5 min|Dr. Maya Kuczma
Not Your Father's Testosterone LevelsWellness, Health, Education
Testosterone levels are plummeting.
Testosterone levels are plummeting. Since the 1980s, average testosterone levels have declined 1% per year, independent of age.(1) In a study comparing men born in the 1960s to those born in the 1920s, testosterone levels were 17% lower in the group born in the 60s (2). This indicates that men today have much lower testosterone levels than their fathers had at the same age. The implications of this decline extend much further than sexual related symptoms such as lower libido and decreased sperm counts; testosterone is also a key player in cardiovascular health, blood sugar regulation, and cognition. Men with lower levels of testosterone are not necessarily impotent or weak - they may experience more widespread symptoms, such as depression, difficulty concentrating, lower energy, sleep disturbances, and increased body fat.(3)
The significant decline in testosterone levels has been linked to a wide variety of factors; everything from increased rates of obesity, along with the blue light exposure that comes along with increased screen time have been implicated.(4,5) While we continue to investigate the factors that lead us to this point, many habits have emerged that can positively influence testosterone levels, along with overall health:
Strength training can significantly increase both testosterone and growth hormones levels.(6) Exercising in the late afternoon or evening appears to produce a greater increase in testosterone than morning workouts.(7) But if some is good, more is not necessarily better - overtrain, and you’ll see the opposite - an increase in cortisol and a decline in testosterone levels.(8) In short, make a habit of strength training, look out for signs of overtraining (such as excessive soreness and difficulty recovering from a workout), and adjust accordingly. If you are new to weight training, consult with a professional to ensure you are lifting with proper form and training all major muscle groups.
Say Goodbye to Excess Body Fat
Adipose tissue, the tissue that we think of as ‘fat’, contains aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen. As body fat increases, the enzyme converts circulating testosterone into estrogen, leading to an overall decline in testosterone levels. In a double whammy, the less testosterone you have, the more easily you gain fat, creating a vicious cycle.(4) Incorporating weight lifting, decreasing your intake of processed foods, and incorporating intermittent fasting, are all habits that can support body fat reduction.
Bring on Healthy Fat
Men who eat a low fat diet have low testosterone.(9) Cholesterol, a component of dietary fat, is required to manufacture testosterone in the body. Consuming certain foods provides the body with the cholesterol it needs to make testosterone. But not all fats are created equal. Free-run eggs, grass-fed beef, wild fish, avocado, and nuts and seeds provide cholesterol, alongside many other beneficial nutrients, without processed oils, sugars, or other inflammatory ingredients.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation, even in intervals as short as one-week, has been correlated with lower morning testosterone levels.(10) Chronic stress, resulting in elevated cortisol, suppresses the effects of testosterone. (11) Since stress and sleep deprivation tend to go hand in hand, the hormonal implications of a stressful period of time can be significant, particularly if a stressful stint turns into a stressful lifetime. Ensure that you are getting to bed early enough to get 7-9 hours of sleep. In the evening, keep your bedroom dark, and all of your screens off, to support melatonin production and improve sleep quality. And manage your priorities so that stress management - through meditation, coaching, therapy, or practicing gratitude - is built into your routine.
Evict the Endocrine Disruptors
Every day, our bodies are exposed to a wide variety of chemicals that alter our hormones - known as endocrine disruptors. Many of these endocrine disruptors affect testosterone levels negatively. Bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic chemical found in a variety of plastic bottles, containers, and receipts, behaves similarly to estrogen, and has been linked to decreased levels of testosterone.(12)
Pthalates, found in many personal care products for men (such as Axe body spray), have been linked to DNA damage in sperm and reductions in testosterone.(13,14) The products you use daily - whether it be your plastic bottle, deodorant spray, or shampoo, can all impact your health, for better - or for worse. Nix the plastics by drinking out of glass or stainless steel water bottles, storing food in glass and stainless steel containers, and reheating food on a plate rather than in a container. Start replacing your personal care products with all-natural paraben and pthalate-free options. And decline the receipts at the check-out whenever you can.
Discuss with your MD or ND whether testing your testosterone levels may be useful. Testing includes a simple fasted blood test, best completed in the morning. Your doctor can review your results, and if indicated, may suggest stronger methods of testosterone support, such as herbal supplementation, certain nutrients, and, if required, testosterone replacement.