Testosterone Lowdown – The Positives & Negatives
Men in their prime take for granted that testosterone is there. Yet, declining testosterone levels are associated with a number of physical, psychological, sexual and metabolic dysfunctions facing society.1,2
Three to four generations ago, there was no interest in what made men more or less virile, as measured by their circulating (blood) testosterone levels. Yet, research has shown that with each succeeding generation, men are becoming less “manly,” with testosterone levels lagging below those of their fathers and grandfathers.3 What accounts for this diminishing androgenicity of male society? Well, similar to the demons who possessed the man from Gerasenes in Mark 5:1-13, their name is Legion. Compound this with the inevitable decrease in testosterone seen with aging, and it is evident that symptomatic androgen deficiency will arise earlier and with greater prevalence during each generation. So, what can be done and what should be avoided?
Certain factors are sadly etched in stone, well, at least in your DNA. There are genetic traits passed down through your parents, epigenetic predispositions resulting from the diet or environment your mother experienced prior to and during pregnancy, and epigenetic effects of the environment of your childhood.
Rather than lament on uncontrollable and past issues, let’s briefly list what can be done to avoid damaging testosterone production and enhancing natural function.
A Plan of Action
• Live right: The body and mind can cope with an amazing range of stresses. Acute, short-term stresses that are extremely severe, or long-term stresses that persist, can both wreak havoc on the testosterone regulatory and production system. Failing to acknowledge extreme or prolonged stressors is self-sabotage. Examples include failing to get adequate sleep or maintaining a regular schedule; following extreme diets; living in conditions of violence, fear or desolation; abusing drugs, both illicit and legal; having time and emotional demands that cannot be reasonably met; etc. It seems trivial, but fast-rotating shift workers, all-night gamers, domestic abuse victims, those addicted to pain medications or even those being treated for common conditions such as depression or high cholesterol are at risk of suppressing their own testosterone production.
• Eat right: America is fixated on weight and body size because so often, it is abnormal. Clinically, it is unhealthy, but for some reason it is wrong to say it is “bad” or “unattractive,” even when it leads to social withdrawal or stigmatization. Being stick-thin is no better, though some groups promote that look as appealing, to the detriment of many young people who emulate cover models or anorexic celebrities. Of course, many bodybuilders have very high body mass and are lean, but that will be addressed shortly. A very low body mass is seen as a sign that the food supply is limited, and thus conditions are bad for carrying metabolically active tissue (muscle) or reproducing. The body goes into a mode to survive rather than thrive, lowering testosterone production. A very high body mass, especially due to a high fat mass, creates a deviant hormonal response as the chemokine signals released by fat cells change, and the body’s ability to respond correctly to the signal with changes in appetite or metabolism are impaired. Sex hormone imbalances arise, which creates a self-reinforcing spiral of testosterone decline. Further, even in healthy people of normal weight, the typical diet can affect testosteroneproduction. Very high-fat diets, as well as high-glycemic diets, can inhibit testosteroneproduction. Further, both can lead to insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, which is associated with low testosterone.
• Get your body moving: A sedentary lifestyle does nothing to promote health. Moderate activity is good for the entire metabolism, and associated with a greater preservation of testosteroneproduction.8 Resistance training may offer unique advantages over endurance-type training. Many point to the acute hormonal effects of resistance training, but chronic effects such as bone strengthening and myokine production may have more to do with the benefits.
DO NOT OVERDO IT! Excessive training can lead to an underdiagnosed condition seen in athletes called functional hypogonadism, which in many ways is similar to the hormonal disruption seen in ultra-endurance athletes.9
• Avoid endocrine disruptors: An underreported problem, these are chemicals used in industrial production that enter the food or water supply, acting on the regulatory system that controls hormone production. Many, many recognized chemicals have been shown to act as estrogens and reduce testosterone.10 Exposure to such chemicals can be minimized by avoiding canned food, plastic containers and urban areas. Even the chlorine used to maintain swimming pools has been suggested to reduce testosterone production by forming an endocrine disruptor.
• Support your balls: Testosterone is produced in Leydig cells in the testes. These cells are sensitive to free radical damage, and certain nutrient deficiencies. Intracellular glutathione is the antioxidant providing much of the cell defense, so supplementing with glutathione or its precursor, NAC, along with grapeseed extract, taurine and melatonin, will protect these essential cells.11 If your goal is to maintain good testosterone production throughout life, do not take anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS). It is unclear what a “safe” amount of AAS exposure may be, but a recent study demonstrated that men who used AAS have a much greater risk of presenting with profound testosterone deficiency prior to the age of 50.12 Oddly, smokers have a highertestosterone, and see a reduction during smoking cessation attempts.
• Protect your noggin: It is becoming more evident that chronic or severe head injury, including that experienced during sports (e.g., soccer, MMA, football), can induce multiple endocrine deficiencies due to damage to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands.13
• Be someone: This sounds judgmental, but it means to avoid withdrawing from society and find ways to be competitive, and seek companionship. Humans are genetically designed to be sexually active, and whether you are pursuing a new love interest or keeping the fires of passion lit at home with your soul mate, maintain a healthy sexual relationship. Also, have activities where you compete with and against others. It can be a recreational sport, debate or possibly even a video game league.
Protecting Your ‘Machinery’
There are many other avenues of maintaining testosterone, but living like you want— rather than as it just happens to you— will keep your metabolism operating as it was designed. Limiting the damage you do to your own system and taking minor steps to protect your “machinery” will offer a better chance at keeping your natural testosterone from lagging.
Written by Dan Gwartney