maleTestosterone, the infamous ‘male’ hormone. Emerging statistics are indicating that low serum testosterone levels in adult males are on the rapid decline. Roughly 25% of men over 30 and 40% of males over 45 have low serum testosterone. Estimates are that anywhere between 16 and 30 million adult men in the US are either low-normal or testosterone deficient. What factors are affecting this trend? What can men do to prevent themselves from being added to these statistics?

What exactly is testosterone, other than what fuels 80s action movie heroes to destroy every living thing within a five-mile radius? Testosterone is a steroid hormone secreted in the testicles of males, the ovaries of females, and in small doses from the adrenal glands. It is the hormone responsible for producing classically male characteristics (deep voice, chest and facial hair, increased muscle mass, etc.) and is an anabolic steroid meaning that it stimulates the production of lean skeletal muscle. In fact, in many sports, testosterone supplementation is considered doping and is grounds for dismissal or expulsion.

In men, testosterone is produced in special cells inside the testicles called Leydig cells which use a derivative of cholesterol to synthesize testosterone. The key to controlling testosterone function rests in controlling the function and quantity of these Leydig cells.

This wave of diminishing testosterone has been no secret to aging baby boomers who experience the effects of diminished testosterone all too frequently:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Reduced focus
  • Loss of libido and function
  • Lack of motivation
  • Reduced stamina and endurance
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduction of hemoglobin and possible mild anemia
  • Weight gain
  • Prostate problems and difficulty urinating

  • As well as all of the peripheral effects of the above, low testosterone contributes to an overall lack of vitality in men, and modern medicine has been there to answer the call for help.

    pillsMany forms of testosterone supplementation have been developed of the last few decades; the most common being the gels, creams, patches, injections, and pills. All of these options vary in dosage, absorption, price, and convenience.  Though many men receive obvious benefit from directly consuming testosterone through these various mechanisms, there are a number of drawbacks.

    Testosterone supplementation has a potential risk of increasing the growth rate of certain cancers, particularly prostate cancer which is the leading cancer in men.

    Testosterone supplementation also can create what is known as the Farquharsen Phenomenon, an observation made by a famous Canadian physician in 1951 while researching thyroid hormones, that the introduction of continuous exogenous hormone doses suppresses the natural production of that hormone and causes temporary atrophy in the producing organ. Depending on the length of the temporary atrophy, it is also possible for the occurrence of permanent decreased organ function.

    Essentially, this means that when hormones are taken for extended periods, the body assumes it is unnecessary to produce them on its own, and thus if the person stops taking the hormone, the organs that make the hormone are somewhat disabled and hormone deficiency symptoms follow. This is a perfect recipe for supplemental hormone dependence. The ideal remedy is then stimulating the body to produce its own testosterone at healthy levels. 

    Barring some unique genetic condition, or pre-existing malady or disease that interferes with critical testosterone production, the average male can use a combination of diet, exercise, and nutritional supplementation to restore healthy testosterone production.

    healthy dietA properly balanced diet is the foundation of health. Regardless of types of exercises you do, or the supplements you take, without a proper diet, all of the effort and money spent on the first two are effectively wasted. Diets can be structured to both boost testosterone and prevent inhibition of testosterone production.

    Several cohort studies of middle-aged and elderly men indicate that there is a correlation between high insulin and low testosterone and vice versa. While a direct causal relationship has not been confirmed or fully understood, the correlation is so strong that affecting insulin is a functional mechanism for improving testosterone. An interesting fact that might partially explain this effect is that testosterone stimulates glucose uptake into muscles tissues and blood glucose levels affect insulin secretion and sensitivity.

    Controlling blood glucose levels from a dietary perspective is all about controlling the types of foods that you eat. Some foods cause quick spikes in blood sugar and prolonged consumption of these foods can lead to increased insulin levels. Other foods produce a gentle increase in blood sugar that occurs over a longer period of time leading to a more even level of blood sugar and decreased insulin levels. The scale used to measure the relative effects on glucose levels is called the Glycemic Index (GI). Foods with a high GI like sugar, white rice, wheat, and potatoes cause glucose to spike and insulin levels to rise. Conversely, foods with a low GI produce slow rises in blood sugar and lead to lower insulin levels.

    In order to create an increased level of testosterone we need decreased insulin levels and consuming a variety of low GI foods is the key to achieving this balance. Animal proteins are considered low GI, but in order to absorb it efficiently it must be consumed in smaller portions more frequently and in conjunction with large quantities of vegetables and leafy greens.

    This website: has a large database of the GI value of hundreds of foods and is an excellent resource.

    Other dietary considerations besides the GI of foods for testosterone are the amount of estrogens in foods and the amount of estrogen-mimics and endocrine disrupters. Let’s talk first about estrogen.

    Even though estrogen is a hormone, and one would assume that such hormones are only in animal proteins, the truth is that there are other types of estrogens that are also in plants, fruits, and seeds. The Leydig cells that produce testosterone are inhibited by an increased ratio of estrogen to testosterone. Consuming estrogen –rich foods can impede the ability of Leydig cells to function as well as they should.

    The top estrogen-rich foods are:

  • Flaxseed: 379,380 mcg per 100 g

  • no soySoy, which includes soy-based products like soy milk, soy yogurt, soybeans, soy sauce, and tofu: 2,700-100,000mcg per 100g depending on the type of soy product. Men should avoid all soy products.

  • Sesame seeds: 8000mcg per 100g

  • Hummus: 1000mcg per 100g

  • Dried apricots and dates: The dried form has higher phytoestrogen content than their fresh counterparts: 445 and 339mcg per 100g respectively.

  • A brief bit of internet research will also show other foods rich in estrogens and men interested in increasing their testosterone production would do well to avoid consumption of flax and sesame seeds, as well as all soy products, and limit their consumption of hummus and certain dried fruits.

    Estrogen mimics and endocrine disruptors are toxins that exist on various non-organic foods as a result of conventional agricultural processes, mainly pesticides. Pesticides are designed to eliminate certain insect species through several mechanisms: nervous system destruction leading to eventual death, and infertility to eventual colony destruction from inability to reproduce. Estrogen-mimics and endocrine disruptors perform exactly these tasks. Though the FDA has approved many such toxins for use in agriculture, and the manufacturers of these chemicals claim that they are safe for human consumption in the quantities that end up in the consumer’s grocery bag, the fact is that there is a rapidly growing body of evidence that suggests that these claims may not be accurate.

    The simplest way to avoid these types of toxins is to purchase and consume only organic produce. Unless you have access to a laboratory testing facility, the only way to have a reasonable assurance that the food is free of such harmful toxins is to purchase and consume organic food that has been certified by a respected 3rd party, or government agency.

    The next step in the testosterone formula is exercise. The history of the human race and its subsequent biology never intended mankind to be a species of idle creatures. Men especially, require daily vigorous exercise, not only for increased testosterone production, but for overall health and vitality. While women can reap wonderful health benefits of mild cardio like walking or cycling for a half hour to an hour a day, men need a half-hour of vigorous exercise each day, especially when they are trying to improve their testosterone levels. Vigorous activities including running, rowing, cycling, and other moderate to high-intensity activities, when performed to an exhaustive state, can produce an increase in testosterone levels. 

    exerciseExercise of this nature also increases insulin sensitivity which decreases insulin levels which exhibits the correlative effect of increased testosterone levels. All of these effects, however, can be completely counter-acted by an improper diet including the consumption of high GI foods.

    The increased testosterone levels acquired as a result of this vigorous exercise can be maintained and even increased if self-discipline is maintained and the exercise is performed daily for at least 10 days, in some instances as short as 7 days.

    In some individuals, however, such prolonged periods of vigorous exercise can actually produce a stress-response which can interfere with testosterone levels. The primary hormone responsible for these types of exercise-induced stress responses is cortisol. Cortisol works in conjunction with adrenaline to summon energy and direct it towards the brain at the expense of non-critical function like the immune system.

    In some cases cortisol elevation is beneficial and necessary, but as a response to exercise and for those wishing to maximize testosterone levels it is an undesired effect. While cortisol levels for most people tend to balance out as you continue exercising and your body becomes conditioned, everyone is different and there are ways to prevent cortisol from becoming elevated as a result of vigorous exercise as an unconditioned (non-athlete) person.

    This is where supplementation is particularly effective. There are many safe and effective nutritional supplements that have been shown to reduce the cortisol elevations associated with exercise. Among these are:

  • Pantothenic acid
  • Phosphatidylserine
  • Ashwagandha root and leaf extracts

  • Another supplement that is widely known for its beneficial effect on testosterone levels is zinc. Zinc inhibits the activity of aromatase which is an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen. It also helps balance certain hormones that stimulate testosterone production, namely luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Among the most effective forms of zinc is zinc arginate, though individuals with herpes simplex virus may find their symptoms aggravated by excessive arginine intake.

    Improved testosterone levels in men can bring about incredible changes in feelings of overall vitality and wellbeing. Obtaining those levels is entirely possible through natural means: diet, exercise, and a little of bit of natural supplementation to give you the edge you need to reshape your body chemistry. fit men