Men’s sexual health is something that doesn’t get enough attention.
Shame and embarrassment often get in the way of honest conversations, leaving men to suffer in silence or resort to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or over the counter medications that don’t address the root cause.
What hormones do males have?
Testosterone is the one that gets the most attention, and for good reason. It is important for heart health, mood memory, bone health, fat distribution, production of red blood cells, libido, fertility and much more. Men do make estrogen and progesterone, but in much smaller amounts.
High and low testosterone levels can have negative implications for health. High levels can increase the risk of sleep apnea and infertility and raise cholesterol levels, increasing risk for heart attack, cardiovascular disease, or stroke. Read more about specific dietary interventions for these conditions here.
Symptoms of testosterone deficiency in adult men include:
- Loss of body hair
- A decrease in hemoglobin and mild anemia
- Loss of muscle mass
- Low libido, small testicles, reduced sperm count and infertility
- Hot flashes
- Irritability, poor concentration and depression
- Brittle bones and increased risk of fracture
- Increased breast size
How does low testosterone impact gut health and digestion?
- It is essential for maintaining motility in your colon, which helps food move through your digestive tract in a healthy time period
- It reduces pain in the digestive tract
- It reduces the effect of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) on the digestive tract, which helps minimize the negative impact of cortisol on our system
- It decreases inflammatory processes within the gut and helps protect men from issues such as leaky gut and brain fog
- It protects the body from developing certain digestive disorders, such as small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
There are reasons for abnormal hormone levels such as genetic conditions, trauma to the brain, medications such as opioids and steroids, hemochromatosis, pituitary tumors, etc that do require medical attention. But our diet and lifestyle are typically the larger contributors to low testosterone levels.
Nutrition, lifestyle and low testosterone
The primary reasons for low testosterone that I see in my practice include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Primary hypothyroidism
- Inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disease
- Obesity or extreme weight loss
- Uncontrolled type 2 diabetes mellitus
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Exposure to estrogen-like compounds (plastics, skincare products)
How to Increase testosterone naturally
Follow a balanced nutrition plan with adequate protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Healthy fats like walnuts, wild caught fish, chia seed, flaxseed, avocado, and olive oil, are needed to make testosterone. Choose mostly whole, unprocessed foods, and avoid overeating or restricting calories too much for long periods of time.
Make sure you are getting adequate vitamin D. Nearly half of the US population is deficient in vitamin D. A 12-month study found that supplementing with ~3,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily increased testosterone levels by about 25%. This is no surprise considering vitamin D acts like a hormone in the body. This is the brand I recommend.
Consider supplementing with zinc if you are physically active. Much of the research done that indicated zinc supplementation can increase testosterone is largely done in athletic males who are losing zinc through sweat. Consume zinc rich foods such as meat, shellfish (especially oysters), legumes, lentils, beans, seeds (especially pumpkin, hemp, and sesame), nuts (especially cashews and almonds), dark chocolate with >70% cocoa, and dairy.
Avoid estrogen-like compounds. Chemicals like BPA, parabens, and other chemicals found in some types of plastic has been shown to negatively influence testosterone levels. A study from 2011 found BPA in the urine of 89% of men who struggled with fertility issues.
Reduce your alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol use is linked to low testosterone and can potentially increase the amount of estrogen in the body. Research has shown that testosterone can drop in as little as 30 minutes after alcohol consumption. Alcohol disrupts testosterone production by interfering with your hypothalamus, pituitary gland and your response of luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone.
Exercise and lifting weights. Research shows that people who engage in regular physical activity had higher testosterone levels. Resistance training is the best type of exercise to boost testosterone.
Minimize stress. High levels of cortisol can quickly reduce testosterone. Prioritize regular exercise, healthy relationships, meditation, good sleep, and a balanced diet. Sometimes I recommend my male clients supplement with ashwagandha, an apoptogenic herb that has been shown in research to increase testosterone levels and reduce stress.
What about hormone tests?
I don’t rely heavily on testing in my practice because it is expensive and often unnecessary. Symptoms alone and reaction to treatments tell me a lot about what’s going on, without having to draw blood.
But for those who enjoy that data and don’t mind spending the extra money, I recommend the Dutch test.
To listen to the full episode and learn more about this topic click here.