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How Stressed are you?

Stress has been described as the health epidemic of the 21st century. Judy Hobsonmeets a GP treating patients too stressed for sex

Constantly being bombarded by texts and emails, not to mention half-hourly news bulletins, many of us feel stressed and anxious most of the time.

All this stress not only puts us at increased risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, it is also ruining our sex lives. A recent study found that more than half of Britons are far too stressed to enjoy regular sex with their partners, putting strain on their relationships and adding even more to their stress.

It is no surprise, therefore, to learn that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is describing stress as the health epidemic of the 21st century.

In a survey by the insurance firm AXA in April, four out of five people said they felt stressed during a typical week while one in ten of them admitted to being stressed the whole time. In a One Poll survey of 2000 Britons conducted over the winter months, 61 per cent reported being too exhausted for sex when they arrived home from work and 57 per cent said they were too stressed for regular sex.

The findings come as no surprise to Dr David Edwards, a specialist in male and female sexual dysfunction who works as a GP in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.

He says: “Over the years I’ve seen hundreds of patients too stressed for sex and the problem is getting worse. If either partner is too exhausted for sex, this invariably leads to relationship breakdown. It is a problem couples need to address sooner rather than later.”

Sex is good for us both mentally and physically. It burns calories, helping to keep the weight off, and a recent Italian study revealed that a female orgasm delivers the equivalent of 10mg of pain-relieving diamorphine. So we need more of it, not less.

“But today,” Dr Edwards explains, “even something as simple as buying milk can be stressful, because you’re confronted by so many varieties. I counted 16 in a supermarket the other day. Then you switch on your TV or radio and you’re bombarded with distressing news. Many of my friends as well as my patients tell me they simply can’t cope with it and have to switch off.

“We’re also living in a society where we have to give instant responses – answering our mobiles and replying to emails. In the days of letter writing we had much more time to make a considered decision and didn’t feel under so much pressure.”

When stress triggers like these are combined and then added to the fact that many of us have moved away from our roots and support networks, it is easy to understand why Dr Edwards and his fellow GPs are seeing more and more people suffering from chronic stress.

Left untreated, the symptoms – such as being tired all the time, lacking in energy, irritability and tension – lead to burnout, make sufferers more susceptible to infection and put them at increased risk of a heart attack.

Dr Edwards says: “Being constantly stressed means levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, are permanently raised and this can cause high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. I also believe the current Type 2 diabetes epidemic we’re seeing could be stress related.”

Patients with chronic stress are often given anti-depressants, tranquilisers or beta-blockers, but Dr Edwards believes this is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, because of their side-effects which cause sexual problems, a dry mouth and tiredness.

“Ideally, what we need is a therapy to treat all the symptoms of stress that has an excellent safety profile, and it looks as if a traditional herbal medicine – Rhodiola rosea – can meet these requirements. By boosting your libido it also puts you in the mood for sex.”

Scientific research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2016 and the Journal of Phytotherapy Research in 2012 demonstrated that Rhodiola rosea extract WS1375 can boost low sex drive in both sexes that is caused predominantly by stress.

The plant which the extract comes from grows in the Arctic regions of Europe and Asia and has been used for centuries in Russia and Scandinavia to increase physical endurance and treat fatigue, depression and impotence. It was a traditional wedding gift to couples getting married in Siberia.

For the past 13 years, Dr Edwards has been involved in research into the safety and efficacy of this extract that is found in Vitano Rhodiola tablets.

“Since 2005, hundreds of my patients have used this herbal medicine. It not only reduces their raised cortisol, it also boosts their energy levels, which makes them feel much better about life.

“During one study involving 101 patients we tested alertness because we wanted to ensure the remedy did not cause sleepiness, a side-effect of the anti-depressants and beta-blockers commonly prescribed for anxiety.

“Patients took a tablet in the morning and another at lunchtime. Because the extract boosts energy levels and makes you more alert, patients are advised not take one in the evening. As yet, no adverse interactions with any other drugs have been found, and the only people advised not to take them are pregnant and breastfeeding women.

“One of my patients, a woman being treated with chemotherapy for breast cancer, has been on it for years. Other patients use it intermittently when they find they’re under a lot of stress.”

Dr Edwards takes the tablets himself. He admits to getting stressed whenever he has to travel across the country to attend conferences and give lectures. “I’ve no control over our rail network and I start worrying that my train will get delayed so I take Rhodiola rosea before I set off to keep me calm. I also took it for several months a couple of years ago when there were problems at work and my blood pressure shot up.”

He believes the herbal medicine may also help to prevent heart disease. Research into this potential exciting additional use is about to start.

Find time for romance

A poor sex life doesn’t have to stay that way, Dr Edwards says. He advises couples to make time for romance even if it’s just on one evening a week.

“Taking a bath or shower together, or having a home prepared candle-lit dinner, can really make a difference and help to get you in the mood.

“Have a weekend away, but don’t travel too far as travelling to your potential love nest on a Friday can be stressful.”

Plan ahead when you’re older

Sometimes sex has to be premeditated when you are older.

Dr Edwards says: “If a woman is post-menopausal and suffering from vaginal dryness, she may want to insert a pessary or use a vaginal cream beforehand.

“If either of you has painful hips or knees, you need to be creative and find positions in which you can have sex that aren’t too painful. Taking a neurofen or paracetamol about an hour beforehand can help.”

Vitano Rhodiola tablets containing Rhodiola rosea extract WS1375 from Schwabe Pharma UK are available from Boots and Holland & Barrett. Look for the Traditional Herbal Remedy (THR) registration logo on the pack. A pack of 16 costs £6.99.

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