You’re probably at least vaguely familiar with testosterone, but let’s start with a refresher. Testosterone is…
- Created mostly in your testicles. (But that’s not exclusive, as women produce testosterone as well.)
- The primary male sex hormone, largely responsible for a man’s ability to build muscle and produce sperm.
- Capable of affecting several other aspects of a man’s life, including energy, mood, and sex drive. (That’she ovaries, adrenal gland and various other tissues in women produce testosterone, and it plays an important role in estrogen production, which can significantly impact sex drive, mood and energy).
At a glance, it’s easy to see that testosterone plays several important roles. You also might be wondering, “Is this something I should worry about? After all, you’ve undoubtedly seen the advertisements suggestion that you might be suffering from “low T.”
While you might assume this is only an issue for the elderly, but research paints a different picture, suggesting testosterone levels in men are decline. A study examining men across a 20-year span showed that average T-levels fell off significantly across all age groups during that time. Changes to our environment, lifestyle and diet may all play a role, but ultimately scientists aren’t sure why this is happening.
To understand the role of testosterone in your life — and what you can do to help boost your levels — here’s a quick breakdown of how you can avoid being a part of the latest low T trend.
Low testosterone is a real problem for men. Insomnia, increased body fat, reduced muscle, reduced energy, fewer erections and infertility are just some of the issues it can cause.
Low testosterone is linked to lower mortality. A study of nearly 800 men spanning more than a decade found that those with the lowest T-levels were more likely to die younger, independent of factors like age, body weight and lifestyle.
Low T is not just for old people. The medical establishment by-and-large has long held that a man’s testosterone levels will naturally decrease as he gets older. But recent research refutes that idea. A team at the University of Adelaide in Australia examined more than 1,500 men and found that “an age-related decline in T levels is not inevitable but is largely explained by smoking behavior and changes in health status, particularly obesity and depression.”
So smoking, getting fat, and being depressed—those are three “don’ts” for men who want to maintain adequate T-levels. Alcohol should also be avoided. Researchers found that even moderate alcohol consumption caused a 7 percent decrease in testosterone in men, measured by blood tests.
Stress is another trigger point. Researchers at universities in Texas and Oregon found that cortisol, the “fight-or-flight” hormone your body produces when stressed, has an antagonistic relationship with testosterone and can block T’s positive effects.
How you exercise can affect your testosterone. A research team at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that while both steady-state endurance and interval training led to an increase in testosterone, interval training caused a higher uptick.
Lifting heavy weights appears to help, too. Studies show that high weights on compound lifts causes an increase in serum testosterone. One study out of Norway found that when trainees performed leg exercises first, they were able to lift heavier weights while performing arm exercises later in a workout—a strength boost that the researchers attributed to elevated T levels.
Think “micro” for a dietary boost. Several micronutrients appear to have an impact on your T levels. Zinc can be helpful for regular exercisers dealing with low testosterone. One study showed that magnesium supplementation led to elevated testosterone in both athletes and sedentary subjects—although the effect was greater among athletes. Lastly, vitamin D—something that many of us are deficient in—can influence testosterone levels. Supplementation with this vitamin may be helpful.
Don’t forget sleep. A 2007 conducted by the University of Chicago showed a
strong link between the number of hours men slept and their levels of testosterone in the morning. Those who slept longer had higher T scores.
Test your “T” How do you know your testosterone levels? Ask your doctor for a blood test. Schedule it for between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., when your testosterone levels are at their peak. You’ll want it to tell you about both testosterone and free testosterone. Long story short, two other hormones in your body (albumin and sex hormone binding globulin, a.k.a. SBHG) can bind up a large percentage of your total testosterone. Unbound T is known as free testosterone—that’s the portion that is considered “bioavailable,” meaning your body can actually use it.