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CLINICAL SYNTHESIS   |    
Ask the Expert: Sexual Dysfunction Medication, Hormones, and Nutrition
Barbara Bartlik, M.D.
FOCUS 2010;8:547-549.
View Author and Article Information

CME Disclosure

Barbara Bartlik, M.D., Private Practice in Psychiatry, New York, NY; Voluntary Attending Physician, Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, NY.

Consultant: Digitas Health, Boehringer Ingelheim; Advisor: Lifestyle Nutrition, Eve's Garden

Sexual dysfunction is a very common and distressing problem caused by diverse physical, psychological, lifestyle, and medication-related factors. When men and women seek treatment for sexual dysfunction at any age but particularly at midlife and beyond, what medications, hormonal and nutritional factors should the clinician consider and why?

When a patient presents with a sexual problem, the clinician first must attempt to determine the specific nature of the problem and its potential cause(s). Is the patient taking any of the numerous medications that may contribute to sexual dysfunction, such as antihypertensives, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, birth control pills, antipsychotics, cytotoxic agents, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, hormones, and antihistamines? Does the patient have a history of psychiatric illness or any medical conditions that may play a role, including hormonal imbalances and nutritional deficiencies? Below I review some of the evidence for sexual dysfunction related to hormonal and micronutrient deficiencies and discuss the potential relevance of hormone replacement and micronutrient supplementation.

Much has been written about the sexual side effects of the widely used selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants (1). They cause sexual dysfunction through several mechanisms, including inhibition of cholinergic activity, inhibition of nitric oxide synthetase, reduction of dopaminergic activity, and increased release of prolactin (1). Sexual arousal is linked to cholinergic arousal activity. Nitric oxide synthetase is the enzyme responsible for the conversion of l-arginine to nitric oxide (NO), which, in turn, is critical for vasodilation in the genitals and other areas of the body. Dopamine (DA) is a neurotransmitter closely associated with sexual function. Prolactin is a pituitary hormone that causes sexual dysfunction when secreted in excess.

It is well known that adequate levels of testosterone (T) are critical for healthy sexual functioning in men and to a lesser degree in women (2, 3). T enhances NO activity and genital tissue engorgement. Although female erectile tissue responds to T and medications such as sildenafil (Viagra), which modulate NO, results for women treated with these medications are less clear.

Individuals who experience chronic insomnia have diminished T, in part because they spend insufficient time in the deep stages of sleep, when gonadotropin-releasing factor, which stimulates the release of sex hormones, is secreted. T deficiency may contribute to some psychiatric problems such as anxiety and depression, particularly with aging, although the data are not definitive (47).

Hypothyroidism is another common cause of sexual dysfunction, as well as psychiatric illness. Underactive thyroid glands in many patients are not diagnosed because they either are not tested for thyroid hormone levels or their laboratory tests are not comprehensive enough. Although a common practice, it is not adequate to obtain only thyroid-stimulating hormone and thyroxine levels to rule out thyroid dysfunction. Many patients have low levels of triiodothyronine (T3), the active form of thyroid hormone; therefore, a T3 and/or a free T3 level should be obtained.

Vitamin, mineral, and other nutritional deficiencies may contribute directly or indirectly to sexual dysfunction; the list, with putative mechanisms of action, is too long to consider here, and includes magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamins D and B complex, omega-3 fatty acids, amino acid precursors to neurotransmitters, and many others. As people age they absorb nutrients more poorly, which also could partially contribute to increasing sexual dysfunction with age.

Foods having poor nutritional quality that are consumed too often may have an indirect negative impact on sexual function. For example, too much fructose in the diet may deplete NO. Diets high in processed foods and low in beneficial grains, fruits, and vegetables contribute to obesity, metabolic syndrome, and systemic inflammation, all of which are associated with sexual, mood-related, and other medical problems (8).

Environmental toxins that act as endocrine disruptors (e.g., environmental estrogens) may be one reason for some types of sexual problems occurring in men at younger ages.

Thus, there are many new factors to consider when one is assessing sexual function and there is far too little definitive research to date and few treatment algorithms that will help all patients, although some exist (9). The potential relevance of nutritional deficiencies to sexual function over the longer term should not be discounted. Here, only a few examples of the mechanisms by which these substances may affect sexual functioning are highlighted:

Below I summarize what the above suggests for treatment:

In conclusion, when patients present with sexual dysfunction, it is important to consider their medical conditions, medications, and hormones and also their overall nutritional and micronutrient status. Counseling or psychotherapy also may be warranted. Evaluating and supplementing for hormonal (T and thyroid) and micronutrient deficiencies may help patients with sexual dysfunction and also may reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve health, and promote greater well-being and vitality, which in turn can improve sexual function. Attention to nutritional recommendations is sensible, mostly evidence-based, and safe.

Patients should be strongly encouraged to improve their diet (toward a Mediterranean-type diet) and lifestyle (stop smoking, exercise more, lose weight, sleep 7 hours minimum, and reduce stress) to reduce the burden of systemic inflammation and to improve general, mental, and probably sexual health. These lifestyle changes also may reduce hypertension, closely associated with erectile dysfunction (14). Ultimately these healthful practices also may reduce the need for drugs and supplements.

Medical school nutrition curricula often are acknowledged to be insufficient and out-of-date (15). Many physicians now recognize the need to increase their knowledge of nutritional interventions to improve many aspects of their patients' health. High-quality CME and online nutrition courses geared toward practicing physicians are available. My growing experience with observable benefits of a multifaceted integrative treatment approach leads me to recommend it to other physicians for their patients' improved sexual and mental health.

Rosen RC, Lane RM, Menza M. Rosen RC, Lane RM, Menza M: Effects of SSRIs on sexual function: a critical review.  J Clin Psychopharmacol 1999; 19:67—85
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Anastasiadis AG, Davis AR, Salomon L, Burchardt M, Shabsigh R: Hormonal factors in female sexual dysfunction.  Curr Opin Urol 2002; 12:503—507
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Blute M, Hakimian P, Kashanian J, Shteynshluyger A, Lee M, Shabsigh R: Erectile dysfunction and testosterone deficiency.  Front Horm Res 2009; 37:108—122
[PubMed]
 
Amore M, Scarlatti F, Quarta AL, Tagariello P: Partial androgen deficiency, depression and testosterone treatment in aging men.  Aging Clin Exp Res 2009; 21:1—8.
[PubMed]
 
Maggi M, Schulman C, Quinton R, Langham S, Uhl-Hochgraeber K: The burden of testosterone deficiency syndrome in adult men: economic and quality-of-life impact.  J Sex Med 2007; 4:1056—1069
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Seidman SN: Testosterone deficiency and mood in aging men: pathogenic and therapeutic interactions.  World J Biol Psychiatry 2003; 4:14—20
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Kupelian V, Shabsigh R, Travison TG, Page ST, Araujo AB, McKinlay JB: Is there a relationship between sex hormones and erectile dysfunction? Results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study.  J Urol 2006; 176:2584—2488
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Giltay EJ, Tishova YA, Mskhalaya GJ, Gooren LJ, Saad F, Kalinchenko SY: Effects of testosterone supplementation on depressive symptoms and sexual dysfunction in hypogonadal men with the metabolic syndrome.  J Sex Med 2010;7:2572—2582
[PubMed]
 
Lue TF, Giuliano F, Montorsi F, Rosen RC, Andersson KE, Althof S, Christ G, Hatzichristou D, Hirsch M, Kimoto Y, Lewis R, McKenna K, MacMahon C, Morales A, Mulcahy J, Padma-Nathan H, Pryor J, de Tejada IS, Shabsigh R, Wagner G: Summary of the recommendations on sexual dysfunctions in men.  J Sex Med 2004; 1:6—23
[PubMed]
 
Garcion E, Wion-Barbot N, Montero-Menei CN, Berger F, Wion D: New clues about vitamin D functions in the nervous system.  Trends Endocrinol Metab 2002; 13:100—105
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Pope HG Jr, Amiaz R, Brennan BP, Orr G, Weiser M, Kelly JF, Kanayama G, Siegel A, Hudson JI, Seidman SN: Parallel-group placebo-controlled trial of testosterone gel in men with major depressive disorder displaying an incomplete response to standard antidepressant treatment.  J Clin Psychopharmacol 2010; 30:126—134
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Miller KK, Perlis RH, Papakostas GI, Mischoulon D, Losifescu DV, Brick DJ, Fava M: Low-dose transdermal testosterone augmentation therapy improves depression severity in women.  CNS Spectr 2009; 14:688—694
[PubMed]
 
Rizvi SJ, Kennedy SH, Ravindran LN, Giacobbe P, Eisfeld BS, Mancini D, McIntyre RS: The relationship between testosterone and sexual function in depressed and healthy men.  J Sex Med 2010; 7:816—825
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Burchardt M, Burchardt T, Baer L, Kiss AJ, Pawar RV, Shabsigh A, de la Taille A, Hayek OR, Shabsigh R: Hypertension is associated with severe erectile dysfunction.  J Urol 2000; 164:1188—1191
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Chen PW: Teaching doctors about nutrition and diet.  New York Times ,  Sept 16, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/16/health/16chen.html?emc=tnt&tntemail0=y
 
References Container
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References

Rosen RC, Lane RM, Menza M. Rosen RC, Lane RM, Menza M: Effects of SSRIs on sexual function: a critical review.  J Clin Psychopharmacol 1999; 19:67—85
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Anastasiadis AG, Davis AR, Salomon L, Burchardt M, Shabsigh R: Hormonal factors in female sexual dysfunction.  Curr Opin Urol 2002; 12:503—507
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Blute M, Hakimian P, Kashanian J, Shteynshluyger A, Lee M, Shabsigh R: Erectile dysfunction and testosterone deficiency.  Front Horm Res 2009; 37:108—122
[PubMed]
 
Amore M, Scarlatti F, Quarta AL, Tagariello P: Partial androgen deficiency, depression and testosterone treatment in aging men.  Aging Clin Exp Res 2009; 21:1—8.
[PubMed]
 
Maggi M, Schulman C, Quinton R, Langham S, Uhl-Hochgraeber K: The burden of testosterone deficiency syndrome in adult men: economic and quality-of-life impact.  J Sex Med 2007; 4:1056—1069
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Seidman SN: Testosterone deficiency and mood in aging men: pathogenic and therapeutic interactions.  World J Biol Psychiatry 2003; 4:14—20
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Kupelian V, Shabsigh R, Travison TG, Page ST, Araujo AB, McKinlay JB: Is there a relationship between sex hormones and erectile dysfunction? Results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study.  J Urol 2006; 176:2584—2488
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Giltay EJ, Tishova YA, Mskhalaya GJ, Gooren LJ, Saad F, Kalinchenko SY: Effects of testosterone supplementation on depressive symptoms and sexual dysfunction in hypogonadal men with the metabolic syndrome.  J Sex Med 2010;7:2572—2582
[PubMed]
 
Lue TF, Giuliano F, Montorsi F, Rosen RC, Andersson KE, Althof S, Christ G, Hatzichristou D, Hirsch M, Kimoto Y, Lewis R, McKenna K, MacMahon C, Morales A, Mulcahy J, Padma-Nathan H, Pryor J, de Tejada IS, Shabsigh R, Wagner G: Summary of the recommendations on sexual dysfunctions in men.  J Sex Med 2004; 1:6—23
[PubMed]
 
Garcion E, Wion-Barbot N, Montero-Menei CN, Berger F, Wion D: New clues about vitamin D functions in the nervous system.  Trends Endocrinol Metab 2002; 13:100—105
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Pope HG Jr, Amiaz R, Brennan BP, Orr G, Weiser M, Kelly JF, Kanayama G, Siegel A, Hudson JI, Seidman SN: Parallel-group placebo-controlled trial of testosterone gel in men with major depressive disorder displaying an incomplete response to standard antidepressant treatment.  J Clin Psychopharmacol 2010; 30:126—134
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Miller KK, Perlis RH, Papakostas GI, Mischoulon D, Losifescu DV, Brick DJ, Fava M: Low-dose transdermal testosterone augmentation therapy improves depression severity in women.  CNS Spectr 2009; 14:688—694
[PubMed]
 
Rizvi SJ, Kennedy SH, Ravindran LN, Giacobbe P, Eisfeld BS, Mancini D, McIntyre RS: The relationship between testosterone and sexual function in depressed and healthy men.  J Sex Med 2010; 7:816—825
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Burchardt M, Burchardt T, Baer L, Kiss AJ, Pawar RV, Shabsigh A, de la Taille A, Hayek OR, Shabsigh R: Hypertension is associated with severe erectile dysfunction.  J Urol 2000; 164:1188—1191
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Chen PW: Teaching doctors about nutrition and diet.  New York Times ,  Sept 16, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/16/health/16chen.html?emc=tnt&tntemail0=y
 
References Container
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