Testosterone’s Role in the Body
While testosterone tends to only be associated with male characteristics - especially in the media, where there is no shortage of advertising for products to have men magically feeling twenty years younger - this hormone plays a critical role in the well-being of everyone. Produced in the testes, the ovaries, and the adrenal glands, testosterone has a crucial role in maintaining a host of physiologic processes including:
Sufficient levels of red blood cells
Regular sleep patterns
Optimal bone density
A healthy pain response
As people age, their testosterone levels naturally decline at around 1% per year after age 30 but many facets of the way we live can accelerate a drop in levels:
Prescription drugs (especially statins)
Evaluating Testosterone Levels
The evaluation of testosterone levels usually involves looking at free and total levels in the blood, although a saliva sample can also be used. It’s important also to look at estrogen, cortisol, and sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG) as the liver will produce more SHBG in response to elevations in estrogen or cortisol. However, it is testosterone which hops aboard this circulating before the others. Therefore, even if levels of total testosterone look normal, it could be the case that much of it is inaccessible to the body if it is bound to SHBG.
One of the concerns of excess testosterone can be the formation of its metabolite di-hydroxy-testosterone (DHT) which can cause hair loss in everyone and enlargement of the prostate in men. Another is the conversion of testosterone to estrogen via the process of aromatization (when testosterone gets turned into estrogen by an enzyme called aromatase).
We can keep cortisol levels in check by looking after the health of our adrenals with nutrition and stress management as well as by maintaining proper blood sugar levels.
Estrogen has the potential to be trickier as we have to consider not just what our bodies produce but also the estrogens we encounter through the environment (from plastics and pesticides especially).
How to Boost Testosterone Levels Naturally
Confining your eating window to 8-10 hours daily allows the digestive organs to rest, especially your liver, which is so crucial for naturally balancing hormones. In short, intermittent fasting means you skip breakfast, and eating your meals closer together. This technique has been shown to increase testosterone by nearly 200 percent or even up to 400 percent.
Weight Training & Interval Training
Lifting heavy weights with your large muscle groups (legs, chest, and back) as well as HIIT workouts (high intensity interval training) have been shown to increase blood testosterone levels. HIIT or Burst training involves exercising at 90–100 percent of your maximum effort for a short interval in order to burn your body’s glycogen stores, followed by a period of low impact for recovery. This causes your body to burn fat for the next 36 hours to replace your body’s vital energy stores. It also leads to an extended increase in circulating testosterone levels, lowering your resting heart rate and blood pressure, and detoxification by stimulating the lymphatic system.
Replacing empty calories with healthy fats poses a great deal of potential benefit including increased testosterone levels. Consuming salmon a couple times a week or adding a quality fish oil supplement is great place to start. Flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts are also great sources for omega-3s. Additionally, monounsaturated fats from sources like avocados, olive oil and almonds can be natural testosterone boosters.
Occasional short-term mental and physical stresses can be quite therapeutic and are actually necessary for the body; however, the problem is when individuals are chronically stressed and the body gets stuck in a state of excessively pumping out cortisol. When cortisol is elevated, testosterone responds initially by elevating as well - but this also leads to an increase in SHBG and soon after, testosterone bottoms out to a much lower level than before cortisol kicked in!
Get Quality Sleep
Not just getting enough sleep but sleeping at the right times are two of the most effective natural ways to raise testosterone. Your body’s circadian rhythm essentially resets itself every night and when it comes to overall hormone balance and preventing low testosterone levels, it’s critical to take advantage of the 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. window.
So ideally, go to bed around 10 p.m. and wake up around 6 a.m. for optimal hormone balance.
Herbs and supplements (as always, talk to your doctor before introducing anything new)
DHEA – a precursor to the sex hormones, increasing DHEA can lead to more testosterone production
Urtica - binds to SHBG in place of testosterone, increases free levels. In men it also inhibits binding of DHT to receptors on prostate
Fish oil – as mentioned above when discussing healthy fats; these oils reduce the level of SHBG
The Hormone Handbook by Dr. Thierry Hertoghe; International Medical Publications; Surrey, UK; 2006.
“Male Hormone Restoration” from the Life Extension website (http://www.lef.org/protocols/male_reproductive/male_hormone_restoration_01.htm) on May 17, 2011.
“Nutritional Influences on Estrogen Metabolism” by Douglas C. Hall, MD; Applied Nutritional Science Reports; 2001.
“Diet and Sex Hormone Binding Globulin” by C. Longcope, et al; The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Vol 55, No 1, 2000, pp 293-296.
“Compounded Percutaneous Testosterone Gel: Use and Effects in Hypogonadal Men” by Dr. Christopher B. Cuttler; J Am Board Fam Med, 2001, 14(1).
“Do You Know Your Sex Hormone Status?” by Zach White; Life Extension Magazine, May 2011, pp 30-36.
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