Can a man's testosterone be boosted naturally?
Published: October 29, 2015
Yes, but probably not in the way you are thinking, and only if the man has a healthy testosterone hormone system to begin with. Testosterone is an important hormone that plays many roles. In adult males, testosterone promotes muscle growth, physical energy, assertive and competitive moods, sperm development, libido, and emotional bonding. A man with abnormally low testosterone therefore experiences low energy, muscle weakening, mood problems, infertility, low libido, and emotional distance. In contrast, a man with a significantly higher-than-normal testosterone level can enjoy high energy, strong muscles, constructive moods, increased libido, and emotional closeness. For these reasons, boosting testosterone is generally desirable. However, if the testosterone level is too high, it can cause liver damage, uncontrollable moods, and cardiovascular disease. The ideal level of testosterone is therefore in the high end of the normal range. Fortunately, a man can only get dangerously high levels of testosterone if he dopes or if he has a rare disease. Testosterone doping, which involves internally taking in testosterone from an external source without medical necessity, is inherently dangerous and unhealthy because it raises testosterone levels too high. Testosterone doping is therefore illegal. As long as you don't resort to illegal drugs, any action that boosts your testosterone will elevate your levels while keeping you safely in the normal range, thereby allowing you to enjoy the benefits without the risks.
Let's look at various agents and actions that do and do not boost testosterone. Keep in mind that all of the concepts below assume that the man has a healthy testosterone hormone system, which includes a properly functioning hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and testicles. If a man has a non-functioning testosterone hormone pathway, no amount of effort will naturally boost his testosterone levels. Such a man has to undergo hormone replacement therapy in order to have normal health. Also note that testosterone is a hormone with a long-term action. This means that a higher testosterone level will only lead to higher energy, bigger muscles, and better moods if the testosterone levels remain consistently elevated for several weeks to months. Agents that may lead to a temporary elevation of testosterone followed by a dip have no effect on long-term testosterone levels and therefore do not give the desired long-term benefits.
Testosterone precursor pills do not boost long-term testosterone levels.
Testosterone precursor pills are commonly sold on the shelves of pharmacies and convenience stores, and are marketed as performance enhancing drugs, but the truth is that they don't work. Chemicals such as DHEA, androstenedione, and androstenediol are indeed used by your body to manufacture testosterone. But just because you have elevated amounts of androstenedione in your blood does not mean that your body will automatically convert it all into elevated amounts of testosterone. In fact, your body will convert almost none of the surplus precursor. If testosterone precursor pills actually worked like testosterone doping does, they would be pulled off the shelves and be made just as illegal as testosterone doping. A review article in the Journal of Athletic Training written by Michael E. Powers presents numerous studies which found that taking testosterone precursor pills does not increase long-term testosterone levels. Researchers found that excessive testosterone precursors in the male body are converted to estrogen and not testosterone. Therefore, taking DHEA pills, androstenedione pills, or androstenediol pills leads to elevated estrogen in males, not testosterone. Powers states,
As mentioned previously, ergogenic claims are based on the theory that precursor ingestion will result in increased testosterone levels, which would then stimulate an increase in muscle protein synthesis. However, at this time, there is no scientific support for this theory, as both DHEA and A'dione ingestion have failed to increase protein synthesis in groups of young men. Furthermore, 8 weeks of A'dione supplementation (300 mg/d) and resistance training failed to increase muscle-fiber cross-sectional area when compared with placebo ingestion and training.
Sexual activity does not boost long-term testosterone levels.
While sexual activity, whether visual or physical, does indeed raise testosterone levels for a few hours after the activity, it has no effect on long-term testosterone levels. Therefore sexual activity does not lead to long-term testosterone-induced health benefits such as increased muscle mass or heightened physical energy. In fact, a study by Helena C. Kraemer and her collaborators found that, "Mean testosterone levels were higher for sexually less active individuals."
Exercise does boost long-term testosterone levels.
Consistent exercise has been found to indeed raise long-term testosterone levels. This makes sense since two major roles of testosterone are to build up muscle tissue and to provide higher energy levels, both of which are used when exercising. High-intensity workouts have traditionally been thought to increase testosterone more than moderate-intensity workouts. However, research has found that although this may be true for the hour after the workout, there is no long-term difference in testosterone levels between a man pursuing high-intensity exercise and a man pursuing moderate-intensity exercise, all else being equal. For example, a study by Truls Raastad and his collaborators published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology states, "In conclusion, moderate- and high-intensity strength exercise did not differ with respect to prolonged (1-33 h) hormonal responses."
Adequate sleep does boost long-term testosterone levels.
Just like many other hormones, the release of testosterone follows a daily pattern of highs and lows that is regulated to some extent by the sleep cycle. Therefore, ongoing inadequate sleep, interrupted sleep, and irregular sleep all interfere with the release cycle and lead to lower testosterone levels. While developing good sleep habits will not boost testosterone much beyond the average healthy value, it will keep it from dipping below this value. A research letter by Rachel Leproult and Eve Van Cauter, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, states, "Daytime testosterone levels were decreased by 10% to 15% in this small convenience sample of young healthy men who underwent 1 week of sleep restriction to 5 hours per night..."
Losing weight and eating a healthy diet does boost long-term testosterone levels.
In addition to a host of other health benefits, losing excess body weight and eating a nutritious, balanced diet indeed increases long-term testosterone levels. Eating too much sugar has been found to reduce testosterone levels, as has obesity in general. A review article by Giovanni Corona and his collaborators, published in the European Journal of Endocrinology, presents their compilation of the results of 24 research studies. The review article concludes that, "Overall, both a low-calorie diet and bariatric surgery are associated with a significant (P<0.0001) increase in plasma sex hormone-binding globulin-bound and -unbound testosterone levels (total testosterone (TT)), with bariatric surgery being more effective in comparison with the low-calorie diet...Androgen rise is greater in those patients who lose more weight..."
Reducing stress does boost long-term testosterone levels.
Ongoing psychological stress has been found to lower testosterone levels. Ongoing stress induces the body to release elevated amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which signals to the body to make changes allowing it to better cope with the stress. One of these changes is the reduction of testosterone. The body makes this change so that energy and attention can be devoted to surviving the stress instead of building up body mass and enabling reproduction. Therefore, reducing the level of ongoing stress in a man's life can boost long-term testosterone levels. Note that over-exercising is a type of stress.
Taking vitamin D supplements and zinc supplements can boost long-term testosterone levels.
For those who aren't getting enough vitamin D or zinc, returning the amounts of these nutrients in the body to normal levels can indeed increase long-term testosterone levels. A study by Stefan Pilz and his collaborators, as published in the journal Hormone and Metabolic Research states, "In overweight men with deficient vitamin D status a significant increase in testosterone was observed after intake of 83 μg vitamin D daily for 1 year whereas there was no significant change in men receiving placebo."