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A 2019 study by Towe et al., found that certain medical issues including metabolic syndrome, obesity, and eating disorders have an effect on female sexuality. The study also found evidence that incorporating of healthy dietary patterns into everyday life may positively influence female sexuality.

Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity May Cause Female Sexual Dysfunction


According to the Mayo Clinic, Metabolic Syndrome is a “cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels. The syndrome increases a person's risk for heart attack and stroke.” Those with Metabolic Syndrome often have apple or pear shaped bodies.

In addition to increasing risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, metabolic syndrome can affect the function of endothelial cells, which help the body create lubrication including vaginal lubrication. Studies have also found that Metabolic Syndrome can also affect sexual dysfunction by decreasing sexual activity, desire, and satisfaction (Towe, 2019; Trompeter, 2016).

Obesity can be a component of Metabolic Syndrome and has also been linked to decreased female sexual function in other studies including Aversa (2013) wherein the study found that holistic intervention for obesity resulted in an increase in sexual function as measured by desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and lack of pain.

Eating Disorders and Sexual Dysfunction

Studies have found that eating disorders including bulimia and anorexia can negatively affect sexual function.

Bulimic patients tend to be more impulsive and engage in higher risk sexual behaviors, while people who have anorexia report decreased arousal, lubrication, worse orgasmic function, and other effects on the menstrual cycle (Towe, 2019).

Specific Diets that Have been Found to Positively Affect Female Sexuality


The Mediterranean diet has been shown in a few studies to improve sexual function, specifically for women who also have obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome (Esposito, 2007; Towe, 2019).

In Esposito’s 2007 study, participants were asked to adhere to a Mediterranean diet for 24 months with the following guidelines:
Diets were compromised of

  • 50-60% complex carbohydrates
  • 15-20% of proteins -less than 30% total fats
  • less than 10% saturated fats

Subjects consumed at least 250–300 g of fruits, 125–150 g of vegetables and 25–50 g of nuts per day. Additional guidelines included consuming 400 g of whole grains daily (legumes, rice, corn and wheat) and to increase the consumption of olive oil. Women were also advised to increase consumption of fish and to reduce intake of red or processed meat.

By the end of the 24 month trial, those following the Mediterranean diet in the Esposito study reported better sexual function in the areas of sexual desire, arousal, orgasm and pain.

The Ketogenic diet is described by the National Cancer Institute as a “diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates (sugars) that causes the body to break down fat into molecules called ketones. Ketones circulate in the blood and become the main source of energy for many cells in the body.”

In Castro’s 2018 study, women placed on a low calorie ketogenic diet for 4 months reported improved sexual function in the realms of arousal (excitation) and lubrication. The study also reported that some women reported improved orgasmic function.

As pelvic floor therapists, it is outside of our domain to prescribe or counsel people through diet changes. Please check in with your doctor, a registered dietician, and/or a licensed nutritionist for more information.

Resources

Aversa A, Bruzziches R, Francomano D, et al. Weight loss by multidisciplinary intervention improves endothelial and sexual function in obese fertile women. J Sex Med 2013;10:1024- 1033.

Castro A, Gomez-Arbelaez D, Crujeiras A, et al. Effect of a very low-calorie ketogenic diet on food and alcohol cravings, physical and sexual activity, sleep disturbances, and quality of life in obese patients. Nutrients 2018;10:1348.

Esposito, K., Ciotola, M., Giugliano, F. et al. Mediterranean diet improves sexual function in women with the metabolic syndrome. Int J Impot Res 19, 486–491 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijir.3901555

Towe, M., La, J., El-Khatib, F., Roberts, N., Yafi, F. A., & Rubin, R. (2019). Diet and Female Sexual Health. Sexual Medicine Reviews. doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2019.08.004

Mayo Clinic, Metabolic Syndrome

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351916

Trompeter, S. E., Bettencourt, R., & Barrett-Connor, E. (2016). Metabolic Syndrome and Sexual Function in Postmenopausal Women. The American Journal of Medicine, 129(12), 1270–1277.e1. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.03.039

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After having my second baby via C-section I searched for months to try to find help for my lower back pain and separated abdominal muscles. I finally came across Heather Jeffcoat via a mommy blog. I reached out to her via email and set my first appointment. My first appointment went amazing … she listened to what my symptoms, check my separation and explained to me in detail what the next steps would be. Not only did my abdominal separation go from 3 to about 1 -1/2 but my back has pain has significantly reduced. I’m personally recommending all my mommy friends to Heather!

Y.L. (mom of 2)

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Before I was referred to Heather Jeffcoat I was living in a nightmare. I had been married to my husband for three years and I was suffering from Vaginismus. That all changed when I visited my OBGYN and she said she knew of someone with a great success rate. To be honest I was hesitant at first because my first doctor had already told me that all I needed to do was order dilators from the internet and I should overcome my problem. She was wrong because I had followed the book on how to use the dilators with absolutely no advancements in my condition. However, that all changed when I went in for my first visit and Heather took the time to explain my condition and how we were going to work together to overcome it.

I remember leaving her office with a glimmer of hope that I could live a normal life. As my sessions continued I began to see immediate results. With only four sessions and a strict dedication to my home programs I was cured of Vaginismus. In the beginning of this process I was made aware that my health insurance company might not cover the costs, which was disappointing but today I can say one hundred percent that it was the best money I ever spent. Now thanks to Heather I am finally enjoying my life to the fullest with my husband. Thank you Heather, I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate all that you have done for me. I will never forget it. Those who are suffering from these types of conditions don’t be afraid because she makes you feel so comfortable and the end result is worth it. Good luck to you all and I hope you experience the success I have.
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Testimonial by T.H.

I started seeing Heather in October 2014. For more than two years, I had been suffering from painful urinary tract infection type symptoms after my bartholins gland surgery which included constant burning and urinary frequency sensation that led to more and more painful intercourse. I had made multiple visits to internist, obgyn and urologist's offices, went through a range of treatment with UTI and bladder frequency medication that included antibiotics, vesicare, estrogen cream, but nothing worked.

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I had tried Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy before (with another PT) and I had a really bad (painful) experience. A friend of mine and fellow patient, told me about Heather, Laureen and Femina PT (née Fusion Wellness & Physical Therapy) and I decided to try again. I am so happy I did! Femina PT have, literally, changed my life. I was able to do again things I couldn't do for over 10 years!! Their bedside manners are impeccable, their knowledge and understanding make me feel comfortable to recommend this place to anyone in pain. Specially if you have Endometriosis. 100% recommended!!

-- Carolina J., 12/28/16 via Yelp!

Testimonial by P.M.

I was hopeful but frankly skeptical when the doctor treating me for Interstitial Cystitis recommended that I go to Heather for physical therapy. Medication and diet helped control my IC symptoms, but I had never heard of physical therapy being used to treat IC. The education and treatment I received from Heather was a revelation. She explained that the pain I experienced with IC had helped create a cycle of muscle guarding which affected the entire pelvic area. I had no idea of the amount of tension being held there. No wonder my husband and I had not been able to have sexual intercourse for years!

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Testimonial by A.B.

Before I was referred to Heather Jeffcoat I was living in a nightmare. I had been married to my husband for three years and I was suffering from Vaginismus. That all changed when I visited my OBGYN and she said she knew of someone with a great success rate. To be honest I was hesitant at first because my first doctor had already told me that all I needed to do was order dilators from the internet and I should overcome my problem. She was wrong because I had followed the book on how to use the dilators with absolutely no advancements in my condition. However, that all changed when I went in for my first visit and Heather took the time to explain my condition and how we were going to work together to overcome it.

I remember leaving her office with a glimmer of hope that I could live a normal life. As my sessions continued I began to see immediate results. With only four sessions and a strict dedication to my home programs I was cured of Vaginismus. In the beginning of this process I was made aware that my health insurance company might not cover the costs, which was disappointing but today I can say one hundred percent that it was the best money I ever spent. Now thanks to Heather I am finally enjoying my life to the fullest with my husband. Thank you Heather, I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate all that you have done for me. I will never forget it. Those who are suffering from these types of conditions don’t be afraid because she makes you feel so comfortable and the end result is worth it. Good luck to you all and I hope you experience the success I have.
-- A.B.

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