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Can depression alter our libido?

Although Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and Cupids quiver is primed with arrows, many of us may not be as joyful as others and some are still recovering from the psychological damage that lockdown may have caused. To top it off, winter blues which affects almost 2 million people in UK every year can most likely impact our carnal feelings and desires during Valentine’s celebrations.

Decreased libido affects people suffering from depression. People with chronic depression may find sex less enjoyable, experience a loss of desire or struggle with orgasm.

In one study researchers found that more than 70 percent of depressed patients had a loss of sexual interest when not taking medication, and they concluded that the severity of this loss of interest was worse than the other symptoms of depression1.

An article in the American Family Physician2 found that triggers for depression and low libido include stressful life events, such as a divorce or a job loss. Major life transitions may also play a part. For example, a new baby arriving or a child leaving the home would be considered major life transitions. Ongoing relationship stressors are also a risk factor

Excessive drinking, drug abuse, or both, is also associated with increased risk of depression and a lowered libido.

If treating depression does not improve libido, other causes of sexual dysfunction should be considered, such as hormone deficiencies or chronic disease. Libido may also be affected by various antidepressants, antipsychotic or use of other medications3/4.

Regardless of the cause-and-effect relationship, depression and decreased libido are linked, and the treatment of one condition may improve the other.

When it comes to treating low libido, depression, or both, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. At home strategies, relationship or marital counselling, sex therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and medical treatments are all options.
For women taking antidepressants, a potential sexual side effect may be a loss of sensitivity in the genital area.

However, oestrogen cream — applied directly to the outer labia — has been shown to improve sensitivity to stimulation for some women and act as a libido enhancer.

Maca, also known as Peruvian ginseng, is a South American root vegetable. Maca improves the functioning of all the endocrine glands which in result may increase oestrogen levels helping to boost libido. Consult it with your doctor if you have oestrogen sensitive cancer or other conditions.

In some cases, stress is a major contributor to feelings of low libido and depression. This can lead to a cyclical pattern, where having a decreased libido causes even more stress.

The body reacts to stress by releasing adrenaline and cortisol. Long term chronic stress can affect the adrenal gland and interfere with our bodies hormone levels which can result in a low libido. The arteries can also narrow and restrict blood flow in response to stress, which can also lead to erectile dysfunction.

L-arginine is an amino acid (the building blocks of protein) that is converted by your body to nitric oxide which is known to widen blood vessels. In one study, about one-third of men who took 5 grams of it per day for 6 weeks had improved erections.

Taking time for stress-relieving activities often makes a difference. Consider meditating, exercising, walking or listening to music. Finding ways to relax as much as possible may help reduce symptoms of both conditions.
Whatever is happening with your sex life, it’s important to treat depression first. Address any sexual side effects later.

References:

  1. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9647976/
  2. aafp.org/afp/2000/0815/p782.html
  3. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3315086/
  4. tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00926239708403923
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