Most men recognize decreasing testosterone levels—decreased muscle mass, increased abdominal fat, loss of strength, mood changes, decreased libido, and erectile dysfunction. Some have their testosterone levels checked (men’s advanced hormone panel) and talk to their doctor about symptoms of low testosterone to see if testosterone replacement therapy is a good option for them. Others want to see if they can boost their testosterone levels naturally. Neither strategy will work well if you sabotage your efforts by consuming a diet high in foods and drinks that may lower testosterone levels.
The endocrine system is complicated, and, in most cases, there is no direct relationship between food/drinks and testosterone levels. Let’s see what the research says about foods/drinks that may kill testosterone levels.
In This Article
Excessive alcohol consumption damages the testosterone-producing cells in the testes. Researchers have found that testosterone levels decline within 72 hours of alcohol consumption. Alcohol inhibits two key enzymes that convert testosterone precursors to their active form. They also found that alcohol increased testosterone metabolism, further reducing testosterone levels.
Liver damage from alcohol misuse can increase estrogen levels. Alcohol also increases the function of the enzyme aromatase, which converts testosterone to estradiol and androstenedione into estrone. Increased estrogen levels can lead to infertility, low libido, and an increased risk of ED.
Chronic alcohol use can cause:
Soy products like edamame and tofu are high in phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogen isoflavones mimic the effects of estrogen and can bind to estrogen receptors. They preferentially bind to ERβ instead of Erα, which means they are classified as selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs).
In a study investigating the effects of phytoestrogen on prostate cancer, researchers found that soy, regardless of its isoflavone content, decreased dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and testosterone. However, free testosterone levels were not affected. Previous studies showed no effect on testosterone and DHT levels.
A recent follow-up metanalysis evaluated the effects of soy on the following sex hormones:
Researchers analyzed 41 clinical studies. Their conclusion: Soy and phytoestrogen isoflavones in soy did not affect testosterone or estrogen levels in men. These results agree with a previous meta-analysis that analyzed 30 studies.
Summary: Soy and phytoestrogen isoflavones do not affect testosterone levels.
Mint is brewed into tea and is found in many personal care products. Peppermint and spearmint may have some effects on testosterone levels. Animal studies and a study on women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) provide some support that consuming peppermint and spearmint in excess may cause a slight dip in testosterone. PCOS is associated with hyperandrogenism and increased oxidative stress.
Here are studies that support the link between mint and testosterone levels:
Summary: Spearmint and peppermint, consumed in excess, may mildly affect testosterone levels. However, research so far has focused on women with PCOS, not men.
Dairy cows that are ‘genetically improved” continue to lactate throughout most of their pregnancy. Cow’s milk from pregnant cows contains estrogens and progesterone. In one study, researchers investigated whether these hormones in cow’s milk adversely affected prepubertal children and men. Researchers found that serum estrogen levels increased, and serum LH, FSH, and testosterone levels decreased two hours after consumption.
If these changes in hormone levels are sustained and significant, they could adversely affect testosterone levels. However, the FDA guidelines suggest that there are no adverse health effects of consuming dairy products as long as consumption is less than 1% of the physiological estrogen production in prepubertal boys (540 ng/day).
Summary: Estrogen levels in cow’s milk are too low to significantly affect testosterone levels in men. Choose vitamin D fortified, low fat, or skim milk for maximum health benefits.
Flaxseed is high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and micronutrients. However, it is also high in lignan, having levels that are 800 times that of other foods. Lignan binds to testosterone and increases its excretion. Some studies found that it also increases sex hormone-binding globulin levels, which reduces the levels of circulating free testosterone. Lignan may also inhibit the conversion of testosterone to DHT. DHT is the more potent form of testosterone.
Other studies have shown that lignan does not affect testosterone, free-testosterone, or sex-hormone binding globulin. And a study on postmenopausal women showed that flaxseed reduced estrogen levels, which may be beneficial for men.
Summary: Flaxseed is a healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, and there is not enough evidence to suggest that consumption of flaxseed impacts testosterone levels.
Processed foods, any food that is not a whole food, are more likely to contain trans fats and high amounts of vegetable oils. There are many reasons to avoid processed foods and only eat whole foods, and their effect on testosterone is one of them.
Researchers found that a diet high in trans-fat was associated with lower free testosterone and total testosterone. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids were associated with better testicular function, and omega-6 fatty acids and trans fats were linked to lower testosterone production. Other studies have shown an association between trans fats and sperm quality.
Trans fats are found in many baked goods, including crackers, cookies, pies, cakes, and pizza. In recognition of the danger of trans fats to overall health, The Food and Drug Administration said in 2013 that it would require food makers to gradually phase out artificial trans fats. Partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) are the primary source of artificial trans fats in processed foods.
Today, all added trans fats are banned, except those found in animal products. Unfortunately, even though trans fats in animal products may not have as big an impact on hormone levels as artificial trans fats, they also cause bad cholesterol to go up and good cholesterol to go down, increasing the risk of heart disease.
Fast food meals contain trans fats and vegetable oils, both of which can adversely affect testosterone production and sperm quality. In a New York study, researchers found that a single fast-food meal can contain more than 10 g of trans fats, whereas the recommended amount is less than 0.5 grams per serving. As a result, New York was one of the first places to ban trans fats in restaurant meals.
Summary: Trans fats are a danger to your health and should not be consumed. Since artificially added trans fats have been prohibited in foods in the U.S., limit your intake of animal products to reduce natural sources of trans fats. There has not been enough research yet to determine whether natural trans fats are as harmful to your health as artificial trans fats.
Vegetable oils (canola, soybean, corn, cottonseed) are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). In a small study, researchers found that while consumption of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats was inversely correlated with total testosterone levels, the relationship was only significant for polyunsaturated fats. PUFA consumption did not affect estrone, estradiol, or free testosterone levels.
Obese men with low testosterone levels who consumed a meal high in PUFA had significantly lower testosterone levels up to 5 hours after eating. Previous studies have shown a 20% to 30% drop in testosterone following a mixed meal. However, this study showed that the combination of foods might also have an impact.
Another study supported this finding. However, researchers point out that the relationship between PUFA and testosterone levels may not be causative.
Vegetable oils are also high in omega-6 fatty acids. Too much omega-6 fatty acids can adversely affect testosterone levels by lowering testicular volume and function.
Some nuts (pistachios, peanuts, pecans, almonds, and walnuts) are high in PUFAs. When women with PCOS consumed nuts higher in PUFAs, their plasma lipids and serum androgens decreased. Choose Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and tiger nuts instead.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza radix et rhizome), besides being consumed as part of the diet, is found in many medicinal products. Licorice contains more than 20 triterpenoids and nearly 300 flavonoids.
Like spearmint and peppermint, researchers used animal models and women with PCOS to investigate the effect of licorice root on testosterone levels. Researchers found that licorice root may reduce free and total testosterone levels. In a small study, men who consumed licorice root had a 26% decrease in testosterone levels after one week. Another small study found the same effect in women.
Summary: Small studies indicate that licorice root reduces testosterone levels. However, it contains nearly 300 flavonoids, so this benefit likely outweighs any potential harm.
A high-sugar diet increases the risk of overweight and obesity as well as type 2 diabetes. There is a strong link between obesity and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes and low testosterone levels.
Researchers have also found that a bolus of sugar can negatively impact testosterone, whether in diet or sugar-sweetened beverages. Men in the study experienced a 25% decrease in serum testosterone levels when compared to fasting levels. The implications are unclear in terms of testosterone production long term. However, it is important to recognize this relationship if you have blood drawn to check your testosterone levels.
Summary: Added sugar increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. It may also adversely affect testosterone levels, at least in the short term
Avoid refined sources of carbohydrates, like white rice, as they boost blood sugar quickly and can contribute to insulin resistance, which may reduce testosterone levels.
Summary: Testosterone levels are lower after a high-sugar meal, which can impact testosterone lab results. This effect was short term. Obesity and insulin resistance may be responsible for a long-term decrease in testosterone.
Consuming a healthy diet is important to overall health. Maintaining healthy testosterone is also important, as it helps maintain muscle mass and bone density and reduce harmful abdominal fat. There are many ways to naturally improve your testosterone levels and overall health. This will not be enough for some men, and they may consider testosterone replacement therapy.
Overall, decreasing your intake of bread and pastries, dairy products, desserts, and restaurant meals will probably have the greatest effect on testosterone levels.
Here are some other natural ways to increase testosterone and overall health:
Some foods may boost your testosterone level. Choose these instead of the foods that can potentially kill testosterone levels.
Men who have documented low testosterone levels, as shown on lab tests such as Invigor Medical’s Men’s Advanced Hormone Panel and symptoms of low testosterone, should consult with a healthcare provider to see if they are a candidate for testosterone replacement therapy.
However, it is important to consider diet as well. Though some foods may naturally boost your testosterone levels and others may cause them to decline, an even bigger consideration is the impact of overweight and obesity on testosterone levels. Several studies show an inverse relationship between obesity and circulating total testosterone levels. Choosing a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and the symptoms associated with low testosterone levels.
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.