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Love Chemistry 101 Feb. 11, 2013
Written by: Marilyn Linton, QMI Agency
 
How hormones give you that loving feeling

(FOTOLIA)

Love is in the air -- and if you’re lucky enough to catch a whiff of it this Valentine’s Day, chances are your hormones are in tip-top shape. It seems that the rules of attraction have little to do with chocolates and roses and candlelit dinners. Instead, they’re governed by the body’s many hormones -- those tiny chemical messengers that affect everything from mood to fertility, from appetite to sex drive.

Natasha Turner’s clients are cool with her questions about their sex and love lives. “I always ask them about their sex drive and their energy,” says the Toronto naturopath (www.drnatashaturner.com) and author of The Hormone Diet. “When they answer ‘not so good’ it is a sign of hormonal imbalance.”

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The fact is that the body’s hormones control everything from libido to the ability to orgasm: “When you think of the hormones that impact sex, we have sex and stress hormones and the brain or mood chemicals,” she explains. Her thesis is that wonky hormone levels play havoc with love and attraction.

It’s the sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone and progesterone) that set the stage for sex. In women, estrogen affects libido, vaginal lubrication and the ability to orgasm. “A lot of women around menopause experience a lower libido when their estrogen drops,” says Turner. Post-menopause, estrogen is produced by the adrenal glands but their output can be affected by stress and insomnia.

Stress hormones include cortisol, says Turner: “If your level of cortisol is too high, it can put a damper on your sex drive and deplete the testosterone and progesterone hormones which impact your libido.” Relora, a natural supplement derived from the bark of plants, is what Turner claims will help to correct any stress hormone imbalances.

Healthy levels of progesterone (a hormone that impacts everything from PMS to infertility) is what women need for a good sex drive: Turner suggests chasteberry as a supplement to strengthen this hormone. Progesterone also impacts your mood and anxiety, she adds.

Biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in New Jersey, an expert on mate choice and partner compatibility and advisor to Chemistry.com, a dating site, writes that lust, attraction and attachment all involve different hormones. On her website, Helenfisher.com, she explains how lust is driven by a woman’s estrogen and a man’s androgen levels (though a woman also needs testosterone). Attraction, that love-struck lovesick phase, is governed more by dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.

And after lust, then what?

According to Dr. Fisher, attachment is partly rooted in the feel-good hormone oxytocin which both partners express during orgasm; oxytocin, which stimulates contraction of the uterus and milk ducts for breastfeeding after childbirth, has been called the “cuddle hormone.” Another hormone, vasopressin, is also implicated in long-term pair bonding.

In his book Testosterone for Life, Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, an associate clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, argues that low testosterone levels in men are responsible for tiredness and a disappointingly low sex drive. The good news is that today, testosterone levels circulating in the blood can be easily measured and supplements in the form of medicinal gels, patches or pills can restore energy and sex drive.

When it comes to attracting the opposite sex, you can ditch those expensive perfumes because your body secretes its own! A Florida State University survey showed that male testosterone levels are influenced by odor signals or pheromones emitted by females when they are ovulating.

Healthy hormones equal healthy sex equals healthy hormones, says naturopath Natasha Turner: “Have more sex!” she says. “Not only sex, but the sweat that comes with it. You need both for lasting hormonal balance.”

 

His and hers

According to Love & Sex with Dr. Laura Berman, hormones may inspire the urge to cuddle or flee. On her website (Drlauraberman.com) U.S. sexpert Dr. Berman writes that gender differences in regard to hormones can affect a couple differently. “While he wants to retreat into himself (flight) and relax with a beer, she might want to hear all about his day (befriend) to help soothe him. Additionally, while his increased levels of cortisol might rev up his energy and put him in the mood for sex….cortisol might make her want to seek out the softer side of the relationship, such as cuddling, talking, relaxing.”

Is low testosterone ruining your sex life?

According to Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, low testosterone affects about 1.8 million men in Canada over the age of 45. Low T can happen anytime after the age of 35 and cause sexual problems, low energy, depression, and decreased muscle mass.

MORE COLUMNS BY MARILYN LINTON, QMI AGENCY

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