By Dr. Mercola
Although often associated with men, the hormone testosterone is important to the health of both men and women. As you age the level of testosterone naturally produced by your body tends to decline.
Other environmental factors, such as exposure to statin medications and the herbicide Roundup, may also trigger a decline in hormone production.1,2 A low testosterone level in men is associated with prostate enlargement, androgenic alopecia (hair loss) and certain types of cancer.
Women naturally have lower levels of testosterone throughout their lives; their bodies are more sensitive to the hormone, and their health depends on the balance between estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The resulting imbalance when women use hormone replacement therapy during menopause is one theory behind the increased rates of breast cancer experienced by those women.3
Testosterone plays a key role in the natural production of estrogen, helps maintain bone and muscle mass and contributes to libido.4 You are able to use natural methods to boost your testosterone levels and improve your overall health without triggering an imbalance in the delicate hormonal system in your body.
What's Needed to Produce Testosterone?
To produce testosterone, your body requires several different nutrients. Among the nutrients more often depleted are vitamin D3 and zinc. Zinc is an essential mineral that is naturally present in some foods. Deficiencies can result in a wide range of symptoms because zinc is involved in a number of significant body processes.5,6
Vitamin D can be manufactured by your body when your skin is exposed to the sun. However, many people are deficient in vitamin D because of the number of hours spent indoors and the amount of sunscreen used. I don't advocate hours of unprotected sun exposure, but your body does require regular unprotected exposure to produce vitamin D and gain other benefits. You can read more about vitamin D deficiency and how it affects your health.
Stress is a natural testosterone killer. When your body experiences stress you release cortisol, a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands. Cortisol reduces the effects of testosterone on your body. If you want to improve the effects of testosterone, then reduce your stress and cortisol levels.7
Natural or Synthetic?
Testosterone is an important hormone to overall health, strength, sexuality and feelings of well-being. I don't advocate using synthetic testosterone replacement therapy at all. After testing by your holistic physician and exhausting other means of naturally boosting your testosterone levels, bioidentical hormones may be beneficial. These should generally be used only under the guidance and care of a holistic medicine physician.
Pharmaceutical replacements only address a single hormone without consideration for the balance needed to maintain optimal health. When your body produces testosterone naturally, it will balance the amount produced against other hormones present and required for your health and wellness. This balance is ideal and reduces the potential that you'll experience significant side effects.
Seven Foods That Naturally Boost Your Testosterone Levels
While there are several ways of boosting your testosterone levels, the production of the hormone is dependent on the presence of specific nutrients. Start with incorporating these foods into your nutritional plan.
1. Pomegranate — This beautiful red fruit has been used medicinally for centuries. With high levels of antioxidants, vitamins A, C, E and iron, researchers have found one glass of pomegranate juice a day can increase testosterone levels between 16 percent and 30 percent improve mood, and increase libido.
Blood pressure fell and positive emotions rose as well among those consuming pomegranate juice.8,9 While many of the research studies have looked into pomegranate juice, I strongly suggest consuming the fruit in its whole form instead.
Not only will this give you added fiber (which is found in the edible seeds), but it will ensure that you're not overdoing it on fructose, which is found in high levels in all types of fruit juice. That being said, even the whole fruit is high in sugar and should be eaten only in moderation.
2. Olive Oil — Extra virgin olive oil carries a powerful punch in your quest to increase testosterone. In research, participants who consumed olive oil daily experienced an increase in testosterone levels between 17 percent and 19 percent over a three-week period.10
3. Oysters — Long hailed as a libido-boosting food, these little morsels are high in zinc. You may naturally experience a boost in your testosterone, your libido and your sperm count as a result. Other foods packed with zinc include sardines, anchovies, cashews and wild-caught salmon. Raw pumpkin seeds are another good source but should be limited to one tablespoon a day.
4. Coconut — Your body requires healthy saturated fats to produce most hormones, testosterone included. Coconut will help your body's ability to produce cholesterol, necessary for optimal health, help reduce body fat and maintain your weight. Weight control is another natural way of improving your testosterone production.
5. Cruciferous Vegetables — Broccoli and cauliflower may help a man's body excrete excess estrogen and increase the amount of testosterone available to cells. Indole-3-carbinol, a compound found in cruciferous vegetables, may increase the excretion of estradiol (one estrogen hormone) in some men by up to 50 percent, thus increasing the amount of testosterone available.11,12
6. Whey Protein — Whether found in quality whey protein powder or in ricotta cheese, this protein may help restrict your body's production of cortisol and thus increase the effect of the testosterone you are already producing. Whey protein may also help boost testosterone production.
In research from Finland, scientists gave participants 15 grams of whey isolate both before and after resistance exercises. Muscle biopsy showed an increase in testosterone production of up to 25 percent, which was maintained for 48 hours.13
The authors theorized that a greater expression of testosterone in skeletal muscle could allow for greater uptake from the blood. Although important to the production of testosterone, too much protein can have the opposite effect.
A meat-free diet may lower your testosterone production by up to 14 percent, but that doesn't mean you should eat excessive quantities of animal protein, either. Excessive protein intake may contribute to the development of chronic diseases like cancer and even accelerate aging. Consider reducing your protein levels 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of lean body mass, or one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.
7. Garlic — While this fragrant herb doesn't contain the necessary nutrients to produce testosterone, it does contain allicin, a compound that lowers the levels of cortisol in your body. With your cortisol levels lowered, your body can more effectively and efficiently use the testosterone that is produced.14
How Men and Women Benefit
Both men and women benefit from adequate production of testosterone. Although known as the "male hormone," women use testosterone to maintain lean muscle mass, feelings of well-being, sex drive and sexual pleasure.15 Leydig cells in the testicles in men and the ovaries and adrenal glands in women are responsible for the production and secretion of testosterone. Symptoms of low levels of testosterone in men and women include:16
Higher blood pressure
Decreased work capacity of muscles
Low sexual desire
Lack of sexual responsiveness
Loss of lean body mass and increase in fat stores
Increased cardiovascular risk
Five More Ways to Naturally Boost Testosterone
Begin with your nutrition intake to ensure your body has the building blocks to produce testosterone. But, don't stop there! You can increase production and balance your hormonal levels using these five strategies.
1. Weight Loss — Shedding extra pounds may naturally increase your testosterone levels. In a study published in Endocrine, researchers found that weight loss reduced the prevalence of low testosterone levels in middle-aged, overweight men with prediabetes by at least 50 percent.17
2. Exercise — Some studies have demonstrated that testosterone levels are elevated for up to 15 minutes after exercise and other studies demonstrated this increase for up to an hour.18 The differentiating factors were age, type of exercise, fitness level, weight, and time of day when you exercise.
However, high-intensity exercise combined with intermittent fasting has the greatest potential to increase both your human growth hormone and testosterone levels over longer periods of time.19,20,21
3. Optimize Your Zinc and Vitamin D — These are the nutrient precursors needed to produce testosterone. You may find that you are deficient in these nutrients, as are many people. Zinc deficiency is a global concern and vitamin D deficiency is common in people of all ages. Based on the evaluation of healthy populations that get plenty of natural sun exposure, the optimal range of vitamin D for general health appears to be somewhere between 50 and 70 ng/ml.
4. Reduce Your Stress Levels — When your body is stressed, your adrenal glands secrete cortisol. In a fight or flight situation, this can save your life. However, under chronic conditions cortisol can reduce the effectiveness of the testosterone your body produces.
5. Reduce Sugar and Carbohydrate Intake — Eating transiently lowers testosterone, but sugar and carbohydrates do the most damage by leading to surges in blood sugar and raising insulin levels. Past research has demonstrated that high levels of insulin reduce blood levels of testosterone.
When men consumed a glucose (sugar) solution as part of a glucose tolerance test, the amount of circulating testosterone in their blood was reduced by as much as 25 percent. Even two hours later, their testosterone levels remained much lower than before the test.22