Hormones and the Dhamma

Lust is closely connected to hormones. As I have aged as a male, my libido has decreased and subsequently so has my lust overall.

For me, this has interesting implications on the teachings. On a practical level, am I making progress overcoming lust, or simply experiencing a natural decline in testosterone? If lowering testosterone decreases lust, should one seek a diet that naturally leads to lower levels?

On a more philosophical level, how much of kilesa is derived from biology? Is the non-physical/karmic aspect simply a matter of being born into a body, and the rest the biological consequences of that?


That’s correct, there are natural conditions for maintaining the body which are part of the package. The three unwholesome roots are part of that.

“Things pleasant or unpleasant — that is, those potentially
attractive or repulsive — are given to us as facts of common
experience, but there is nothing compelling in their own nature
that determines our reaction to them. It is our own deliberate
attitude towards them, the ‘manner of attention’, which decides
whether we will react with greed to the pleasant and aversion to
the unpleasant, or whether our attention will be governed instead
by right mindfulness and right understanding, resulting in right
action. In some cases, it will also be possible and advisable to
withdraw or divert attention altogether from an object; and this is
one of the methods recommended by the Buddha for the removal
of unwholesome thoughts.”


Views> thoughts > perceptions
Changing views causes changed perceptions.

I have asked myself this question many times because it seems obvious some fundamental or underlying aspects of kilesa is related to biology. The animal world, with its seasonal & irregular sexuality, seems also to be a strong indicator of this. Unlike people, it seems most animals are not constantly subjected to lust.

However, I think ultimately it is not important because this view is not required in the Noble Path, which requires:

  • understanding how lust can cause interpersonal harm
  • understanding how lust can cause internal bondage & suffering
  • realising how mere Right View & also Right Concentration can quench lust.

In other words, it seems a ‘hormonal’ approach is not required to quench lust. For example, if you knew a physically attractive person had a serious sexual disease, lust would be quenched towards that person. In the same way, Gotama realised the shortcomings of the household life and also had a strong vision of the inevitably of death; which resulted in this loss of intoxication towards the sensual and filial world.

Examples of the non-Buddhist approach are prohibitions in some Indian traditions on the consumption of onions, garlic, etc, which are regarded to generate lust. Obviously, if this was true, historically, the Thai & Burmese monks would not have made much spiritual progress eating the curries they are given for food everyday. :slightly_smiling_face:

Eating meat, drinking alcohol, both make one take on animal like consciousness, since the consciousness of the animal and the makeup of the meat affect one’s mind and hormones and more, as well as alcohol intake, I would agree that we all agree is a no-no, is an example of something very similar to that, specifically designed for that purpose. For that reason I recommend Buddhists lessen their meat intake, as well as filter out the use of alcohol for ingestion out of their lives, if it is a part of their lives, as soon as possible.

I think that it is difficult to separate the two. Our ongoing biology (including hormone production) is also derived from the kilesa. Our thoughts have a major impact on our biology.

I think that the scant evidence that we have so far is that meditation (and less stress in general) will actually tend towards increased levels of testosterone (and a decrease of cortisol levels).

I’m not a medical expert of any kind.

I don’t think it would be a good idea to try to consciously lower your testosterone. I think you would be risking your health. Good health helps practice.

I don’t think libido is the only thing that changes with age. Many people with bad tempers often mellow out with age, and people who don’t do any work on their psychology. I’ve noticed that different ways of thinking also automatically pop up with age and no spiritual work.

IMHO, there are always plenty of attachments and defilements to work on, even with age. Age brings some of the harder ones to work on like attachment to life, youth, health, freaking out over change/seeing familiar things/people going away.

Cool post, this has been on my mind for some time. The brain is a fickle thing, and besides everyday hormone differences, there are also diseases that radically alter one‘s personality, to the benefit of thought experiment loving philosophers everywhere. Seems like what agency we have to actually alter our behavior is small and fleeting.

Absolutely not. Obsessing about hormone levels and diets is a very unhealthy hobby promoted by a predatory PR industry (they don‘t want you to know, but PR is actually short for predatory).
Getting enough sleep and exercise, on the other hand, can make a difference in trying to be a better person generally. Doesn‘t make you less horny, though.

There is some research into foods that are 5α-reductase inhibitors, i.e., they hinder the conversion of testosterone into the more potent DHT; less DHT means less hair loss in men.

Finasteride is a common anti-hair loss drug and is a 5α-reductase inhibitor, and one of the common side effects is reduced libido. Therefore, consuming foods that are 5α-reductase inhibitors might reduce libido.

There are some studies that show pumpkin seed oil (ref) work for hair loss in humans, and that peppermint might reduce testosterone in rats (ref) (warm greetings to any rats reading this post).

Sadly, in the pumpkin oil study there was no report of loss of libido as a side effect :disappointed:

Other than this, I can’t think of any evidence for food significantly affecting hormone levels. Perhaps drinking lots of cow milk could do something (ref):

Milk produced from “persistently” pregnant cows–the current routine praxis of the dairy industry–to increase commercial milk yield enhances milk estrogen concentrations. In pregnant cows, the predominant estrogen is estrone (E1) sulfate, which passes into milk. Heat treatment (70 °C and 95 °C) does not affect E1 and E2 concentrations compared to unprocessed raw milk [103].

It’s unclear how this would affect libido though. It could also increase the risk of breast cancer so be careful.