“What? Hypothyroidism could be the reason for my low libido? And here I thought I was the only one.”
I hear from women (and men) of all ages struggling with low libido. Sex drive turns out to be quite a complex symptom for those of us with hypothyroidism.
No. You’re not the only one.
Written by Dr. Jolene Brighten
Anyone with hypothyroidism knows that inflammation, hormone imbalance, and fatigue are daily physiological reminders of their illness. These symptoms affect the way we work, play, and the way we love.
The goal when I work with patients is always to look at the disease from the angle of root cause resolution, which is why I would like to address one symptom in particular that can plague those with thyroid issues. That symptom is low libido.
Low libido is a common symptom among women with hypothyroidism. And while it is inconvenient, it is also a sign that your hormones are not right.
Plus, sex and orgasms are actually really good for hormone imbalances and autoimmune disease.
So, how does hypothyroidism affect libido?
It is estimated that 90-97% of people with hypothyroidism have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease, which means that there’s inherently inflammation in the body. When your body is in a state of inflammation, the adrenal glands release more cortisol (commonly referred to as the “stress hormone”) in an attempt to reduce the inflammation.
Think of your adrenals as hormone-producing factory. They produce cortisol, but are also involved in the synthesis of important hormones like DHEA, aldosterone, testosterone, the estrogens, and progesterone. All of these important hormones share a common precursor, the master hormone, pregnenolone.
When Cortisol Goes High, Progesterone Goes Low
The chronic output of excess cortisol causes a disruption in the HPA-axis (the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis), preferentially using pregnenolone to produce cortisol instead of other important sex hormones, resulting in a hormonal shift known as the pregnenolone steal. Your body will literally take away from progesterone production in order to produce adequate cortisol.
When there’s not as much progesterone being produced, there can be relative estrogen dominance. Relative estrogen dominance isn’t “frank” estrogen dominance, but rather the amount of estrogen is higher in relation to progesterone.
Estrogen plays a crucial role in thyroid health and when in excess, can lead to decreased amounts of available thyroid hormone.
This increased production of cortisol and the decreased production of sex hormones causes fatigue, trouble concentrating, general aches and pains, and – you guessed it – lowered libido. But most of all, dysregulated cortisol output causes even more inflammation which, in a vicious cycle, causes the exacerbation of Hashimoto’s and increase in hypothyroid symptoms.
And as bad as this may sound, this is exactly what your body should be doing. If you are in full-blown Hashimoto’s or under a great deal of stress, your body is responding to a signal that now is not the best time to become pregnant. The response? Shunt your progesterone to cortisol production and shut down the libido.
How to Stop the Cycle of Hormone Imbalance
The thyroid, adrenals, and ovaries work together to function properly and produce hormones in the right amounts to keep the body running optimally. If one system topples, the other two are affected. This intercommunication among all these glands is known as the Ovary Adrenal Thyroid Axis or OAT for short.
I find that starting with the adrenals proves to be the most beneficial to supporting hormonal health and is often the missing piece in restoring a low libido. Below you’ll find the top ways to address HPA-axis dysfunction, support the adrenals, balance hormones, and revive your libido!
9 Ways to Get Your Libido with Hypothyroidism
I’ve included links to some of my favorite supplement brands. Consult with your doctor to be sure they are right for you, especially if you are pregnant or nursing.
Feed Your Adrenals:
Vitamin C, B vitamins, and magnesium are often necessary to restore adrenal health and function. I recommend my patients take 150-500 mg of magnesium at night, a quality B complex, and at least 2,000 mg of Vitamin C daily.
Herb Pharm has this Female Libido Tonic Compound.
Chaste Tree or Vitex, helps with progesterone production during the second half of your cycle and is helpful when there’s relative or frank estrogen dominance. I recommend 2-5 ml of tincture twice daily during the luteal phase of your cycle (days 15-28, with day 1 being menses).
I can’t stress this one enough. If you are not sleeping, you don’t stand a chance of rebalancing your hormones. Your body relies on sleep to repair and reboot for the day ahead. Interruption of the circadian rhythm and skipping precious hours of sleep causes confusion in the body and takes a major toll on hormone balance.
Maca is a powerful root known for enhancing sexual desire and may improve sperm motility and improve erectile dysfunction. It’s also been shown to balance hormones. Start small with maca and work up to the full daily dose, about 1.5-3 grams per day. It may cause stomach discomfort in some people and can be overstimulating for some Hashimoto’s patients.
You can also sip Maca as part of an adrenal supporting beverage. Gaia Herbs has an easy to make Maca blend that is very nourishing for the adrenals.
B vitamins help to regulate sex hormones and support the entire adrenal cascade. These vitamins are found in many foods, but are water soluble and need to be replaced regularly. They’re even more depleted with stress, infection, and illness. Try liver, meat, seafood, seeds, and mushrooms. Your adrenal glands specifically need B5 and hormone production requires adequate B6. A quality B complex with active B vitamins can provide both B5 and B6.
Zinc is essential for healthy testosterone production, which is associated with higher sex drive in men and women. Zinc is also important for the quality and quantity of sperm production. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of zinc. Aim for ¼ cup per day.
Regular moderate exercise aids in the conversion of inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to its active form (T3). It also aids in blood sugar regulation, increased circulation, and improved mood. Beware of the intensity of your workouts, though. Regular high intensity workouts can tax the adrenals further, exacerbating stress on the body.
Sexual desire is an especially complex thing. It’s good to take some time to explore your sexuality and love yourself. The more we see our bodies as the incredible, life-giving forces they are, the more we’re able to feel sexy and comfortable in our skin. Focus on a healing mantra that embraces your physical body: I love every aspect of my body; or my body is wondrous.
7 Libido-Boosting Foods
Bioflavonoids in dark chocolate help keep blood vessels healthy and allow for good blood flow to your sexual organs, which is essential for arousal, lubrication, and achieving orgasm. Dark chocolate (70% or more cacao) also boosts dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter found in pathways associated with pleasure and motivation!
The active compound in garlic, allicin, has been shown to improve circulation through thinning the blood. This helps tissues receive more nutrients, which can enhance physical sensation. Just be sure your partner is also eating garlic, otherwise your breath may prove to be a deterrent!
Pineapples contain bromelain, an important enzyme that helps to increase testosterone and the libido and decrease inflammation in the body.
This little-appreciated veggie actually contains a constituent called androsterone that helps your body produce pheromones, which subconsciously suggest sexual arousal!
This warming herb boosts circulation and thus, sexual sensation. Maybe instead of a cocktail, you and your partner should sip on some ginger tea!
Arginine, also found in lentils, spinach, and nuts, can help the female libido and orgasm through the dilation of clitoral blood vessels.
These vegetables are high in folate, which helps in the production of histamine, a compound released from mast cells during sexual arousal. Folate can help facilitate the female orgasm and is essential in the early stages of pregnancy.
Take a Holistic Approach
I hope you and your partner can benefit from some of the tips outlined here. And remember, low libido isn’t always about your hormones. If you have a history of trauma or are having relationship issues, low libido may not have anything to do with your physiology.
A holistic examination of your health will help you understand the root cause of your diminished sex drive.
About Dr. Jolene Brighten
Dr. Jolene Brighten is a licensed Functional Medicine Naturopathic Doctor, best selling author of the book Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth, speaker, and mother. Dr. Brighten specializes in women’s health, from fertility to postpartum care, adrenal and thyroid support, autoimmune conditions, and digestive disorders. Dr. Brighten has practices in Portland, Oregon and Oakland, California.