When people start the ketogenic diet, they expect to lose weight, experience fewer cravings, see an improvement in their blood work, and to just become overall healthier. But what most probably don’t expect is a change in their libido, a.k.a. their sex drive.
Some keto dieters report feeling friskier when after ditching carbs, while others notice their sex lives take a toll. So, what's the deal here? Keep reading to find out.
This is a guest post written and contributed by dietician Sofia Norton of Kiss My Keto.
A Rundown on Libido
To understand how keto could possibly affect sex drive, we first need to understand what sex drive is and how it is regulated.
Sex drive, also referred to as libido, is as a person's drive or desire to have sex. It's part of the sexual response cycle, which consists of four phases: desire, arousal, orgasm, and resolution (1). The first phase has sexual drive as one of its components, with motivation and sexual wish being two other components.
Desire and drive to have sex depend on a wide range of factors, just some of which include:
- Sex hormones
- Overall health
- Stress levels
- Relationship satisfaction
- Body image
- Social influences
As you can see, sex drive depends on both internal (e.g. hormones) and external (e.g. relationship satisfaction) factors. The interplay between these different factors will determine how high or low your sex life will be. And since these factors are not static and change over a person's lifetime, fluctuations in sex drive happen and are normal.
How Diet Affects Libido
It's now a well-established fact that diet is one of the most important influences on health (2). Since sex drive is one aspect of your health, then, naturally, your diet will influence it too. For example, studies show that unhealthy diets that lead to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes also lead to low testosterone, a hormone that regulates sex drive in both men and women (3).
Nutrients in your food can also have a profound effect on your sexual health. Higher intake of docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, for example, was found to reduce a woman's risk of anovulation (4). In women, the health of their menstrual cycle also plays a huge part in libido.
How many calories you're eating can also affect your libido. When calorie restriction causes weight loss in people with excess weight, their libido improves (5). On the other hand, calorie restriction that's bordering on starvation will cause your sex drive to plummet along with your overall health.
What About Keto and Sex Drive?
Unfortunately, not much is known about how keto influences sex drive. A 2007 study comparing low-carb to low-fat diets for weight loss found that 1 of the 29 participants experienced low sex drive (6). A different study on the effects of keto in obese patients found that ketosis actually improved overall sexual functioning in women (7).
You may come across anecdotes and stories of how keto affects libido, which can add to the confusion. But the reality is quite simple: if the keto diet helps improve your health, the results will positively reflect on your sex drive. Weight loss not only boosts well-being, but it also reduces inflammation and balances out hormones. On the other hand, if your diet is not well-balanced and you're experiencing side effects, a low sex drive is likely to happen.
A poorly planned keto diet can be deficient in nutrients like magnesium and zinc, both of which are important for your hormones and brain health. And speaking of brain health, the keto diet is known to boost brain functioning. Since your brain is your main erogenous zone, it should come as no surprise if keto boosts your mood for loving.
Some Keto Libido Theories Explained
As already said, researchers don't really know if and how keto affects sex drive. However, there are theories and speculations as to how it impacts this particular aspect of your health. Here are just some of these theories explained.
Elevated blood glucose and insulin are linked to sex hormone imbalances in both men and women. In women, these imbalances are also linked to PCOS, a hormonal condition which, among many other things, leads to sexual dysfunction. The ketogenic diet tackles both high blood glucose and elevated insulin levels, leading to a more favorable balance in sex hormones.
Studies show that keto addresses issues that are linked to mood problems like GABA deficiency, low serotonin levels, poor mitochondrial functioning, oxidative stress, inflammation, and insulin resistance (8). Besides that, any success you experience on this diet will be an instant mood booster that will also make your confidence skyrocket.
On the other hand, keto can initially cause you to lose your sex drive. This is not uncommon for people just starting a keto diet, and it can be a direct result of electrolyte imbalances. One electrolyte that is particularly important for sexual functioning is magnesium. Having low levels of this electrolyte can wreak havoc on your thyroid as well as your sex hormones.
And while all of these theories may be true, it's a good idea to take them with a grain of salt. Researchers are just starting to look into how keto impacts your hormonal and even metabolic health. What we do know is that it can address a wide range of health issues that are known to negatively affect sex drive. On the other hand, experiencing sexual dysfunction on this diet is probably a temporary side effect of restricting carbs than a sign that the diet is not working.
- Montgomery KA. Sexual Desire Disorders. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2008 Jun; 5(6): 50–55. -https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695750/
- Katz DL, Meller S. Can we say what diet is best for health? Annual Review of Public Health. 2014; 35:83-103.- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24641555
- La J, Roberts NH, Yafi FA. Diet and Men’s Sexual Health. Sexual Medicine Reviews. 2018 Jan;6(1):54-68. - https://www.smr.jsexmed.org/article/S2050-0521(17)30074-4/pdf
- Mumford SL, Chavarro JE, Zhang C, et.al. Dietary fat intake and reproductive hormone concentrations and ovulation in regularly menstruating women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Mar; 103(3):868-77. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4763493/
- Khoo J, Piantadosi C, Worthley S. Effects of a low-energy diet on sexual function and lower urinary tract symptoms in obese men. International Journal of Obesity. 2010 Sep;34(9):1396-403. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20404829
- Lecheminant JD, Gibson CA, Sullivan DK, et. al. Comparison of a low carbohydrate and low fat diet for weight maintenance in overweight or obese adults enrolled in a clinical weight management program. Nutrition Journal. 2007 Nov 1;6:36. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2228297/
- Castro AI, Gomez-Arbelaez D, Crujeiras AB, 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 Oct; 10(10): 1348. - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6213862/
- Brietzke E, Mansur RB, Subramaniapillai M, et. al. Ketogenic diet as a metabolic therapy for mood disorders: Evidence and developments. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 2018 Nov; 94:11-16. -https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30075165
Hi, I'm Tasha–nutritionist, recipe developer, and multi-published author dedicated to helping people thrive and succeed using low carb and keto dietary patterns.