Testosterone is the most important male sex hormone. It is natural for testosterone levels to decline as a person ages, but there are steps that they can take to slow, and perhaps reverse, the process.
Testosterone is vital to a person's overall health and well-being. Low levels of testosterone can affect body composition unfavorably, and as people age, reduced testosterone levels can also cause weight gain.
Low levels of testosterone also affect sexual function, causing reduced sex drive, fewer erections, and infertility.
According to a recent study of 9,054 men aged between 19 and 39 who were of a healthy weight, normal testosterone levels range from between 264 and 916 nanograms per deciliters (ng/dL).
Drug companies promote products that are supposed to increase testosterone, and while these might help some people, they may also slow down the body's ability to naturally produce testosterone.
Also, these medications are not without risks.
A 2016 study noted that the benefits and safety of long-term use of testosterone replacement products are not known.
The best way to improve testosterone levels is by adopting some lifestyle habits that can improve overall health and well-being.
1. Getting enough sleep
Lack of sleep can adversely affect the levels of hormones and chemicals that the body needs to function correctly, including testosterone.
One study from the University of Chicago found that testosterone levels can drop in men who do not get enough sleep.
Ten healthy men aged around 24 years old spent 1 week sleeping for 8 hours per night at home, they then spent the next 11 nights in a lab. They slept for 10 hours per night for 3 nights, followed by 8 nights of restricted sleep, when they slept for only 5 hours. Doctors checked their blood every 15 to 30 minutes during the last night that they slept 10 hours, as well as on the sleep-restricted session.
The researchers found that after only 1 week of restricted sleep, daytime testosterone levels dropped by up to 15 percent. By contrast, normal aging sees testosterone decreases of just 1 to 2 percent per year.
Making sleep a priority may help maintain testosterone levels. People should aim to sleep at least 7 to 8 hours each night. Anyone having problems getting good quality sleep on a regular basis should talk to their doctor.
2. Maintain a balanced diet
Research has long shown that eating well is essential to maintaining testosterone levels and overall health. According to one report in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, low testosterone levels and being overweight may contribute to a variety of inflammatory conditions and impaired neurological function.
Additional research showed overeating and yo-yo dieting disrupted hormone levels. This effect is most evident in athletes and people who are very active.
The best diets are ones that include mostly whole foods and offer a healthful balance of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Eating a healthful and nutritious diet can keep all hormones levels in the body balanced and promote optimal long-term health.
3. Lose weight
Research has shown that men who carry more weight have lower levels of testosterone. One study in the journal Clinical Endocrinology reported that some obese males between the ages of 14 and 20 have up to 50 percent less testosterone than those who are not overweight.
4. Stay active
A study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that the more active an individual is, the more testosterone they will have.
Another study suggested that increasing physical activity was more beneficial than weight loss for improving testosterone levels.
However, it is a good idea not to overdo it, as higher levels of exercise may cause low testosterone.
In fact, the same study found that long-distance runners may experience low testosterone levels. The researchers speculated that this might be due to inadequate energy and improper nutrition.
5. Stress reduction
Long-term and chronic stress is dangerous and can lead to many issues in the body.
Stress elevates the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for managing a variety of processes, including immune response and metabolism.
Elevated cortisol negatively impacts testosterone. One 2016 study found that stressful events contributed to erratic changes to testosterone levels in males.
In the 2 months before their final exams, 58 male and female medical students filled in questionnaires and gave saliva samples while under exam stress.
The men in the study showed significant increases in salivary testosterone under exam stress, while the women had substantially decreased testosterone levels.
The researchers suggest the stress response in the male study participants resulted in aggression, emotional inhibition, and rumination, and this could explain the differences in the sexes.
6. Vitamins and supplements
Getting at least 15 minutes of direct sunshine each day can also keep vitamin D levels managed. Food sources high in vitamin D include salmon and other fatty fishes or fortified milk and cereal products.
DHEA is a hormone that helps to produce testosterone and other hormones that affect body composition. As a person ages, DHEA levels drop, as do testosterone levels. One study involved giving DHEA supplements to a group of older men. The researchers found that the supplements produced small but significant positive effects in body composition.
Eating healthful fats found in fish and flaxseed might help the body use the DHEA it produces.
Magnesium supplementation can help return testosterone levels to normal if the cause of the decrease is a deficiency.
One study in the journal Biological Trace Element Research found that taking supplements for at least 1 month might increase testosterone in all people. The report added that people who exercise would see a more significant increase in testosterone levels than those who are not active.
As with magnesium, zinc deficiency may contribute to a drop in testosterone. One older study from 2007 showed 4 weeks of zinc supplementation could prevent a decline in testosterone levels in sedentary men who do exercise.
It is possible to correct both magnesium and zinc deficiency through diet. Magnesium-rich foods include whole grains and dark leafy greens. Zinc is also an ingredient in dark greens, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
Creatine is known for its small but reliable testosterone increases. A research study from 2006 found higher levels of testosterone in college football players after taking creatine supplements for at least 10 weeks. Creatine occurs naturally in salmon, tuna, and beef.
7. Review medications
While prescription medications can help manage a variety of health conditions, they are one of the most common reasons for low testosterone.
Anyone who suspects low testosterone is due to prescribed medications should bring these concerns to their doctor's attention.
8. Avoid drugs and alcohol abuse
Abuse of drugs and alcohol has been linked to lower testosterone.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol use affects the glands and hormones involved in male reproductive health.
Further, alcohol can cause low testosterone levels due to the effects it has on the body, including causing hormonal reactions and cell damage.
According to a report in Nature Reviews Endocrinology, there is little evidence to prove that testosterone therapy or marketed testosterone supplements can help men with age-related testosterone problems.
Testosterone therapy may, however, be helpful when the body cannot produce testosterone on its own.
Because testosterone therapy is not suitable for everyone, the best way to increase testosterone levels is naturally.
Anyone concerned about their testosterone levels should see their doctor for a testosterone test but also to discuss lifestyle changes and whether testosterone therapy or supplementation may help.
Testosterone development starts before birth and assists in the development of the male sex organs.
Testosterone drives libido, production of sperm, distribution of body fat, muscle strength, and creation of red blood cells in males. Women also produce testosterone in their ovaries and adrenal glands, but they produce significantly lower levels than men.
People can boost testosterone naturally through diet and exercise, or in some cases, through supplementation.
However, there is no evidence to prove that testosterone therapy raises testosterone in healthy males.