What does testosterone actually do? It's a great question to start with yet it seems like most people never truly want to know the answer. Testosterone plays multiple roles in sexuality, reproduction, muscle mass, hair growth, bone density, levels of red blood cells and improved well being. Testosterone functions the same in women as well but that seems to often get ignored.
Where does testosterone come from?
The hormone comes from cholesterol which is why a majority of men in their late 40’s deal with low testosterone because those same men are on cholesterol lowering statins. Studies have found a positive correlation between HDL cholesterol levels and free testosterone levels.
Why is testosterone so important?
Testosterone is the sexy hormone buzzword of physique, performance and longevity. Its benefits include increased muscle mass, decreased body fat, improved muscle to fat ratio, increased bone density and health and improved sexual function and vigor. Testosterone's reputation is enhanced due to the fact that all anabolic steroids are analogs of testosterone. They all are designed off of the simple testosterone molecule.
Athletes use illegal drugs and the general public assumes that since steroids are illegal that the power of testosterone is on par with the Death Star.
As you'll learn, while testosterone is important, it is yet another piece to our complex biological puzzle.
Are we all doomed to have low testosterone?
The answer is NO. While studies will show that after 30 years of age testosterone begins to decline, that decline is neither sharp nor steep. Our testosterone doesn't drop at any set level or increase in speed. Rather, our testosterone levels are dictated by a variety of events including
As you can imagine, all of these factors delicately interplay with each other. Each system must optimally work so the next can do the same.
Let's take a look at some reasons why your testosterone drops and how you can boost it naturally.
Nutrient Deficiencies and Boosting Testosterone
Studies suggest that after 30 years of age a males testosterone levels sharply decline which decreases his libido, energy and muscle mass while increasing his body fat and risk of certain disease. What's the simplest way to combat this drop? Make sure you are not deficient in vital nutrients. This simple error can have profound impact on your testosterone levels.
Low testosterone is a much bigger problem than mainstream medicine pays attention to and the answer isn’t just testosterone replacement. Low T is a result of a variety of issues including chemical estrogen exposure, nutrient deficiencies, improper training, poor nutrition and lack of sleep.
Vitamin D3 is essential for boosting testosterone with studies finding that men who were below 20ng/ml of vitamin D had lower free testosterone and higher estrogen. Not surprisingly, these same guys had more body fat, less lean muscle, increased chances of having depression, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and lower fertility than men who had vitamin d blood levels above 30ng/ml.
An additional study found that men who took 3,000 IU’s of VitaminD3 every day for a year increased free testosterone by almost 20% while increasing their vitamin D blood levels. That’s huge! The glands in the body that produce testosterone have vitamin D receptors which is how vitamin D3 helps to boost testosterone. Vitamin D3 may also inhibit estrogen.
I personally use 5,000 IU’s of Physique Formula Vitamin D3 every day.
Zinc and Magnesium
Zinc, magnesium and testosterone have a very interesting relationship. First, let’s talk about zinc. Studies show a linear relationship between zinc intake and testosterone. The more zinc you have the more testosterone you can make. Though I wouldn’t say that you should take more than 30 mg’s of zinc per day.
How does zinc boost testosterone? Research demonstrates that having enough zinc is vital for the release of testosterone. A 4 week study on athletes found that zinc increases testosterone after exhaustive exercise. Zinc also has been linked to increased IGF-1 and human growth hormone release.
The lack of zinc in the body might very well be just as important as having too much zinc.
Low zinc may increase estrogen receptors. In addition, male prostrate tissue requires roughly 8-10 times more zinc than other cells to delay growth and inflammation.
Now magnesium is where it gets really interesting.
A study of athletes found that 750 mg’s of magnesium every day for 4 weeks increased subjects free testosterone by 26 percent. A second study found that low magnesium is linked to lower free and total testosterone. Magnesium is an essential mineral that is involved in over 350 different enzymes processes including central nervous system relaxation, proper blood sugar regulation, sleep quality and increase muscle contraction.
Magnesium also plays a central signaling role in the leydig cells for producing testosterone.
Personally I use 600 mg’s of magnesium glycinate and 30 mg’s of zinc glycinate each night.
Sleep and testosterone boosting
The biggest missing link in any program. Deep, quality sleep is the number one method for boosting testosterone and helping any individual recover from training. As a matter of fact, just one night of disturbed sleep leads to less testosterone release and lower testosterone the next morning. A second study on young men who only got 4 hours of sleep found that their testosterone was lower, their afternoon cortisol was higher and their blood sugar control was altered.
The significance of the second study mentioned is that it shows the link between testosterone and other hormones and the role they play in metabolic damage.
Sugar intake and testosterone
When you eat has a huge impact on your testosterone. How you eat plays a big role in your testosterone production and what you eat might have the biggest impact of them all.
Foods high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed carbohydrates causes large spikes in your blood sugar that further impacts your testosterone levels. Short term insulin spikes causes short term drops in testosterone levels. That’s not to say that you should ignore quality, unrefined carbohydrates like oatmeal, rice and potatoes. Along with fruit, these carbohydrates provide a constant blood sugar levels that reduces the anabolic hormone cortisol. This can lead to increased testosterone.
When you consume sugar, your body releases the hormone insulin which unlocks the aromatase enzyme. The aromatase enzyme turns testosterone into estrogen and the hormone SHBG binds to testosterone and renders it useless.
There’s a difference in total testosterone which is the amount of testosterone available and free testosterone. Free testosterone is the amount of testosterone that is NOT locked up by SHBG and the testosterone that your body can use. That’s why a lot of overweight men may have normal ranges of total testosterone levels but their free testosterone is low and they exhibit the signs of LOW testosterone.
Refined carbohydrates increase insulin levels.
Fat on the other hand can really help to boost testosterone naturally. Testosterone is made up of cholesterol and when your testosterone levels are chronically depressed, a moderate healthy fat intake from foods such as organic extra virgin olive oil, organic coconut oil and pine nuts may boost testosterone. As a matter of fact, very low fat diets has been shown to reduce total testosterone.
A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that diets containing higher amounts of monounsaturated and saturated fats have been shown to increase testosterone levels.
A second study found that men who switched from a high fat diet (defined as 13 percent of total calories) to a low fat diet (5 percent of total calories) experienced significantly lower testosterone production rates and lower circulating androgen levels.
But a fair warning, fat based foods do contain 9 calories per gram and the total macronutrient daily total must be considered for a lean physique.
Protein is an interesting macronutrient when it comes to raising total testosterone. While there are not direct links to increased protein intake and testosterone production, the individuals who consume a high protein diet do tend to engage in other activities that help testosterone production such as strength training. High meat consumption, particularly grass fed and free range meats, provide the raw material for testosterone production.
Don’t ignore fruits and vegetables either. While not directly boosting testosterone, these foods contain vital immune system supporting nutrients as well as lower inflammation and environmental estrogen's. Less inflammation and environmental estrogens are linked to the bodies ability to use testosterone.
Training and Boosting Testosterone
Exercise can help raise your testosterone and exercise can also help lower your testosterone. Sounds confusing right?
Like everything in life, testosterone production and exercise is a very delicate balance.
Exercise for too long, too often or too hard and you deplete your body of essential testosterone building blocks including DHEA and pregnenolone. This is a very common issue with hard charging cross fitters, physique & performance athletes and anyone who train hards. These individuals tend to experience low libido, a lack of energy and stubborn fat loss.
If you exercise too little or not hard enough you won’t give your body the signaling it needs to stimulate more testosterone production.
So the sweet spot is just enough training but not too much. Numerous studies support the idea of using multi-joint exercises that stimulate the largest amount of muscle mass possible. Classic lifts like the deadlift,squat, bench and shoulder press will always be the best way to stimulate muscle growth and testosterone production. Olympic lifts and other lower body exercises are also useful. Any exercise about your lactate threshold will produce a short term post workout spike in total testosterone.
Typically one should train at about 70-80 percent of their 1 rep max which is generally 6-10 repetitions per set.
Short rest periods have also been shown to elevate human growth hormone release as well. Traditional bodybuilding based long duration aerobic exercise actually impairs testosterone production by raising the catabolic hormone cortisol while spirits and short term intense activity tend to increase fat loss and improve testosterone production.
Tabata intervals ,where an individual performs 30-45 seconds of work followed by 10-15 seconds of rest, tends to raise testosterone production in studies.
Overall volume must be factored into your entire testosterone boosting program as traditional bodybuilding programs with high daily volume will deplete your body of DHEA, a precursor to testosterone.
As previously mentioned, overtraining and constantly beating your body down can actually cause your testosterone to plummet and make you actually retain body fat. Recovery is key for overall hormone health.
Men are more concerned with lifting heavy weight and feasting on meat than they are with taking cold bathes, stretching or performing meditation.
Any activity which causes you to turn off your sympathetic or “flight or flight” system and turns on your parasympathetic or “rest and digest” system will lower cortisol and raise testosterone.
A cold shower at night after you turn off all technological before bed is a great start. This way you lower evening cortisol and your body can adequately produce melatonin to help you get a restful nights sleep.
Another method of recovery that I often use is optimizing circadian rhythms. Your biological clock is impacted by everything from your workout to stress to using your phone at night. Men with optimally functioning circadian rhythms have better reproductive health and higher testosterone than men who has disoriented circadian rhythms.
Typically your testosterone will peak between 8:00-10:00 am whereas your peak power and strength output appears to be between 2:00-6:00 pm.
Nighttime digestion, eating at night, appears to negatively impact your nighttime circadian rhythm. That’s not to say that eating at night makes you fat or anything dumb like that but if you must eat at night, you should consider a smaller meal lower in protein and carbohydrates and higher in fat.
Xenoestrogens And Testosterone.
This class of man made estrogen hormones, such as BPA, have been shown to mimic estrogen in the body. Xenoestrogens are everywhere from cosmetics, household cleaning products, candles and even pesticides in food and lawn care.
These estrogens trick the body and drop testosterone levels as a result. Aim to avoid any candles or air fresheners with the word “fragrance” and opt to drink out of only glass or stainless steel. Make sure to eat as many cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower as you can since this class of vegetables helps to remove xenoestrogens.
Dim is a supplement that has been shown to possibly help stop the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Dim can naturally be found in cruciferous vegetables.
Drinking alcohol and your testosterone.
Studies show that drinking alcohol, especially beer, can be very estrogenic and help convert testosterone to estrogen. Drinking at night also lessens sleep quality and causes oxidative stress.
That doesn’t mean you should never drink. Generally, one or two glasses of alcohol a few times a week should be fine.
Intermittent Fasting and raising testosterone
Truthfully, I go back and forth on intermittent fasting. While there are a variety of benefits of short term fasting such reduced insulin, leptin and adiponectin levels. These hunger hormones are only part of the equation. The problem with fasting is that it can, in overtraining individuals, raise cortisol and lower testosterone. This is where constant blood work is vital so you can understand your stress hormone numbers.
Add More BCAA’s into your diet.
I’m the king of BCAA’s, I love them and I believe in them and I produce the highest quality natural BCAA possible. One study showed that BCAA consumption along with strength training results in higher testosterone levels than individuals who just trained without BCAA’s.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy: is it For You?
Here’s a traditional situation when it comes to a middle aged man and testosterone replacement.
Man goes to his doctor and doctor runs blood tests. Doctor finds that mans testosterone is low and gives man a shot of testosterone over a few weeks to bring man’s testosterone level back up. Everything’s good, correct?
What if the reason why his testosterone is low is because the majority of his testosterone is being eaten by the aromatization monster that is stealing testosterone and making it estrogen? You see this all the time with middle aged men going through andropause. Insulin resistance leads to increased aromatase activity that steals testosterone and makes it estrogen. Now if your doctor gave you that shot then all the new testosterone is just going to get converted to estrogen over and over again.
Your doctor might never discover this if they just prescribe to the replacement theory. Replace what it is low and everything is fine. What about a multifunctional approach of determining the underlying problems and addressing those problems so that the hormones or any issues can take care of themselves?
A huge issue going on right now with testosterone replacement therapy is the receptor shut down that goes on with outside testosterone. If your testosterone is low then taking it from the outside will be fine but what happens when you give higher than normal levels of testosterone in your body long term? Your testosterone receptors get down regulated which actually causes your body to use less of the extra testosterone that you’re getting. This is known as hormone resistance.
What’s the solution? Well for most doctors it’s to give you higher doses of testosterone. This continually becomes a cyclic problem.
There are five systems in your body that impact your testosterone levels and we’re going to break down each.
As mentioned above, for optimal testosterone production you need to stabilize your blood sugar. Insulin resistance increases aromatase which steals testosterone and turns it into estrogen. The easiest way to fix this is through losing body fat and stabilizing blood sugar issues. You also see this in women with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) which is just an up regulation of enzymes 17,20-lyase, the female version of aromatase.
We’ve already talked about the corrections such as exercising, lowering sugar and getting quality sleep.
HPA axis dysregulation is also a big problem in a lot of people with low testosterone.The hypothalamic, pituitary adrenal axis is the central headquarters of the central stress response.
Your body recognizes pregnenoline as a base hormone that all other hormones are made up of. Interesting note, pregnenoline is made up of cholesterol which is why cholesterol is so vital for hormone health. Producing pregnenoline is a very costly process to the body and it requires a lot of ATP cellular energy. Many hard training folks suffer from pregnenoline steal which is where our body takes pregnenoline and turns it into cortisol.
This is why I always talk about managing stress and sleeping well, cortisol is that powerful. Then on top of that people suffer from poor gut health and eat a bad diet on top of daily stress then they wonder why they have all these issues.
When your body steals pregnenoline it pulls DHEA away and DHEA is a important raw hormone to testosterone. Low DHEA levels is a sign of pregnenoline steal which is why I’m against TRT treatment.
I know how hard it can be. Everything that we’ve talked about here works in a cycle. You have to manage your stress and get sleep and lower your insulin resistance because all of that works together. Next we have to discuss gut health and how it impacts your testosterone.
Another issue to be concerned with when you have low testosterone or your doctor is considering putting you on testosterone replacement therapy is your gut health.
How can your gut health impact your hormones? For starters, if you have some type of parasite, fungus overgrowth or leaky gut syndrome then you’ll have increased inflammation. Inflammation suppresses the HP axis which stimulates hormone production. Studies even show that inflammatory markers can cause hormone resistance.
Hormone resistance is the condition where your levels of the specific hormone (testosterone, cortisol, insulin, etc) is fine but the specific hormone receptors aren’t sensitive to the hormone so you experience the same problems you would if the hormone was low. What you essential get with gut inflammation is that your hormones undergo a very complex recycling where only a small percentage of the hormone is metabolized. So the remainder of the hormone in question just kind of hangs out.
What about detoxification? Your liver and gallbladder play a critical role is helping to remove excesses hormones from your body. When you have partially metabolized hormones and your regular hormone production then there’s going to be a lot of confusion. This is why your detoxification is so vital for remove the excess or partially metabolized hormones.
Our typical diet high in flour, transfats and processed sugars impair our detoxification as do xenoestrogens like BPA and phthalates and other environmental estrogens. Going as natural as possible with your diet and house hold cleaning products is the way to go.
Lastly, our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is vital. Fatty acids increase prostaglandins that can help our hormone resistance when the right type of prostaglandins are produced. If you have excessive omega-6 from a typical Western diet and not enough omega-3’s then you produce pro inflammatory signals that raise inflammation. When you have a favorable omega-3 to omega-6 balance then you lower your inflammation and improve insulin and other hormone signaling.
Every system that we described above impacts the next and they all work together. It’s why I can’t stress enough how important a proper diet, correct exercise and recovery is for your hormone health. Follow the tips at the top of the article and get started with He-REX today.