Low Libido and Autoimmune Disease: The Hidden Connection
Low libido and autoimmune disease often go hand-in-hand. If you suffer from an autoimmune disorder, there are many ways you can improve your sex drive.
How Are Low Libido and Autoimmune Disease Linked?
An autoimmune disease occurs when the body's immune system turns against its own tissues. Suffering from an autoimmune disease entails dealing with unpleasant and persistent symptoms, including pain, digestive issues, fatigue and low libido. The exact set of symptoms experienced by someone with an autoimmune disease depends on the particular disease, of which there are over 80.
Autoimmune diseases can be very hard to live with, especially as treatments may be ineffective and have unwanted side effects. The National Institute of Health estimates that up to 23.5 million Americans have an autoimmune disease. However, the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association disputes this number, placing the figure at closer to 50 million. Women are more likely to suffer from an autoimmune disease than men; autoimmune diseases are also among the top ten causes of death in females under the age of 65.
Examples of autoimmune diseases include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Crohn's disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Graves' disease
- Hashimoto's disease
- Myasthenia gravis
Many autoimmune diseases are poorly understood. However, there is known to be a strong genetic component. Those whose family members have an autoimmune disease are more likely to also suffer from it.
The symptoms of autoimmune disease themselves can be enough to lower libido. Chronic fatigue, lack of energy and pain easily put a damper on sexual relationships. However, there's also a more complex, direct reason low libido and autoimmune disease are linked.
The essential reason that low libido and autoimmune disease are related is that autoimmune diseases cause inflammation in the body. In order to combat the inflammation, the body releases more cortisol via the adrenal glands. However, the adrenal glands are also responsible for the production of other important hormones, including sex hormones. In the case of an autoimmune disease, the adrenal glands will produce a smaller quantity of sex hormones in order to effectively produce enough cortisol. This phenomenon is called the "pregnenolone steal" (as the adrenal glands use the hormone pregnenolone to produce other hormones). This reduction in sex hormones often leads to a reduction in libido.
What Can I Do About My Low Libido?
Low libido and autoimmune disease can both be hard to live with. Of course, the most important step in combating low libido is to address the underlying cause. The inflammation response of some autoimmune diseases can be suppressed through medications such as disease-modifying drugs, immunosuppressive drugs, corticosteroids, and biologics, which are engineered proteins. However, options for treatment vary widely for each individual disease. You can complement your treatment with more steps that can improve libido for anyone.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be enough to make a drastic difference to your libido. Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep every night, and exercise regularly—the improved blood circulation that exercise gives is very helpful for attaining physical arousal. Avoid using drugs and alcohol. Relieve stress in a healthy, productive way. Additionally, address any psychological problems such as depression or anxiety, which can reduce libido.
When you have low libido, you may need to change the way you have sex in order to get the same enjoyment out of it. Spending more time on foreplay often makes a big difference. Some may benefit from abstaining from masturbation, instead saving what little sexual energy they do have for partnered sex.
Some supplements may help to boost your sex drive. Get plenty of vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, iron and niacin. Herbs such as Asian ginseng, maca, tribulus terrestris, ginger, garlic, rhodiola, eleutherococcus, holy basil, chaste tree and ashwagandha may help. L-arginine is an amino acid, which can be taken as a supplement and has been shown to improve erection quality. However, because supplements can interact with medications and medical conditions, it's important to talk to your doctor before starting a new supplement.