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What makes a man? For centuries, philosophers and fuzzy indie filmmakers alike have debated that question. In the eyes of nature, it’s pretty clear. Testosterone—along with DHT, one of its derivatives—is the sex hormone responsible for boys becoming men—it spurs the development of male secondary sexual characteristics. During puberty, T and DHT levels increase and lead to:
- The penis and testicles growing to their adult size
- Increased muscle mass
- Voice deepening
- Increase in height
- Increased sex drive and aggression
But after puberty, testosterone’s work is far from done. T plays an important role in men’s health throughout life, regulating libido, erectile function, sperm production, bone density, muscle mass, mood stability, and more.
Unfortunately, testosterone levels begin to decline in older men. Starting around age 30, they drop slowly, about 1% per year. A low testosterone level can cause a lower libido, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, weight gain, and a loss of muscle mass, just to name a few.
According to one estimate, 39% of men over age 45 presenting to a primary care provider are testosterone deficient (Rivas, 2014). But research shows there are ways you can increase testosterone levels naturally, reaping the health benefits that result.
- Testosterone is a male sex hormone that’s essential for overall health, including libido, muscle mass, bone density, and mood.
- One study estimated that 39% of men over age 45 presenting to a primary care provider are testosterone deficient.
- It’s possible to increase testosterone naturally.
- Exercise, particularly strength training, has been shown to increase testosterone.
- Several natural supplements might boost testosterone levels.
Eight natural ways to increase testosterone
You can be your own source of testosterone therapy, just by engaging in more physical activity. All forms of exercise increase testosterone production. But building muscle via strength training is the most effective. Muscle requires testosterone to build, and once you have it, that T hangs around. Concentrating on compound movements—that is, exercises that involve more than one muscle group—is an efficient way to preserve strength, flexibility, and muscle mass as you age.
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, has become a hot topic in recent years. During a HIIT workout, you engage in periods of intense cardio alternated with periods of lower-intensity activity. A 2017 study of masters athletes who performed HIIT workouts found they experienced a small increase in free testosterone (Herbert. 2017).
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Improve your diet
Eating a healthy diet can increase your body’s levels of testosterone. Why? You’re more likely to maintain a healthy weight—excess body fat converts testosterone into the female hormone estrogen—and certain healthy foods may promote T production.
Emphasize whole foods, with a balance of lean protein, complex carbs, and heart-healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados. Skip simple carbs and anything processed. But don’t skimp on the fats: Studies show that olives and avocados contain oleuropein, a natural compound that has been found to boost testosterone in animal studies (Oi-Kano, 2012).
Get enough quality sleep
Like sex, sleep feels so good—and science is discovering it’s really good for you. Unfortunately, like sex, too many of us feel somewhat guilty about sleeping, believing it’s a sign of laziness or a waste of time. But studies show that shut-eye benefits the brain, metabolism, and heart; it’s crucial to preserving your health, including your sexual health. Sleep is a natural testosterone booster. The body makes testosterone during sleep, so if you’re not getting enough, or your sleep is low quality (e.g., you have trouble falling or staying asleep), you might see your testosterone levels decline.
One small study found that men who slept less than five hours a night for a week had 10% to 15% lower testosterone levels than when they got a full night’s sleep (Leproult, 2011). Experts, including the National Sleep Foundation, recommend that all adults get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly (although individual sleep requirements may vary).
Managing stress won’t just preserve your sanity, heart health, and relationships. When you’re stressed, the adrenal glands pump out cortisol, a stress hormone that decreases circulating testosterone (Cumming, 1983).
What’s more, high cortisol levels encourage the body to hold on to fat, particularly around your midsection. Remember: Excess body fat is associated with lower testosterone.
Take natural testosterone supplements
Testosterone replacement therapy is available by prescription. But you may want to investigate natural supplements first. Studies show these may be able to help boost your testosterone level.
- Vitamin D. Some studies show that supplementing with vitamin D can improve sexual function and increase testosterone levels in men who are vitamin D deficient. The truth is, many Americans have low levels of vitamin D. If you’re experiencing symptoms of low testosterone, you may want to ask your health care provider to test your vitamin D levels as well (Pilz, 2011).
- Magnesium. Magnesium plays a crucial role in several body processes, including bone structure and muscle function. Some studies have shown that magnesium supplementation can be a testosterone booster (Maggio, 2014).
- Zinc. Some studies have shown that zinc supplementation can improve semen quality in subfertile men and increase testosterone levels in zinc-deficient men (Fallah, 2018).
- Ashwagandha. This medicinal herb is said to be an “adaptogen,” a natural agent that helps the body manage stress. In a small 2019 study, overweight men who took an ashwagandha supplement for 16 weeks saw a 15% increase in testosterone, on average, compared to men who received a placebo (Lopresti, 2019).
- Fenugreek. A 12-week study found that men who took a fenugreek supplement experienced an increase in testosterone levels, morning erections, and frequency of sexual activity compared to men given a placebo (Rao, 2016).
- DHEA. Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands. It’s a natural booster of hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Some studies have found that taking a DHEA supplement can boost free testosterone levels along with exercise; others found no difference (Liu, 2013).
Avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
Drinking alcohol in excess can cause a decline in testosterone and an increase in a female hormone called estradiol, research shows (Emanuele, n.d.). How much is too much? Although no recommendations have been made specific to preserving testosterone, experts advise moderate drinking to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. What’s “moderate drinking”? No more than two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women.
Avoid xenoestrogen and estrogen-like products
Certain chemicals are known as “endocrine disruptors” and have been found to affect hormone levels negatively. These include BPA (a common element in plastics) and parabens (synthetic compounds used in personal-care products like shampoo, toothpaste, lotion, and deodorant). They act as xenoestrogens or synthetic estrogens: Their composition is so similar to estrogen that the body thinks they’re the real thing. That throws things off balance in the body. Choose products that don’t contain them.
Inspect prescription medications
Some prescription drugs have the side effect of inhibiting testosterone, including certain treatments for high blood pressure, reflux, and depression. If you’re experiencing symptoms of low testosterone and suspect your medication may be responsible, talk with your healthcare provider. That might be the case; it also might not. In any event, don’t stop taking any prescribed medications without consulting a medical professional.