The commercial goes something like this: “Does being over 40 make you feel like.... half the man you used to be? Do you feel more tired, out of shape, not in the mood like you used to be? If you said yes to any of these questions, it’s not your fault. You might have reduced testosterone.”
We know that as we men get older there is a steady decline in our testosterone levels, but why? Were our fathers and grandfathers more manly than we are or did their testosterone levels drop like ours? It seems they did not. A recent study reported that American males’ testosterone levels are dropping regardless of age as a result of lifestyle and environmental factors. Before we examine this further, let’s examine testosterone’s role in a man’s life.
What does testosterone do?
As boys approach puberty they receive a surge in testosterone levels primarily from our testis and secondarily from our adrenal glands. Soon thereafter, dark hair starts popping up everywhere, our voice deepens, our shoulders broaden, we increase our muscle mass, we become more aggressive, we acquire our sexual drive and start watching The Ultimate Fighter.
This continues until around 40 years old when we start losing about 1 percent of our testosterone levels per year. At the end of our lives we have lost anywhere from 30-90 percent of our testosterone. Unfortunately, reduced testosterone is more than just losing muscles and getting a little flabby. Low testosterone is associated with diabetes, depression, coronary artery disease and high blood pressure.
Are declining testosterone levels just a fact of life?
No! In a June 2012 study presented at The Endocrine Society's 94th Annual Meeting in Houston, Dr. Gary Wittert M.D. warned "It is critical that doctors understand that declining testosterone levels are not a natural part of aging and that they are most likely due to health-related behaviors or health status itself."
Well this makes sense because we already determined that grandpa didn’t have this problem. Now, the question is "Why?"
What causes low testosterone?
There are various myths, theories and even studies that address this very issue. soy products have long been vilified as a estrogen builder and testosterone killer but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support it. What about fatherhood, obesity, and herbicides?
Does being a father lower testosterone?
Well, yes, but only in the short run. “A new Northwestern University study provides compelling evidence that human males are biologically wired to care for their offspring, conclusively showing for the first time that fatherhood lowers a man’s testosterone levels.”
However, Dr. Wittert found that over a man’s life, those who are fathers and have families have higher levels of testosterone than eternal bachelors. Apparently, the old ball and chain improves testosterone by sending us to the gym, walking the dog and eating healthy.
Obesity and Testosterone
Dr. Wittert went on to explain that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise have a positive effect on testosterone. As our beltlines increase our testosterone drops. That’s right - an enzyme in fat cells converts testosterone to estrogen.
Toxins and Testosterone
Environmental toxins such as atrazine, a common herbicide, have been linked to lower testosterone levels. In a Berkeley study they found that atrazine is an endocrine disrupter, and that it “wreaks havoc with the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarters of them and turning one in 10 into females.” Atrazine is an extremely common herbicide with 80 million tons being sprayed on crops each year.
So what can we do about it?
Let’s say you are a 50-year-old male, obese, depressed with erectile dysfunction. You decide to go to your doctor and get your testosterone levels tested. Results show you are low in testosterone. At this point you have two choices:
- Raise your testosterone naturally
- Get a prescription for testosterone
If you chose No. 2, please consult your doctor. If you chose No. 1, continue reading.
Raising testosterone naturally
Let’s start with sleep because it is the easiest. Low levels of sleep are associated with many chronic diseases including low testosterone. A recent study concluded that getting less than five hours of sleep per night can reduce testosterone in young men by 10-15 percent. Get your eight hours of sleep and you’re taking a step toward raising your testosterone.
Find a way to deal with stress. When a body is stressed, it releases cortisol. High levels of cortisol in the blood reduce testosterone. You may not be able to change the stressor, but you can change how you react to it and more importantly how you get rid of it. Consider exercise or meditation for stress reduction.
Lose the weight. Losing weight will not only raise testosterone but will reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension and allow you to live longer. The best way to do this is to eat a balanced meal of healthy proteins, veggies, fruits, and very limited grains.
Lift some weights. Resistance training promotes testosterone levels. Muscle building also reduces fat. Therefore, increasing your muscles will have a dual effect on raising testosterone.
Have healthy sex at least once per week to increase or maintain healthy testosterone levels.
Reduce the booze. Alcohol, in general, has been shown to reduce testosterone levels. Beer especially, contains hops which promotes estrogen. That beer gut is actually an estrogen factory.
In conclusion, the best way to raise testosterone is to get married, have kids, eat healthy, workout and build muscle mass, have great sex, drink less booze and sleep eight hours per night.
(This column is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.)