Commonly referred to as the male sex hormone, testosterone is important to the health of both men and women. Testosterone production begins during puberty and declines at a rate of about 1% per year after age 30. Many of the physical changes associated with aging in men can be at least partially attributed to a decline in testosterone. Testosterone promotes muscle mass and strength, bone density and strength, normal fat distribution, red blood cell production, and sex drive in both men and women.
While testosterone is essential for both men’s and women’s health, it is especially important for normal erectile function and sperm production in men. Most men associate testosterone with health, strength, and vitality.
Even men whose testosterone levels are within an acceptable range may be looking for natural ways to boost their testosterone and overall health.
Increase protein in your diet. Protein is necessary to build and repair every tissue in the body, fight infections, and produce hormones. Choosing whole foods for healthy sources of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins can help you naturally regulate your hormones by optimizing your overall health and providing your body with the nutrients and calories it needs to produce hormones.
Combining a high-protein diet and resistance exercise can help build muscle and limit muscle breakdown when you are restricting your calorie intake. These strategies can help prevent obesity, which is strongly associated with lower testosterone.
There is a negative correlation between free testosterone and:
Fat cells have higher amounts of aromatase enzyme, which converts testosterone to estradiol. Converting testosterone to estradiol lowers testosterone.
Fat cells also lead to:
Men who are overweight or obese typically have lower free testosterone. Choosing a healthy diet can help you maintain a healthy weight, boost testosterone, and decrease the risk of erectile dysfunction. Making healthy eating a lifestyle choice instead of a diet can optimize your hormones and overall health.
Exercise, especially resistance exercise, can help boost testosterone and reverse age-related declines.
Increasing testosterone and increased exercise can both increase muscle mass and reduce abdominal fat. Increased muscle mass and reduced abdominal fat are also associated with increased testosterone. This cycle can also spiral downward as weight gain leads to lower testosterone levels.
Skeletal muscle synthesizes testosterone from dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Testosterone can then be converted to 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Aging is associated with a decrease in DHEA. Researchers showed that 12 weeks of resistance exercises can restore age-related declines in the male sex hormones DHEA, free testosterone, and DHT to levels seen in younger men.
When men performed resistance exercise daily for eight weeks, they had an increase in serum total testosterone after six weeks of exercise. This effect was larger in men who are overweight or obese. Researchers found that increased physical activity had a greater impact on testosterone levels than reducing calorie intake. Researchers found a positive correlation between the number of steps men took and their testosterone levels.
To increase testosterone levels naturally by increasing resistance exercise, start with daily sessions of squats, push-ups, planks, and similar exercises that can be completed without weights or equipment. Next, incorporate walking or jogging into your daily routine to strengthen your heart and breathing muscles. Set small, daily goals. Consistency is key!
Regular exercise can decrease stress, promote better sleep habits, prevent weight gain, and build muscle, all of which boost your testosterone levels.
For more ideas, read 7 Exercises for Older and Overweight Individuals
Multiple studies have shown a positive association between circulating vitamin D and free testosterone. This is because vitamin D binds to receptors in the testosterone-producing Leydig cells in the testes.
Vitamin D comes from three sources, exposure to sunlight, diet, or supplementation. Ultraviolet B rays from the sun penetrate the skin and convert 7-dehydrocholesterol to vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), another precursor to the active form of vitamin D. Vitamin D is converted from vitamin D3 to 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 (calcidiol) in the liver. Calcidiol is the storage form of the vitamin. It is stored in fat until it is needed.
The amount of vitamin D produced in the skin from ultraviolet (UV) light can vary from the equivalent of 10,000 to 25,000 International Units (IU). Vitamin D produced from UV light exposure may last twice as long in the blood than ingested vitamin D.
We get most of our vitamin D through sun exposure. You can also get vitamin D3 in a limited amount in your diet, mostly egg yolks, fatty fish, and milk, or as a supplement.
The Endocrine Societies recommend that most adults 19 years and older get between 400-1000 IUs of vitamin D daily from food or supplements. The NIH and the Endocrine Societies recommend that adults 50-70 require at least 600 IU/day, and those over age 70 need 800 IU/day.
Since exposure to UV light is the primary source of vitamin D, it would seem like deficiencies would be rare. However, getting adequate vitamin D from the sun can be hard depending on the season and where you live. ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are filtered by clouds, air pollution, and the amount of atmosphere between you and the sun. When the sun is lower than 45 degrees up in the sky or your shadow is longer than you are tall, you will probably not get much UV B exposure.
The following factors can increase the risk for vitamin D deficiency:
Vitamin D deficiency is not uncommon. In a study completed in the U.S., 40% of almost 5,000 people tested over the age of 20 were vitamin D deficient. Another study found that the overall prevalence rate of vitamin D deficiency was 41.6%, with the highest rate in Blacks at 82.1%, followed by Hispanics at 69.2%.
If you think you may be vitamin D deficient, spend 20 minutes three times a week in the sun to restore your vitamin D. If this is not possible, talk to your doctor about vitamin D supplements.
Learn more about the benefits of having healthy levels of vitamin D.
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Our circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock that regulates hormone release. Light and dark cycles, mealtimes, and physical activity help the clock stay in sync with your body’s needs.
A regular sleep cycle promotes the release of growth hormones. Irregular sleep habits can make it difficult to reach deep sleep, the part of the sleep cycle when growth hormone is released.
While there is a downward trend in circulating testosterone levels in men, the trajectory is variable, with some men experiencing a sharper decline than others. In an investigation evaluating the relationship between sleep quality and quantity, which also decreases with age, researchers found that morning testosterone levels were lower in sleep-deprived men.
Lack of sleep can increase ghrelin (a hormone that stimulates hunger and appetite) and decrease leptin (a hormone released by fat cells that signals your brain that you are full). These hormone changes contribute to weight gain. Lack of sleep also increases cravings for calorie-dense foods high in carbohydrates.
Lack of sleep and weight gain can both decrease testosterone levels.
The research is not conclusive, smoking may increase or not affect total testosterone and sex hormone binding globulin production, but the research is strong that smoking causes blood vessel damage and constricts blood vessels, which makes it a major risk factor for erectile dysfunction.
The more cigarettes that men smoke per day, the stronger the association between smoking and erectile dysfunction (ED). Younger men who were otherwise healthy had double the risk of ED when they smoked over 20 cigarettes per day.
Read More: Can Nicotine Cause Impotence?
In a study that followed hormone levels in 400 men aged 40 to 80, after adjusting for age, current smoking habits, body mass index, and physical activity, those with the highest alcohol intake, over 40 grams per day, had the lowest total testosterone and sex hormone-binding globulin levels.
In another study, middle-aged men and post-menopausal women had an increase in dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) by 16.5% after moderate alcohol consumption. However, plasma testosterone decreased by 6.8% in men. Plasma estradiol was unchanged.
When men were subjected to an exhaustive exercise session followed by alcohol intoxication, their testosterone levels remained depressed longer than if they had consumed alcohol without physical exercise.
Increased alcohol consumption is also associated with obesity, which can further impact testosterone levels. Read more about the effects of alcohol on sexual function in Does Alcohol Cause Erectile Dysfunction?
Chronic stress increases levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol revs up blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing and floods your bloodstream with glucose, so you are ready to fight or take flight. When you stay in a state of high stress, your body converts pregnenolone to progesterone, a hormone that is used to make both cortisol and aldosterone. This leaves less cortisol to make estrogen and testosterone.
Testosterone provides protection against storing fat in the abdomen. Therefore, when testosterone levels decrease, abdominal fat may increase. Unfortunately, increased abdominal fat is associated with an increase in cortisol, feeding into a vicious cycle.
Increased stress can cause stress eating. Increased caloric intake and increased cortisol lead to increased abdominal fat, a recipe for decreased testosterone levels, and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Learning ways to reduce and manage stress is important to your overall health and maintaining a healthy testosterone level.
Testosterone is carried through the bloodstream either free, bound to albumin, or bound to sex hormone binding globulin. Other medications bind to albumin as well. The interactions between medications are complex. Never change your medication dose or stop taking a medication without talking with your doctor.
Some medications that may be associated with a decrease in testosterone levels include:
Endocrine disruptors are any chemicals that interfere with the normal production and function of hormones in humans. Endocrine disruptors can disrupt any aspect of the endocrine system by increasing or decreasing hormone production or changing how a hormone works.
Examples of endocrine disruptors include:
High exposure to compounds with estrogen-like properties can lower testosterone levels.
The endocrine system is one of the most complex systems in the human body. Each hormone produced has multiple target organs. Enzymes determined by your genetic code control the effects of hormones. Negative and positive feedback loops control the production of hormones.
If you think your testosterone levels may be low, your next step should be to talk with your doctor about your concerns. After taking a complete history and doing a directed physical examination, your doctor will probably suggest lab work to check your testosterone levels and screen for other potential causes of your symptoms.
Invigor Medical is staffed with healthcare providers who are very familiar with the signs and symptoms associated with low testosterone levels. After discussing the risks and benefits, they can prescribe any medical treatment needed to bring your testosterone levels up to a normal range.
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.