When there’s ordering a new pair of running shoes, reading up on reducing food waste and comparing your workout habits to Elle Macpherson's to think about, chances are knowing your latest blood pressure reading is pretty much bottom of your to-do list – if, indeed, it’s made the cut at all.
But, although, like macros, getting your head around these magic numbers can feel complex, it’s well worth knowing where you stand.
Why? Well, aside from the health implications associated with high pressure (such as the obvious; read: heart attacks), it could also be standing in the way of back-to-back orgasms and a healthy sex drive.
According to research from the University of Athens, sexually active women aged 31 to 60, with high blood pressure were twice as likely to experience sexual dysfunction compared with their counterparts who had normal blood pressure.
Spiked your attention? Read on.
THE LINK BETWEEN HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE AND SEX DRIVE
We get what you’re thinking – you eat well, are fit and healthy, high blood pressure isn’t your bag. But don’t forget that sneaky little something that lurks in the shadows and, for some of you, bubbles away constantly. Stress.
Whether you're displaying stress symptoms or not, it could be causing its damage without your realising it.
Time to pass over to the experts.
“There is definitely a link between high blood pressure, stress and low sex drive,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, UK nutritionist and author of The Natural Health Bible For Women.
“When you are stressed, high cortisol levels prepare you for your fight-or-flight response and your body assumes that it needs a higher blood pressure to cope with this. It holds back sodium (stopping you from excreting it through urine) and this salinates the blood. It is the equivalent of overdosing on salt (sodium chloride), which we know is linked to high blood pressure.
“Cortisol pushes blood around the body diverting it from non-essential areas (such as the digestive system) to places where it thinks it is most needed (such as the arms and legs). It does this by dilating (expanding) blood vessels in some parts of the body and constricting (narrowing) them in other parts. The result is high blood pressure and, as if all this wasn’t enough, high cortisol also increases the level of another substance called angiotensin II, which is a very strong blood vessel constrictor.”
And the physical onslaught doesn’t end there.
“The adrenal glands, as well as producing the stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), produce androgens, male hormones that are involved with our sex drive. When you are stressed, the male hormones production is decreased because your body’s main aim is survival, so it will produce cortisol to save your life at the expense of producing male hormones – the result is your libido decreases.
“Also, as women, our reproductive system is the only system our body can shut down without killing us, so stress can directly affect your hormones. Women going through a bereavement or other kind of trauma, for instance, can lose their sex drive and stop having periods. It seems to be nature's way of protecting women from getting pregnant at a time when they would find it hard to cope.”
WHO IS AT RISK FROM HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE (AND LOW SEX DRIVE)?
According to Dr Glenville, this fight or flight response to stress is quick and fast. It will provide instant energy for 5-10 minutes, giving you enough time to escape that bear (sorry, grumbling boss). Then the body will go back to harmony.
However, if you’re constantly faced with stressors, these hormone levels can’t fall back to normal, safe levels.
“So, those most at risk are women suffering from chronic stress,” says Dr Glenville. “Our bodies can’t distinguish between late trains, missed appointments, spiralling debt, infuriating work colleagues, family disputes, and the truly life-threatening stress it gears up to challenge. This means it reacts exactly the same as it’s always done.”
Triggering those processes mentioned above, sending blood pressure sky high, and ultimately, your sex drive rock bottom.
HOW TO REDUCE THE IMPACT OF HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE ON YOUR SEX DRIVE
You may not be able to control the stresses in your life – even we don’t have a magic wand for that – but you can control how stress affects you physically and you can also take steps to make sure you are not making it worse. How? With Dr Glenville’s five-step plan.
1. Watch how you eat
“There is a chance that your pattern of eating is subconsciously telling your body that it is under even more stress,” says Dr Glenville. “If your blood sugar levels fluctuate (as they do even more so for women), your body will be releasing adrenaline, which is the same hormone it releases when you are under stress. Try to keep your blood sugar levels and energy levels stable by eating something every three hours – so breakfast, lunch, dinner plus a snack mid-morning and afternoon. Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates such as white bread."
2. Ditch the caffeine
“Caffeine is a stimulant and gets straight into the bloodstream and triggers cortisol release,” says Dr Glenville. “So limit caffeine your intake to one cup a day (never on an empty stomach) or avoid it all together.”
3. Check for nutrient deficiencies
“Certain nutrients can help reduce stress levels,” says Dr Glenville. “These include the B vitamins, especially B5 for stress relief and energy; magnesium - nature’s tranquilliser for relaxation and sleep; chromium for blood sugar balance; Siberian ginseng, which acts as a tonic to the adrenal glands; and L-theanine for reducing stress and anxiety."
4. Increase your sex drive, naturally
“You can use a supplement to help with your sex drive – but make sure it includes zinc, which is essential for hormone balance and sex drive,” says Dr Glenville. “Also look out for L-arginine, which promotes normal blood circulation in those areas, which are important to a healthy sex life; vitamin B3, which helps to reduce tiredness and fatigue; and herbs such as damiana and maca, which are useful for increasing sex drive."
“Find out how to reduce stress in your life and even banish it for good, with expert support,” says Dr Glenville. “I run ‘Stress Retreats’, which provide day-to-day tips for controlling stress such as how to best time your meals to reduce stress and how to manage the hormonal impact of stress, plus relaxing exercise classes.”
A version article originally appeared on Women's Health UK