Testosterone improves not only your sex drive, but your exercise drive, energy for work, mental sharpness, muscle repair, and revs your metabolism to help with weight control. Although improving testosterone levels has not yet been shown to increase lifespan, having a healthy testosterone level improves quality of life for both men and women.
In men, the first sign of low testosterone levels is fatigue and decreased drive, feeling tired and spent at the end of the day. This impacts a man’s drive to work, exercise, and libido as well. As testosterone levels drop over time, men can also develop depression, anxiety, and insomnia, and eventually, sexual dysfunction. The majority of men with low-level symptoms and confirmed low levels are reluctant to start testosterone therapy, yet 90 percent of those who try therapy and achieve normal levels for their age, describe the difference like the change from night to day, with a dramatic improvement in quality of life.
Men typically have testosterone levels that are ten times higher than women, yet when women have low levels, they can also experience low energy, low drive, and low libido. Often times it is the change in level that has the biggest impact.
A normal testosterone level for a middle-aged man is considered to range from 300 to 850 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL), yet anything less than 400-450 can result in low testosterone symptoms. 18 to 22-year-old males may have healthy levels as high as 1,000 to 1,200 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL), but that doesn’t mean that a 50+ guy should aim for that level with therapy.
For women, normal levels range from 20-60, although some laboratories list a level over 10 as normal, yet most women with a level of 10-20 typically show some symptoms of low testosterone.
There are three ways to increase testosterone activity naturally with simple lifestyle choices. The first is to increase total testosterone production. Second is to increase the amount of free and active testosterone that can stimulate testosterone receptors. The third is to unblock testosterone receptors, opening them up for testosterone stimulation.
Keep in mind, lifestyle choices can increase testosterone levels by 50-150 points. So for a man with a level of 350-450 with moderate symptoms, lifestyle changes might push his levels to 450-550 and eliminate his symptoms. They won’t transform levels from 250 to 700—that level of change would require testosterone pharmaceutical therapy, in the form of a weekly injection or daily topical therapy.
To Raise Testosterone Levels Naturally:
- Get enough sleep. Most testosterone is made during the sleep cycle. If you are sleep deprived, you won’t produce enough testosterone.
- Lose body fat. Fat cells convert testosterone to estrogen. Lose 10-20 pounds and you will see a significant increase in testosterone levels. In men, this conversion of testosterone to estrogen commonly can cause breast tissue formation (man boobs), something most guys want to avoid.
- Eat more healthy fat. (Enjoy fat from avocados, nuts, olive oil, seafood). Testosterone is made from fat and people on low-fat diets have a drop in testosterone levels.
- Get enough zinc. Men who are zinc deficient have a drop in testosterone production. Good sources of zinc are oysters, dark chocolate, legumes, grass-fed meat, shellfish, and a good quality multivitamin. However, men with normal zinc levels will not make more testosterone by taking extra zinc.
Increase free testosterone. Your body makes testosterone, but most of it is bound to protein and is not free and available to stimulate testosterone receptors at the cellular level. If testosterone is bound (stuck) to protein, it isn’t free to stimulate testosterone receptors and activate testosterone activity.
- Get enough vitamin D. 1500 to 2000 IU daily are recommended. Adequate vitamin D lowers sex hormone binding globulin, which binds to testosterone.
- Avoid eating sugar and refined carbs. (any source of flour or sugar). A jump in blood sugar levels increases blood stickiness, binding testosterone to protein.
- Do interval or burst exercise training. Intense exercise increases free testosterone levels by releasing testosterone that is stuck to proteins. Intense exercise improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels too.
- Do strength training to build muscle mass. Building mass increases free testosterone levels, which also improves blood sugar control.
Unblock testosterone receptors
- Either eat hormone-free dairy, poultry, and meats or go vegan. Many animals are fed estrogen-like compounds to promote weight gain and milk production. Those estrogen-like compounds block testosterone receptors, decreasing testosterone activity. Avoid consuming dietary hormones by choosing organic, free-range or grass-fed animal protein, or stop eating them altogether.
- Avoid cooking food with plastic. Plastics contain estrogen-like compounds that block testosterone receptors. When you heat food in a plastic container, your food absorbs plastic compounds. Avoid heating food with plastic wrap—that can melt like cheese into your food.
- Minimize drinking out of plastic bottles. Soft plastic bottles release plastic compounds (estrogen-like molecules) into the liquid.
- Avoid cans and containers lined with BPA. Most cans in the USA are lined with a cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting plastic lining, such as a compound called BPA. Avoid canned products that contain BPA; I always look for the wording BPA-free when buying canned foods, or I buy food that comes in glass jars.
If you take a statin drug (cholesterol-lowering medication), it will lower your testosterone level by as much as 75 to 150 points (nanograms per deciliter, ng/dL). If you start with a level of 700 and it drops to 600, you likely won’t notice. If your level is 400 and it drops to 275, you will clearly notice a big drop in energy and drive. As I noted above, you need cholesterol to make testosterone.
With the proper diet, you can markedly improve your cholesterol level, shrink your arterial plaque load, and do this without causing a decrease in testosterone levels. I’ve helped hundreds of men and women improve their hormone profile and their cholesterol profile by following my eating plan.
If you are taking a statin medication and have symptoms of low testosterone levels, talk to your doctor about therapy options—either testosterone therapy or perhaps stopping your statin therapy.
The bottom line is that men and women can improve their drive, energy, mental energy, and libido by making the proper lifestyle changes, and these same changes will also help you control your weight, prevent heart disease and memory loss, and extend your lifespan.
I wish you the best of health!
Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS
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