Testosterone Decline: How to Address This Challenge to ‘Manhood’
- Testosterone is an androgenic sex hormone produced by the testicles (and in smaller amounts in the ovaries of women), and is often associated with “manhood.” Testosterone levels in men naturally decline with age – beginning at age 30 – and continue to do so as men advance in years. Unfortunately, widespread chemical exposure is causing this decline to occur in men as early as childhood.
- Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) such as phthalates, BPA, PFOA, and metalloestrogens lurk inside your house, leaching from human products such as personal hygiene products, chemical cleansers, or contraceptive drugs. They may also end up in your food and drinking water.
- To reduce your exposure to EDCs, replace chemical sources such as pots and pans, commercial cleansers, and processed foods with natural products and organic foods.
- There are numerous options to deal with age-related testosterone decline. Hormone replacement therapy, saw palmetto and other supplements, weight management through diet, exercise, and stress management are some recommended strategies.
By Dr. Mercola
Testosterone is an androgenic sex hormone produced by the testicles (and in smaller amounts in women’s ovaries), and is often associated with “manhood.” Primarily, this hormone plays a great role in men’s sexual and reproductive function. It also contributes to their muscle mass, hair growth, maintaining bone density, red blood cell production, and emotional health.
Although testosterone is considered a male sex hormone, women, while having it at relatively low levels, are more sensitive to its effects.
While conventional medical thought stresses that testosterone is a catalyst for prostate cancer,1 even employing castration (orchiectomy) as a form of treatment, recent findings have shown otherwise.
The prostate gland requires testosterone for it to remain at optimal condition
Testosterone levels in men naturally decline with age – beginning at age 30 – and continue to do so as men advance in years.
Aging-induced testosterone decline is associated with the overactivity of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, which converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This process simultaneously decreases the amount of testosterone in men, putting them at risk for prostate enlargement, androgenic alopecia (hair loss) and cancer.
Unfortunately, widespread chemical exposure is also causing this decline to occur in men as early as childhood, and is completely impacting their biology. Recently, for instance, both statin drugs and the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide were found to interfere with the testicle’s ability to produce testosterone.2
How Do Environmental Toxins Affect Your Testosterone Production?
The escalating amount of chemicals being released into the environment can no longer be ignored, as these toxins are disrupting animal and human endocrine systems.
What’s even more alarming is that many of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have “gender-bending” qualities.
EDCs are everywhere. They lurk inside your house, leaching from human products such as personal hygiene products, chemical cleansers, or contraceptive drugs. They also end up in your food and drinking water, causing you to unknowingly ingest them.
EDCs pose a threat to men’s health as they interfere with testosterone production, causing men to take on more feminine characteristics.
Here’s one proof: in a number of British rivers, 50 percent of male fish were found to produce eggs in their testes. According to EurekAlert,3 EDCs have been entering rivers and other waterways through sewage systems for years, altering the biology of male fish. It was also found that fish species affected by EDCs had 76 percent reduction in their reproductive function.
EDCs Can Affect Men’s Health as Early as Infancy
Sexual development in both girls and boys are occurring earlier than expected. In a study published in the journal Pediatrics,4 boys are experiencing sexual development six months to two years earlier than the medically-accepted norm, due to exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Some boys even develop enlarged testicles and penis, armpit or pubic hair, as well as facial hair as early as age nine! Early puberty is not something to be taken lightly because it can significantly influence physical and psychological health, including an increased risk of hormone-related cancers. Precocious sexual development may also lead to emotional and behavioral issues, such as:
- Low self-esteem
- Eating disorders
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Earlier loss of virginity and multiple sexual partners
- Increased risk of sexually-transmitted diseases
Pregnant or nursing women who are exposed to EDCs can transfer these chemicals to their child. Exposure to EDCs during pregnancy affects the development of male fetuses. Fewer boys have been born in the United States and Japan in the last three decades. The more women are exposed to these hormone-disrupting substances, the greater the chance that their sons will have smaller genitals and incomplete testicular descent, leading to poor reproductive health in the long term. EDCs are also a threat to male fertility, as they contribute to testicular cancer and lower sperm count. All of these birth defects and abnormalities, collectively referred to as Testicular Dysgenesis Syndrome (TDS), are linked to the impaired production of testosterone.5
Phthalates and Other EDCs: A Pernicious Mix
Phthalates are another class of gender-bending chemicals that can “feminize” men. A chemical often added to plastics, these endocrine-disrupting chemicals have a disastrous effect on male hormones and reproductive health. They are linked to birth defects in male infants and appear to alter the genital tracts of boys to be more femalelike.
Phthalates are found to cause poor testosterone synthesis by disrupting an enzyme required to create the male hormone. Women with high levels of DEHP and DBP (two types of phthalates) in their system during pregnancy were found to have sons that had feminine characteristics Phthalates are found in vinyl flooring, detergents, automotive plastics, soaps and shampoos, deodorants, perfumes, hair sprays, plastic bags and food packaging, among a long list of common products. Aside from phthalates, other chemicals that possess gender-bending traits are:
- Bisphenol-A (BPA) – Common in plastic products such as reusable water bottles, food cans, and dental sealants. BPA can alter fetal development and heighten breast cancer risk in women.
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – A potential carcinogen commonly used in water- and grease-resistant food coatings.
- Methoxychlor (insecticide) and Vinclozin (fungicide) – Shown in studies to induce changes in four subsequent generations of male mice after initial exposure.
- Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) – Potent endocrine-disruptors that can interfere with your gene expression and glandular system. They are also referred to as estrogen-mimicking chemicals that have been implicated in unnatural sex changes in male marine species.
- Bovine growth hormones – Estrogen-mimicking and growth-promoting chemicals that are added to commercial dairy products.
- Unfermented soy products – Contain antinutrients and hormone-like substances, and are NOT health foods (contrary to popular belief). Visit this page to learn more about the dangers of soy.
- MSG – A food additive that can impact reproductive health and fertility.
- Fluoride – A potent neurotoxin found in certain US water supplies and is linked to endocrine disruption, decreased fertility rates, and lower sperm counts.
- Pharmaceuticals that provide synthetic hormones – Pharmaceuticals like contraceptives and provide you with synthetic hormones that your body isn’t designed to respond to and detoxify properly. Chronic illnesses may result from long-term use of these drugs.
- Metalloestrogens – A class of cancer-causing estrogen-mimicking compounds that can be found in thousands of consumer products. Included in the list of potent metalloestrogens are aluminum, antimony, copper, lead, mercury, cadmium, and tin.
How to Limit Your Exposure to Gender-Bending Chemicals
You should also get rid of cleaning products loaded with chemicals, artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, vinyl shower curtains, chemical-laden shampoos, and personal hygiene products. Replace them all with natural, toxin-free alternatives. Adjusting your diet can also help, since many processed foods contain gender-bending toxins. Switch to organic foods, which are cultivated without chemical interventions.
How to Address Aging-Related Testosterone Decline
As mentioned above, your testosterone stores also decline naturally as you age. However, there are methods that can help boost your levels. Below are some options you can consider:
The Hormone Replacement Method
If you suspect that you have insufficient testosterone stores, you should have your levels tested. Issues linked to testosterone decline include:
- Decreased sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Depressed mood
- Memory problems
- Impaired concentration
A blood test may not be enough to determine your levels, because testosterone levels can fluctuate during the day. Once you determine that you do have low levels, there are a number of options to take. There are synthetic and bioidentical testosterone products out on the market, but I advise using bioidentical hormones like DHEA. DHEA is a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands. This substance is the most abundant precursor hormone in the human body. It is crucial for the creation of vital hormones, including testosterone and other sex hormones.
The natural production of DHEA is also age-dependent. Prior to puberty, the body produces very little DHEA. Production of this prohormone peaks during your late 20’s or early 30’s. With age, DHEA production begins to decline. The adrenal glands also manufacture the stress hormone cortisol, which is in direct competition with DHEA for production because they use the same hormonal substrate known as pregnenolone. Chronic stress basically causes excessive cortisol levels and impairs DHEA production, which is why stress is another factor for low testosterone levels.
It is important not to use any DHEA product without the supervision of a professional. Find a qualified health care provider who will monitor your hormone levels and determine if you require supplementation. Rather than using an oral hormone supplementation, I recommend trans-mucosal (vagina or rectum) application. Skin application may not be wise, as it makes it difficult to measure the dosage you receive. This may cause you to end up receiving more than what your body requires.
I recommend using a trans-mucosal DHEA cream. Applying it to the rectum or if you are a a woman, your vagina, will allow the mucous epithelial membranes that line your mucosa to perform effective absorption. These membranes regulate absorption and inhibit the production of unwanted metabolites of DHEA. I personally apply 50 milligrams of trans-rectal DHEA cream twice a day – this has improved my own testosterone levels significantly. However, please note that I do NOT recommend prolonged supplementation of hormones. Doing so can trick your body into halting its own DHEA production and may cause your adrenals to become seriously impaired down.
Saw Palmetto and the Testosterone-Prostate Cancer Myth
Prostate hyperplasia (BPH), or simply an enlarged prostate, is a serious problem among men, especially those over age 60. As I’ve pointed out, high testosterone levels are not a precursor to an enlarged prostate or cancer; rather, excessive DHT and estrogen levels formed as metabolites of testosterone are. Conventional medicine uses two classes of drugs to treat BPH, each having a number of serious side effects. These are:
- Alpha-blockers, such as Flomax, Hytrin, Cardura, and Rapaflo – These relax smooth muscles, including your bladder and prostate. They work to improve urine flow, but do NOT do anything to reduce the size of an enlarged prostate.
- 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, like Avodart and Proscar – The enzyme 5-alpha reductase converts testosterone to DHT, which stimulates the prostate. Although this class of drugs does limit the production of DHT and shrinks an enlarged prostate, it comes with a number of significant risks, including a higher chance of developing prostate cancer.
According to Dr. Rudi Moerck, an expert in chemistry and drug industry insider, men who have low levels of testosterone may experience the following problems:
- Weight gain
- Breast enlargement
- Problems with urinating
Instead of turning to some drug that can only ameliorate symptoms and cause additional complications, I recommend using a natural saw palmetto supplement. Dr. Moerck says that there are about 100 clinical studies on the benefits of saw palmetto, one of them being a contributed to decreased prostate cancer risk. When choosing a saw palmetto supplement, you should be wary of the brand, as there are those that use an inactive form of the plant.
Saw palmetto is a very potent supplement, but only if a high-quality source is used. Dr. Moerck recommends using an organic supercritical CO2 extract of saw palmetto oil, which is dark green in color. Since saw palmetto is a fat-soluble supplement, taking it with eggs will enhance the absorption of its nutrients.
There is also solid research indicating that if you take astaxanthin in combination with saw palmetto, you may experience significant synergistic benefits. A 2009 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that an optimal dose of saw palmetto and astaxanthin decreased both DHT and estrogen while simultaneously increasingtestosterone.6 Also, in order to block the synthesis of excess estrogen (estradiol) from testosterone there are excellent foods and plant extracts that may help to block the enzyme known as aromatase which is responsible producing estrogen. Some of these include white button mushrooms, grape seed extract and nettles.7
Nutrients That Can Help Boost Testosterone Levels
In addition to using bioidentical hormones or saw palmetto, there are two nutrients that have been found to be beneficial to testicular health and testosterone production.
Zinc is an important mineral in testosterone production.8 Yet, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that about 45 percent of adults over 60 have low zinc levels due to insufficient intake. Regardless of supplementation, 20 to 25 percent of older adults still had inadequate levels.9
It was found that supplementing with zinc for as little as six weeks has been shown to improve testosterone in men with low levels. On the other hand, restricting zinc dietary sources yielded to a drop in the production of the male hormone.10 Excellent sources of zinc include:
- Protein-rich foods like meats and fish
- Raw milk and raw cheese
- Fermented foods, like yogurt and kefir
You may also take a zinc supplement to raise your levels. Just stick to a dosage of less than 40 milligrams a day. Overdosing on zinc may cause nausea or inhibit the absorption of essential minerals in your body, like copper.
Vitamin D deficiency is a growing epidemic in the US, and is profoundly affecting men’s health. The cholesterol-derived steroid hormone vitamin D is crucial for men’s health. It plays a role in the development of the sperm cell nucleus, and helps maintain semen quality and sperm count. Vitamin D can also increase your testosterone level, helping improve your libido. Have your vitamin D levels tested using a 25(OH)D or a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test. The optimal level of vitamin D is around 50 to 70 ng/ml for adults. There are three effective sources of vitamin D:
- Healthy sun exposure
- Safe-tanning beds
- Vitamin D3 supplementation
Learn more about how to optimize your vitamin D levels by watching my 1-hour lecture on vitamin D.
The Connection Between Weight and Low Testosterone Levels
Research presented at the Endocrine Society’s 2012 conference discussed the link between weight and testosterone levels. Overweight men were more prone to having low testosterone levels, and shedding excess pounds may alleviate this problem. Managing your weight means you have to manage your diet. Below are some ways to jumpstart a healthy diet:
- Limit processed sugar in your diet, as excessive sugar consumption (mainly fructose) is the driving force of obesity. But this isn’t a license to use artificial sweeteners, because these also have their share of negative effects.
It is ideal to keep your total fructose consumption, including fructose from fruits, below 25 grams a day. If you have a chronic condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, it is wise to keep it below 15 grams per day.
- Eliminate refined carbohydrates from processed foods, like cereals and soda, because they contribute to insulin resistance.
- Consume vegetable carbohydrates and healthy fats. Your body requires the carbohydrates from fresh vegetables rather than grains and sugars. In addition to mono- or polyunsaturated fats found in avocados and raw nuts, saturated fats are also essential to building your testosterone production. According to research, there was a decrease in testosterone stores in people who consumed a diet low in animal-based fat.11 Aside from avocados and raw nuts, ideal sources of healthy fat that can boost your testosterone levels include:
Olives and olive oil Coconuts and coconut oil Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk Raw nuts, such as almonds or pecans Organic pastured egg yolks Avocados Grass-fed meats Palm oil Unheated organic nut oils
- Consume organic dairy products, like high-quality cheeses and whey protein, to boost your branch chain amino acids (BCAA). According to research, BCAAs were found to raise testosterone levels, particularly when taken with strength training.12 While there are supplements that provide BCAAs, I believe that leucine, found in dairy products, carries the highest concentrations of this beneficial amino acid.
For a more comprehensive look at what you should or shouldn’t eat, refer to my nutrition plan.
Exercise as a Testosterone Booster
Unlike aerobics or prolonged moderate exercise, short, intense exercise was found to be beneficial in increasing testosterone levels. The results are enhanced with the help of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting helps boost testosterone by improving the expression of satiety hormones, like insulin, leptin, adiponectin, glucacgon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), cholecystokinin (CKK), and melanocortins, which are linked to healthy testosterone function, increased libido, and the prevention of age-induced testosterone decline. When it comes to an exercise plan that will complement testosterone function and production (along with overall health), I recommend including not just aerobics in your routine, but also:
- High-intensity interval training – Work out all your muscle fibers in under 20 to 30 minutes. Learn more about my Peak Fitness regimen.
- Strength training – When you use strength training to raise your testosterone, you’ll want to increase the weight and lower your number of reps. Focus on doing exercises that work a wider number of muscles, such as squats or dead lifts. Take your workout to the next level by learning the principles of Super-Slow Weight Training.
For more information on how exercise can be used as a natural testosterone booster, read my article “Testosterone Surge After Exercise May Help Remodel the Mind.”
Address Your Chronic Stress, Too
The production of the stress hormone cortisol blocks the production and effects of testosterone. From a biological perspective, cortisol increases your “fight or flight” response, thereby lowering testosterone-associated functions such as mating, competing, and aggression. Chronic stress can take a toll on testosterone production, as well as your overall health. Therefore, stress management is equally important to a healthy diet and regular exercise. Tools you can use to stay stress-free include prayer, meditation, laughter, and yoga. Relaxation skills, such as deep breathing and visualization, can also promote your emotional health.
Among my favorite stress management tools is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a method similar to acupuncture but without the use of needles. EFT is known to eliminate negative behavior and instill a positive mentality. Always bear in mind that your emotional health is strongly linked to your physical health, and you have to pay attention to your negative feelings as much as you do to the foods you eat.
- 1 LifeExtension Magazine, Destroying the Myth About Testosterone Replacement and Prostate Cancer, A. Morgentaler, M.D., 2008 December.
- 2 GreenMedInfo.com, Low Testosterone: Causes and Solutions
- 3 EurekAlert!, Research proves ‘gender-bending’ chemicals affect reproduction, 2010 Oct 26.
- 4 Pediatrics. Secondary Sexual Characteristics in Boys: Data From the Pediatric Research in Office Settings Network. M.E. Herman Giddens, et. al., 2012 October 20, 10.1542/peds.2011.3291.
- 5 Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. Testicular dysgenesis syndrome: an update. Xu ZM and Tang DX. 2010 December, 16(12:1113-6.
- 6 J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008 Aug 12;5:12. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-5-12.
- 7 GreenMedInfo.com, Natural Aromatase Inhibitors
- 8 Nutrition, Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults, A.S. Prasad, et. al., 1996 May; 12(5):344-8.
- 9 Office of Dietary Supplements | National Institutes of Health, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Zinc.
- 10 Office of Dietary Supplements | National Institutes of Health, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Zinc.
- 11 The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Amino acid supplements and recovery from high-intensity resistance training, C.P. Sharp and Pearson DR, 2010 April, 24(4):1125-30.
- 12 Journal of Steroid Biochemistry. Diet and serum sex hormones in healthy men, E. Hamalainen, 1984 January, 20(1):459-64.