How To Increase Testosterone
Between 10% and 40% of adult males in the U.S. have a testosterone deficiency, according to study results presented at a 2020 American Urological Association conferenceKhahl K. Testosterone levels show steady decrease among young US men. Urology Times Journal. 2020;48(7). . Low testosterone becomes more common as men age, and it can affect health in several ways, including contributing to fatigue and low sex drive.
If you think your testosterone levels may be low, it’s helpful to know the signs as well as possible ways to increase testosterone, including natural methods. It’s also important to know the risks and side effects of both testosterone therapy and supplements claiming to help boost testosterone.
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is a hormone produced in the body, mainly in the testes in men, explains Michael Eisenberg, M.D., the director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health and a male fertility specialist in Sunnyvale, California.
Women’s bodies produce testosterone too, explains Dr. Eisenberg, though it’s a small amount. “Testosterone in women is less studied because its primary role is in males, but it does seem to contribute to sex drive in women, to a smaller degree than men,” he says.
What Does Testosterone Do?
Testosterone affects men’s health in many ways, both mentally and physically. In adolescent males, testosterone stimulates pubertal development, including muscle growth and facial hair growth, says Dr. Eisenberg.
But testosterone is important in adulthood too, explains Stanton Honig, M.D., a professor of clinical urology at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut and a leading expert on male fertility.
Testosterone is vital for male fertility and reproductive function. Abnormal testosterone levels can affect healthy sperm production, sex drive, as well as your ability to achieve and maintain an erection and ejaculation.
Testosterone also contributes to energy levels, mood and sleep, according to Dr. Honig. In addition to these mental health effects, he explains that testosterone is important for bone health, muscle health and heart health in men. “People tend to think of testosterone as a reproductive hormone, but it has a lot of other good effects on the body as well,” says Dr. Honig.
What Happens If Testosterone Is Low?
There are a few different reasons why a male may have low testosterone levels. Testosterone levels can decline with age, dropping about 1% per year after age 30The ‘male menopause’. National Health Services. Accessed 12/12/2022. . Some conditions can contribute to low testosterone too, according to Dr. Eisenberg, including an injury to the testicles or loss of a testicle, diabetes or obesity.
Some medications, specifically opioids, can also lower testosterone levels, he says, adding “also, abusing steroids can cause the body to stop producing adequate levels of testosterone.” And sometimes, males’ bodies simply do not produce enough testosterone.
There are some tell-tale signs that one’s testosterone levels may be low. Someone with low testosterone may experience a decrease in energy, low sex drive and may experience erectile dysfunction, says Dr. Honig. However, he adds, the only way to know for sure if your testosterone levels are low is to see your doctor for a blood test.
“Testosterone is highest in the morning, so typically the blood test is done early morning,” explains Dr. Honig. If the blood test indicates low testosterone, the next step is working with your doctor to find out why. “We want to figure out if it’s because the testicles aren’t producing as much as they used to or if it’s related to the brain,” he says, adding that low testosterone could be a result of low levels of luteinizing hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. Further blood tests, an MRI and CAT scan can all be secondary steps to pinpointing why testosterone is low, he says.
Can Testosterone Be Too High?
If you’re getting your testosterone levels checked, you may be wondering if they can ever be too high. This can certainly happen, says Dr. Eisenberg, though it is rare. Typically, he says, this only occurs if a male is supplementing with too much testosterone, as having too much testosterone is not something that tends to happen naturally.
“When I see someone and their testosterone levels are too high, my first question to them is if they are taking testosterone,” says Dr. Hoing. “The answer is always yes.”
How to Increase Testosterone Naturally
If your testosterone levels are low, there are natural ways to boost testosterone, though there are also times when someone may consider testosterone therapy. Below are ways to raise testosterone naturally:
- Maintain a healthy weight: If someone has obesity, the best way for them to naturally boost testosterone is healthy weight loss, according to experts. Low testosterone in people who are overweight is often associated with metabolic syndrome, which is a group of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar and excess fat, says Dr. Honig. He explains that weight loss can increase testosterone levels.
- Focus on heart health: “What’s good for your heart is good for testosterone levels,” says Dr. Eisenberg, adding that this goes hand-in-hand with maintaining a healthy weight. Experts advise regular exercise and eating heart-healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts and legumes.
- Lift weights: “Weight lifting can increase muscle mass, which can in turn increase testosterone,” says Dr. Eisenberg. However it should be noted that the levels only stay elevated for a few hours, research suggests.
- Minimize alcohol consumption: Studies have found a link between heavy alcohol consumption and low testosterone levels. This is because alcohol decreases the production of luteinizing hormone in the brain, which affects testosterone production. Excessive alcohol can also impact sperm production.
- Do what you can to manage stress: Being stressed out for a prolonged amount of time can raise the body’s cortisol levels, also known as the “stress hormone.” As cortisol levels go up, testosterone levels can go down. Because of this connection, it’s important to do what you can to manage stress, such as through mindful meditation, deep breathing, exercise, healthy eating and therapy.
Notably absent from this list is supplementation. Dr. Honig warns against taking supplements claiming they can boost testosterone levels. “There is no regulation of supplements by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and there is no proof that they actually work,” he says. In fact, they can potentially be dangerous because you don’t know exactly what’s in them and how they will impact the body, he explains.
What Is Testosterone Therapy?
While supplements should be avoided, there are times when someone may want to consider testosterone therapy.
If blood work indicates that a male has low testosterone levels and their doctor does not believe diet and exercise alone will be enough to raise testosterone levels, that person is a good candidate for testosterone therapy. “If someone’s body isn’t producing enough testosterone, they will likely be on testosterone therapy indefinitely after starting it,” says Dr. Eisenberg.
There are many different methods of testosterone therapy, and individuals should discuss with their doctor to decide which is best for them based on their needs and lifestyle, explains Dr. Honig. The different options include oral pills (taken twice a day), a weekly injection, a gel that is rubbed on the back and armpits, a pellet that is placed under the skin that lasts four months and a nasal spray. “Often the best one to choose comes down to one’s lifestyle,” says Dr. Honig. “For example, someone may prefer a pellet that lasts four months rather than taking an oral pill medication twice a day. With the gel, it’s important to avoid contact with women and kids for 45 minutes afterwards so that it doesn’t transfer to their skin,” he says. This is important because someone should only be given testosterone medication if they need it. Also, testosterone affects women differently than men and they naturally have lower amounts of it.
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Testosterone Therapy and Fertility
Individuals who are interested in conceiving either now or in the future deserve special consideration when it comes to testosterone therapy. That’s because testosterone therapy can negatively impact sperm production–a bit ironic considering that testosterone is needed to produce it. This is because testosterone therapy decreases the production of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), another hormone needed for sperm production. In some cases, taking additional testosterone medications can stop sperm from being produced at all, a condition called azoospermia.
Testosterone therapy for males who want to preserve their fertility is a lot more limited, but there are options available, says Dr. Honig. For example, he says that one medication that is used is clomiphene citrate, however it is not FDA-approved to be used in males, so it’s prescribed as an off-label medication.
If you are interested in conceiving, be sure to let your doctor know your reproductive plans so they can prescribe the appropriate therapy to address your needs.
When to See a Doctor About Testosterone Levels
If you are a male experiencing fatigue and low sex drive, speak with your doctor about having your testosterone levels evaluated. Even if it isn’t testosterone causing your symptoms, meeting with your health care provider is the first step to pinpointing what’s behind them.
If your testosterone levels are low, your health care provider will likely run more tests and help you work toward a solution, whether it’s through natural ways to boost testosterone or testosterone therapy.
What Is Testosterone?