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Testosterone is a sex hormone mostly associated with male sexual function. It is the primary sex hormone found in men and is produced in the testes.
Although women also have testosterone – produced in the ovaries – they have significantly smaller amounts. Testosterone is an anabolic steroid responsible for protein synthesis within the cells, especially in skeletal muscles. (1)
Natural Ways to Boost Testosterone Levels
Here are some things you can do to increase your testosterone levels without the use of chemicals or medication:
1. Lose weight
Weight loss can help boost testosterone levels naturally by decreasing the level of circulating aromatase levels, an enzyme that turns testosterone into estrogen.
Obesity is linked with hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance, and elevated sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). Insulin and SHBG are inversely related, and when SHBG is lowered, so in turn is total testosterone. (2)
When you lose adipose tissue (fat), your insulin resistance improves and SHBG rises, thus resulting in optimal testosterone levels.
The best way to achieve sustainable weight loss is through a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise.
2. Get adequate sleep
A 2021 review article stated that “sleep duration plays a pivotal role in maintaining serum T levels.” (3) Since testosterone is mostly released during sleep, any alteration in sleep patterns can negatively affect testosterone levels even in healthy non-obese men.
One study showed that sleep changes decreased daily testosterone levels by 10%–15% in young healthy men in as quickly as one week. Getting adequate sleep may increase your testosterone levels back to an optimal range without testosterone hormone replacement. (4)
3. Reduce stress
Stress is all too prevalent in today’s society. Unfortunately, stress affects the body in ways that have yet to be fully understood. But it is fairly well known that stress can disrupt many biological pathways and even lead to early death.
The body’s response to stress is an increased release of cortisol, which can inhibit gonadal function. The mechanisms are well studied and thought to be from inhibiting the feedback loops in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal/gonadal axis. (5)
In the evolutionary big picture, it actually makes sense that in times of heightened stress, the body would decrease the hormones related to mating, that is, testosterone. However, chronic stress has also been shown to dramatically reduce serum testosterone levels in males.
The good news is that a reduction in stress can result in testosterone levels returning to a normal range.
4. Eat healthy fats
Studies have shown that low-fat diets lead to suboptimal testosterone levels in healthy young males. The same seems to be true for young healthy females.
Healthy fats, such as fats from nuts, avocadoes, and fatty fish, have the potential to provide the body the proper nutrition it needs to produce quality hormones. Remember, all hormones use cholesterol as the precursor for production.
Eating healthy fats helps increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which help decrease inflammation, thus decreasing the stress response and optimizing all the hormone pathways. (6)
Also, eating healthy fats means that you are not eating processed foods, unhealthy fats, and excessive carbs – which means you are avoiding the deleterious effects of a poor diet. Healthy fats are linked with improved testosterone levels and steroidogenesis.
5. Ensure adequate vitamin D levels
Vitamin D is essential for most systems in the body. Nearly every cell in the body has vitamin D receptors, and this vitamin has a multitude of functions in maintaining homeostasis, improving immune regulations, gut health, and even hormone production. (7)
Multiple studies have shown that vitamin D supplementation can have a positive impact on testosterone levels, but not all studies have shown a positive correlation.
But research has shown that vitamin D receptors are active in the testis, epididymitis, prostate, and Sertoli cells (which make sperm). Although some studies have shown no direct correlation between serum vitamin D levels and the improvement of low testosterone levels, many studies have shown direct correlations between vitamin D and improved fertility.
6. Reduce alcohol intake
Reducing alcohol consumption can significantly improve testosterone levels. Alcohol increases hepatic aromatase enzymes, leading to increased conversion of testosterone to estrogen.
Some alcohols have a two-fold impact on lowering the levels of testosterone and are more effective at converting it to estrogen. (8)
Beer, for example, may have more powerful effects on decreasing testosterone levels because it increases hepatic aromatization and is estrogenic – meaning it is lowering testosterone levels and increasing estrogen levels.
The ethanol in alcohol needs to be metabolized, and this requires the compound NAD+, which is a coenzyme needed in the production of testosterone. Excessive alcohol can also disrupt sleep as mentioned above and this, in turn, may lower testosterone by 10%–15%. (9)
What Is the Function of Testosterone?
Testosterone is a male sex hormone that is responsible for all the physical and biological changes that a boy goes through during puberty to become a man. Testosterone levels increase at the age of puberty and lead to increased growth of the penis and testes as well as the growth of facial hair, pubic hair, and body hair.
Testosterone is also responsible for longitudinal bone growth resulting in growing taller and deepening of the voice. Besides causing longitudinal bone growth, this hormone is also responsible for the growth of stronger bones. (10)
Testosterone is also essential for sperm production and building muscle mass. (11) Moreover, it has been recently revealed that testosterone is also critical for optimal heart health and brain health.
Studies have shown that having a heart attack or a stroke with low testosterone levels may dramatically increase the risk of worse outcomes following the event. It has also recently been postulated that middle-aged men with low testosterone levels may have an increased risk of accelerated vascular aging.
What Can Cause Low Testosterone Levels?
Low testosterone levels can be caused by many factors including excessive marijuana use, excessive alcohol use, obesity, lack of exercise, malnourishment, and exposure to endocrine-disrupting hormones often found in plastics. (12)
Certain medications or treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation can also lower testosterone levels. (13) Surgical removal of the testes secondary to trauma or infection will result in low testosterone levels, but vasectomies – once thought to lower serum testosterone levels – do not decrease testosterone levels.
Impaired function of the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland can lead to a clinical condition called central hypogonadism, but this is much rarer than secondary testosterone deficiency caused by the factors mentioned above.
A doctor will need to do specific lab tests to determine if someone is suffering from primary or secondary testosterone deficiency.
What Are the Symptoms of Low Testosterone Levels?
Low testosterone levels have been associated with low sex drive, decreased amount of morning erections, erectile dysfunction, depression, and anxiety.
As mentioned above, testosterone is responsible for muscle growth, and one of the main symptoms of deficiency can be sarcopenia, or the loss of overall muscle mass. This is often seen as a late-stage symptom and is a reliable predictor of poor outcomes in aging males.
Other symptoms of low testosterone levels include decreased energy and fatigue, anemia of unknown origin, insomnia, and weakness.
How Is a Low Testosterone Level Diagnosed?
A low testosterone level is most often diagnosed by doctors by checking lab results. There is a specific range for testosterone lab values denoted for normal males between ages 18 and 39. These lab values range from approximately 250 to 900 ng/dL. (14)
According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinology, the diagnosis of low testosterone must include abnormal lab values as well as decreased libido and/or decreased morning erections. (15)
If low testosterone is noted, a physician will likely check other hormones to determine if this is a primary or secondary diagnosis of low testosterone.
What Dietary Changes Should Be Made to Increase Testosterone Levels?
I recommend avoiding the intake of processed foods and excessive alcohol. It may also be wise to avoid mainstream dairy as these dairy cows have many hormones pulsing through them that someone who is concerned with testosterone levels should likely not be drinking.
Increase your fresh vegetable intake, and you can even supplement with some natural aromatase inhibitors such as EstroDim or saw palmetto. (16) Also, try to eat as much grass-fed meat as possible as this will have more nutrients than corn-fed meat and will have less of an inflammatory burden on your body.
How Does Age Affect the Levels of Testosterone?
As you age, testosterone levels naturally decrease, but this is a normal phenomenon. If you exercise and avoid excessive consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs such as marijuana, you can maintain optimal levels of testosterone.
I would highly recommend anyone over the age of 40 to have their testosterone levels checked. If you are symptomatic, speak to your doctor about ways to improve your levels and even consider bioidentical hormone replacement treatment (BIHRT).
What Lifestyle Changes Should Be Made to Have the Optimal Levels of Testosterone?
If you smoke cigarettes or cannabis (including vaping) or drink alcohol excessively, it is recommended you decrease these activities to optimize your hormone levels.
Again, as mentioned before, sleep is imperative to optimal hormone levels. Exercise is key to maintaining hormone levels as well, but keep in mind not to exercise excessively (17) as this can deplete testosterone to less than optimal levels.
Stress reduction is also a necessity to maintain hormone balance. As discussed above, excessive cortisol levels can decrease testosterone levels. Try meditation, yoga, painting, or listening to music.
The best way to boost and maintain an optimal testosterone level is to get good rest, maintain proper nutrition, and do high-intensity interval training (HIIT). (13) Avoiding processed foods and excessive alcohol can also help you maintain optimal levels.
You can get an integrative medicine lab test called NutrEval to detect any nutritional deficiencies that might be contributing to low testosterone levels. You may take supplements to correct this shortage but only after consulting with your doctor.