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These Food And Drink Habits Can Lower Your Testosterone

Hypogonadism, or low testosterone, affects an estimated 10 to 40 percent of all men worldwide, with some data suggesting the percentage may be even higher in populations over the age of 40. While reduced testosterone levels are generally regarded as a natural side effect of aging, many men don’t realize their diets can modulate T levels, too. 

Ahead, hormone specialists explain why healthy testosterone levels are essential for optimal overall health and well-being, as well as how diet can influence T for better or worse. Plus, they share four common eating and drinking habits that can inadvertently lead to a decrease in testosterone. 

  • ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Andrew Y. Sun M.D., is a board-certified urologist and the chief medical advisor for Marius Pharmaceuticals, a health organization helping individuals achieve healthy testosterone levels. Kevin Huffman, D.O., is a doctor of osteopathic medicine and licensed wellness specialist. Sarah Wragge is a holistic health expert with a certification from the Institute of Integrative nutrition, a nutrition advisor for Kroma, and the co-host of The Way with Stacey Griffith podcast.

Testosterone 101

Though everyone creates, uses, and needs some testosterone, the hormone is colloquially referred to as a male sex hormone because it influences male sex characteristics (like voice deepening and male hair patterns). While just 15 to 70 ng/dL of testosterone in the blood is the normal range for women, men ideally land anywhere between 300 and 1,100 ng/dL. 

In addition to supporting sperm production and erectile function, testosterone also impacts bone health and density, muscle mass, strength, and recovery, libido, levels of inflammation, and so much more. Healthy testosterone levels mean pretty much your entire system functions more optimally.

Read More: 7 Signs You Should Have Your Testosterone Levels Tested

Given testosterone’s importance in the body, it is common for individuals to experience a range of undesirable symptoms when levels dip. “Fatigue or low energy, unexplained weight gain, low sex drive, lower muscle mass, decreased bone density, difficulty sleeping, and even depression and anxiety are all common symptoms of lower testosterone,” says board-certified urologist Andrew Y. Sun M.D., chief medical advisor for Marius Pharmaceuticals, a health organization helping individuals achieve healthy testosterone levels. 

How Your Diet Impacts T Levels

Clearly, testosterone has a far-reaching impact on the body that ultimately steers your overall wellness in one way or another. Interestingly, this hormone is also greatly impacted by a range of health and lifestyle factors. 

“The single most important thing humans can do to influence our testosterone levels is to get enough sleep,” says Sun. In fact, sleep apnea is a very common cause of low testosterone. That said, other lifestyle factors like maintaining a healthy weight and body fat percentage, eating well, keeping stress levels low, and engaging in some kind of exercise routine all support healthy T, he adds. Meanwhile, obesity, poor diet, high amounts of stress, and inactivity are all associated with lower testosterone. 

In short, this all means that, yes, what you eat can absolutely drive your testosterone levels up or down. 

Broadly speaking, foods generally regarded as toxic or lacking in nutrition do a number on testosterone, while foods deemed nutrient-dense are good news for overall testosterone production and maintenance, according to doctor of osteopathic medicine and licensed wellness specialist Kevin Huffman, D.O. “A diet high in processed foods and sugars potentially reduces levels, while a diet replete with proteins, healthy fats, and specific vitamins and minerals encourages healthy T,” he says.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of low testosterone, check in with a healthcare provider who specializes in hormone health before making any dietary overhauls. A number of health conditions can present with similar symptoms—and, in some cases, low T can be caused by underlying issues such as type 2 diabetes, testicular cancer, thyroid dysfunction, and other diseases and disorders, per the National Library of Medicine.

Once you’ve got the all-clear on that front, moving toward a more testosterone-friendly diet is certainly a good move.

4 Food and Drink Habits That Can Lower Testosterone

So, where should you start when eating for healthier T? You’ll do well to nix these testosterone-sabotaging habits.

1. You Restrict Calories

While you may have guessed that over-indulging in food can impact testosterone production for the worse, what many don’t realize is that too little food can have a similar effect, according to Sarah Wragge, a holistic health expert with a certification from the Institute of Integrative nutrition, nutrition advisor for Kroma, and co-host of The Way with Stacey Griffith podcast. “Long-term calorie restriction can lower testosterone levels in men,” she says. This is particularly true in men who are not overweight.  

Indeed, in a 2022 review published in Nutrition Reviews, researchers concluded that testosterone levels often decline (in many cases, significantly) when men already at a healthy weight restrict their calories. The idea here is that when healthy men stop consuming enough calories to maintain their current weight, their body reduces hormone secretion because they no longer have the energy reserves (calories or stored calories) to fuel the production of hormones like testosterone. As a result, T levels drop. 

Yep, this means that working to get shredded in the warmer months could leave even the healthiest of gym-goers and bodybuilders with lower testosterone. In fact, a study published in The International Journal of Sports Physiology Performance found that male bodybuilders experienced a dip in testosterone levels during competition prep (the time when they enter a calorie deficit) and that those levels didn’t return to normal levels until they boosted caloric intake post-competition.

Here’s where it gets tricky: While calorie restriction can cause a downturn in testosterone production for people who are at a healthy weight, it can support healthy testosterone levels in people who are overweight or obese, says Wragge. The reason for this: Testosterone is a fat-soluble hormone, meaning it often ends up hanging out in body fat rather than in the bloodstream (where it can be effectively used by the body), when someone has higher amounts of fat cells, she explains. In this case, freeing up some of that T is a good thing.

Read More: How To Maintain A Healthy Weight Without Tracking Calories

Ultimately, how many calories you need to consume to support healthy T levels depends on your current weight, body fat percentage, and a number of other factors. As such, consulting with a specialized health professional is the best way to determine how many calories you should consume to optimize testosterone levels and overall health. 

In the case that you’ve been under-eating, Wragge suggests incorporating a hearty amount of healthy fat (like avocado and salmon) into your diet. Fats are more calorie-dense than carbohydrates and protein and thus can help you boost overall calorie intake easily. Plus, these healthy fat-rich foods are also high in nutrients like zinc and vitamin D, which support testosterone levels, she adds. (Unsurprisingly, you’ll find these two nutrients—among others—in many supplements geared towards promoting healthy T in men.)

2. You Party Too Hard 

While drinking alcohol may be aligned with your version of fun, it doesn’t do your testosterone any favors. “Alcohol and recreational drugs negatively impact testosterone because of their harmful effects on the testicles and adrenal glands,” says board-certified urologist Dr. Alex Tatem, M.D., corporate director of the Men’s Health Center at Urology of Indiana and Advisor to Marius Pharmaceuticals

Alcohol, in particular, is incredibly toxic for testosterone production—and that’s both following just one drink as well as with chronic consumption. In one 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, researchers observed that testosterone levels drop within just 30 minutes of consuming alcohol. They also found that chronic alcohol consumption (defined as five or more drinks per day for men) can damage the cells responsible for testosterone production, leading to reduced T levels in the long-term. 

“The biomechanics at play that lead to alcohol consumption to cause lower testosterone levels are complex,” says Dr. Tatem. Drinking alcohol has also been shown to impact the brain in a number of ways that can all send testosterone tanking.

While the research is more limited here, it has also shown substances like cannabis and opioids to negatively impact testosterone production and overall health, says Tatem. How and why various recreational drugs have this effect varies, but avoiding them is universally a good move for anyone concerned about their T.

If you drink or use drugs occasionally, you might be able to simply say “no thanks” or switch out a boozy beverage for non-alcoholic beer or mocktail. If drugs and alcohol make a more regular appearance in your day-to-day routine, though, you might reach out to an addiction counselor or call the SAMHSA National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP) for guidance. 

3. You Feast On Trans Fats 

Trans fats have been a public enemy for a few years now, due to the negative effects they can have on heart health and cholesterol. But did you know that trans fatty acids can also disrupt testosterone production, too? 

“Research has shown a clear link between trans fat consumption and reduced testosterone levels,” says Wragge. Indeed, one study published in Human Reproduction compared the testosterone levels of men who consumed high(er) amounts of trans fats to those with the lowest intake. Those who consumed the most trans fatty acids had testosterone levels that were 15 percent lower than the men who had the lowest trans fatty acid intake. 

The exact mechanism for how trans fatty acid consumption lowers testosterone is not well understood. However, previous data does suggest a link between trans fat consumption and the accumulation of fat tissue, so that could certainly be a piece of the puzzle.  

Trans fats are most commonly found in fried foods, frozen meals, baked goods, and margarine and other imitation butter spreads. As such, cutting back on your intake of highly-processed foods can help reduce overall trans fat intake. 

One no-brainer move here: Swap any fake butters and similar spreads with testosterone-loving fats like olive oil, avocado, almonds, and fish, which provide omega-3 fatty acids that support testosterone levels, Tatem says. (And if you don’t eat the recommended two servings of fish per week, consider an omega-3 supplement to meet your basic needs for these vital healthy fats.)

4. You Sip On Lots of Sugary Beverages 

Whether your sugar-sweetened beverage of choice is soda pop, fruit juice, or a sports or energy drink, it isn’t doing your testosterone levels any favors. 

In a 2018 study published in the journal Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, researchers observed a ‘significant’ link between sweetened beverage consumption and lower testosterone levels. After testing the blood serum testosterone levels of nearly 1,000 men ages 20 to 39 (the time of life when testosterone is typically highest) and factoring variables that impact T (like BMI and alcohol consumption), the researchers identified sweetened beverage intake as the main independent determinant of T levels.

Why do sweetened beverages cause such a drastic effect on testosterone levels? Put simply, it’s their sugar content. Consuming glucose, the main sugar found in food, causes an immediate spike in the hormone insulin. And when insulin levels spike, research shows that testosterone levels drop. Actually, another study found that 75 grams of sugar (or glucose) consumption was associated with a 25 percent decrease in testosterone levels from baseline.  

Sugar-sweetened beverages are also reported to contribute significantly to weight gain, which is another key contributor to lower testosterone levels. 

Ultimately, what you choose to replace your sugary beverage with will depend on personal preference.  However, if you’re cutting back on these drinks specifically for the sake of your testosterone levels, consider opting for a higher-protein drink option. “Protein is essential for maintaining the healthy body composition ultimately needed for testosterone production,” says Tatem. 

One option here is bone broth, which contains “highly available protein and contains trace minerals, such as selenium, that have been shown to support healthy testosterone production,” Wragge says. Of course, if meat juice doesn’t quite strike your fancy, you can always shake a tasty-flavored protein powder up with your usual water or blend it into a smoothie.

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