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Most people know that testosterone causes many of the changes that come with male puberty. But after puberty, testosterone’s work is far from done. Levels typically decline with age, but there are ways you can naturally support your testosterone levels. Read on to learn more.
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What is testosterone?
Testosterone, along with DHT (a related hormone), is the sex hormone responsible for developing male secondary sexual characteristics. During puberty, testosterone and DHT levels increase and lead to:
- The penis and testicles growing to their adult size
- Increased muscle mass
- Voice deepening
- Increase in height
- Increased sex drive and aggression
Testosterone plays an important role in your health throughout life—not just during puberty. It regulates libido, erectile function, sperm production, bone density, muscle mass, mood stability, and more. While testosterone is a “male sex hormone” and is present in much higher levels in men, it’s an essential hormone in women, too.
Unfortunately, testosterone begins to decline in older adults starting in their 30s and 40s. A low testosterone level can cause a lower libido, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, weight gain, and a loss of muscle mass, just to name a few (Nassar, 2022).
8 ways to support testosterone
Some research suggests you may be able to promote healthy testosterone levels naturally, reaping the health benefits that result. Let’s look at eight possible ways to improve your testosterone.
You can be your own source of testosterone therapy just by engaging in more physical activity. The effect of exercise on testosterone levels is likely due to a combination of factors, including type of exercise, intensity, age, obesity, etc.
Some studies show that building muscle via strength training or resistance training is the most effective way to support testosterone levels. However, others recommend high-intensity interval training or HIIT, especially for older adults. HIIT has become a hot topic in recent years. During a HIIT workout, you engage in periods of intense cardio, alternated with periods of less-intense activity. One small study showed that combining intensity and resistance training led to an increase in testosterone levels that lasted up to 48 hours after the workout (Riachy, 2020; Hayes, 2019).
Regardless, exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health. It helps you maintain a healthy weight, is good for your heart, and may help restore your T levels.
How to increase metabolism with exercise, food, and lifestyle changes
2. Improve your diet
Eating a healthy diet can increase your body’s levels of testosterone. Why? One reason is that regular exercise makes you more likely to maintain a healthy weight. Excess body fat converts testosterone into the female hormone estrogen. People with obesity are also more likely to have lower testosterone levels (Zhong, 2021).
Studies suggest that adopting healthy eating patterns may promote T production. They emphasize whole foods, with a balance of lean protein and complex carbs. Within reason, it’s a good idea to limit simple carbs and overly processed foods (Skoraka, 2020).
Most experts recommend eating heart-healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Definitely don’t leave out fat entirely, regardless of what they recommended in the ‘80s and ‘90s! Data shows that eating too little fat can lead to lower testosterone levels (Pearce, 2019; Fantus, 2020).
3. Get enough quality sleep
It should come as no surprise that sleep is good for you. Studies show that shut-eye benefits the brain, metabolism, and heart; it’s crucial to preserving your health, including your sexual health.
Sleep is a natural testosterone booster. That’s because your body produces most of your testosterone during sleep. So if you’re not getting enough sleep or your sleep is low quality (e.g., you have trouble falling or staying asleep or have sleep apnea), you might see your testosterone levels decline (Liu, 2019).
4. Minimize stress
Managing stress helps preserve your sanity, heart health, and relationships. When you’re under a lot of stress, the adrenal glands pump out cortisol, a stress hormone. Research suggests that higher levels of cortisol lead to decreases in circulating testosterone levels (Harden, 2016).
What’s more, high cortisol levels encourage weight gain, and having obesity is associated with lower testosterone levels.
How to relieve stress: proven tips and techniques
5. Try natural testosterone supplements
Since testosterone replacement therapy is only available by prescription, you may want to look into natural testosterone supplements. The research is limited, but some studies suggest that certain supplements may be able to help support testosterone, including:
- Vitamin D: Some research suggests that people with low testosterone and low vitamin D levels may benefit from taking vitamin D supplements. However, other studies offer conflicting results, and more data is needed. If you have low levels of testosterone, consider having your vitamin D levels checked and talk to your healthcare provider about vitamin D supplementation (Pilz, 2011; Lerchbaum, 2017).
- Magnesium: Magnesium plays a crucial role in several body processes, including bone structure and muscle function. Some data suggests that there may be a relationship between magnesium and testosterone levels. Magnesium acts as an antioxidant and may protect testosterone from the effects of oxidative stress. While scientists are not certain of the mechanism, magnesium supplementation may play a role in testosterone maintenance. More research is needed (Zamir, 2021).
- Zinc: Zinc affects the hormone responsible for stimulating testosterone production, luteinizing hormone (LH). It also helps convert testosterone to DHT. Currently, there is not a lot of research around whether zinc supplementation can support testosterone levels, but it may be worth exploring taking supplements if your zinc levels are low (Zamir, 2021).
- Ashwagandha: This medicinal herb is an “adaptogen,” a natural agent that helps the body manage stress. In a small 2019 study, men with excess weight who took an ashwagandha supplement for 16 weeks saw, on average, an almost 15% increase in testosterone levels compared to men who received a placebo (Lopresti, 2019).
- Fenugreek: This herb can be found in over-the-counter supplements. The jury is still out as to whether fenugreek can promote higher testosterone levels. A review of the medical literature found that some studies suggest it may improve testosterone, while others show that fenugreek has no effect. More research is needed in this area (Balasubramanian, 2019).
- DHEA: Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands. It is the precursor to the precursors of testosterone. This means it may increase levels of the hormones that eventually become testosterone (like androstenedione and androstenediol), but it does not seem to affect testosterone levels directly (Kovac, 2016).
Do testosterone supplements work?
6. Avoid alcohol abuse
Drinking alcohol in excess can cause a decline in testosterone. How much is too much? Although no recommendations have been made specific to preserving testosterone, experts advise no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease (Rachdaoui, 2017).
7. Avoid xenoestrogen and estrogen-like products
Certain chemicals, known as “endocrine disruptors,” have negatively affected hormone levels in animal models. These include BPA (a common element in plastics), phthalates, and parabens (synthetic compounds used in personal-care products and laundry detergent, among other products). They may act as xenoestrogens or synthetic estrogens—this means your body thinks they are estrogen, potentially throwing off your normal hormonal balances (Wang, 2021).
Human studies have not shown that xenoestrogens or phytoestrogens (like soy) affect testosterone levels. But the research is limited. However, some of these compounds have been linked to increased risks of cancer (Wang, 2021; Reed, 2021).
8. Take a look at your prescription medications
Some prescription drugs have the side effect of inhibiting testosterone. If you’re experiencing symptoms of low testosterone and suspect your medication may be responsible, talk with your healthcare provider. That might be the case; it also might not. In any event, don’t stop taking any prescribed medications without consulting a medical professional.
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