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Discover the diet and lifestyle changes that have been found to boost testosterone levels.
It has been reported that men’s testosterone levels have dropped by 20% in the last 20 years and men much younger than 40 years old are suffering the effects of low testosterone (1).
Testosterone is a male steroid hormone known as an androgen. In men, testosterone is mainly produced in the testes and is responsible for the male reproductive system and the production of sperm.
Testosterone is responsible for male characteristics that appear at puberty and in adolescence when testosterone levels surge. These include the maturation of the penis and the testicles, growth in body hair and deepening of the voice as well as increasing muscle mass. It also plays an important role in libido (sex drive), mood and behaviour (e.g. aggression and competitive spirit).
Most men experience a natural decline in testosterone levels after the age of 30, often referred to as the manopause or andropause. It has been reported that 10% of men aged 40 to 60 in the UK have low testosterone (2). However, men can implement several diet and lifestyle changes to boost testosterone levels if they are experiencing any testosterone-related symptoms.
For men’s health month we have teamed up with two testosterone experts, Dr Robert Stevens from The Men’s Health Clinic, a CQC registered private medical clinic that specialises in diagnosing and treating men with low testosterone, and Nathan Briggs who runs his own testosterone blog, to advise on the diet and lifestyle changes needed to improve testosterone levels. Here are the 10 testosterone commandments to follow for improved levels.
As Dr Robert Stevens says:
“If you have some of the classical symptoms of low testosterone, whether they be mild or severe, it is worth addressing possible causes and looking at your current lifestyle, nutrition and physical exercise regime, to see if improvements can be made”.
Let’s get started with the first commandment.
Exercise and movement of any kind are essential for a long and healthy life and this is how we as humans evolved. Hunting, farming and manual labour have kept us moving in the past and it is only in recent times that we have stopped dead in our tracks in terms of physical activity, driving everywhere and slouched over computers all day. This is devastating for testosterone levels and health in general.
Any exercise boosts testosterone levels in all age groups (3,4,5) and on top of this, physical activity will build muscle, improve cardiovascular health and help to maintain joint mobility. If you are overweight, then shedding some excess fat will also help to boost your testosterone (6). If you are totally sedentary then you may already be caught in the negative spiral and this can be tough to break out of. The key is consistency and just getting started. Commit to doing something 3 times a week, to begin with – even for just 15 minutes. It can be a bodyweight circuit in your living room or a 15-minute walk around the block. If you are a more advanced trainer then regular weight training is the best way to boost testosterone levels (7).
Eating a balanced diet made up largely of whole, single-ingredient foods including all the main macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein) can contribute to healthy testosterone levels (8). Chronic over or under-eating or extreme dieting can be bad for your testosterone levels (6,9,10). As well as the main macronutrients, eating a wide variety of vegetables will ensure that you get enough vitamins and minerals to support testosterone production.
We asked Nathan Briggs if there were any other foods to eliminate and he says:
“Reducing or eliminating soy and soy products from your diet and avoiding highly processed foods (pastries, crisps, ready meals) can help to boost testosterone levels”.
Managing stress, optimising mood and laughing often will all improve levels of naturally produced testosterone and allow the body and mind to thrive. This is easier said than done, but persistent stress and abnormally high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) will cause testosterone levels to bottom out (11,12). On top of this, high stress can cause us to make poor food choices which will in turn cause increased body weight which will also negatively affect testosterone levels (13).
Meditation and time management are both powerful tools to manage stress and mood. Clarifying tasks, limiting the use of email and prioritising to-do lists will make workloads more manageable. Meditation is also hugely underutilised, and you can start simply by stopping each day for 3-5 minutes to count breaths. There are many meditation apps available out there to guide you through this. All these techniques can help to calm the mind, gain perspective and reduce the perception of stress.
Adequate sleep is essential for many reasons and prioritising that 8 hours is extremely important for health. Getting less than the required amount of sleep each night will cause testosterone levels to drop (14,15) and in the modern age of smartphones and 24-hour accessibility, this isn’t uncommon. As with exercise, diet and mindset, sleep works in synergy and a bad night’s sleep can make you more likely to eat poorly, making it more difficult to cope with stress and make motivation for exercise more difficult.
The easiest and most accessible trick for getting a good night’s sleep in the modern world is simply to leave your smartphone outside of your bedroom at night. Apart from the blue light that the screen emits (even in night mode), you have the mental stimulation of social media and potential stress that a late-night email can cause (when you can’t do anything about it).
Androgenic Anabolic Steroids, alcohol and smoking can all have a negative impact on your testosterone production. The use of anabolic steroids, which are often used for bodybuilding, can cause excessive levels of testosterone in the body resulting in a hormone imbalance. If levels are too high the testes can shut down their testosterone production which can be permanent, even after the discontinuation of these drugs.
Several prescription drugs which are used to treat infections, ulcers, heart failure, high blood pressure and certain antidepressants can also cause a decrease in testosterone levels (16). However, you should never stop taking any necessary medication unless advised by your doctor.
There are many supplements on the market which claim to boost testosterone levels, most of them being herbal supplements which can improve libido and confidence, yet they do very little to testosterone levels.
Recent research has found that supplementing with zinc, magnesium and creatine can have a positive impact on testosterone levels, especially if you already have a vitamin and mineral deficiency. Supplementing zinc and magnesium when deficient can help to restore your testosterone levels back to normal, however if you are not deficient then supplementation will not raise testosterone levels above normal.
Supplementing with creatine, which is best known for its ability to increase the rate of muscle growth and improvements to strength during training, has been found to increase testosterone levels. A recent study on a group of men aged 18-35 saw a mild but reliable increase in testosterone concentrations of around 20-25% (17).
Vitamin D is an important hormone in the production of testosterone, and while it isn’t easy to do very often while living in the UK, being exposed to the sun can increase your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is also found in several foods such as oily fish, eggs and cheese, or it can be taken as a supplement. Studies have shown that men who supplemented with vitamin D over the course of one year showed an increase in testosterone levels.
With the continued ambiguity of "optimal testosterone levels", men can become obsessed with chasing high levels, often resulting in side effects from having too much testosterone in the body. It is important to remember that an individual’s optimal level of testosterone can be different to your own and the trick is not to overdo it when trying to boost testosterone.
The Men’s Health Clinic see a lot of men become frustrated with their progress because they are eating healthy, balanced diets and they are committed to an exercise routine, but they are not seeing the results they want. However, Dr Robert Stevens believes that:
“In order to really grow, you must rest your body. Exercise is a catabolic process, not anabolic. Whilst exercise causes a spike in testosterone, you need to be in a state of rest for it to exert its effects. It’s all about balance.”
It comes as no surprise that men do not welcome the thought of visiting their doctors when they start to show signs of being unwell. A recent study of 1000 men found that three quarters will avoid going to the doctors when showing signs of an illness as they don’t have the time or don’t think it is important (18).
However, if you are experiencing symptoms of low testosterone and they persist after implementing diet and lifestyle changes, it is important to seek advice from your doctor. You can also take a Testosterone Blood Test, which is a simple finger prick test that you can take in the comfort of your own home to check your testosterone levels.
When interviewing Nathan Briggs on the importance of testing your testosterone levels he said:
“If your testosterone levels get too low or if you leave it till too late in life, you will likely need to opt for testosterone replacement therapy to fix this, this can be extremely difficult to get on the NHS”.
If testosterone levels are found to be low and simple diet and lifestyle changes do not help to return testosterone levels back to normal, this is where The Men’s Health Clinic can help. Dr Stevens and his team aim to guide and support men back to health through Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT).
Dr Robert Stevens gave us his take on TRT:
“TRT is a medical therapy used to restore male androgen levels to within normal physiological parameters for long term physical and psychological health.”
You can check out their website here for more information.
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