels will certainly pose problems. Without enough estrogen, the vagina loses lubrication, the vaginal walls thin, and eventually vaginal atrophy may occur. Also, estrogen helps to provide an ample blood flow to the pelvis. Since several types of natural estrogen are now available, women no longer need to fear estrogen therapy. We can have the benefits without the risks.
A number of effective phyto-estrogen products are now available over the counter, such as Pro-Estron and Remifemin. Prescriptions for tri or bi-estrogen may be obtained from compounding pharmacies such as the Women's International Pharmacy (1-800-279-5708). These pharmacies also carry estriol vaginal cream. Estriol is the safest of all the estrogens, and it is the estrogen most active on the vaginal tissue.
In fact, it is testosterone, the "male hormone", which is responsible for libido in both men and women. Testosterone is needed by women as well as by men, and small amounts of it are produced by the ovaries prior to menopause. The most tell-tale symptom of testosterone deficiency is a loss of libido. Muscle tone may also become flabby despite exercise. Think of a teenage boy with his strong muscles and intense sex drive. While women don't need to run the same amount of this high-octane hormone through their bodies, many of us could certainly benefit from a judicious amount of testosterone.
[Men, too, pass through "andro-pause" where their testosterone levels fall, and they may need testosterone supplementation as well. While this article is primarily aimed at women, I encourage men who feel that they may have low testosterone levels to obtain testing. See below for information on saliva hormone assays.]
An article in Omni Magazine subtitled "A Hormone Called Desire" summarized a ten-year study at McGill University on women with lowered levels of sex hormones. The authors concluded that "the male hormone definitely helps rekindle youthful sexual fires in postmenopausal women. The women receiving testosterone - either alone or with estrogen - had more sexual desire, more sexual fantasies, and higher levels of sexual arousal than the women receiving no male hormone at all. The women on testosterone also had higher rates of intercourse and orgasm." One of the researchers commented: "Testosterone in women seems to have its greatest effect on the libido. It also gives women higher energy levels and increases their sense of well-being."
But isn't testosterone dangerous? Will it cause heart problems, facial hair, and other side effects? The truth is that any hormone will cause side effects if it is overused. For example, too much estrogen - even from the most natural sources - causes sore breasts, fluid retention, and headaches. And of all the hormones, testosterone has been the most misused due to its abuse by athletes. Natural testosterone, used in judicious quantities, is not only safe but is health-promoting.
For example, testosterone helps to protect against breast cancer. Dr. William Douglas, editor of Second Opinion Newsletter, cites a study of 4000 women using estrogen therapy along with testosterone, in which incidence of breast cancer was reduced to less than half the national average. Testosterone, being a bone-building hormone, also protects men against osteoporosis, and is helpful to women in that regard as well.
A number of well-documented studies also show that - rather than predisposing us to heart attacks - the male hormone exerts a protective effect here as well. According to Dr. Julian Whitaker, well-known editor of Health and Healing newsletter, several clinical trials show that low testosterone levels correspond to an unfavorable cholesterol picture, while high testosterone levels are found to correlate with factors which promote cardiovascular health. Whitaker adds that "Japanese research is focusing on testosterone's stroke-preventing properties, and a British study noted its positive effect on irregular heartbeat."
While some women use natural testosterone from a compounding pharmacy, others find it difficult to obtain a prescription, or may prefer taking products that are not quite as strong. Fortunately, we now have simpler ways to obtain the benefits of this hormone. There are non-prescription hormones which convert either directly or indirectly into testosterone within our bodies, and which are easy to obtain and use.
Based upon experience with many women, the first product I would suggest for those suffering from loss of libido is DHEA cream. DHEA is a "mother hormone" which converts into other hormones, including testosterone. Taking oral or even sublingual DHEA is not effective in this regard, but the cream works very well.
There are several such products on the market now, with variations in quality. With a high quality cream, the results are excellent. The cream is used vaginally, where apparently small amounts convert to both estrogen and testosterone. The vagina is well supplied with estrogen and testosterone receptors, which absorb the hormones and use them where they can be of direct benefit. The result of using DHEA cream is an increase in vaginal lubrication, improved tone and thickness of vaginal tissue, and enhanced libido. With my clients, I have had virtually 100% success with this protocol. Once libido, lubrication, and tone are restored, the cream is simply used on an "as needed" basis.
I like the DHEA creams for increasing libido, not only because they are effective, but because this method puts the testosterone exactly where you need it. It will have a minimal effect in increasing overall testosterone levels in your body. This makes it less likely that you will experience more facial or body hair, which does happen sometimes with testosterone use.
A refinement on DHEA cream has recently been developed, which also contains boron and schizandra. This product should be even more effective.
Many women have also had good results from using a hormone called androstenedione. "Andro" is an over-the-counter product which is a direct precursor to testosterone. In other words, it converts directly to testosterone in the body. While oral capsules sometimes produced disappointing results, the newer sublingual tablets are much more effective. With a sublingual 50 mg. tablet, women should start with 1 tablet every other day, and increase to 1 daily if needed. Men can use 1 daily, and athletes of both sexes can use the product shortly before exercising.
For those who choose to go the prescription route, it is recommended that you obtain natural testosterone from a compounding pharmacy, not the synthetic methyl testosterone. Methyl testosterone, which is commonly prescribed, is responsible for much of the bad press around this hormone. It is chemically different from the hormone our body produces, and it causes liver toxicity.
If you are considering a prescription, it would be a good idea to have your testosterone levels tested. I recommend saliva hormone assays from the Great Smokies Medical Labs, at 1-888-891-3061 ("Body Balance" section). For women, the best type of natural testosterone is usually the 2% gel. It is quite strong, and usually only 1/8 to 1/16 tsp. is used daily. The gel tends to oxidize over time, and sometimes the last portion of the prescription will need to be discarded.
As noted, too much of any hormone will cause side effects. With testosterone, watch for acne, excessive libido, and an increase of facial and/or body hair. These symptoms are usually temporary, and should not be harmful unless a person has systematically abused and over-used testosterone or androstenedione. If you notice any of these effects while using testosterone, stop for several days. Then resume at a lesser dosage.
In conclusion, there is no reason that we should give up feeling sexual and alive at any age. Our bodies may need some hormonal support, but at long as we use the most natural solutions, we will avoid side effects, and our health will only be enhanced.
The information in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice.
Elora Gabriel is a writer and hormonal researcher who has published many articles on women's health, both nationally and internationally. For more information on natural hormones, call Tides of Life at (828) 669-2515, or write to: 91-A Deer Run Road, Black Mountain, NC 28711.
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