Hold Up, Can Vitamins Actually Enhance Your Sex Drive? Here's What The Science Says

Like most things in life, one's sex drive can come and go. But as normal as this may be, it can still be tempting to blame ourselves for a lack of interest in sex, leaving us to question if there is something wrong with us. Sex is great, we might think, so why do I not feel like having it?

Well, it helps to know our libidos can be affected by a number of both internal and external factors. Per Mayo Clinic, some of those internal factors include changes in hormones caused by menopause, or certain kinds of prescription medications, like antidepressants. External factors, on the other hand, include stress, fatigue, or poor quality sleep, as well as the quality of the relationship with your sexual partner. In other words, your health can affect your sex life, just as your sex life can affect your health.

While there is nothing wrong with occasionally having a decreased libido or wanting to take a break from sex, there are a host of vitamins and herbal supplements on the market that claim to nudge consumers back in the mood. But can they actually work?

Some supplements can help boost arousal, but not your overall libido

To get an idea of how sex supplements work, it helps to know one crucial distinction between the libido and the feeling of arousal. Ezza Valdez, herbalist and vice president of strategy and business development for The Alchemist's Kitchen, explains to Well + Good that our libido is network of hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for giving us our overall sex drive. Arousal, on the other hand, they said, "refers to libido stimulation as well as the physiological changes associated with it, such as erection, vaginal lubrication, and genital sensitivity."

Many supplements on the market are designed to amplify arousal, but might not strengthen your overall libido. These supplements work by creating nitric oxide, or NO, a gas that dilates the blood vessels and heightens sensation when blood rushes to the genitals. According to a study published by the Journal of Sexual Medicine, "[nitric oxide] is a potent vasodilator of clitoral tissue, reminiscent of its effects on penile cavernosal tissue." Nitric oxide has, in other words, been shown to stimulate both the vagina and the penis.

Per Healthline, there are several supplements which have been studied for their arousing effects on women, including maca, red ginseng, and gingko balboa. According to one study, the herb ashwagandha has adaptogenic and stress-relieving qualities that make it useful for addressing "diminished sexual desire in women and in all forms of sexual dysfunction, particularly where a depleted nervous system is playing a role." 

Consider modifying your diet

It is important to note, however, that human studies on certain supplements pertaining to sexual arousal are limited, which means there is no guarantee that they'll work for everyone. Furthermore, although supplements on the market are subject to FDA regulation, they are not subject to FDA approval. 

According to Harvard Health Publishing, certain supplements can have significant side effects and should not be used if you have certain conditions. For example, L-arganine supplements are often toted to boost nitric oxide, but according to one study, people with heart issues such as heart disease should reconsider taking L-arganine, in particular when derived from animals, as it could make heart conditions worse. For this reason, it is imperative to research or consult with a doctor before attempting to use any supplements to boost arousal. 

The good news is there are other steps you can take to address a decreased sex drive that don't involve supplements, including changing your diet habits, quitting smoking, consuming less alcohol, and exercising, all which can increase blood flow throughout the body. You can also hone in on the creation of nitric oxide in your body by selecting foods that are high in nitrates, such as dark leafy greens and beets, according toHealthline. While a kale salad might not be the sexiest thing in the world, you might like feel it when you're finished.