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Ten Causes of Low Testosterone
If you’re a man who feels chronically tired or weak, it’s possible you are suffering from low testosterone. Low libido and poor mood are also linked to low testosterone.
What Is Normal Testosterone?
Normal testosterone levels in men fall into a large range—from about 300 to 1,000 ng/dl of blood. Anecdotal reports show that men who fall on the lower end of this range often report some symptoms of low testosterone. Many men have levels below 500 ng/dl, and although they do not "technically" have low testosterone, they experience symptoms. Quality of life often improves when they bring their levels up.
Testosterone also impacts body composition. You can lose body fat and improve muscle mass by raising your levels. This may be partly due to the fact that higher testosterone gives men more energy and may make them more active.
In light of the critical role adequate testosterone plays in body composition, health, and quality of life, this article will troubleshoot low testosterone by reviewing some common causes.
Obese men have 25 to 45 percent lower testosterone levels than average-weight males. When body fat levels increase, more testosterone is attached to sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), a carrier protein that renders it unusable by the body. Fat tissue also increases levels of aromatase, the enzyme that changes testosterone to estrogen—a hormone that is linked with increased body fat in men.
Fix It: Losing body fat will automatically increase testosterone levels: A 10 percent loss of body fat can increase levels by 100 points, improving everything from strength to overall well-being.
#2: High Blood Sugar & Insulin
Hormone levels are interconnected in the body. When insulin goes up, testosterone goes down. This combination predisposes you to gain fat, especially around the belly. Belly fat impairs the message of other metabolic hormones, such as leptin whose job it is to moderate appetite. At the same time, the body’s primary fat burning enzyme, HSL, plummets and the body is stuck in fat storage mode.
Fix It: Exercise and nutrition help regulate blood sugar and lower insulin. With smart training and diet you can achieve healthy hormone levels.
#3: High Sugar Intake
Healthy carbs promote testosterone production, but sugar causes levels to plummet. One study found that even in men with normal insulin levels, consuming a sugary beverage produced a 25 percent decrease in testosterone. Over time, a high sugar intake will encourage insulin resistance and lead to lower overall levels of testosterone.
Fix It: Avoid added sugar in beverages and processed foods like it’s the plague. Match your carb intake to your physical activity requirements. Get the majority of carbs from healthy, whole sources: Vegetables, fruit, beans, and whole grains.
#4: Toxin Exposure
Many men don’t realize that numerous chemicals in our environment contain compounds that mimic the hormone estrogen when they enter the body. BPA, parabens, and phthalates are some of the best hormone disruptors that impair testosterone activity and encourage obesity when exposure is elevated.
Fix It: Avoid plastic water and food containers to limit your exposure to BPA. Use natural personal care and cleaning products to protect yourself from hormone-disrupting chemicals.
#5: Being A Couch Potato
Our bodies weren’t designed to be inactive. Think of the cave men who were constantly hunting meat and gathering food in the effort to survive. When we spend all day sitting, metabolism takes a hit and hormones get out of whack. Testosterone goes down while the stress hormone cortisol goes up, making us fat, weak, and lazy.
Fix It: Adopt a multi-joint strength training program to increase testosterone release and improve body composition. Be active throughout the day—get your steps in with frequent walks, a sprint workout, or other movement.
#6: Nutrient Deficiencies
Most men who eat a standard western diet are not getting the nutrition for robust testosterone production. Zinc is necessary for release of luteinizing hormone—the precursor to testosterone. And both magnesium and vitamin D have anti-aromatase action, preventing testosterone from turning into estrogen.
Fix It: Shift to a nutrient-rich, whole foods diet to supply the nutrients necessary for metabolic function and testosterone release. If you are still having symptoms, targeted supplementation will often help.
#7: Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation affects your HPA axis that regulates hormones, triggering an increase in the stress hormone cortisol and a subsequent drop in testosterone. Lack of sleep also raises glucose levels, negatively affecting metabolic function and decreasing testosterone.
Fix It: Sleep needs vary from person to person. The key is to make sure the time you spend snoozing is restful. A bedtime ritual, a dark, electronics-free bedroom, and melatonin supplementation are all tools to promote a good night’s rest.
#8: Chronic Stress
Stress drains testosterone levels, leading the body to pump out muscle-degrading cortisol. When experienced chronically, stress encourages food intake and stimulates fat storage around the belly—two actions that further drive down testosterone.
Fix It: Figure out what activities allow you to get out of “fight-or-flight” mode and into relaxation: Meditation, strength training, and martial arts are all options that can help you release stress and give your testosterone levels a boost.
#9: Regular Alcohol Use
Alcohol raises aromatase, leading the body to turn precious testosterone into estrogen. Alcohol also dehydrates you (another testosterone-lowering factor), raises blood sugar, and decreases insulin sensitivity. Then there are the empty calories that the body deposits around the waist line when calories are excessive.
Fix It: Eliminate alcohol for healthy testosterone. Favoring red wine in very limited moderation with food may be an acceptable alternative for people who can’t give alcohol up, but beer should be avoided.
#10: Too Much Endurance Training
Low testosterone and elevated cortisol are a hallmark of extreme endurance athletes. The combination often leads to low muscle and bone mass. It’s also associated with reduced strength and power. Running a few miles a few days a week is unlikely to cause a problem, but high volume training, such as that performed by marathoners, triathletes, and even serious Cross Fitters may lead to hormone imbalances and reduced testosterone.
Fix It: Dial back on training volume to lower cortisol and restore testosterone. Substituting strength training or sprinting may also help: Both have been shown to increase release of testosterone, while improving regulation of the HPA axis.