For most trainees, maintaining healthy testosterone levels is a legitimate concern.
Optimising testosterone production from a functional medicine perspective is possible. We accomplish this the Clean Health Fitness Institute way: through modulating diet, lifestyle and supplementation protocols based upon correcting micro-nutrient deficiencies. Our coaches focus on building our clients from the inside out.
TESTOSTERONE & ANABOLISM
Firstly, it is important to understand that the human body is an incredibly complex organism. Every second, it is undergoing cell death and repair at the hands of a multitude of biochemical processes. Manufacturing testosterone is one of these.
In a nutshell (pardon the pun), testosterone is a steroid hormone essential for the well-being of males and females, and is made in the gonads – the testes in males, and ovaries in females. Testosterone is responsible for the development of male sexual characteristics, increases in muscle and bone mass, development of body hair, and a healthy libido.
Testosterone production begins with the stimulation of the leydig cells in the gonads. This process is regulated synchronistically by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain. The hypothalamus secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which stimulates the release of luteinizing hormone from the pituitary gland, which then travels through the bloodstream to stimulate testosterone production in the testes. It is this feedback loop that upscales test production when low, and down-regulates it if it rises too high. When administering testosterone artificially by injection, such as with anabolic steroids, shrinking of the testes can occur as a direct result of the downscaling of the bodies natural testosterone production via this feedback mechanism in the brain.
There is a cascade of hormonal processes that occur in the testosterone production pathway. If your testosterone production is compromised, injecting testosterone directly may not be the best course of action. For example, if you are converting testosterone to estradiol via an aromatase enzyme, an increase in testosterone will also mean an increase in estrogens as well. In men particularly, if aromatase is indicated in a client’s BioPrint hormonal profiling we typically see this result in increased fat storage on the pectorals, basically resulting in man boobs.
If your testosterone levels are lagging, remember where there is smoke there is fire. Diagnosing the cause is better than applying bandaid solutions. This is where functional medicine can help.
SYMPTOMS OF LOW TESTOSTERONE
Symptomology of low testosterone includes:
- Erectile dysfunction;
- Low libido;
- Sleep disturbances;
- Brain fog
- Muscle loss;
- Increases in body fat.
Populations at higher risk categories for low testosterone are vegetarian/vegans mainly due to micronutrient deficiencies in their diet.
To have your hormonal health screened, I would recommend looking at the sex hormones and checking to see that they are all within functional reference ranges. As a guide I would check free testosterone, total testosterone, luteinizing hormone, follicle stimulating hormone, sex hormone binding globulin, progesterone, estradiol and DHEA-S. Ideally, you want all of these in balance, not just your testosterone. This list is not exhaustive, however if a problem is present these tests will help you initially spot any cause for concern.
As a disclaimer, if you suspect that you may have clinically low testosterone levels (or hypogonadism) then I strongly urge you to consult with a functional medicine practitioner for a formal assessment of your condition.
The nutritional maxim I share with my clients is, ‘Supplementation is only necessary when the diet is inadequate.’ Although most people living on a western diet could potentially fall into this category, before we look at enhancing testosterone levels via supplementation, let’s get the nutritional basics straight first.
- EAT A MEAT & NUTS BREAKFAST: I highly recommend starting each day with the ‘Poliquin Meat & Nuts Breakfast.’ Research shows a direct correlation between men on low fat diets and low testosterone. Cholesterol is the building blocks of all steroid hormones. Therefore insufficient fat intake means insufficient hormone production. Eating a high protein & high fat breakfast each day improves insulin sensitivity and mood, whilst providing necessary nutrients to kickstart hormone production, muscle growth, detoxification, thyroid, and immune function. Include plenty of other sources of dietary fat in your diet throughout the day such as omega 3 fats from seafood and omega 3 enriched eggs, avocados, grass fed dairy, raw nuts/oil/butter, olives and coconut.
- ABSTAIN FROM ALCOHOL: Drinking alcohol is the fastest way to drop T levels and increase conversion of testosterone to estrogen via an aromatase. In terms of body composition, an aromatase issue will see increases in fat storage on the pectorals and in serious cases can lead to gynecomastia in men (which is puffy nipples, and an enlargement of the pectoral tissue that can permanently give the appearance of breasts.)
- AVOID SOY PRODUCTS: Soy contains a bounty of phytoestrogens that can wreak havoc on the body as they mimic estrogen contributing to estrogen dominance. Even for vegetarians/vegans, I still do not recommend soy products as a protein source.
If herbal enhancements worked as well as their marketing claims, gyms around the world would be brimming with sexually charged alpha males packing basketball sized biceps. But this isn’t the case.
That being said, there are nutritional deficiencies that are detrimental to testosterone production. When addressed, you can expect overall increases in performance, recovery, mood and sexual health, particularly in men.
- VITAMIN D3: The further you are from the equator and the longer hours you spend indoors, the higher the likelihood of Vitamin D3 deficiency. By boosting D3 levels, you are setting yourself up for success in the gym with increases in insulin sensitivity, immune function and testosterone levels. This means greater recovery, strength and increases in muscle mass.
- ZINC: This is one of the most underrated micronutrients out there for men. It assists detoxification, skin health, mens sexual function and provides the ‘fuel’ for testosterone production. It is also one of the most effective anti aromatase agents.
- MAGNESIUM: Natures great muscle relaxant. Required for over 300 processes within the human body, this is one nutrient you do not want to deplete. Magnesium is one of the best supplements for recovery, restful sleep, insulin sensitivity, lowered cortisol and reducing inflammation.
- CREATINE: One interesting study credited Creatine supplementation with the up regulation of conversion of free T to DHT via the alpha 5 reductase enzyme. DHT is often referred to as the father of the androgens and is quoted as the most heavily anabolic. Unfortunately high DHT levels are also the cause for hair loss in men.
- GRAPESEED EXTRACT: One of the most potent anti aromatase agents available, grapeseed extract contains antioxidant properties and is great for maintaining healthy circulation.
- SHILAJIT: A blackish, yellow mineral substance found in the mountains of Tibet that holds antioxidant properties and is said to reduce levels of oxidative stress. A study from 2010 found out of 28 patients given Shilajit, their overall sperm count increased along with an average elevation in Serum Testosterone levels of 23.5% and Follicle Stimulating Hormone by 9.4%.
- ASHWAGHANDA: A potent adaptogen with a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine. Ashwaghanda is especially effective in the management of cortisol vs. DHEA ratio in stressed individuals. An Indian study, found a 40% average increase in testosterone in male test subjects after supplementation of 5 grams daily over a 90 day period.
Nutrition may lay the foundations, but the importance of exercise cannot be overlooked. It should be no surprise that strength training elicits a favourable hormonal response, boosting levels of testosterone and growth hormone. These take-home tips are sure to tweak your training to achieve optimal testosterone synthesis, resulting in greater training drive, muscle and strength gains.
- GET LEAN: The fatter you are, the higher your degree of estrogen dominance. Fat cells are endocrine organs that produce estrogens and inflammatory cytokines. Stay lean to reduce estrogen levels and improve anabolism by increased insulin sensitivity.
- LIFT HEAVY: Befriend strength training protocols of high weight, low reps in order to elicit a hormonal response favourable to increased T production.
- FAVOUR COMPOUND MOVEMENTS: Centre your workouts around the core lifts. Focus on movements like the squat, deadlift, bench, and overhead press.
- PERIODISE YOUR WORKOUTS: Cycle your training loads and volume to prevent entering an overtrained state. Nothing will plummet testosterone quicker than being overtrained. Ask anyone who’s ever done super accumulation training.
Absorption of hormone disrupting chemicals is the leading cause of estrogen dominance. Referred to as xenoestrogens, chemicals such as Bisphenol-A, parabens and phthalates bind to the hormone receptor cells in your body mimicking estrogen. They can be found in everything from plastics, households cleaning agents, cosmetics, perfumes and even receipt paper. Every day we are swimming in a sea of estrogens with the potential to wreak havoc on our hormones.
- AVOID CHEMICAL EXPOSURE: Live by the rule, ‘If it does not exist in nature, it doesn’t belong in your body.’ Limit contact with plastics, fumes, sprays or other type of chemical. Go organic when choosing cosmetics, cleaning products and avoid heating food or beverages in plastic – choose glass instead.
- EAT ORGANIC: The safest way to lower your toxic load and support farmers is to buy local, organic produce where possible. If price sensitive, then prioritise leafy and cruciferous greens as well as thin skinned fruits and vegetables such as capsicum, grapes and apples. Otherwise, soak produce in a solution of water and L-Glycine to cleanse of harmful chemicals.
- SUPPORT ESTROGEN DETOX: Excess estrogens detoxify through the liver. Although detoxification can be a complex subject, there are basic measures we can take to assist our liver with estrogen metabolism. First of all, up your daily fibre intake and eat plenty of cruciferous leafy greens. For a more vigorous approach, take Poly-Resveratrol, DIM and Calcium D-Glucarate
STRESS, SLEEP & SEX
Cortisol and testosterone levels are inversely related. Whilst cortisol is high, testosterone will be suppressed. Pregnenolone is the mother hormone required to synthesise both cortisol and testosterone by branching down separate pathways. However if the stress pathway is chronically activated by the body’s stress response, raw materials the body requires for testosterone production will be rapidly depleted by the body’s demand for cortisol.
- MEDITATE: Meditation for stress management doesn’t need to be complicated. 10 minutes spent calming the mind and slowing your breath can be beneficial. It reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and increases feelings of relaxation and wellbeing.
- GET MORE SLEEP: Sleep is where the brain regenerates. If sleep is poor then the brain and body is under stress which can dramatically put the brakes on your testosterone production.
- SLEEP NAKED: Sleeping naked to stay cool lowers cortisol levels and stimulates the production of melatonin, helping regulate your sleep cycle. For men, sleeping naked allows the testes to breathe. Wearing underwear can constrict blood flow and increase temperature in the groin which isn’t an ideal environment.
Sometimes the simplest solution is often the most effective and smart changes in lifestyle and supplementation can effect radical positive change.
Now go forth and increase thou testosterone… Naturally!
Yours in health,
Stefan Ianev / Clean Health Fitness Institute Educator
Clean Health Fitness Institute
- James Lavalle, Your Blood Never Lies
- James Lavalle, Cracking The Metabolic Code
- Charles Poliquin, The Meat & Nuts Breakfast. Retrieved from: http://www.strengthsensei.com/the-meat-and-nut-breakfast/
- Clin J Sport Med. 2009 Sep;19(5):399-404. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e3181b8b52f. Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation affects dihydrotestosterone to testosterone ratio in college-aged rugby players. van der Merwe J1, Brooks NE, Myburgh KH.
- Cancer Res. 2006 Jun 1;66(11):5960-7. Grape seed extract is an aromatase inhibitor and a suppressor of aromatase expression. Kijima I1, Phung S, Hur G, Kwok SL, Chen S. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16740737
- 2010 Feb;42(1):48-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0272.2009.00956.x. Clinical evaluation of spermatogenic activity of processed Shilajit in oligospermia. Biswas TK1, Pandit S, Mondal S, Biswas SK, Jana U, Ghosh T, Tripathi PC, Debnath PK, Auddy RG, Auddy B. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20078516
- Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males. Mohammad Kaleem Ahmad, M.Sc., Abbas Ali Mahdi, M.A., M.S., Ph.D., Kamla Kant Shukla, M.Sc., Najmul Islam, Ph.D., Singh Rajender, Ph.D., Dama Madhukar, M.V.Sc., Satya Narain Shankhwar, M.Ch., Sohail Ahmad, M.D. June 08, 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(09)01014-0/pdf
- Video Documentary: ‘The Disappearing Male’