Testosterone (T) is pretty important for men. That is, if you want to avoid the decidedly undesirable symptoms of low testosterone such as suboptimal prostate functions,[i]decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, decreased volume of ejaculate, loss of body and facial hair, weakness, decreased bone density, decreased lean body mass (less muscle), increased body fat, fatigue and anemia (iron deficiency).[ii] Recent evidence also strongly suggests that T-deﬁciency predisposes men to various chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis (weak bones).[iii]
Yeah, we don’t like the sound of any of that, either.
If you’d rather do all you can to naturally keep your T levels high (and your manhood healthy!), keep reading!
[A note for the ladies: testosterone deficiency may also occur in women, although there is a unfortunately a scarcity of research on the subject as of yet. What is known is that androgen deficiency in women may lead to decreased libido and physical arousal, and muscle weakness (testosterones are a type of androgen). But because of the paucity of scientific consensus on maintaining T levels in females, this article will focus on male testosterone deficiency, which has been well studied. However, we’d be very surprised if a healthful diet and lifestyle isn’t one day conclusively shown to be the key to maintaining optimal endocrine function in both genders! Hopefully the science will catch up on that soon.][iv]
Testosterone and Time
For guys, testosterone levels naturally decrease with age. After the age of 30, men typically experience a 1% to 2% decrease in testosterone levels each year.[v] Thus men in their seventies usually have at least 40% less testosterone in their systems, relative to age 30.[vi] And almost four in ten men over the age of forty-five (38.7%) display a reduced concentration of serum testosterone.[vii]
Post-middle age, the effects may become more pronounced and develop into a syndrome similar to menopause in women—testosterone deficiency syndrome (TDS), which is sometimes colloquially to as “man-opause” or “male menopause.” Symptoms may include sleep problems, less muscle tone, moodiness, and sexual difficulties.
The traditional way to treat these problems is with prescription hormone replacement. Since 2000, the number of men beginning testosterone therapy—the traditional treatment for testosterone deficiency—has almost quadrupled in the United States. However, some researchers have recently suggested testosterone therapy is overused and should be re-evaluated for safety and efficacy.[viii] Fortunately, positive lifestyle changes have also been shown to (we argue, unsurprisingly) help combat testosterone deficiency.[ix]
Decreasing testosterone is also a public health issue. Over a 20-year period, T deficiency is projected to be involved in the development of approximately 1.3 million new cases of cardiovascular disease, 1.1 million new cases of diabetes mellitus, and over 600,000 osteoporosis-related fractures—conditions that could potentially cost $190–$525 billion in inflation-adjusted U.S. health care expenditures.[x]
But don’t worry guys, there are ways to avoid being part of these statistics! Here are 10 techniques to naturally lift your T levels, lengthen your life, and maintain your manpower.
1. Stop stressing
Over time, stress tends to boost your levels of the hormone cortisol—the so-called “stress hormone.” And psychological research tells us that high levels of cortisol play a critical role in blocking testosterone’s influence on “masculine” traits such as competition and domination.[xi]
Stress and sex are not great bedfellows. No doubt you’ve experienced the effect stress can have on your libido at some point in your life (however briefly!) Science supports this: In 2009, researchers in Berkeley found that chronic stress can lead to a cascade of hormonal responses that have an eventual suppressive effect on testosterone.[xii] So it’s not surprising that chronic stress can lead to a drop in sex drive as well as a drop in fertility.
How can you reduce everyday stress? Remember, everything is tied together. As you move toward a Paleo lifestyle and become healthier overall, it will be much easier to manage stress in general. But specific everyday stress-management techniques to explore include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and rethinking your life’s priorities (your health needs to be on the list, guys!)
2. Slow down the sugar
Research has shown that a high level of insulin is related to low testosterone levels. And a recent study suggests that glucose (table sugar) ingestion induces a significant reduction in T levels in men.The authors of the latter found that a glucose solution decreased blood levels of testosterone by as much as 25 percent, regardless of whether the subject had diabetes, pre-diabetes or normal glucose tolerance.[xiii]
Couple this information with all the other unhealthy, ravaging effects of a high-sugar diet and it’s easy to see why curbing your sweet tooth is critical to aging gracefully. If you can’t quit cold turkey, try to reduce your sugar consumption by half and use natural sweeteners (such as honey or molasses) instead of table sugar when you do want a treat.
Once your tastes adjust to a less sugary diet and you start feeling better overall, it will be easier to cut that amount down again. Eventually, we recommend eating table sugar very rarely if at all, and opting for low-fructose fruits as a sweet treat instead.
3. Get some Z’s
A recent study found that skipping sleep reduces testosterone levels in young men by 10% to 15%, or the same amount as aging 10 to 15 years. (Yikes!) The researchers found that men who slept less than five hours a night for one week in a laboratory had significantly lower levels of testosterone than when they had a full night’s sleep. Unfortunately, at least 15 percent of the adult working population in the US gets less than 5 hours of sleep a night.[xiv]
Make your snooze-time a priority, and it’s likely you will see a huge difference in your moods, ability to recover, and other attributes related to T levels and other endocrine (hormonal) functions.
4. Get some D
Vitamin D is a cholesterol-derived steroid hormone that plays a role in the development of the sperm cell nucleus, and helps maintain semen quality and sperm count.[xv]
Research suggests that suggest that vitamin D supplementation might increase testosterone levels (and therefore help improve your libido!) A recent year-long study showed that men on a weight loss program showed significant increases in T levels, relative to a control group who received a placebo instead of vitamin D supplements.[xvi]
Vitamin D can be obtained through sun exposure, tanning beds, and supplementation. Although it can also be found in small amounts in a few foods (including fatty fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines and tuna,) 80% to 90% of the vitamin D that the body gets is obtained through exposure to sunlight.[xvii] Be particularly mindful of this if you live in a Northern climate, where sunlight exposure is difficult to come by in the winter months. You can get your D levels tested to check for a deficiency.
5. Supercharge your strength training
To kick start T levels and enhance your masculinity, it helps to push yourself in the gym. When strength training, increase the weight and lower your number of reps per set to help give your T levels a boost. Also focus on exercises that work a large number of muscles, such as dead lifts or squats, and add in super slow reps to boost the sweat-factor.
But don’t forget, you need to be fit before going hardcore. If you are currently out of shape, start slowly by building up a base level of fitness over a month or more, before jumping into intense workouts. This will help you avoid injuries… and still be able to get out of bed easily the day after workouts!
6. Exercise intensely
While we’re on the subject of workouts… consider including high intensity interval training (HIIT) in your gym routines. This technique alternate bouts of challenging exercise with time spent at a more moderate (recovery) pace. Here’s a sample: After a warm up, try going as hard as you can (either cardio or resistance training) for 30 seconds, then recover for 90 seconds. Repeat these cycles for 20 minutes and then cool down and stretch. There are many kinds of HIIT you can experiment with, but the key is to alternate between going all out and recovering, rather than training at a low intensity over a long time (no old-school jogging here!)
A caveat: Don’t go overboard. Extreme amounts of endurance exercise—working out at the level of elite athletes—can actually lower your testosterone.[xviii] Just go hard over a short amount of time and then get out of the gym!
7. Eat enough zinc
The mineral zinc may play an important role in modulating serum testosterone levels in normal men.[xix] That’s great news for Paleo adherents: The best sources of the mineral are animal products. Oysters are—by a massive margin—the most zinc-rich food source in nature. Beef, pork, crab, and dark-meat poultry are also excellent options. Non-meat sources of this mineral do exist, albeit to a lesser degree. These include cashews and some dairy products (the latter being suitable for Primal diets).
An important note: Whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals and canned baked beans are also good sources of zinc, but are not digestion- or Paleo-friendly. According to the National Institutes of Health (a government agency) “phytates—which are present in whole-grain breads, cereals, legumes, and other foods—bind zinc and inhibit its absorption. Thus, the bioavailability of zinc from grains and plant foods is lower than that from animal foods.”[xx] Looks like this is one of those infrequent times we agree with federal nutrition recommendations!
8. Back away from the bar
Turns out beer is not so great for men (darn it!) In fact, happy hour can wreak havoc on your manly hormones. In a recent Dutch study, men who drank moderate amounts of alcohol daily for 3 weeks experienced a 7 percent decrease in their testosterone levels.[xxi] Alcohol (more than two drinks a day) causes more testosterone to be converted into estrogen.[xxii]
A related problem: Excessive alcohol use can also lead to a zinc deficiency. Approximately 30%–50% of alcoholics have low zinc status because ethanol consumption decreases intestinal absorption of zinc and increases urinary zinc excretion.[xxiii] Limit your drinking to one or two drinks per night (or preferably less!) to avoid a drop in T.
9. Avoid testicle-harming toxins
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a synthetic chemical often found in various plastic containers that leaches out as it is heated. (Remember those disposable water bottles that were sitting in your car on a sunny day that got overheated? Yeah, that’s one way it happens.)
Animal studies have demonstrated that BPA can alter endocrine function. Preliminary human research suggests that urinary BPA concentrations may be associated with altered hormone levels in men. In one study, almost 9 out of every 10 men (89%) seeking help at an infertility clinic had high levels of urinary BPA.[xxiv]And workers with high occupational BPA exposure tend to have low T levels.[xxv]
Bottom line: The primary sources of BPA in our lives are food and beverages that have been packaged in BPA-rich materials. So, don’t microwave food in polycarbonate plastic containers, use stainless steel or glass (reusable) water bottles instead of BPA-rich plastic, and say no thanks to canned foods—the coatings of which may leach BPA into your dinner.[xxvi]
10. Maintain a healthy weight
Science tells us that as your waist size goes up, your testosterone goes down.[xxvii] Obesity is probably the condition most frequently associated with lower-than-normal testosterone concentrations in males, as it is present in 40% of non-diabetic men (and 50% of diabetic men) aged 45 or older.[xxviii]
To maintain a healthy weight, limit or eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as breads, pastries and pasta) from your diet. Instead, eat mostly vegetables, healthful proteins (meat, poultry, eggs, fish, nuts) and the right kind of fats.
While we’re on the subject, we’ll note that eating healthful fats is incredibly important for healthy T-levels, among other benefits. Some researchers have found that a low-fat diet correlates with low testosterone.[xxix] Opt for fats such as those found in the aforementioned animal products, plus olive oil, avocados and coconut oil—organic whenever possible. And do pretty much everything else on this entire list. In other words, go Paleo.
Ideas with Future Potential
There are a few areas that show promise in boosting testosterone levels that are currently being researched. While we don’t want to give wholehearted endorsements of these too early in the game, here are a few ideas that we think meet our common-sense standard are worth checking out.
Natural supplements: There is some evidence that “Malaysian ginseng” or Tongkat ali may be effective in helping maintain T levels in aging men[xxx] and in reducing stress.[xxxi] Current research is investigating the potential of this therapy as a safe and natural alternative to traditional testosterone replacement therapy (the latter of which is sometimes controversial and typically considered a contraindication in men with prostate cancer).[xxxii]
Boost your BCAAs: A recent study on fit men indicated that BCAA (branched chain amino acids; a kind of protein) supplementation with concomitant high intensity resistance training helped to maintain a net anabolic (muscle-building) hormonal profile.[xxxiii] While this study had limitations that preclude conclusive recommendations (it had a very small sample size, for example), these results suggest that BCAA supplementation, combined with intense weight lifting, may be of value to men who want to boost T levels specifically to aid in muscle recovery between workouts. We look forward to more research in this area.
Getting Results… Naturally
Although some testosterone decline naturally occurs with age, there are steps every man can take to maintain healthy levels of this hormone at every stage of life. A healthy Paleo lifestyle—focusing on intelligent exercise, nutrition, stress management, and sleep habits—is key in boosting endocrine function in general and T levels in particular.
Bottom line: There is no magic artificial bullet (or pill or gel or potion) known to safely and effectively deliver the long term benefits of healthy T levels. Just do it naturally: Go Paleo, get fit, and enjoy the many, many benefits of keeping your hormones healthy over time!
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