Testosterone, we all know and love this hormone for helping build massive muscles. More commonly, we are concerned about its importance with men compared to women.
However, women greatly benefit from this hormone as well. But first, let’s recap why we need testosterone.
What is testosterone, and what does it do?
Testosterone is an androgenic hormone (sex hormone) that is primarily produced in the testes of men and, to a smaller degree, in women's ovaries. Before puberty, the differences in testosterone between males and females are negligible. However, once a male hits puberty, they begin to produce 30 times more testosterone than before puberty.
These levels are exceedingly more significant compared to testosterone production in females (about 15-fold greater). On average, circulating testosterone levels in men range from 270-1070 ng/dL, with levels peaking at about age 20. For women, normal testosterone levels range from 15-70 ng/dL — significantly less compared to men.
Can You Boost Testosterone with Specific Foods? No!
Testosterone levels are tightly controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, so people cannot control levels by consuming specific foods. Unfortunately, the negative feedback mechanisms that control hormone production will always bring testosterone levels to baseline. Even if they are increased acutely from a bout of exercise, levels will normalize after the exercise bout is completed.
Since natural testosterone levels cannot be increased without the use of exogenous interventions, all we can do is prevent testosterone levels from dropping. We know lack of sleep, stress, and not consuming enough dietary fats (dietary fats are needed for hormone production) are associated with lower testosterone levels.
It's also worth mentioning that the chemical backbone structure of testosterone is cholesterol. However, the answer to your question is no — consuming high cholesterol foods will not increase your testosterone levels, nor does having high cholesterol correlate with higher testosterone levels.
A Mediterranean Diet might be able to Indirectly increase Testosterone
One meta-analysis found that mean testosterone levels were lower in men who followed a low fat diet compared to men on a Mediterranean diet. So consuming recommended amounts of fat in your diet (20-35% of total calories) will help ensure healthy hormone production!
The main takeaway: by consuming a well balanced diet rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats you can ensure your natural hormone levels will be maintained!
Another way to support healthy testosterone production is by limiting consumption of alcohol.
Can Supplements Boost Testosterone?
What about those over-the-counter supplements that claim to boost testosterone? Like deer antler? Do those work? Unfortunately, the answer is no again. The only way to boost testosterone levels is through exogenous steroid use, which should be prescribed by a medical professional.
Alcohol Can Damage Testosterone Production
Heavy alcohol consumption can depress testosterone production. While the mechanisms aren’t fully understood yet, studies in male rats have shown that alcohol use predominantly affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal system, leading to lower testosterone levels, decreased sperm production, and altered production of other reproductive hormones.
The belief is that alcohol damages the cells that produce testosterone and causes inflammation in the body that suppresses testosterone production.
The Role of Testosterone for Men and Women
Testosterone is responsible for developing male sex organs, sperm production, the appearance of facial and pubic hair starting at puberty, increase in muscle mass and strength, protein anabolism, and bone development and strength.
In women, testosterone plays a prominent role in ovarian function, bone strength, and it also is believed to play a role in normal brain function.
Overall, testosterone is an essential hormone for male development and, to a minor degree, female development. Deficiency can lead to loss of muscle mass, impaired immunity, irritability, and bone loss.
For men, testosterone levels usually begin declining about 1-3% per year past the age of 35 and decline for women once they reach menopause. While this decline is slight, it can lead to loss of muscle mass and bone — which are essential to prevent sarcopenia and osteoporosis. So make sure to get your levels checked regularly!