The sexual health of women can be a complicated issue because of the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical components involved. For the purpose of this article I’m going to center on the physical component. In addition to improving your sexual health, the recommendations and steps I’m going to suggest can also positively impact your overall wellness and how you age.
In all the information I gathered to prepare for this article, two overriding issues kept surfacing. It didn’t matter whether the information concerned women or men. These two health issues were consistently present. The first is hormones. The second is cardiovascular health. Most women would understand how hormones could apply but few ever consider cardiovascular health.
One of the foundational principles of the women’s liberation movement is equality. Women now equally share with men the issue of cardiovascular health. According to the American Heart Association:
I could continue to give you additional facts and figures to make my point. Your cardiovascular health is as important to your sexual health as it is to your overall health. This will become apparent when we talk about nitric oxide.
At its simplest level, sex is just a hormone driven function designed to perpetuate the species. I know it is much more complicated than that but this statement holds a key factor in why women experience so many physical issues with sex. The key factor is HORMONES! Many women contend with vaginal dryness, a lagging libido, and other sexual health concerns as they experience pre-menopause, menopause and post-menopause. Most of it centers on hormonal balance and changes in that balance.
As your estrogen levels decline so do your testosterone levels. Yes, ladies you have testosterone as part of your hormonal makeup. This combination results in reduced muscle mass and tone, reduced metabolism and energy and an increase in body fat. Not a sexy combination!
You can accept it and do nothing about it. Or, you can begin to live life by making healthier eating and exercise choices. Choices that will help your body actually be younger physically than your chronological age.
Every day you replace approximately 1% of your cells. That means that 1% of your body is new today, 1% is new tomorrow, and 1% is new each and every day of your life. You choose whether those new cells will be nourished properly or poorly. You choose whether you will have healthy and vibrant cells that act young.
Or, sickly and sedentary cells that act old.
The sexual health of your body will be affected by the choices you make. I call it “The 1% Solution!” and it will positively affect the cardiovascular and sexual health of your body.
Choices Affecting Sexual Health!
My article “Fertility & Diet – Critical Discoveries That Also Apply to Aging!” highlighted five critical lifestyle and diet behaviors. They are:
If you look at this list, three critical components emerge: Diet, Weight, and Exercise! Each will affect both cardiovascular health and hormonal balance. I need to add one additional component. It is nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is usually looked at in regards to the sexual health of men. It is equally important to the sexual health of women.
The Diet Component!
You are what you eat and drink. The sexual health of your body and the cardiovascular health of your circulatory system will be greatly determined by your food and drink choices. These choices will also impact the potential for disease and how you age.
Your first choice is in the area of carbohydrates. Are you choosing foods and drinks that are high in fast carbs (simple sugars)? If you are, then you need to understand that fast carbs disrupt the finely tuned balance of hormones. Fast carbs create the potential for high blood sugar that can also lead to diabetes. Additionally, high blood sugar can damage the endothelial cells of your blood vessels. These endothelial cells produce the nitric oxide you need for good sexual and cardiovascular health.
Learn to consume foods that are high in slow carbs (complex carbohydrates). Slow carbs will help to keep your blood sugar levels normal and your hormonal levels balanced. Drink water instead of sugary drinks and diet sodas. Drinking water hydrates your system, helps you balance your hormonal levels, and aids you in weight management.
Your second choice is in the area of fats. Eliminate all trans fats from your diet and replace them with natural, heart-health fats. The Nurses’ Health Study clearly showed how disruptive trans fats are to fertility. As little as four grams of trans fat (the equivalent of two tablespoons of stick margarine, one medium order of french fries or one doughnut) can begin to disrupt your hormonal balance. Instead, incorporate foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as wild, cold-water fish, walnuts, and flax seeds) since essential fats help to balance hormone levels and promote healthy cell function.
Your third choice is in the area of protein. According to the Nurses’ Health Study, women who got their protein from plant sources rather then from animals took a big step toward improved fertility. Animal protein can adversely affect your sexual health. It also has a direct influence on cancer!
If you’re not willing to give up your beef, pork or chicken, then invest the time, energy and extra cost to make sure that these sources of protein are hormone free. This also applies to your dairy products. Much of the industry still relies on hormonal injections into their livestock to help increase food production. Eating meat from these animals and their byproducts will affect your hormonal levels. If you’re not willing to switch to plant-based protein sources, then make sure your meat and dairy sources are hormone free.
The Weight Component!
Like it or not weight impacts the sexual health of your body. Why? Because fat interferes with your hormonal balance! Too much fat or too little fat will impact the hormonal balance of your body in a negative way. According to Gerard Letterie, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Northwest Center for Reproductive Sciences, fat cells produce extra estrogen.
Fat also stresses your cardiovascular system. This additional stress on your cardiovascular system will compromise the sexual health of your body. Currently, 66% of Americans are overweight with at least a third being obese. Diets are not the answer. America has been dieting for the last 50 years. It has had no real impact on slowing down overweight and obesity rates.
You need a paradigm shift from “dieting” to “healthy eating”. Make food choices based on how it will improve your health and wellness, not on how it will impact your weight. Most people who do this see their weight stabilize or decrease. If you need additional help in this area, then check out the Weight Management section of the website. There are some great articles and resources to help you in this area.
The Exercise Component!
Exercise is important for both sexual and cardiovascular health. Inactivity saps the body of its ability to respond to insulin and makes you less efficient in absorbing blood sugar. The Nurses’ Health Study showed that exercise was a boon for fertility and the sexual health of its female participants.
It’s always important to check with your physician or health care provider before you start an exercise program. Once you have their OK, than strive to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, biking, and swimming are important and seem to increase circulation to the pelvis and the reproductive organs. But don’t forget about strength training exercises. Strength training exercises will help you maintain bone health and density. Additionally, strength training exercises will increase your spatial awareness. This is a very positive feeling that improves your overall well being.
The Nitric Oxide Component!
Women don’t realize how important nitric oxide is to the sexual health of their body. The following quote is from the September 2007 issue of Prevention:
You Have Trouble Reaching Orgasm
by Nancy Kalish
“Women typically blame this on psychological problems, but the reasons are often physical. Poor blood flow to the genitals, for example, caused by cardiovascular conditions like diabetes or heart disease, makes it harder to have an orgasm.”
One of Ms. Kalish’s recommendations was the amino acid L-arginine. According to Ms. Kalish, “. . .this naturally occurring amino acid increases the production of nitric oxide, a chemical released by the genital nerves during arousal, sending much-needed blood to the area.”
You cannot live without nitric oxide. Your cardiovascular system could not function properly without nitric oxide. The sexual health of your body revolves around the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide production is dependant upon the health of the endothelial cells of your blood vessels, and adequate supplies of the essential amino acid L-arginine.
High blood pressure, high sugar levels, high cholesterol levels and smoking all affect your endothelial cells in a negative way. Damage to these endothelial cells will reduce nitric oxide production. This can compromise the blood flow to the sexual organs resulting in reduced sensitivity.
Since nitric oxide is synthesized from the essential amino acid L-arginine, your diet needs to include protein sources and/or supplements that contain this amino acid. It needs to be emphasized that L-arginine is not a hormone and it is not testosterone. However, when properly brought into the body it can cross the blood-brain barrier to signal the hypothalamus to naturally trigger the pituitary gland to produce growth hormone. This is the key to eliminating any negative side effects typically associated with hormone supplements like DHEA and HGH.
Please note that L-arginine has a dark side and can cause some serious side effects. Read my article, “L-arginine, Nitric Oxide and Sexual Health!” for more information on this essential amino acid.
If you continue a life of inactively, animal protein intake, sugary drinks, foods made from refined grains, increased body fat, and inadequate nitric oxide production, then you will become part of the new reality for America. This new reality includes epidemic increases in diabetes, continued high levels of cardiovascular disease and stroke, continued high levels of cancer, and poor sexual health especially for those over the age of 40. As Aristotle said,
By taking the necessary steps to improve your diet, manage your weight, exercise properly and increase your body’s ability to produce nitric oxide you will experience positive changes in the sexual health of your body. If you repeatedly take these positive steps you will also improve your wellness and slow down your aging.
One last thought!
Although the hormonal balance between men and women are different, the process of change is the same. Many of the steps that improve the sexual health of women will also help improve the sexual health of men. Encourage your spouse or partner to implement these changes with you. If you both take the steps to improve your health, then you will both be rewarded in the bedroom, and in living your life to its fullest.
Until next time, may we both age youthfully!
P.S. The following articles will provide you with additional information on sexual health:
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