Technically speaking, testosterone is an anabolic steroid, better known as the primary male sex hormone. Women produce testosterone too, but only about one-fifteenth of the 7mg that men produce on a daily basis.
It starts off as cholesterol before it’s converted to a hormone called pregnenolone, and after a couple more conversion steps, hey presto – you’ve got testosterone.
Once it gets into the bloodstream, though, only 2-4% of that testosterone, the so-called “free testosterone” actually interacts with the cells it’s supposed to interact with, while the rest travels around the bloodstream attached to proteins.
In a word, puberty. In several more words, it helps with:
And more, including of course, the libido.
Testosterone production is controlled by a feedback loop, starting at the hypothalamus. It monitors testosterone levels in the bloodstream, and when levels drop it sends a signal to the pituitary gland to get testosterone production started.
At which point men’s testicles and women’s ovaries get to work.
The adrenal glands also start producing testosterone, but only in small amounts.
Once the hypothalamus senses there’s enough testosterone in the bloodstream, it sends signals out to stop production until levels drop again.
For a start, there’s that famous midlife crisis, which tends to happen after testosterone levels have been dropping for a while – perhaps even since the late twenties and early thirties.
Levels can drop between 1-2% a year naturally, but external influences like pesticides and pollution can cause more of any testosterone produced to bind itself to those proteins which carry it round the bloodstream, reducing the amount of useful free testosterone.
Physically, there’s joint pain, muscle loss, tiredness, a longer time to recover from bumps and bruises, and general low energy levels. Plus there’s always that expanding waistline. And as for sex, well, it causes plenty of issues there too.
Mentally, the memory takes a lot longer to retrieve information (if it can find it to retrieve in the first place), while concentration levels also start dropping.
Emotionally, there’s anxiety, irritability, a loss of self-confidence, even clinical depression and the feeling that the world is going to hell in a handbasket (given the state of things these days, that might not be so far from the truth).
At first glance, it would seem logical to head off for a course of testosterone therapy – which could take the form of injections (painful ones, we’re told) or gels. After all, marketers have been making this kind of therapy sound like a great idea for years now.
But there’s a price to pay. Physical side effects (as well as a sore injection site) can include hair loss, serious heart problems, fluid retention, prostate problems, man boobs and, putting it as politely as possible, genital atrophy. As in shrinkage where there shouldn’t be shrinkage.
And because there’s such a high financial price to pay as well, once you take into account all those pre-treatment tests that need to be done, it’s very profitable for those supplying that therapy. And that’s why those marketers have been so noisy about the positive side of testosterone therapy, and so strangely quiet about any of the negative aspects.
So here are seven much less painful and much less expensive ways to raise those falling testosterone levels, bearing in mind that realistically it’s unlikely they’ll ever be as high again as they were back in high school.
As testosterone is generally accepted as the male sex hormone, estrogen is generally accepted as the female equivalent. And just as testosterone is produced by men in their reproductive organs, women produce estrogen in theirs.
And just as women produce testosterone, albeit in smaller quantities, men produce estrogen too, thanks to an enzyme called aromatase. This originates in fat cells, which is a great reason for shedding any extra pounds around the midriff.
As more estrogen is produced, the less useful free testosterone is available, and, thanks to estrogen’s ability to confuse the hypothalamus and disrupt its feedback loop, the less testosterone gets created in the first place. Talk about a double whammy.
But estrogen levels aren’t just influenced by what goes on inside the body. For example, plastic bottles leach chemicals that act like estrogen, even if they’re labelled BPA-free. BPA stands for Bisphenol A, a chemical used in plastics, and even if it’s the most well-known chemical that sets off estrogen production it’s certainly not the only one.
Here’s a scary thought for you: one study concluded that the average 54-year-old man has higher estrogen levels that the average 59-year-old woman. He’s obviously been drinking from plastic bottles for a while, now.
No matter what your age (and weight), exercise is always beneficial, for any number of reasons. And that includes testosterone production.
Even clinically obese men fare better in the testosterone department if they choose regular exercise over a weight-loss diet.
Weightlifting and high-intensity interval training, with or without a little help from caffeine and/or creatine, are best for boosting testosterone levels, but of course the key word here is “regular”.
And while you’re exercising regularly, you’ll need more carbohydrates than usual. This combination of exercise and carbs can result in higher testosterone levels.
Likewise, protein can maintain those higher levels and help with burning off existing fat, which reduces aromatase production and therefore lowers the amount of estrogen in the body.
And the lower the estrogen level, the more efficient the hypothalamus feedback loop is in kicking off testosterone production again.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It regulates the body’s metabolism, reduces inflammation, controls blood pressure and blood sugar levels and much more.
That’s in normal everyday life. In a sudden stress situation, though, while the adrenal glands release adrenaline to prepare for a fight-or-flight situation, cortisol shuts down body functions that aren’t useful for fighting or fleeing, such as the digestive and reproductive systems. So that shutdown channels more energy into those more important fight-or-flight functions.
That’s all well and good for the occasional threat, but in today’s stressful world it’s not uncommon for your adrenal glands to be working overtime, and producing far more adrenaline and cortisol for much longer than is good for you.
And excess cortisol can bring on all kinds of physical, mental and even emotional problems, and interfere with testosterone production.
The solution? Relax. Any way you can. Deep breathing can help temporarily, but it’s worth considering something a bit more long-term, like daily meditation.
Then again, you can take relaxing just that little bit too far and fall asleep. Well, as long as you’re in the right place for it, why not? After all, an American Medical Association study reveals that men with poor sleep patterns can have much lower testosterone levels.
That study involved comparing blood samples taken after the subjects had slept normally for a few nights with samples taken after several nights of much less sleep.
The subjects themselves were moody and irritable and had a “reduced sense of well-being”, which wasn’t surprising since their testosterone levels had lowered by between 10-15%. And that could explain why the older some men get, the grumpier they become.
Best get some proper sleep, then.
Ever wonder why you feel a bit friskier in the summertime? That’s because low levels of vitamin D cause low levels of estrogen in women and low testosterone levels in men, and sunshine helps the body create its vitamin D supply.
Or at least, exposure to sunshine. All over. It’s a bit difficult for any vitamin D to form under the skin when the skin is trapped under clothing.
But what’s the connection between sunshine and/or vitamin D and testosterone? It’s all to do with that enzyme aromatase – the one in fat cells, remember? Vitamin D has a direct influence on aromatase, which has a direct influence on testosterone.
In short, the more Vitamin D you have, the less effect aromatase is going to have on testosterone production. And, quite possibly, the more testosterone gets produced.
We’ve just looked at vitamin D, but that’s not to say vitamins A, C and E aren’t also helpful when it comes to raising testosterone levels.
Athletes use zinc for raising testosterone, but that’s more to bring levels back up to what they were before a tough workout or high-performance event.
Then again, a quick search for commercial supplements can bring up some interesting results.
Tribulus terrestris, for example, is known to reduce the physical symptoms of stress while increasing libido. And here’s the problem: just because the libido is restored back to its former glory, however briefly, that doesn’t mean it’s because of a greater amount of testosterone being produced.
There’s also D-Aspartic Acid. Now this does boost testosterone production, and does so very impressively within a couple of weeks. The downside to it is that those impressively raised levels drop right back to what they were before within a month.
That’s pretty direct, but indirect testosterone boosting is a different matter altogether.
ZMA, for example, is marketed for its ability to help people achieve deeper levels of REM sleep. The benefits from that, marketers tell us, include enhancing “hormonal profiles”. So we could infer that since testosterone is a hormone, its profile could be enhanced. Well, at least that’s what many of those marketers want us to think.
Other supplements affect the binding of testosterone to proteins floating in the bloodstream, thereby increasing the amount of “free testosterone” available to do what it does so well.
But there’s a problem with artificially raising testosterone levels, however you choose to do it. When the hypothalamus senses there’s more than enough testosterone in the bloodstream it sends the signal out to shut down production. That could be for the day. Or for weeks. Or even for years. If not forever. So once you stop artificially raising testosterone levels, you find yourself right back where you started from. If not in a much worse position.
Don’t get fooled by the marketing hype for any supplement that looks appealing. Read the small print, all of it, and bear in mind what we’ve just said about the hypothalamus and its feedback loop switching testosterone production down or even off – permanently.
We’d advise you to go back, re-read our seven suggestions above and choose to go with any of them that you feel comfortable with, or maybe even all of them.
And always remember that laughter, love, happiness and a feeling of success can also boost testosterone levels, just like regular helpings of good old-fashioned sex.