Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness brand Goop has just dropped a women’s sexual health supplement named DTF. Describing it as “a daily supplement formulated to support women’s sexual desire, arousal and mood,” and containing fenugreek seed extract, shatavari (part of the asparagus family) and saffron extract, it caught my attention. As a dietitian, I’m always eager to learn more about the role nutrition and supplementation has to play in all facets of health, including sexual wellness.
Women’s sexual health
Female sexual dysfunction (FSD) occurs in about 40 per cent of adult women and is more prevalent in post-menopausal women over the age of 65. It can involve issues around libido, arousal, orgasm or pain during intercourse, and can lead to personal distress. According to a 2018 study out of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, low sexual desire is the most commonly reported sexual problem in Canadian women aged 40 to 59.
But is DTF really a good treatment option?
The evidence behind fenugreek
Let’s start with DTF’s primary ingredient, fenugreek. The supplement has women consuming approximately 600 mg of the clover-like herb daily. While the amount of research done on the effect of fenugreek on humans is limited, at least two experimental studies have demonstrated that it has some potential in the area of sexual health.
A 2015 study out of Phytotherapy Research found fenugreek more effective than the placebo at improving arousal and desire in women aged 20 to 49 years old — a 2021 study in Clinical Phytoscience arrived at similar conclusions. Note that fenugreek supplementation is not considered safe for use during pregnancy. Goop’s website also includes warnings about taking the supplement while breastfeeding, and recommends that people taking medication, including hormonal birth control, should consult a doctor before taking the supplement.
Can nutrition help with FSD?
The studies above provide a level of limited evidence that fenugreek supplementation has some level of potential to improve sexual health in otherwise healthy women in the 20 to 49-year-old demographic.
One of the leading risk factors for sexual dysfunction, however, has to do with issues surrounding blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Multiple papers have suggested that following a Mediterranean-style diet has the potential to help minimize sexual dysfunction in women with these health concerns.
For most people, the Mediterranean diet involves diversifying protein intake to rely more on plant and marine-based sources, like nuts, seeds, legumes, fish and seafood. It also means eating lots of whole grains, olive oil and fruits and vegetables, and not much red meat or processed food.
Essentially, as much as female sexual dysfunction is a problem that can be solved by what you ingest, the Mediterranean diet is the closest thing we have to an evidence-based “solution.” Whether you choose to also take a herbal supplement is up to you. And if you’re not sure how to proceed, I always recommend talking your doctor.
Andy is a registered dietitian and author who has operated a private practice in Toronto since 2015. He spends his free time eating, writing and talking about kale @AndyTheRD. He can be reached at AndyTheRD.com