In women, the decline in the levels of hormones in the body—especially estrogen—is a normal, natural part of aging. We know that, without a doubt, menopause happens to all women at some point in their lives, generally starting in their 40s or 50s.
By the same logic, you’d think that men should also experience a similar decline in hormones as they get older—a “male menopause” if you will. And many men do experience this hormonal decline, but new research indicates that the plummet in a man’s primary sex hormone—testosterone—is actually associated with behavioral and lifestyle factors—not aging. This may come as a big surprise to the millions of men who blame their lack of sex drive and other symptoms of low testosterone on their age.
In this particular study, presented on June 25, 2012 at the Endocrine Society’s 94th Annual Meeting in Houston, researchers analyzed the testosterone measurements in 1,382 men ages 35-80. Of note, 21 percent were unmarried; 19 percent were smokers; 30 percent had a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 (indicating obesity); and eight percent had depression. Researchers took two blood samples from the participants—one at the start of the study, the second five years later.
On average, after those five years, researchers noted that testosterone levels did not decline significantly—less than one percent per year. However, when they analyzed the testosterone levels of the specific subgroups, they found that certain factors potentially caused lower testosterone levels after the five-year time span. During that period, the men who became obese, had quit smoking or had depression all had lower testosterone levels than those men who did not meet those characteristics.1
Obesity wreaks havoc on hormones in both men and women. Fat cells create an enzyme called aromatase. This enzyme converts testosterone into estrogen, the female counterpart to testosterone. Lower testosterone in the body signals the production of more fat, which leads to more aromatase production and further conversion of testosterone into estrogen. It’s a vicious cycle.
And it’s no secret that depression and low testosterone are linked. Past research has confirmed this connection.2 The link between giving up cigarettes and declining testosterone is a little less clear, but researchers noted that the benefits of quitting far surpass this one drawback.
Furthermore, researchers found that the single men also experienced decreased testosterone compared to the married men. Researchers believe this is because married men are happier and healthier, and usually engage in regular sexual activity, which tends to increase testosterone.
The results of the study lend credence to the idea that testosterone drops in men are not an inevitable part of aging. Lifestyle and behavioral factors play a much bigger role in hormone levels than age.
Achieve Healthy Testosterone Levels
Testosterone is important for many reasons, including fertility and sperm production, sex drive, muscle development and maintenance and overall healthy body composition.
Even if you don’t have any of the lifestyle factors associated with low testosterone in the above study, it would still be prudent to keep your hormone levels balanced with some simple lifestyle adjustments. Doing so could ensure healthy hormone levels—and all the benefits that come with it—for years to come.
- Lose weight—especially belly fat. As stated earlier, excess fat elevates estrogen levels, which causes testosterone to plummet. Lose weight in a healthy way, by cutting out processed foods, saturated fats and sugar. When it comes to hormone balance, crash or fad dieting often backfires. Starving yourself shuts down testosterone production, which in turn stops your body from burning fat effectively. In addition, eating too much protein and not enough fat or carbohydrates could mess with your testosterone production. Aim for a good balance of protein, carbs and monounsaturated fats. In fact, studies show that eating these healthy fats—found mainly in nuts, fish, avocados and olive oil—can really give your testosterone a natural boost.
- Exercise regularly. Weight-lifting exercises using heavier weights can boost your testosterone better than light weight lifting or cardio. (This is not to say that regular cardio workouts should not be part of your exercise routine though. Aerobic exercise may not have as pronounced an effect on testosterone, but it is important for weight loss and maintenance.)
- Avoid overdrinking alcohol. Drinking too much can affect your endocrine system and signal the body to cut back on testosterone production. Stick to no more than one or two glasses of alcohol per day—or just avoid it entirely.
- Get enough sleep. Seven to eight hours is ideal. Testosterone levels are higher in the morning after a solid night’s sleep.
- Have sex frequently—especially in the morning. Having sex maintains higher testosterone levels. And since testosterone spikes in the morning hours, you’re more likely to be “in the mood” upon waking. Take advantage of this and have sex in the morning, if possible. Research has shown that doing so could further boost that already surging testosterone.
- Detoxify your liver. By eliminating excess estrogen, the liver helps maintain higher testosterone levels. However, several factors can impair the liver’s function, including the overuse of alcohol, taking certain drugs and even a poor diet. Milk thistle is one herb you can take to help protect and detoxify the liver so that it works more efficiently.
- Take testosterone-boosting supplements. Some vitamins and herbs that can increase testosterone naturally include zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and royal jelly. Royal jelly, in particular, contains several vitamins (especially the Bs), minerals, essential amino acids, acetylcholine and, according to some studies, small levels of testosterone as well.3
So, if you start to feel the telltale signs of lower testosterone—namely lower sex drive and energy—making these adjustments in your lifestyle can make a huge difference in your hormone levels. Give them a try and see how you feel after a few weeks! You’ll likely notice a pronounced improvement.
1. Wittert, G et al. Presented at the Endocrine Society’s 94th Annual Meeting. Jun 13 2012.
2. Sankar, JS, Hampson E. Gend Med. 2012 Jun 22.
3. Vittek J and Slomiany BL. Cell Mol Life Sci. 1984;40(1):104-6.