There’s been a lot of concern lately among men about reduced testosterone (aka “low T”). Symptoms like fatigue, depression, reduced vitality, and lowered sex drive definitely justify concern. And to some degree, pharmaceutical companies marketing testosterone replacement therapies (TRT) are fueling fears. Understandably, many men of a certain age are uneasy about how lower testosterone levels might affect their health and quality of life.
Low testosterone levels can lead to weight gain, loss of muscle mass, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. Some studies show that men with low testosterone have an increased risk of early death, particularly from heart disease. So it’s important to accurately diagnose the condition and related risk factors. If it is reduced testosterone, TRT is an option. However, this treatment comes with risks, and it’s important to remember there are gentler alternatives. It’s possible to elevate testosterone, and thereby promote greater vitality and energy, without taking the pharmaceutical route.
Get Your Levels Tested
Symptoms of low testosterone sometimes mimic symptoms of thyroid disorder, cardiovascular disease, or other conditions, so it’s important to get your testosterone tested. Fortunately, there’s a blood test to measure testosterone levels.
If testosterone numbers are below 300 ng/dL, it could be cause for concern. As men age, testosterone levels gradually decline naturally. However, dramatic drops can be problematic. While pharmaceutical testosterone treatments can help, they can also cause side effects such as enlarged prostate. In addition, most men with prostate cancer are advised against TRT, as this can exacerbate the condition.
Try T-Boosting Supplements
One of the main complaints associated with low testosterone is reduced vigor. Fortunately, there are a number of supplements that can increase energy and vitality and help enhance testosterone production.
- Ginseng, particularly red ginseng, promotes healthy hormone levels.
- Maca is a Peruvian root known to increase sexual desire and stamina.
- DHEA, a hormone that peaks in the 20s, may enhance testosterone levels and boost strength.
- Epimedium (aka horny goat weed) is an herb that can increase testosterone.
- Zinc. A deficiency has been associated with testosterone loss. Six weeks of zinc supplementation has been shown to significantly increase testosterone in men with low levels.
- Vitamin D plays roles in sperm development and is shown to boost testosterone levels in men who are low.
- L-carnitine and CoQ10 both support mitochondria, cell organelles that produce the majority of cellular energy and healthy testosterone levels.
- Fenugreek, astragalus, and ashwagandha are adaptogenic botanicals that promote energy and can help boost testosterone.
- Medicinal mushrooms, particularly cordyceps, maitaki, and reishi, help to boost testosterone and enhance energy, vigor, and overall vitality. White button mushroom helps to reduce estrogen levels.
Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices
A healthy lifestyle is key to energy, vitality, and hormone balance. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and if overweight, lose extra pounds—too much fat can increase your estrogen levels. Fat cells metabolize testosterone to estrogen, thereby lowering testosterone levels. And men with low testosterone are more likely to become obese. Additionally, obesity reduces levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a protein that carries testosterone in the blood—and the lower your SHBG levels, the lower your testosterone levels.
Exercise, aside from helping you maintain a healthy weight, elevates testosterone. Short periods of intense exercise have a proven positive effect on increasing testosterone levels and helping to prevent the hormone’s usual age-related decline. And exercise has the added benefit of improving brain health and benefitting memory. (Memory problems have been linked to low testosterone levels). Researchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago found that even mild-to-moderate exercise stimulates neurogenesis (production of new brain cells).
A low-glycemic (low-sugar) diet promotes health overall by providing steady energy and preventing glucose peaks and crashes caused by consuming too many simple carbohydrates. Elevated insulin levels—caused mainly by overconsumption of sugars—can lead to low testosterone and other hormone-related problems. Consuming healthy fats is also important for testosterone production.
Fuel up on These Foods
Try emphasizing some of these nutrient-dense whole foods for better T balance:
Liver, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, lamb, beef, and oysters: These foods are good sources of zinc and protein to help boost testosterone production, while also supporting muscle mass, wound repair, energy, and immunity.
Eggs: A good source of vitamin D, cholesterol, and protein, eggs help support testosterone production. Cholesterol is a critical building block for testosterone production.
Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and other members of the Brassica (cruciferous vegetable) family contain a nutrient called indole-3-carbinol, which helps to metabolize unhealthy estrogens and balance testosterone levels. They’re also powerful detoxifiers.
Walnuts and chia seeds: These foods are good sources of omega-3 fats, also important for testosterone production.
In traditional Chinese medicine, walnuts are thought to enhance the reproductive system; they increase sex drive and enhance nitric oxide necessary for erections.
Garlic: Research suggests that garlic in conjunction with protein may help support healthy testosterone levels; a chemical called diallyl disulfide can help stimulate a hormone involved in testosterone production.
Beans: Kidney and black beans are good sources of vitamin D and zinc, as well as protein, fiber, and antioxidants that also support heart health.
Isaac Eliaz, MD, LAc, MS, is an integrative physician, and founder and medical director of Amitabha Medical Clinic in Santa Rosa, Calif. Visit dreliaz.org to learn more.
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