Testosterone is a sex hormone that is essential for the health of both men and women but is present in significantly higher levels in men. Testosterone plays a role in male sexual health, muscle mass, bone density, energy levels and fertility. It is normal for testosterone production to decrease with age, but lifestyle and environmental factors often contribute to an accelerated decrease of this hormone. Testosterone levels can be supported naturally through the life cycle with daily practices that encourage the body’s natural production of testosterone when implemented. These include maintaining a healthy body weight, engaging in a regular exercise routine, prioritizing a healthy sleep schedule and avoiding certain harmful chemicals.
Maintaining a healthy body weight is extremely important to naturally support healthy testosterone levels. Increased weight around the abdomen, known as “central adiposity”, accelerates the activity of the aromatase enzyme. This enzyme converts testosterone to estrogen in fat cells. Increased aromatase activity decreases the overall production of testosterone and results in hormone imbalance. Higher estrogen levels in relation to testosterone increases the risk of prostate enlargement and other prostate pathology in men. Central adiposity also increases the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes and is correlated with increase sexual dysfunction.
Engaging in regular exercise will not only help one maintain a healthy weight, it also directly supports testosterone production. A combination of aerobic exercise, or exercise that increases your heart rate, and resistance training has been found to increase the production of testosterone in men. A great target goal to shoot for is 30-60 minutes of exercise daily.
Quality sleep is vital for healthy testosterone production. Testosterone levels increase during sleep and decrease during waking hours. Research shows that the highest levels of testosterone occur during REM sleep, or the deep sleep that occurs late in the nightly sleep cycle.
Sleep disorders frequently lead to low testosterone levels in men. A 2011 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)found that men who slept less than five hours a night for one week in a laboratory had significantly lower levels of testosterone than when they had experienced a full night's sleep. Low testosterone has a host of negative consequences for men including compromised sexual behavior, decreased fertility and loss of muscle mass and bone density. Prioritizing quality sleep for 7-10 hours nightly is a vital component to male hormone health.
Environmental contaminants can have a detrimental effect on testosterone levels in males. It is important to avoid chemical compounds that interfere with hormone production including Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and organophosphates. The chemical compound Bisphenol A (BPA) is present in food packaging, medical devices, paper receipts and other plastics across the globe. Humans are exposed to BPA through inhalation, the digestive system and skin absorption. BPA is what is known as a “xenoestrogen”, meaning that it is similar in structure to estrogen, a predominantly female hormone, and can mimic estrogen’s effects within the body. Research has shown that BPA administration decreases testosterone biosynthesis and secretion and inhibits other biochemical processes directly correlated with male fertility. Lowering one’s exposure to BPA can support hormone health. Some easy changes to limit exposure include using a glass or metal water bottle, avoiding eating food from plastic packaging (especially those that have been heated) and requesting electronic receipts when available.
Phthalates are a synthetic group of chemicals found in a wide range of consumer products including perfumes, hair sprays, soap, shampoo, nail polish and skin moisturizers. Phthalates function to hold fragrance, reduce the cracking of nail polish and stiffness of hair spray and make lotions and other topical applications penetrate the skin. Six of the most widely used phthalates in consumer products (and names to look out for on labels) include di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), diisononyl phthalate (DINP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DNoP) and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP.) DEHP and BBP are classified as probable human carcinogens by the US Environmental Protection Agency. This means they can cause cancer. Besides cancer, high urinary concentrations of certain phthalates have been linked to decreased testosterone levels in males. Organophosphates are found in pesticides and herbicides and are used on conventional produce. It is best to eat organic produce when possible to limit exposure to organophosphates. It is important to read labels and be aware of what you are putting bothon andin your body!
Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, prioritizing sleep and avoiding harmful chemicals are potent daily practices that support optimal testosterone levels in men. It can be challenging in today’s modern world to move your body daily, eat well and get enough sleep but these lifestyle basics are the building blocks of healthy hormones. It’s helpful to choose one of these areas to focus on at first, make a plan and then implement! This can be a commitment to yourself to walk for thirty minutes daily, switch out your shampoo for a less toxic version or leave eight full hours for uninterrupted sleep. Taking one step today can result in more sustained energy, increased muscle mass and improved fertility and sexual function in the days ahead!
- Hayes LD, Herbert P, Sculthorpe NF, Grace FM. Exercise training improves free testosterone in lifelong sedentary aging men. Endocr Connect. 2017;6(5):306-310. doi:10.1530/EC-17-0082
- R. Leproult, E. Van Cauter. Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men.JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2011; 305 (21): 2173 DOI:10.1001/jama.2011.710
- Cariati, F., D’Uonno, N., Borrillo, F. et al. “Bisphenol a: an emerging threat to male fertility”. Reprod Biol Endocrinol 17, 6 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12958-018-0447-6