Testosterone is the hormone every man wants. It’s vital for building muscle, burning body fat and of course can affect libido. But levels tend to decline after you’re 30 and for many men this can have profound effects on health and vitality.
When we talk about imbalances in sex hormones the focus is often on women’s health yet men need the right balance and amount of sex hormones, just like women do. Men may not get the hot flashes that women do, but as they age they can experience a whole range of symptoms related to falling testosterone levels. This can include low self-esteem, depression, erection problems, difficulty building muscle mass and weight gain – especially around the belly.
Many things can lower testosterone, including: smoking, stress, certain medications, obesity, and conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome and hypertension. Stress is often a big player as is falling levels of the hormone DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) which can also influence testosterone levels.
Studies have shown that restoring testosterone to youthful ranges in middle-aged, obese men resulted in an increase in insulin sensitivity as well as a reduction in total cholesterol, fat mass, waist circumference and pro-inflammatory cytokines associated with atherosclerosis, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome. Testosterone supplementation also has a positive effect on muscle metabolism and strength as well as energy levels and cognitive function.
If you suspect that you have low testosterone, it is important that you are tested. To obtain a comprehensive assessment, you should test for free and total testosterone as well as oestradiol. But what can you do to naturally boost testosterone levels?
Firstly there is lots you can do in terms of diet and nutritional status. For example it’s worth checking your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D3 plays a role in testosterone production and if you want to improve muscle mass optimum vitamin D is important. While sunlight is the best way naturally to optimise levels there are certain foods that do supply some vitamin D including prawns, oily fish (sardines, salmon, mackerel etc), mushrooms, eggs and cod liver oil. Get tested and if needed take a supplement especially during the winter months.
Remember that exercise especially lifting weights can help improve levels. Intense training especially resistance training using heavy weights is the best way to increase your natural levels of testosterone, but just make sure you recover properly to prevent spikes in cortisol.
One of the most important factors that affect testosterone levels and the ratio between testosterone and oestrogen is the enzyme aromatase. Aromatase converts testosterone to oestrogen, further depleting free testosterone levels and increasing oestrogen levels. Belly fat can increase levels of aromatase enzyme so keeping a healthy weight is important. Obesity and raised insulin levels also suppress the action of luteinizing hormone (LH) in the testis, which can significantly reduce circulating testosterone levels.
Another factor involved in the amount of available or ‘free’ testosterone is the level of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). A lot of testosterone in the body is bound to SHBG which makes it unavailable. As men age they can experience an increase in aromatase activity and an elevation in SHBG production. The net result is an increase in the ratio of oestrogen to testosterone and a decrease in total and free testosterone levels. Supporting liver function is also important as the liver is responsible for removing excess oestrogen. Add in plenty of leafy green vegetables like broccoli, kale and cabbage. These contain indole-3-carbinol to aid excretion of oestrogen. That’s one of the reasons I recommend Pro Greens Nutritional Powder. You may also benefit from functional detox programme to support detoxification pathways further.
While some men resort to using testosterone replacement creams or supplements there are other ways to support the production of testosterone naturally. Firstly focus on key nutrients for testosterone metabolism. This includes zinc. Zinc is crucial for testosterone metabolism and it may also help to suppress aromatase enzyme. Low levels of zinc in men have been associated with lower testosterone levels. So top up on pumpkin seeds, shellfish (esp oysters, crab), turkey, chicken, steak, sesame seeds or tahini and cashew nuts.
DHEA is an important hormone that tends to decline as with age. In addition high stress can further lower levels. You may wish to get your adrenals tested with a saliva stress test (available through our clinic). Adrenal supporting supplements can be an important part of any testosterone boosting programme. Tribulus terrestris, also known as puncture vine, contains the active ingredient protodioscin, which appears to convert to DHEA in the body. This may be why it is also used by men to improve sexual function.
Eggs particularly the yolks are a great addition to your diet. Eggs contain cholesterol which is the precursor for testosterone. So don’t put yourself on a very low fat diet – add in healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds and olive oil
Antioxidants. Oxidative damage may also be linked to damage to tissues involved in the production of testosterone. One study found that antioxidant supplements (including vitamins A and E, zinc and selenium) all supported testosterone production in ageing men. Top up on vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables like red peppers, berries, green leafy vegetables and kiwi fruit. I also recommend adding Pro Berry Amla daily to smoothies or dishes for an antioxidant boost.
Chrysin. This bioflavonoid is a natural aromatase inhibitor popular with athletes to boost testosterone because it minimizes the conversion of testosterone to oestrogen. Another popular nutrient available as a supplement that also inhibits aromatase is quercetin
To decrease levels of SHBG you may wish to try fish oil. The essential fatty acids EPA and DHA may help decrease levels making testosterone more readily available.
Don’t forget the importance of protein too. Not only does it help support muscle mass but a higher protein diet may prevent SHBG levels from rising making testosterone levels more available. It may also help around exercise too offsetting the catabolic effects of rising cortisol. Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to stressful situations, including intense exercise. Unfortunately, cortisol competes with testosterone, so high levels can crowd out testosterone, thereby reducing its anabolic benefits. If you exercise then consider a good quality protein powder with some carbs 30-45 mins post workout.
Maca has a long history of boosting fertility and while it may not specifically boost testosterone it may help modulate stress response. Try stirring into your morning porridge or smoothie.
Testosterone levels can have a profound effect on men’s health at any age – so get your levels checked, book in for a nutritional consultation. By making changes to your diet, taking nutritional supplements, watching stress levels and incorporating exercise you can help optimise levels and improve health & vitality.