Male testosterone levels drop 1 to 2 percent annually after age 30 as part of andropause, or male menopause. But recent studies have found that the decrease is often more the result of lifestyle factors than it is the natural consequence of aging.
For example, a common risk factor for low testosterone is being overweight. For every one-point increase in body mass index, or BMI, a man’s testosterone decreases by 2 percent. That’s bad because testosterone calibrates libido, bone density, muscle mass, strength, motivation, memory, and fat burning.
The good news, however, is that testosterone is quite sensitive to lifestyle changes.
Weight loss is a good place to start, but it’ s not the only avenue to upping your testosterone. Here are 10 ways to harness your body’s power to make more testosterone.
- Lose the Visceral Fat
The science is clear: Men’s body fat drains testosterone. We’re not talking pinchable back fat or squishable love handles. We’re talking classic belly fat. In medical parlance, it’s called visceral fat. Unlike fat that lies just beneath the surface of the skin, visceral fat nestles deep in the abdomen around the organs. It’s tenacious, dangerous, and hormonally active. The more visceral fat a man has, the higher his risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, insulin resistance, and colon cancer.
Visceral fat, which is often driven by consumption of flour, sugar, and the high-glycemic processed foods that contain them, depletes testosterone. Visceral fat makes aromatase, an enzyme that turns testosterone into estrogen. “Men don’t realize their belly fat can steal their masculinity,” says John La Puma, MD, author of Refuel.
“I talk to men about how they need to lower their cholesterol and reduce their blood pressure,” he says. “But I don’t get their full attention until I tell them that if they don’t let me help them address their belly fat, their testicles will shrink, they’ll lose their erections, and their libido will disappear.”
If you’re wondering if your weight could be affecting your manhood, wrap a tape measure around your abdomen under your shirt, right at your belly button. Check the number. Ideally, your waist size is half your height. If your waist is more than 40 inches, says La Puma, “your belly could be turning you into a girl.”
- Up Your Vitamin D
Deficient vitamin D levels often go hand in hand with low testosterone. Get 15 minutes of sun three times a week to stabilize your vitamin D. If you can’t get enough sun, many experts suggest taking at least 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IU) of supplemental vitamin D daily. For best results, take vitamin D3, which is more active than D2.
Remember, megadoses of vitamin D can cause toxicity, so don’t get carried away. It’s always a good idea to know your current vitamin D levels, so ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test.
- Eat More Zinc
Our bodies need zinc to make testosterone. Zinc also blocks the action of aromatase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. Oysters offer the highest amount of zinc per serving of any food. Just six oysters contain about 500 percent of the mineral’s recommended daily allowance (RDA). Other zinc-rich foods include lean meats and spinach.
- Crunch on Cruciferous Vegetables
Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, watercress, and cauliflower are rich sources of glucobrassicin, which breaks down into a substance that lowers levels of visceral fat and suppresses estrogen in men.
- Choose Healthy Fats and Proteins
Cholesterol is the building block of testosterone, and eating healthy fats, including saturated fats, helps your body make “good” cholesterol while also supporting healthy hormone balance. Give your body a dose of healthy fats and proteins by consuming moderate amounts of meats from hormone-free animals, grassfed cattle, and wild-caught fish. Nosh on healthy-fat sources such as olives, nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconut oil.
- Consume Hot Chilies
Not only do spicy chilies and hot-chili powder help the body burn fat, they also contain high levels of antioxidants, which can cool inflammation.
Inflammation sets the stage for belly fat and insulin resistance, which precedes type 2 diabetes. Other anti-inflammatory spices include turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and oregano.
- Do High-Intensity Interval Training
Short bursts of timed intense activity — known as high-intensity interval training or HIIT — trigger the body to make more testosterone than less-than-intense aerobic or endurance exercise, says La Puma. Spurts of activity stimulate androgen-sensitive tissue, he explains, which tells the body to make more testosterone. Strength training has also been shown to increase testosterone.
- Get Better, Longer Sleep
Our bodies make testosterone while we sleep. In one study, men who got five hours of sleep a night had testosterone levels 10 to 15 percent lower than when they got a solid eight hours. The study, conducted by the University of Chicago, found that skimping on sleep reduced the men’s T levels by an amount equivalent to aging 10 or more years. While it can be challenging to change your sleep habits, says Natasha Turner, ND, you can “start going to bed 15 minutes earlier each week until you reach your target time.”
- Stop Using Screens at Night
Backlit computer screens use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that contain short-wavelength blue light. This light significantly suppresses the pineal gland’s release of melatonin, an essential ingredient for restful sleep, and thus, for testosterone. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops are all offenders, so turn them off as close to dusk as possible.
- Clean Up Your Personal-Care Products
Most men probably don’t give a lot of thought to the chemicals in their soap, shampoo, and deodorant, but many personal-care products are rife with chemicals that interfere with hormone balance, including testosterone.
Check the Environmental Working Group’s searchable database at www.ewg.org/skindeep to find out whether your products are safe. The database rates personal-care products, including those specifically for men, with scores for overall hazard, cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and allergies and immunotoxicity.
This originally appeared in “Testosterone Tweaks” in the November 2014 issue of Experience Life.