How to Increase Your Testosterone Levels Without Using Dangerous Steroids

bodybuilderA customer named Darren asked me in an e-mail:

Are there supplements that compliment your products that assist in weight loss and boost testosterone that you know of and that are safe?

I’ve written about weight loss before, but testosterone is a new topic and one worth diving into.

It’s the “manly” hormone that works with other chemicals secreted out of your testicles that help men build muscles, act cocky, be aggressive, and all those other brutish things women hate about us.

In fact, testosterone is so powerful that once it begins circulating in your body it begins to sever the ties between the cortical and subcortical areas of your brain.  It’s the connection between these two which regulates things like mood control, conflict resolution and internal motivation.  (You see ladies?  It’s not our fault that we’re eggheads).

But despite its dark side healthy testosterone levels are very important for male health.  Without it you’ll suffer from fatigue, erectile dysfunction, “lazy swimmers”, maintaining muscle mass, and a host of other distinctive male attributes.  Just because we love women doesn’t mean we want to be like them in a physiological sense.

How Much Can Supplements Help?

From a certain height low testosterone levels look a lot like diabetes, cancer, alzheimer’s, or high cholesterol.  That is, it’s a regulatory condition which is caused by many factors.  For someone looking to supplement  that makes things more difficult because there’s no single deficiency or fault point that you can target.  It’s an overarching tide that combines a lot of small things put together.  Healthy testosterone levels generally go hand-in-hand with good health.

When can supplements help, if at all?

In general the worse shape you’re in the more good you can do with a couple or set of supplements.

The relationship looks like this:


effect of supplements
The relationship between your health and testosterone supplements

If you suffer from an acute condition or in bad health then taking a few supplements can patch up some holes and deliver a noticeable effect.  However, as your body begins to function better the effects taper off as your hormone levels get closer to optimality.

The Low Hanging Fruit of Advice

The following items are in the “boring-but-true” category of lifestyle advice.  They apply to lots of other things as well and you certainly don’t need me to explain why they’re important.

Nevertheless, these should be first-order priorities for anyone looking to recalibrate their testosterone levels.

1).  Improve Your Insulin Sensitivity.  Insulin resistance is an underlying factor in practically all lifestyle diseases, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Insulin and testosterone are both endocrine hormones so it should be intuitive that disturbances in one lead to disturbances in another.

More specifically, hormones that are secreted from your fat tissues like ghrelin, adiponectin, and leptin also have receptors on your testicles which modify how much testosterone your body can secrete.   Most of these hormones are upregulated by the levels of insulin in your body, so being resistant to one creates downstream effects which eventually make their way in between your legs.

2). Get lots of sleep.  Sleep is when your body re-calibrates its hormone levels.  If you go through sleep deprivation your endocrine system can go through decades worth of aging in a few days.  When you’re on your third day of sleep deprivation your glucose tolerance, testosterone levels, and cognitive functioning resemble those of a 70 year old.  If you’re not giving your body enough time to hit its reset button and recoup your body’s testosterone levels will eventually be answering to a broken tape loop that can’t distinguish signal from noise.

3).  Relax and have lots of sex.  Hey!  Easy, right?!  Ha!  I wish.  Maybe you have better luck here than I do (god bless if you do), but stress causes your body to secrete a hormone called cortisol which blocks testosterone.  Testosterone is also responsible for helping your body make sperm, so occasionally doing the hibbidy-dibbidy is sort of like giving your endocrine system a high intensity workout.

If the advice stopped here you ought to ask for your money back.  (Or hit the “back” button on your web browser).  Improved insulin sensitivity, sleep, relaxation and good sex are the answer to a lot of health problems, not just low testosterone.  I was tempted to put “keep your weight down” here too, but that’d just be too obvious.  I have my standards.

But they’re here because they’re true, and if you want to goose your levels of man juice these should be your first priorities.

Micro and Macro Nutrients

Now it’s time to talk about what you should put in your mouth.  Before we discuss esoteric herbs we should start with the basics of what’s put on your plate.

4).  Saturated Fat.  Surprised?  You shouldn’t be.  Dr. Mercola has a good synopsis of this effect in his similarly written article:

By healthy, this means not only mon- and polyunsaturated fats, like that found in avocadoes and nuts, but alsosaturated, as these are essential for building testosterone. Research shows that a diet with less than 40 percent of energy as fat (and that mainly from animal sources, i.e. saturated) lead to a decrease in testosterone levels

My guess is that the link is due to the cholesterol content of the food he’s talking about, although that’s conjecture on my part.  (And remember, it’s the inflammation and not the cholesterol itself that’s so problematic in cardiovascular disease).

5).  Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is a steroid itself, and it indirectly controls about 3,000 different genes, many of which are related to reproductive health.  Did you know that most animals have seasonal variability in fertility?  As it turns out these cycles usually correspond to the amount of daylight animals are exposed to, which in turn determines your vitamin D status.

In addition to enabling healthy bones, vitamin D is very important for activating genes within sperm cells, which makes them motile.  It’s also indirectly involved in testosterone production, and men who are deficient in vitamin D see their levels increase after supplementing with vitamin D for a year.

It’s been suggested that up to 40% of the population gets below optimal levels of the vitamin, so these results are very relevant for a lot of people.

Important Facts about Vitamin D:  Sunlight is best.  15 minutes, the more skin exposure the better. (Just enough to make your neighbors feel really awkward, I say).  If you supplement make sure you take D3 and not D2.

6).  Zinc  & Magnesium.  These two minerals go hand in hand because they both enable a variety of enzymes that are involved in your body’s testosterone-making process.  Men with hypogonadism are usually deficient in zinc, and the condition usually gets better when they take a good zinc supplement.

Admittedly the evidence for magnesium’s direct affect is less conclusive, but given its biological role and the fact that many people are deficient in magnesium anyways taking it as an adjunct to zinc can’t hurt.

Important facts about zinc and magnesium:  Avoid the sulfate and oxide forms of the minerals.  They’re no good.  Instead go with any of the citrate/fumarate/malate/picolinate/orotate/carbonate/gluconate/or amino acid chelate forms of the minerals.  It really doesn’t matter which one, they’re all about the same.

7).  Creatine.  Creatine is a ubiquitous substance that’s overused by bodybuilders and underused by everyone else. The only reason it’s not considered a vitamin is because it’s already made by the body, but not in sufficient quantities for optimality.  If you eat meat you don’t need to supplement with it, but creatine powder is a good idea for vegetarians.

It provides phosphate to your cells, which is very useful for rapid energy use, and creatine loading allows for a system wide uptick in andro hormones with no observed side effects.

It’s true that these studies were mostly performed on athletes, but creatine is ubiquitous in the body and many subgroups of people like the elderly, mentally impaired, and vegans have below optimal creatine levels so the results should apply more generally.

8).  D-Aspartic Acid.  Aspartic acid is an amino acid that’s frequently used in endocrine tissues like your testes and pituitary gland.  Your body loads up with it when you’re born and before puberty, suggesting it plays an important role in synthesizing lots of sex hormones.  Not surprisingly, loading with aspartic acid increases its presence in your tissues and allows for higher testosterone levels….at least in men.

Herbal Extracts

9).  Panax Ginseng.   Also known as korean ginseng, it has a wide range of biological effects.  One of them is the ability to improve sperm motility and have a modest effect on free testosterone.  The reason for this effect is most likely due to its adaptogenic properties, which allow it to reduce the body’s physiological response to stress.

As noted above, the principal hormone of stress is cortisol which directly inhibits testosterone production in the body.

10).  Ashwagandha.  Ashwagandha has a long history of alleviating stress and inducing sleep, but it’s also good for sexual performance.  It increases sperm count and can even alleviate hypogonadism all by itself in infertile men.

Like ginseng, the effect ashwagandha has on the body is likely indirect.  As far as I know it has no direct role in testosterone production, but its ability to mediate stress hormones and act as an antioxidant probably protects inflamed endocrine tissues from atrophy.

The biggest downside to ashwagandha is that in tests it requires 5 grams to have a noticeable effect, which is waaaay more than you’ll typically find in a supplement.

11).  Forskolin.  You see this one popping around everywhere for fat loss, but it has a modest effect on testosterone utilization because it increases levels of cAMP, which is a compound that allows tissues and hormones to interact with one another, which allows testosterone and other sex hormones to work more fluidly throughout the body.

What To Avoid

Lots of times accomplishing a goal is easier with a not-to-do-list.  Avoiding or reducing the following will probably do just as much to maintain healthy testosterone levels as any of the ingredients listed above.

No sugar and alcohol.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Fructose and alcohol are metabolized by the body in very similar ways, and they both depress insulin sensitivity.

Drinking alochol in the short run might actually increase testosterone levels, but hitting the bottle repeatedly will definitely result in a tapering off of your manliness.

No excessive endurance exercise.  This might come as a surprise, since it’s commonly assumed that any exercise is good for you, but that’s not the case here.  During extreme distance running your body actually undergoes quite a bit of inflammation and your body’s pituitary gland and sex organs lose the ability to talk to one another which results in lower testosterone levels.

This isn’t a short term effect either.  Long distance runners have permanently lower androgen levels than the population at large.

Weight lifting and high intensity exercise has the opposite effect and is more useful for boosting sex hormones to healthy levels.

DHEA.  This is probably the most popular testosterone supplement but it should be avoided.  It doesn’t seem to have an effect unless you’re a post-menopausal women, and even then the effect is highly variable.  Your body doesn’t convert it to testosterone very well.

Deer Antler Velvet.  This is a trendy ingredient that’s being used for a lot of weird stuff, but boosting testosterone shouldn’t be one of them.

Tribulus Terrestris.  It purportedly improves circulation, which might therefore improve sexual performance, but so far this has not been the case.

Xenoestrogens.  These are a class of compounds found in the environment from different plastics like teflon and BPA.  They’re ubiquitous in the environment and over time can begin to add up and change your hormonal balance.  They tend to mimic estrogen within the body.

Adrian Bryant from NowLoss described them in the following way:

Xenoestrogens are man-made estrogens that are found in things like pesticides, artificial growth hormones & steroids, air fresheners and plastic containers and these xenoestrogens will increase your levels of the female hormone estrogen while lowering testosterone

These should not be confused with phytoestrogens which are found in many plants, particularly soy.  Phytoestrogens are “natural” estrogens and don’t have the negative side effects of xenoestrogens.  They’re 1/1000th the strength of regular estrogen and aren’t consumed in large enough amounts to have a clinically significant effect on your body.  They also do good things like prevent cancer.

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