A good sex life will not only help you feel and look younger — it will also help you live longer. That’s the claim being made in Younger (Sexier) You, a new book written by U.S. anti-ageing expert, Dr Eric Braverman.
He says sex not only raises your hormone levels (so keeping you young), but can also boost your metabolism, brain function, heart health and immunity.
And if your sex life is tepid rather than torrid? Don’t despair, says Dr Braverman. Whether you’re 30 or 100, a combination of good diet, nutritional supplements and some ‘natural’ hormones will restore your drive and ensure you enjoy the health benefits, too.
Good for you: Sex not only raises your hormone levels (so keeping you young), but can also boost your metabolism, brain function, heart health and immunity
Many sexual problems, says Dr Braverman, can be addressed by eating particular foods.
Drinking coffee can help boost a flagging libido, while snacking on peanuts can enhance arousal. Eating brown rice can help combat sexual coldness, while avocadoes might increase your capacity for pleasure.
Dr Braverman is based at the PATH Medical Center in New York, which he founded and which has been dubbed ‘Manhattan’s latest fountain of youth’ by Vogue magazine.
It’s the kind of place the rich flock to from all over the world. The doctor himself is a good advertisement for his work; at 49, he is slim and fit, exuding the energy and unlined looks of a man years younger.
But if this all sounds a bit glitzy and too good to be true, Dr Braverman has genuine credentials: he is currently an assistant professor of integrative medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College (part of Cornell University).
So, what of his claims about the health benefits of sex? Among those he cites are stronger muscles and bones — it seems a healthy sex drive helps the skin manufacture vitamin D (our main source of vitamin D is the sun). Sex also boosts our production of the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin — this helps brain function and memory.
Dr Braverman also points to a study by Queen’s University in Belfast that suggested having sex three or more times a week reduced the risk of heart attack or stroke in men by half.
And orgasms are thought to fight infection — increasing the number of infection-fighting cells by up to 20 per cent. Having regular sex could boost the levels of an antibody that fights colds and flu, suggested a U.S. study.
It’s also recently been found that greater  sexual activity in older men might protect them against prostate cancer.
But this might all sound academic to many people for whom the real problem is a poor sex life.
Get closer: You can boost your sex drive by eating certain foods or taking supplements
Usually this is blamed on a tired relationship and other psychological issues. But Dr Braverman argues that the real issue is biological ageing.
Partly it’s down to disease: problems such as heart disease and kidney failure can cause erectile dysfunction, for instance, while diabetes can reduce desire and arousal because it kills sensitive nerves.
Asparagus: Rich in vitamin E, which stimulates the hormone production needed for a more active sex life.
Bananas: Contain bromelain enzyme, which is thought to improve male libido. They’re also a good source of potassium and riboflavin, which increase overall energy levels.
Cabbage: Helps increase circulation.
Celery: Contains andosterone, a male hormone said to turn on women.
Damiana (wild yam): Contains chemicals that increase sensitivity in the genitals.
Figs: Thought to increase libido and improve sexual stamina because they are high in amino acids, the building blocks of protein which is needed for the brain chemical dopamine.
Oysters: Are high in zinc, necessary for the production of testosterone. Oysters also contain dopamine.
Sea vegetables: Those such as kelp, dulse and nori — they contain calcium, iodine and iron, said to boost libido.
Medication — from antidepressants to blood pressure pills — can also have an effect.
Dr Braverman says the other great physical enemy of a healthy sex life is the menopause — and the male version, the andropause (both of which entail the loss of sex hormones which affect sex drive and function).
But it’s not just about the mechanics of sex. Healthy sexual function is also about how your brain reacts to the messages it’s receiving from your body, he adds.
When your brain is working at its peak, brain chemicals are produced and dispersed at the correct levels. A reduced sexual desire can apparently be the first sign there’s a problem with one of the four key brain chemicals.
These are dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA and serotonin. A deficiency in each will produce specific types of sexual problem, as outlined below.
Often, an inbalance is down to illness or simply normal ageing, says Dr Braverman.
Depending on which brain chemical you lack, there is a specific diet and supplement regimen.
Dr Braverman also prescribes his patients medications and so–called bioidentical hormones. These ‘natural’ hormones are often plant-based, manufactured in a pharmaceutical lab. The claim is they have the exact same molecular structures as hormones produced by the body and are, therefore, more effective and safer than synthetic alternatives.
‘I believe that bioidentical hormone therapies are probably the key anti-ageing tool,’ says Dr Braverman.
Although some British doctors prescribe these hormones for treating the menopause and andropause, their use is controversial. The idea that such hormones could also be used on other age groups is even more so, as Dr David Sturdy of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists explains.
‘The public should be aware that bioidentical hormones are unregulated, unproven, and a lot of them are exactly the same as the ones we are already providing,’ he says.
‘There are no valid studies about bio-identical hormones at all, not about the safety, the efficacy or at what age they should be taken.’
However, even without the hormones, Dr Braverman believes it is possible to improve your sex life with diet and lifestyle advice.
First, you need to work out if you’re lacking one of the brain ‘sex’ chemicals. Read through the following list to work out which describes you best. Remember, always discuss taking supplements with your doctor, particularly if you have already been diagnosed with an illness or disease.
This could be a sign that you lack dopamine. This is the brain chemical that keeps us moving, doing the activities that are necessary for survival, such as eating, reproducing and breathing.
If you have too much dopamine, you have a high sex drive; too little, and you may lack interest in sex.
SIGNS OF LOW DOPAMINE: Your performance at work suffers; you sometimes experience total exhaustion; sex isn’t as satisfying as it used to be; your skin is less sensitive to all types of touch; you have sex less than once a week.
ACTION PLAN: Eat foods that create more dopamine. The following contain proteins that are the building blocks of this chemical: meats, poultry, dairy products and wheatgerm. You need to include protein in each of your three daily main meals to keep your dopamine high throughout the day.
The following spices can also boost dopamine levels: basil, black pepper, cayenne, chilli peppers, cumin, fennel, flax seeds, garlic, ginger, mustard seed, rosemary, sesame seeds, tarragon and turmeric.
Coffee and tea are good for dopamine, and also enhance endurance. Tea is healthier, but loose tea has far more nutrients than tea bags. For double the dopamine, try steeping two green tea bags in two cups of boiling water and add a pinch of cayenne. Drink throughout the day.
Many supplements might help with dopamine levels. Dr Braverman suggests these daily doses: folic acid (500mcg); ginseng (500-2,000mg), thiamin (100-500mg; the official recommendation in the UK is up to 300mg), zinc (30mg).
Acetylcholine is the brain chemical that helps determine how fast we think and how we retain information. While it’s not as important as dopamine in terms of sexual desire, it is key to arousal.
SIGNS OF LOW ACETYLCHOLINE: You’re no longer turned on by touch or massage; you misinterpret people’s emotions; your skin is dry and cracked; sometimes you don’t remember what you’ve eaten.
ACTION PLAN: An acetylcholine deficiency can make you crave foods high in fat because fat is the main source of choline, the building blocks of this brain chemical. The problem is that bad fats can clog your brain and ruin its natural mechanism for producing acetylcholine.
Healthy foods high in choline include liver, eggs, wheatgerm, beef, peanuts, almonds, broccoli and cabbage.
Spices good for boosting acetylcholine include allspice, basil, cumin, peppermint, sage, thyme, turmeric.
Supplements that can help include choline (200mg) and omega-3 (500mg).
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) controls the brain’s pace and communication with other parts of the body. It has a calm, stabilising effect, unlike dopamine and acetylcholine. Too little can create anxiety, and you can’t relax when it comes to sex.
SIGNS OF LOW GABA: Orgasm is nearly always impossible or less intense than it used to be; you’re too embarrassed to enjoy sex; you’re nervous and jumpy; your thoughts are confused.
ACTION PLAN: Anxiety and frigidity can be solved by balancing GABA — the easiest and most natural way for you to keep your levels even is by the food you eat.
In this case, your body needs complex carbohydrates to create a steady supply of glutamine, the amino acid that effectively turns into GABA in the body. The best foods include brown rice, whole grains, potatoes, halibut, broccoli, spinach, lentils, bananas and citrus fruits.
Also try to get more of the following spices: caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, lemongrass, oregano, paprika, poppy seeds, rosemary and sage.
Alcohol increases GABA levels, but make sure you stop at one or two glasses a day — a man might not be able to maintain an erection and a woman could nod off! Alcohol also depresses testosterone levels. Teas that boost GABA levels include chamomile and lemon balm.
Supplements that might help include magnesium (300-1,000mg) and vitamin B6 (10mg).
This is a possible sign of a lack of serotonin, the brain chemical that allows you to experience pleasure and feel happy and relaxed.
SIGNS OF LOW SEROTONIN: You’re too unhappy to have sex; you’re easily irritated; you crave carbohydrates and salty snacks; you frequently take sleeping pills.
ACTION PLAN: The body needs tryptophan to make serotonin. This amino acid can be found in abundance in certain foods. These include pork, avocado, cottage cheese, duck, eggs, wheatgerm, turkey, chicken and chocolate.
Good antidepressant spices include anise, dill, marjoram, nutmeg, peppermint, saffron, spearmint and turmeric.
Some of the mood-boosting supplements that can help include magnesium (200-500mg) and vitamin D (1,000-1,500 IU).

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