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Testosterone decline: How to address this challenge

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Testosterone is an androgenic sex hormone produced by the testicles (and in smaller amounts in the ovaries of women) and is often associated with "manhood." Testosterone levels in men naturally decline with age — beginning at age 30 — and continue to do so as men advance in years. Unfortunately, widespread chemical exposure is causing this decline to occur in men as early as childhood
  • Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) such as phthalates, BPA, PFOA and metalloestrogens lurk inside your house, such as in the plastic containers you use. They may also end up in your food and drinking water
  • To reduce your exposure to EDCs, replace chemical sources such as pots and pans, commercial cleansers and processed foods with natural products and organic foods
  • There are numerous options to deal with age-related testosterone decline. Hormone replacement therapy, saw palmetto and other supplements, weight management through diet, exercise and stress management are some recommended strategies

Testosterone is an androgenic sex hormone produced by the testicles (and in smaller amounts in women’s ovaries) and is often associated with “manhood.” This hormone plays a great role in men’s sexual and reproductive function. It also contributes to their muscle mass, hair growth, maintaining bone density, red blood cell production1 and emotional health.2,3

Although testosterone is considered a male sex hormone, women, while having it at relatively low levels, are more sensitive to its effects.4

With men, you may have heard that testosterone is a catalyst for prostate cancer; you may even have heard that the only way to treat or control prostate cancer is to lower or eliminate testosterone through medical or physical castration.5,6,7,8,9 However, as noted by the American Cancer Society, not all doctors agree on whether lowering testosterone is an effective way of controlling prostate cancer.10

In fact, the American Urological Association even changed its position on testosterone replacement therapy in 2018, noting that clinical reviews have found “there is an absence of evidence” linking testosterone to prostate cancer and that “there are a large percentage of men in need of testosterone therapy who fail to receive it due to clinician concerns, mainly surrounding prostate cancer development and cardiovascular events, although current evidence fails to definitively support these claims.”11

The fact of the matter is the prostate gland requires testosterone for it to remain at optimal condition. Testosterone levels in men naturally decline with age at a rate of 0.4% to 2% every year after the age of 30.12

Aging-induced testosterone decline is associated with the overactivity of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, which converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT).13 This process simultaneously decreases the amount of testosterone in men, and puts them at risk for androgenic alopecia (hair loss),14 mood problems, osteoporosis and loss of muscle strength.15

Unfortunately, widespread chemical exposure is also causing this decline to occur in men as early as childhood, completely impacting their biology. Both statin drugs16 and glyphosate17 were found to interfere with the testicles’ ability to produce testosterone.18

How do environmental toxins affect your testosterone production?

The escalating amounts of chemicals released into the environment can no longer be ignored, as these toxins are disrupting animal and human endocrine systems. What’s even more alarming is that many of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have “gender-bending” propensities.19

EDCs are everywhere. They lurk inside your house, most prominently in the plastic containers you use to store your food, as well as meat and fish. They also end up in your drinking water, causing you to ingest them unknowingly.20 EDCs pose a threat to men’s health as they interfere with testosterone production, causing males to take on more feminine characteristics.

Here’s one proof: Scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey found that that 60% to 100% of male smallmouth bass they examined had eggs in their testes.21 Research shows that wastewater, effluent and all the estrogen-containing chemicals, from pharmaceuticals to pesticides and personal care products, in those waters are disrupting biological processes of the fish.

According to a press release issued by the Universities of Exeter and Brunel, EDCs have been entering rivers and other waterways through sewage systems for years, altering the biology of male fish. It was also found that fish species affected by EDCs had a 76% reduction in their reproductive function.22

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EDCs can affect men's health as early as infancy

Sexual development in both girls and boys is occurring earlier than expected. In a study published in Pediatrics,23 boys are experiencing sexual development six months to two years earlier than the medically accepted norm due to exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals. Some boys even develop enlarged testicles and penis, armpit or pubic hair, as well as facial hair as early as age 9! 

Early puberty is not something to be taken lightly because it can significantly influence physical and psychological health, including an increased risk of hormone-related cancers.24 Precocious sexual development may also lead to physical changes not appropriate for children around 8 to 9 years old, such as:25

  • Growth of hair in the pubic region and other places on the body
  • Enlargement of testicles and penis in boys
  • Deepened voice in boys
  • Breast development in girls
  • Early menstruation in girls

Pregnant or nursing women exposed to EDCs can transfer these chemicals to their child. Exposure to EDCs during pregnancy affects the development of male fetuses. According to a report in The Japan Times, exposure to an EDC known as dioxin caused more girls to be born than boys in Seveso, Italy.26

EDCs are also a threat to male fertility, as they may increase the risk of testicular cancer and lower sperm count. All of these birth defects and abnormalities, collectively referred to as Testicular Dysgenesis Syndrome (TDS), are linked to the impaired production of testosterone.27

Phthalates and other EDCs: A pernicious mix

Phthalates are another class of gender-bending chemicals that can “feminize” men. A chemical often added to plastics, these endocrine-disrupting chemicals have a disastrous effect on male hormones and reproductive health. They are linked to birth defects in male infants exposed during the first and second trimester of pregnancy, causing changes in the anogenital distance in the boys.28

Phthalates are found to cause reproductive problems in women such as “infertility, premature ovarian failture and nonreproductive disorders.”29 Phthalates are found among a long list of common products, including vinyl flooring, detergents, automotive plastics, soaps and shampoos, deodorants, perfumes, hair sprays, plastic bags and food packaging. Aside from phthalates, other chemicals that possess gender-bending traits are:

Bisphenol-A (BPA) — Common in plastic products such as reusable water bottles, food cans and dental sealants, BPA can alter fetal development and heighten breast cancer risk in women.31

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) — This is a potential carcinogen commonly used in water- and grease-resistant food coatings.32

Methoxychlor (insecticide) — One study shows that Japanese quails exposed to methoxychlor had impaired mating behavior.33

Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) — These are potent endocrine disruptors that can interfere with your gene expression and glandular system.34 They are also referred to as estrogen-mimicking chemicals.35

Bovine growth hormones — These are estrogen-mimicking and growth-promoting chemicals that are added to commercial dairy products.36

Unfermented soy products — These products contain antinutrients and hormone-like substances, and are NOT health foods (contrary to popular belief). Read more about the dangers of soy.

MSG — This food additive can lower sperm quality.37

Fluoride — A potent neurotoxin added to many U.S. water supplies,fluoride is linked to endocrine disruption and lowered sperm counts.38

Pharmaceuticals that provide synthetic hormones – Endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in pharmaceuticals such as contraceptives have been found to cause intersex in fish, causing male fish to produce eggs.39

Metalloestrogens — This is a class of cancer-causing, estrogen-mimicking compounds that can be found in thousands of consumer products.40 Included in the list of potent metalloestrogens are aluminum, antimony, copper, lead, mercury, cadmium and tin.

How to limit your exposure to gender-bending chemicals

It may be challenging to avoid products with EDCs, but there are practical strategies you can try to limit your exposure to these gender-bending substances. The first step would be to stop using Teflon cookware, as EDCs can leach out from contaminated cookware.

Replace your cookware with ceramic ones. Stop eating out of cans, as the sealant used for the can liner is usually made from powerful endocrine-disrupting petrochemicals such as BPA.41 You should also get rid of cleaning products loaded with chemicals, artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, vinyl shower curtains, chemical-laden shampoos and personal hygiene products. Replace them all with natural, toxin-free alternatives.

Adjusting your diet can also help, since many processed foods contain gender-bending toxins. Switch to organic foods, which are cultivated without chemical interventions.

How to address aging-related testosterone decline

As mentioned above, your testosterone stores decline naturally as you age. However, there are methods that can help boost your levels. Below are some options you can consider:

The hormone replacement method

If you suspect that you have insufficient testosterone stores, you should have your levels tested. Issues linked to testosterone decline include:42

  • Decreased sex drive
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Depressed mood
  • Memory problems
  • Impaired concentration

A blood test may not be enough to determine your levels, because testosterone levels can fluctuate during the day. Once you determine that you do have low levels, there are a number of options to take.

There are synthetic and bioidentical testosterone products out on the market, but I advise using bioidentical hormones like DHEA, a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands. This substance is the most abundant precursor hormone in the human body. It is crucial for the creation of vital hormones, including testosterone and other sex hormones.

The natural production of DHEA is also age-dependent. Prior to puberty, the body produces very little DHEA. Production of this prohormone peaks during your late 20s or early 30s. With age, DHEA production begins to decline.43 The adrenal glands also manufacture the stress hormone cortisol,43 which is in direct competition with DHEA for production because they use the same hormonal substrate called pregnenolone.45

Chronic stress causes excessive cortisol levels and impairs DHEA production, which is why it is another factor for low testosterone levels. It is important not to use any DHEA product without the supervision of a professional.

Find a qualified health care provider who will monitor your hormone levels and determine if you require supplementation. Rather than using an oral hormone supplement, I recommend transmucosal (vagina or rectum) application. Skin application may not be wise, as it makes it difficult to measure the dosage you receive. This may cause you to end up receiving more than what your body requires.

I recommend using a transmucosal DHEA cream. Applying it to the rectum or if you are a woman, your vagina, will allow the mucous epithelial membranes that line your mucosa to perform effective absorption. These membranes regulate absorption and inhibit the production of unwanted metabolites of DHEA.

However, please note that I do not recommend prolonged supplementation of hormones. Doing so can trick your body into halting its own DHEA production and may cause your adrenals to become seriously impaired.

Saw palmetto and the testosterone-prostate cancer myth

Prostate hyperplasia (BPH), or simply an enlarged prostate, is a serious problem among men, especially those over the age of 60.46 As I’ve pointed out, high testosterone levels are not a precursor to an enlarged prostate or cancer; rather, excessive DHT and estrogen levels formed as metabolites of testosterone are. Conventional medicine uses two classes of drugs to treat BPH, each having a number of serious side effects. These are:

Alpha-blockers — Examples include Flomax, Hytrin, Cardura and Rapaflo. These relax smooth muscles, including your bladder and prostate. They work to improve urine flow, but do NOT do anything to reduce the size of an enlarged prostate. They also increase your risk of side effects such as erectile dysfunction.47

5-alpha reductase inhibitors — Avodart and Proscar are two brand names for these drugs. The enzyme 5-alpha reductase converts testosterone to DHT, which stimulates the prostate. Although this class of drugs does limit the production of DHT and shrinks an enlarged prostate, it comes with a number of significant risks, including a higher chance of developing prostate cancer.48

According to Rudi Moerck, Ph.D.,  an expert in chemistry and drug industry insider, men who have low levels of testosterone may experience the following problems:

Weight gain

Breast enlargement

Problems with urinating

Instead of turning to some drug that can only ameliorate symptoms and cause additional complications, I recommend using a natural saw palmetto supplement. Moerck says that there are about 100 clinical studies on the benefits of saw palmetto, one of them being a contributor to decreased prostate cancer risk. When choosing a saw palmetto supplement, you should read labels to make sure you’re not choosing an inactive form of the plant.

Saw palmetto is a very potent supplement, but only if a high-quality source is used. Moerck recommends using an organic supercritical CO2 extract of saw palmetto oil, which is dark green in color. Since saw palmetto is a fat-soluble supplement, taking it with eggs will enhance the absorption of its nutrients.

There is also solid research indicating that if you take astaxanthin in combination with saw palmetto, you may experience significant synergistic benefits. A 2009 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that an optimal dose of saw palmetto and astaxanthin decreased both DHT and estrogen while simultaneously increasing testosterone.49

Also, in order to block the synthesis of excess estrogen (estradiol) from testosterone, there are excellent foods and plant extracts that may help to block aromatase, the enzyme responsible for producing estrogen. Some of these include white button mushrooms, grape seed extract and nettles.50,51,52

Nutrients that can help boost testosterone levels

In addition to using bioidentical hormones or saw palmetto, two nutrients have been found to be beneficial to testicular health and testosterone production.

Zinc — Zinc is an important mineral in testosterone production.53 Yet, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that up to 45% of adults over 60 have low zinc levels due to insufficient intake. Regardless of supplementation, 20% to 25% of older adults still had inadequate levels.54

Supplementing with zinc for as little as six weeks has been shown to improve testosterone in men with low levels. On the other hand, restricting zinc dietary sources yielded to a drop in the production of the male hormone.55 Excellent sources of zinc include:56

Oysters

Protein-rich foods like beef and lamb

Vegetables such as spinach, asparagus and summer squash

Shiitake mushrooms

Fermented foods, like yogurt

You may also take a zinc supplement to raise your levels, but make sure to get the right dosage. Overdosing on zinc may cause nausea or inhibit the absorption of essential minerals in your body, like copper.

Vitamin D — Vitamin D deficiency is a growing epidemic in the U.S., and is profoundly affecting men’s health. The cholesterol-derived steroid hormone vitamin D is crucial for men’s health. It plays a role in maintaining sperm quality.57 Vitamin D can also increase your testosterone level, helping improve your libido.

Have your vitamin D levels tested using a 25(OH)D or a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test. The optimal level of vitamin D is around 50 to 70 nanograms per milliliter for adults. There are two effective sources of vitamin D:

Healthy sun exposure

Vitamin D3 supplementation

Learn more about how to optimize your vitamin D levels by watching my one-hour lecture on vitamin D.

The connection between weight and low testosterone levels

Overweight men were more prone to having low testosterone levels,58 and shedding excess pounds may alleviate this problem. Managing your weight means you have to manage your diet. Below are some ways to jumpstart a healthy diet:

Limit processed sugar in your diet — Excessive sugar consumption (mainly fructose) is the driving force of obesity. But this isn’t a license to use artificial sweeteners, because these also have their share of negative effects. It is ideal to keep your total fructose consumption, including fructose from fruits, below 25 grams a day. If you have a chronic condition like diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, limit it below 15 grams per day.

Eliminate processed foods and drinks — Foods like cereals and soda contain refined carbohydrates that contribute to insulin resistance.

Consume vegetable carbohydrates and healthy fats — Your body requires the carbohydrates from fresh vegetables rather than grains and sugars. In addition to mono- or polyunsaturated fats found in avocados and raw nuts, saturated fats are essential to building your testosterone production.

According to research, eating trans fats and too many omega-6 fatty acids can also reduce testosterone counts.59 Aside from avocados and raw nuts, ideal sources of healthy fats that can boost your testosterone levels include:

Olives and olive oil

Coconuts and coconut oil

Butter made from raw grass fed organic milk

Raw nuts, such as almonds or pecans

Organic, pastured egg yolks

Avocados

Grass fed meats

Palm oil

Unheated organic nut oils

Consume organic dairy products, like high-quality cheeses and whey protein, to boost your levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) — According to research, BCAAs were found to raise testosterone levels, particularly when taken with strength training.60 While there are supplements that provide BCAAs, I believe that leucine found in dairy products carries the highest concentrations of this beneficial amino acid.

Exercise as a testosterone booster

Unlike aerobics or prolonged moderate exercise, short, intense exercise was found to be beneficial in increasing testosterone levels.

The results are enhanced with the help of intermittent fasting, which can boost testosterone by improving the expression of satiety hormones, like insulin, leptin, adiponectin, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), cholecystokinin (CKK) and melanocortins, which are linked to healthy testosterone function, increased libido and the prevention of age-induced testosterone decline.

When it comes to an exercise plan that will complement testosterone function and production (along with overall health), I recommend including not just aerobics in your routine, but also:

High-intensity interval training — Work out all your muscle fibers in under 20 to 30 minutes. My Peak Fitness regimen provides more insight on how to target all your muscles groups.

Strength training — When you use strength training to raise your testosterone, increase the weight and lower your number of reps. Focus on doing exercises that work a wider number of muscles groups, such as squats or deadlifts. Take your workout to the next level by learning the principles of Super-Slow Weight Training.

For more information on how exercise can be used as a natural testosterone booster, read my article “Testosterone Surge After Exercise May Help Remodel the Mind.

Address your chronic stress, Too

The production of cortisol blocks the production and effects of testosterone. From a biological perspective, cortisol increases your “fight or flight” response, thereby lowering testosterone-associated functions such as mating, competing and aggression. Chronic stress can take a toll on testosterone production, as well as your overall health.

Therefore, stress management is equally important to a healthy diet and regular exercise. Tools you can use to manage stress include prayer, meditation, laughter and yoga. Relaxation skills, such as deep breathing and visualization, can also promote your emotional health.

Among my favorite stress management tools are the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), a method similar to acupuncture but without the use of needles. EFT is known to eliminate negative behavior and instill a positive mentality. Always bear in mind that your emotional health is strongly linked to your physical health, and you have to pay attention to your negative feelings as much as you do to the foods you eat.

+ Sources and References
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