NOTE: I am not a doctor, and I’m not competent to give medical advice. Consult a doctor before doing anything in this article. The information I present here is a synthesis of what I have learned from my own research online and from my family doctor. If you suspect low testosterone levels, you should consult your doctor about a blood test (or several, if appropriate) to determine whether a natural approach is right for you. In some cases, pharmaceutical treatment might be advised, but I recommend you find a doctor who takes a holistic approach to your health, which should include food- and habit-based treatments when appropriate.
You might be wondering what an article about natural testosterone production is doing in this blog, so an introductory note is in order.
As I approach 50 I am becoming more vividly aware of my mortality. I used to feel more springy; now when I jump out of the back of my truck, I really feel it. A lot of that has to do with my somewhat sedentary work. True, I get outdoors more than most, but I do spend a lot of time sitting here at the computer. For me, it’s now or never — as I age, my physical condition will gradually decline, and I want to start declining from a high level of physical conditioning. This is possibly my last chance to get in shape “easily,” so for the last few months I’ve been increasing my activity and strength training.
I expect benefits in terms of self-reliance and quality of life, and that has *everything* to do with the subject of this blog. With the nationalization of health care, it is more important than ever to have control of my physical condition and general health (which also has mental, spiritual, and relational components).
It’s much more difficult to build strength and maintain energy at age 50 than at 30, and that is largely due to lower testosterone production; hence my research on this topic.
Testosterone Production and its Effects
Testosterone occurs naturally in both men and women, although men have more. Starting around age 30, testosterone levels begin to decrease. Besides age, two other factors affect testosterone levels; diet and chemical exposures. Certain prescribed drugs affect testosterone production, and there are many estrogen-mimicking compounds in your food, water, and environment which aggravate the problem by increasing estrogen levels. While chemical testosterone therapy might be required in some cases, there are steps you can take to boost testosterone short of resorting to pharmaceutical solutions.
Why should you care? Low testosterone levels in men can cause a number of undesirable conditions:
- Fat gain.
- Muscle loss.
- Reduced bone density.
- Malaise (not “feeling good”).
- Reduced libido.
Boosting your testosterone can reverse these effects. Testosterone levels normally are higher in the morning and decrease throughout the day. When I had my levels tested, the doctor wanted me to be there as soon as the doors opened, and because she did a full blood panel, I had to go on an empty stomach.
How Exercise Affects Hormone Levels
My research showed that there is still uncertainty about what effect exercise has on testosterone production. More research needs to be done in this field; here is a summary of what I found:
- Generally, exercise will get you a brief boost in testosterone production, peaking about 15 minutes after you finish.
- The older you get, the less of a boost you get. However, you still have other benefits from exercise, such as increased strength, fat loss, increased stamina, and more restful sleep.
- The later in the day you exercise, the greater the boost. Because of this, some suggest you should work out in the evening for a greater boost. However — and this is just my own reasoning — I suggest working out in the morning when your levels are already higher, so you have more energy for a more intense workout, faster recovery, and greater muscle gain. In other words, even if you get more of a boost in testosterone production in the evening, you’re starting from a lower baseline. Your total levels are still lower than they were in the morning. I think you should work out when your total levels are higher (and taper off more slowly) to get the greatest benefit from the workout.
The Nutrition-Based Approach to Health
There’s no question that the best way to get your nutrients is by eating foods that supply them. But in this fallen world it’s difficult. The Tree of Life is no longer accessible, so we have to scour the earth to get everything we need, and even then we’re limited by knowledge. Metabolism is fantastically complex; no one actually knows everything you’re missing in your diet, and no one actually knows how all nutrients and metabolic processes interact, so no one knows everything you need to eat.
Take zinc, for example. Squash seeds are one of the foods richest in zinc, but even then you have to eat 2.5 cups of them to get the recommended daily dose, and you have to eat them raw at that. Kind of gross — in my opinion they only taste good roasted and salted. I do my best to get my nutrients from food, but I don’t shy away from food-based supplements, and I even take Big Pharma chemicals if my doctor recommends them. She’s strongly in favor of a nutrition-based approach to health, but “knows her limits,” as she puts it. When the only known way to fix a physical problem is a chemical, she’ll recommend it.
1. Lose Weight
Being overweight or obese can — but doesn’t necessarily — cause lower testosterone production. If you’re overweight, losing weight can increase your testosterone. On the flipside, if you’re extremely underweight, gaining weight can also improve testosterone levels.
2. High Intensity Exercise
Being consistently inactive (regardless of your weight) causes lower testosterone production because your body doesn’t think it needs to produce muscle and bone mass. Peak Fitness training is an effective way to boost production. (Dr. Mercola discusses the benefits of peak fitness training). This kind of program emphasizes maximum output for 30 seconds at a time, seven times in a 20-minute period, with 90-second intervals of slow to moderate pacing. You can use any kind of equipment; weights, treadmill, swimming, sprinting… anything that allows you to put forth maximum effort in short spurts. I use a punching bag, and I highly recommend it, but you definitely have to work up to it over a period of weeks because it takes awhile to develop the tissues to where they can take the impact without making you excessively sore for several days. Trust me. Be sure to warm up first and stretch to avoid injury. Note that aerobic or other extended moderate forms of exercise have little effect, or even a negative effect, on testosterone production.
3. Strength Training
This will boost testosterone levels as long as your workout is intensive enough. Increase weight and lower your reps, and emphasize large muscle groups. Use 5 by 3 (using an amount of resistance that exhausts you after 5 reps, times 3 sets) or even 5 by 5 programs, but again, work up to it gradually because joints build up slower than muscles — you can get strong enough to injure your own joints if you go at it too aggressively. Using free weights works more muscle groups at a time than machines, which tend to focus the effort on specific muscles for sculpting. Doing pushups with a heavy backpack (or a kid on your back) works out not just your pectoral and triceps muscles, but also your lats, obliques, and abs. Elevating your feet will also bring your deltoids more into play. You won’t be able to sculpt your muscles with as much focus, but if testosterone production is your objective, this can work. Soon, however, you’ll need to do chest presses. Reverse butterflies with elastic bands (standing) or free weights (prone on a bench) works out many muscle groups in your back, shoulders, and arms.
4. Vitamin D
At least one study shows that increasing vitamin D can increase testosterone production. You can take vitamin D supplements, but the dosages required are quite high: up to 50,000 IU weekly to treat infertility. It’s practically impossible to get testosterone-boosting amounts of vitamin D from food, but if you already have good levels and are just wanting to maintain them, your best options are fatty fish; liver, cheese, and egg yolks also have small amounts. By far the best way to get your vitamin D to recommended levels between 50 and 70 ng/ml is sun exposure. If you’re fair-skinned, 10 minutes of sun exposure on your torso at high noon produces about 10,000 IU of vitamin d. Dark-skinned people produce less. It might be hard to quantify your vitamin D production because of so many atmospheric and skin-type variables, but I just try to use common sense and get some sun without getting a sunburn. More benefits of sun exposure. The risks of sun exposure have been hysterically exaggerated; in fact, the risk of death is twice as high among those who avoid sun.
I found conflicting information about the incidence of zinc deficiency in the US — some claim it is common, some say it’s rare. For this reason, ask your doctor about a blood test. It is part of an expensive mineral panel, so my doctor asked about my diet and was satisfied that I didn’t need to take that particular test for now. Symptoms of deficiency include slowed growth, slow wound healing, hair loss, loss of taste and smell, diarrhea, nausea, and low insulin levels. It can be associated with low libido and male infertility. This article argues that zinc is essential for testosterone production, and a study published by the National Institutes of Health found that zinc increased testosterone production in testosterone-deficient infertile men. My favorite sources of zinc are seafood and squash seeds. Look for wild caught seafood, not farmed, although many seafood farms are becoming conscientious about avoiding the accumulation of toxins; just do your research. I grow acorn and butternut squash for winter storage, and we roast the seeds — delicious. Eat them husk and all. Red meats, chocolate, and nuts are also high in zinc. Note that raw foods have more usable nutrients than cooked food, so bear that in mind when figuring how much you need to eat.
6. Control Stress
Too much stress increases cortisol, which blocks the effects of testosterone. Chronic stress is nearly epidemic in western culture. There are many ways to reduce stress, but all of them center around emotional, physical, and spiritual balance. Cut back on long work hours — try to limit your work to 10 hours or less. Get exercise, but reserve some time daily for fun and socializing. Play with the kids, go on a date, listen to music (or play it yourself), read something other than the news. Get off the computer, especially social media sites. You know what I mean.
7. Control Sugar
Dr. Mercola says that sugar consumption triggers a decrease in testosterone levels. Reducing or eliminating sugar from your diet should directly increase testosterone. My own observation has been that the easiest way for most people to reduce sugar intake is to avoid soft drinks. Dude, just drink water. (Trivia: Cold water quenches your thirst better than warm water. It stays in your stomach longer, giving your stomach more time to tell your brain you are hydrated. Also, it lowers core temperature, which is one of the factors of the sensation of thirst). If you crave the carbonation, try club soda with lime.
8. Eat Healthy Fats
When I was a kid, I trimmed the fat from my steaks, but my grandfather told me to eat it — “it’s good for you,” he said. Turns out he was right. A 1984 study identified a direct relationship between saturated fats (specifically animal fats in this study) and testosterone production in men. The higher the fat content in the diet, the higher the testosterone production. You need healthy saturated fats. Go for olive oil, coconut oil, egg yolks, meats, avocados, butter, and nuts. I get more than half my calories from these fats, and while I’m still a little soft around the middle, that’s mostly due to nearly a year of sedentary work in post production on a movie. In the last few months I’ve become more active, and it’s getting better.
A word about eggs: I think eggs are one of the most outrageously demonized foods around. They’re practically a superfood, for crying out loud. Raise your own eggs. Let the chickens run around the yard — they’ll eat seeds, weeds, and bugs, and make rich, thick, deep-orange yolks. They’ll produce better if they have a rooster; he finds food and calls them over, and he protects them so they’re less stressed. Plus, they’re entertaining. Turn off the TV and watch them.
9. Get Plenty of Sleep
The rest cycle is an essential component of all hormone production and chemical balance. Different people need different amounts of sleep, but in general, go for 7 or 8 hours a night. If you have trouble sleeping, try being more active, reduce your stress, avoid too much alcohol, and avoid sweets before bed. Here’s a weird trick: Avoid TV, computers, or anything with a screen before bed. Read instead. Try a little more “socializing” with your wife and see how you sleep. It does take time to make it mutually beneficial, but seriously, try it.
10. Moderate Your Alcohol Consumption
Excessive use of alcohol is one of the worst testosterone antagonists of all. It aggressively depletes zinc, it prevents restful sleep, and the next-day hangover leaves you without the energy you need to remain active. I’m focusing on alcohol’s effects on testosterone production, but it also bears mentioning that alcohol abuse has huge personal and social consequences. Moderate consumption can be beneficial, but some people can’t just drink a little, and might have to avoid it altogether.
Vitamin D from the sun — and other benefits of sun exposure