If you want better energy, lower body fat, improved sleep, increased libido, more strength, and a lower risk for diseases, it’s key to optimize your testosterone levels – whether you’re a man or a woman.
The best way to get to optimal levels is to visit an Age Management doctor for a comprehensive plan, but there’s plenty you can do in the meantime if you give self-care to your diet, exercise, and lifestyle patterns.
A key element when it comes to testosterone levels and diet is making sure you’re eating an adequate amount of fat and cholesterol, which is a building block of testosterone.
Most of us grew up learning a “fat is bad” paradigm. In recent years, that idea is being turned on its head. Doctors and researchers now recognize fat as an essential part of our diet, and as an essential building block for hormones, including testosterone.
The most important thing to know about fat intake is that the type of fat you’re getting is extremely important. Poor quality fats, such as highly processed or refined vegetable oils or canola oil, or saturated fats from factory farmed animals aren’t going to help you get healthy or boost your testosterone. There’s a lot of scientific jargon when it comes to which fats to consume, but I’ll keep it simple for you. The general rule is this: If it’s a fat that’s not highly processed and has no added or synthetic ingredients, it’s probably a good fat. Good fats include fats that come from:
- Pastured meats (i.e., raised in pastures without cages, in the sun, and eating grass), especially organ meats
- Line-caught fish (it’s just what it sounds like: fish caught on lines, not by giant nets or raised in farms)
- Eggs laid by pastured chickens (make sure you eat the yolks, that’s where most of the nutrients are)
- Nuts and seeds, preferably raw
- Coconut and coconut oil
Foods rich in Vitamin D like high quality pastured meats, salmon, sardines, tuna (moderate amounts), full-fat organic dairy, and egg yolks from pastured chickens have been shown to increase testosterone levels. Zinc – found in oysters, lobster & crab (especially Alaskan king crab), pumpkin seeds, and beans (white, black, kidney) – also supports testosterone production.
We’ve known for years that exercise naturally boosts testosterone. But not all exercise is equal in this regard. It’s crucial to elevate your heart rate to a certain level to recruit hormones for work in the body (this is a phenomenon called the “metabolic effect” or the “hormonal effect” of exercise -you can read more about it here:
Heavy weight lifting, and interval training (exercise that alternates between high intensity and short periods of rest) do the trick. On the other hand, going out for a thirty minute jog or forty minutes at the same pace on the elliptical won’t challenge your heart rate to go as high as it needs to recruit your hormones exponentially. You’ll get used to the intensity and your heart rate will plateau.
It’s also important to not overdo it! Too much exercise actually decreases testosterone. It’s such a stress on the body that we decrease or turn off production of some key hormones for fat burning and muscle building.
Sleep and Stress
Probably the #1 health recommendation I make to patients to improve hormone levels is to sleep more! Adequate sleep boosts testosterone and other key hormone production. Lack of sleep is a stress on the body, and, like any stress on the body, decreases hormone production. The average American sleeps 6 – 6.5 hours a night, when we should all get at least eight. That means most of us are in a chronic stress state!
Work and financial stress also play a huge role in decreased testosterone production. When our body is in a stress state, our adrenal glands — two glands that sit atop the kidneys and mitigate stress in our bodies — can find themselves doing an inordinate amount of work. When that happens, our body turns its attention to supporting the adrenals at the expense of the production of testosterone.
So the good news is:
If you take strides to improve diet, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction, you’ll almost certainly see an improvement in testosterone production and availability!
The not-so-good news is:
You’ll still encounter a decrease in testosterone as you age, creating symptoms and increasing disease risk. That’s why it’s essential to see an Age Management specialist to assess and assist you with your testosterone and other key hormone levels.
This is the third in a series of easy-to-read, brief posts on testosterone from Dr. Mike Carragher.
Next up: What is hormone replacement therapy for testosterone, and should I get it?