Testosterone levels in men are declining at an alarming rate. Most men between ages 25 and 50 who are tested at my office have levels around 300 ng/dL or lower, when they would feel their best at around 800 ng/dL. Low testosterone leaves men with a range of symptoms and weakens their long-term health.
This hormone is powerful and necessary for a variety of biological processes. It is associated with improved energy, cognitive function, healthy muscle mass, healthy sexual function, and even improved cardiovascular health. In a report published by Nature in 2018, men with low testosterone levels were more likely to have multiple chronic health conditions.
Poor cardiovascular outcomes also increase as testosterone levels decline. Testosterone deficiency has been implicated in coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, imbalanced cholesterol levels, diabetes, and increased cardiovascular mortality. Do these sound like good reasons to make sure your levels are high enough? Or, to suggest that the men you know get tested?
Testosterone replacement therapy, prescribed by a doctor, is one of the fastest ways to boost low levels. It is available via injections, pellets implanted under the skin, oral capsules, or even topical creams.
While testosterone therapy can be exceptionally beneficial and is often well-tolerated, some risks include increased blood viscosity, if overmedicated. This is why blood tests every three months to test both hormones and red blood cells are advised. It’s also important for men to get their prostate specific antigen (PSA) tested regularly to rule out prostate cancer, as hormonal therapies (both testosterone and DHEA, discussed below) can increase risk.
Some patients prefer to try other methods to naturally boost their levels and support the body as a whole to improve hormone production and balance. Some of these methods are outlined below and can be quite successful.
Symptoms of Low Testosterone
- Fatigue, reduced stress tolerance
- Impotence, infertility
- Decreased muscle mass
- Increased body fat, difficulty losing weight
- Low or absent sex drive
- Decline in memory and overall cognition
- Changeable mood
- New onset anxiety or depression
- Insomnia, sleep disturbances
Exercise Boosts Testosterone
Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your body’s natural production of testosterone. Research has shown benefits with both aerobic activity (such as swimming, biking, running) and weight training. In one study published by “The World Journal of Men’s Health” in 2018, men with testosterone deficiency and erectile dysfunction had statistically significant improvement with a cycling exercise. Weight training delivers benefits over time by increasing the body’s production of growth hormone, as well as testosterone. Building lean muscle mass improves weight loss efforts, as fat tissue has aromatase enzymes that convert testosterone to estrogen. This, of course, worsens testosterone deficiency and has negative effects for both men and women. Losing weight and increasing muscle mass compounds the benefits.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a precursor hormone that can be used by the body to make testosterone. Supplementing with DHEA is essentially giving the body more building blocks to create its own testosterone. While this is not deemed natural by some, it does offer patients a level of flexibility in raising their levels without committing to regular injections or frequent blood tests. DHEA levels should be tested regularly alongside testosterone and estrogen levels to ensure efficacy and normal ranges.
DHEA supplementation has numerous benefits for both men and women. It’s been well-studied in the elderly and maintaining adequate levels has been shown to reduce cognitive decline. Furthermore, DHEA supplementation has been shown to increase free testosterone levels in young men with testosterone deficiency.
There are many herbs that help optimize hormone production. Two common and effective ones are tribulus (Tribulus terrestris) and saw palmetto (Serenoa repens). Tribulus, also known as goat’s head or puncture vine, helps increase DHEA and testosterone levels. It also increases the enzyme 5-alpha reductase which helps the body convert testosterone into its more active form, DHT. This herb has long been used for impotence, decreased sexual drive, fatigue, and improved fertility.
Saw palmetto is more widely studied regarding its effects on reducing prostate cell growth in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). However, some research shows it helps to increase androgen levels and improve prostate function. It has been used by herbalists to treat impotence, low libido, and testicular atrophy.
Most labs offer hormone panels that are readily accessible to self-order and can be reviewed with your healthcare provider. The effects of low testosterone should not be discounted by you or by your doctor. Maintaining optimal levels at all ages will help promote more vibrant and resilient health.
Dr. Allison Williams is a naturopathic doctor and professor. She has a passion for helping people improve their health and well-being so they can live life to the fullest. She works with patients in Arizona and offers consultations out-of-state and internationally. For more information, visit drallisonwilliams.com