May
12
2018

Sex Stimulates Your Brain

Sex usually causes positive feelings, but how is it that sex stimulates your brain? Recently this publication reviewed exactly what is going on. The reason both sexes seem to seek out sex is the fact that it is sex that stimulates the brain a certain way, which is pleasing to both partners. Due to the stimulation the brain will release hormones that make us feel good. Following sex there is post-coital afterglow for a period of time, which I have addressed under this link before. Here I am reviewing what physical stimulation of the brain takes place during sex. Next I will touch on the hormonal changes that happen during and after sex.

Diagnostic tests that show that sex stimulates your brain

Researchers performed  2005 positron emission tomography (PET scan) studies  during sex at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. They studied males males while they were having sex. The question was what part of the brain would be receiving stimulation. Another question was, what part of the brain was resting during intercourse? They found that the right hemisphere and particularly one area, the right posterior insula received stimulation, when the penis was stimulated. This area allows the man to feel relaxed and it reduces pain perception. The secondary somatosensory cortex also showed stimulation on PET scans. The stimulation of the secondary somatosensory cortex is what carries him to the height of his arousal during intercourse. The hypothalamus, which also received stimulatioh with the initiation of sex, was very quiet during the active part of lovemaking. The thalamus and right amygdala were also quiet during that phase on PET scans.

More on feelings and losing oneself during the height of sex

The same group from the Netherlands did a 2003 study using PET scans to find out what happens during his ejaculation. Male subjects had sexual stimulation (penile stimulation) by their female partners. At the time of his ejaculation the PET scan showed increased brain activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the cerebellum. The frontal brain was remarkably quiet. Other authors point out that there are profound hormone releases during lovemaking. The release of neurotransmitters like noradrenaline, oxytocin and prolactin is taking place during orgasm. Other hormones like dopamine, opioids and serotonin join the hormonal symphony of lovemaking. This leads to detachedness at the height of the orgasm, to emotional closeness and pair bonding toward the end of lovemaking. The authors of the 2003 Netherlands study concluded:

“Our results correspond with reports of cerebellar activation during heroin rush, sexual arousal, listening to pleasurable music, and monetary reward.”

Female orgasm and brain studies showing that sex stimulates your brain

It is only fair that research also studied females, similarly to the male studies. Functional MRI scans were part of a 2017 study from Newark, NJ.

It showed a much broader stimulation of brains in females than in males. Female orgasm includes stimulation of the prefrontal cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex, the insula, the cingulate gyrus, and the cerebellum. These areas take part in the processing of emotions and of pain. There is also some metabolic processing and decision-making. With the male ejaculation study discussed above we had seen that there was no activity in the frontal brain of the male. At this stage of his sexual arousal there is no place for decision-making for the man. Women, however, are still able to think while having an orgasm. Other studies have shown that the rhythmic sexual stimulation during sex can get women into an altered state of consciousness that feels like a trance.

Hormonal activity during and after sex documenting that sex stimulates your brain

We learned already about the profound hormone releases during the height of his ejaculation and her orgasm (noradrenaline, oxytocin and prolactin). But other hormones were also part of it: dopamine, opioids and serotonin. There are two hormones that are particularly important: endorphins and oxytocin. Endorphins are part of the natural endorphins that the brain makes. They help us to feel good and they minimize pain. Their production takes place in the hypothalamus, one of the main hormone producing glands of the brain. The hypothalamus also produces the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which releases ACTH in the pituitary gland. This and cortisol are the stress hormones that make us tense. With the release of endorphins during sex, the stress reaction becomes less. More sex means less stress.

Oxytocin, the cuddling hormone

Oxytocin from the posterior pituitary gland is the cuddling hormone. It is part of the symphony of hormones that show a release during sex. Oxytocin makes you feel close to your partner, but also very relaxed. It may be responsible for the afterglow that I mentioned  in the beginning of my review that can last for up to 2 days after sex.

When sex is painful

Sex can be a bad experience, particularly for women. Many women have experienced sexual abuse in the past, and when they grow up to mature women, the past bad memories often linger on. This is called postcoital dysphoria (PCD). A 2011 Australian/US study has studied this. 32.9% of the students of that study reported ever having experienced this. There were also cases of childhood sexual abuse that were more severe. The authors also found that sexual dysfunction was worse when co-existing anxiety or depression disorders were present.

Better sleep after sex

Prolactin, another brain hormone is released during sex as well. It is responsible for calming the frontal cortex down. This leads to better sleep, but in older men it also causes better cognitive functioning. Prolactin, released during sex is thought to improve memory and to improve cognitive impairment.

In women testosterone and oxytocin are released during sex. This can improve libido (testosterone) and makes you feel like cuddling.

Sex Stimulates Your Brain

Sex Stimulates Your Brain

Conclusion

Sex leads to a battery of hormones that the brain releases after ejaculation and/or orgasm. Both partners experience their own detachedness, which is due to a trance-like mental state where the partners experience each other intensely. The cuddling hormone oxytocin encourages bonding and contributes to a feeling of an intense closeness to each other. Endorphins release stress and amplify the emotional high. Brain studies on copulating couples have shown different stimulation patterns of parts of the brain in women and in men.

Differences in how men and women are wired

Men cannot think at the height of lovemaking because their frontal brain is completely blocked. Women, however, are able to continue to experience all emotions and are able to think at the same time. Having said that, women can easily enter into a trance from the repetitive movements of lovemaking. Whatever it is that we experience during and after sex, it is due to the relationship we have with each other, the past experience, the present experience and the hormone symphony that occurs during all of this. Enjoy what’s going on!

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Sep
10
2016

Crazy Food Trends

CNN wrote about strange, crazy food trends that seem to receive a following. I thought it would be interesting to analyze them medically and point out to the reader what’s right and what’s wrong.

Crazy food trend one: Ashwagandha

In India this herb, also known as Indian ginseng has been used as part of the Ayurvedic medicine for centuries.

At the 22nd Annual Anti-Aging (A4M) Las Vegas Conference in mid December 2014 Pamela Smith gave a presentation entitled ”How To Maintain Memory At Any Age”. She gave a comprehensive overview of what you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Smith recommended many other supplements, which I will not explain in detail here: B vitamins, vitamin E and C, carnosine, acetyl-L-carnitine, boron, ginger, coenzyme Q-10 (or CoQ-10), curcumin, vinpocetine, zinc, grape seed extract, blueberry extract, Ashwagandha, glyceryl-phosphoryl-choline, SAMe, huperzine A and DMAE and others. She specifically pointed out that she felt Ashwagandha was very powerful. It helps people preserve their memory, more so than regular drugs that doctors prescribe.

When the benefits of taking CoQ-10 were discussed, Dr. Smith reminded the audience “whatever is good for the heart, is good for the brain”. She recommended reading Dr. Perlmutter’s book from which this phrase was borrowed (Ref. 1).

Ashwagandha is an herb with multifaceted effects. Here is a review by a doctor about the various effects of Ashwagandha.

It does not belong into foods; it should only be in use as a supplement, if your doctor agrees with it.

Crazy food trend two: astrologically farmed eggs

Picture biodynamic farming of eggs with the guidance of the moon. Now you are producing astrologically farmed eggs. The Hemsley sisters insist you should eat these astrologically farmed eggs for breakfast. I don’t buy into this. This is hokey! It smells like somebody is trying to lure money out of your pocket by trying to convince you that there is health benefit to “astrologically farmed eggs”. There isn’t.

What does make sense is to buy eggs that do not have antibiotic residue in them and that came from free-range hens. Yes, I buy organic eggs that are somewhat more expensive. If you like to buy organic omega-3 eggs, this would also be scientifically superior to ordinary hen eggs. There is also the difference of “free run” and “free range” hens. “Free run” does not give you any guarantee for a healthy product, as the birds live in crowded barns and are likely receiving medications to combat diseases. “Free range” birds are hens that have access to the outdoors, and there is less of the overcrowding that is common in a barn.

Crazy food trend three: Cordyceps

There are about 400 subspecies to these sac fungi. Cordyceps has been used in Chinese medicines to help as an aphrodisiac, help improve kidney function in the elderly and also with regard to some anticancer activity. There are very few clinical review papers to substantiate any of these claims; yet traditional medicine insists on using Cordyceps for these purposes. If you want to see a traditional Chinese doctor, do so on your own. But don’t consume food that is prepared with Cordyceps.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s morning smoothie cost more than 200$, so if anything, I would be more concerned about bankruptcy than real nutrition with this type of breakfast drink.

I have my doubts that Cordyceps that kill ants to sprout their spores in their corpses (see Wiki link above) could be of any objective benefit to humans.

Crazy food trend four: blue majik

Blue Majik is just another name for a common antioxidant, phycocyanin. It derives from algae, Arthrospira platensis.It has some similarity with the green spirulina. But just because it seems fashionable right now, does not mean that it is superior to vitamin C as a cheap antioxidant or vitamin E. The creators of blue majik are cashing in on color effects and selling false hopes of better health. You can live very well without it.

Crazy food trend five: cannabis

When I heard that people are starting to mix cannabis into foods, it reminded me about a story I heard from one of my patients in the mid 1980’s who worked in the shipyards of North Vancouver. One day he saw some cookies on a tray in the lunchroom. A co-worker offered some to him and he ate it. After 5 minutes his head started pounding with an excruciating headache and he became nauseous. Shortly after he vomited and started getting a rapid heartbeat. His co-workers laughed and told him that these were very special cookies that they treated with marijuana.

I suspect that whoever baked these cookies used a higher dose of marijuana and my patient experienced a marijuana overdose.

This example illustrates that cannabis has special properties that affect the body.

In the brain it binds to cannabinoid receptors. These are not only present in brain tissue, but also in lungs, liver and kidneys. Even the immune cells have cannabinoid receptors.

There may be a place for chronic pain patients under the guidance of a physician to get medical marijuana. But keep cannabis away from your food. Don’t consume it! You have no idea what you are doing to your body that is full of receptors for cannabis. Cannabis requires treatment like a drug. This means a doctor should prescribe marijuana and the patient s should take it according to doctor’s orders. Like with any drug there will be effects and also side effects.

Crazy Food Trends

Crazy Food Trends

Conclusion

Out of five crazy foods reviewed there are only 2 that merit consideration, but not mixed into food. These are Ashwagandha as a supplement (part of memory loss prevention and others) and cannabis for chronic pain. A physician should supervise both. The remainders are fashion crazes. Unfortunately many people will fall for these fashion trends and lose a lot of money. This will make someone who peddles these items very rich. Is this what you want to do: throw your money out and toss it right into the pocket a huckster? Rethink what you want to do. You may just want to buy organic eggs from chickens that happily scratch away in a farmyard. This is very much down to earth, and nothing “astronomically farmed” is needed.

References

Ref 1: David Perlmutter, MD: “Grain Brain. The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, And Sugar-Your Brain’s Silent Killers.” Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013.

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Apr
09
2016

Treating Lack Of Sexual Arousal

A few years back lack of sexual arousal was not discussed that much. But since Viagra has been such a success in males, the search was on for a similar drug for females who have a lack of sexual arousal. The new drug, the “Viagra equivalent for women” is flibanserin under the trade name Addyi.

The news about this new drug has been noted in the media.

How flibanserin works

How does flibanserin work? It stimulates 5-HT1A receptors in the frontal brain to produce more serotonin and dopamine. Due to these substances a premenopausal woman with a lack of desire for sex becomes more arousable. It may sound reasonable at first, but when you look at the many other effects that a stimulation of 5-HT1A receptors can produce, I find it surprising that the FDA gave approval to this drug.

Flibanserin can cause opening up of skin veins leading to hypothermia and fainting due to a lowering of blood pressure. It has some pain relieving properties. Flibanserin can also interfere with learning and inhibit some aspects of memory. Some positives are decrease in aggression, increase in sociability and decreased impulsivity.

Here are a few points that need to be discussed regarding this new drug.

Treating a symptom rather than the cause

Premenopausal women have a lack of progesterone, as their ovaries do not ovulate as regularly as they did in the past. When the last ovulation has occurred, the woman’s periods stop for good. She is said to have entered menopause. There is a profound lowering of estrogen and progesterone levels, which also leads to a lowering of the testosterone blood level. In women the percentage of testosterone is minute compared to men, but testosterone is essential for normal libido. About 5 years before a woman gets into menopause testosterone levels and progesterone levels may already be getting reduced. It is this low testosterone level, which is the cause of the lack of sexual arousal. So, why are we suddenly treating these symptoms with a poorly understood drug? The causes for a lack of sexual arousal are premenopausal hormone changes: mostly lowered progesterone and some lowered testosterone.

Alternative treatment of lack of sexual arousal

Dr. Lee has written several books that became famous. He treated hormone deficiencies in people with replacement of bioidentical hormones. This resulted in feeling new energy and losing the symptoms for which the patients sought consultation. With regard to premenopausal symptoms Dr. Lee wrote the following in one of his books.

It is interesting that these premenopausal women all got help with progesterone cream. Their sexual arousal returned as well as a tiny amount of bioidentical progesterone metabolizes into testosterone, which increases libido in women.

It is clear that Dr. Lee would have done what any anti-aging physician today would do: measure hormone levels and add back the hormones that are missing. In the case of premenopausal women it is mostly progesterone that is missing.

What is better: using a chemical or using a natural hormone?

We need to come to terms with the question: is a chemical like Viagra better for a male to get an erection or natural testosterone?

Viagra and others of that type are drugs that are a foreign substance to the body. There are a significant number of side effects with this medication such as headaches and clotting problems that limit the use for certain patients. Bioidentical testosterone replacement therapy, which can stimulate libido significantly, can often eliminate the need for Viagra type drugs. In the past, with the use of synthetic testosterone, hepatic toxicity and with long-term use the risk of liver cancer existed. Dr. Morgentaler has shown that prostate cancer is not a risk with long-term use of bioidentical testosterone. Also, with synthetic testosterone blood could turn too viscous (secondary polycythemia), which could cause a stroke. The physician has to monitor patients on synthetic testosterone for these side effects accordingly, but this is not necessary with patients on bioidentical testosterone.

If a physician treats a male with erectile dysfunction, he orders a blood test for testosterone. If this comes back with a low testosterone blood level the physician knows what the cause is of the erectile dysfunction. The low testosterone is the cause of erectile dysfunction and therefore treatment consists of bioidentical testosterone replacement therapy. The treatment does NOT consist of a drug like Viagra. Males tolerate testosterone well with no side effects. Instead the man experiences a profound feeling of wellbeing.

The same reasoning is true for a premenopausal woman with a lack of sexual arousal. If she is deficient in progesterone hormone, she needs bioidentical progesterone cream, not a new drug called flibanserin with a myriad of side effects.

Evidence of efficiency of flibanserin in treating sexual arousal

Evidence based medicine scrutinizes research papers to calculate the numbers of patients to be treated before there is one positive therapeutic effect. Researches have defined that a good medical treatment is one where only 50 or less patients get a treatment before one therapeutic success occurs.

The observation from the studies on flibanserin was that satisfying sexual events rose from 2.8 to 4.5 times a month. However, women receiving placebo reported also an increase of satisfying sexual events from 2.7 to 3.7 times a month. In comparison to the placebo there was only a difference of 0.8 times per month that women experienced a satisfying sexual event! If the average American couple has sex 2 to 3 times per week (2.5 times per week), this translates to 10 times per month. We just heard that 0.8 times of these 10 times per months a satisfying sexual event occurred on flibanserin. Flibanserin is taken as one tablet at bedtime.

Compared to the placebo group, it would take 12.5 episodes of sex to generate one event of success (satisfying sexual event), which can be attributed to taking flibanserin daily. The NNT (number needed to treat) is 12.5. However, if you count the number of days of taking tablets, it would take 37.5 days of taking flibanserin to create one satisfying sexual event, so the NNT=37.5. Nevertheless, both numbers would still be acceptable as a moderately effective medicine, as they are below 50.

But I think that we have to be much more cautious in this case as the side effects are considerable and an alternative with no side effects and much more effect exists (bioidentical progesterone replacement).

Consumer education needed

Should the patient trust a physician’s prescription? Then there is the question: should the patient put up with side effects like nausea, tiredness, and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, a dry mouth, constipation or excessive sleepiness? Finally, should the patient insist to be educated about bioidentical hormone replacement therapy?

From an evidence-based medicine view bioidentical hormone replacement is the drug of choice. With a number needed to treat (NNT) of 2 to 5 bioidentical hormones have a much higher efficiency than flibanserin. In other words, many women would experience a satisfying sexual event a lot more often. They would experience sexual arousal after having had sex 2 to 5 times instead of 12.5 times.

Bioidentical hormone replacement much safer and more effective

Replacing missing hormones and restoring her hormones to how they were when she was younger should help. The physician ought to explain to the premenopausal woman that bioidentical progesterone replacement is a much safer treatment option. There are no side-effects with bioidentical progesterone. This ovarian hormone has been part of the woman’s  menstrual cycle all along. It is also important for the woman to educate herself about bioidentical hormone replacement and ask questions. Some physicians are of the old conservative school and may refuse this type of approach. In this case it is time to seek out a naturopathic physician.

Treating Lack Of Sexual Arousal

Treating Lack Of Sexual Arousal

Conclusion

Nobody would suggest to treat depression associated with hypothyroidism with antidepressants. Instead the physician treats hypothyroidism with thyroid hormones and the depression disappears.

Similarly, premenopausal syndrome presents with a lack of arousal, a symptom due to progesterone deficiency. This needs treatment with bioidentical progesterone cream. Why would you treat only symptomatically with flibanserin and risk all of the side effects mentioned. It makes more sense to treat the cause (low progesterone) rather than the symptoms. See a naturopath or a physician who understands natural hormone therapy to get the best results.