What is testosterone? 

When we think of testosterone, images of big macho men often come to mind. But its role in health extends far beyond the development of muscles and libido. And it’s also a critical hormone for women too. In men, the Leydig cells in the testes produce testosterone.

This hormone has many functions for men’s health including:

• Muscle mass and strength

• Bone mass

• Sperm production

• Healthy libido (sex drive)

• The distribution of fat

• Red blood cell count

• Protecting against type 2 diabetes

• Regulating sleep patterns

Declining testosterone levels

Testosterone levels naturally decline in men as they age. By the age of 35-40, most men enter “andropause”, which is the equivalent to female menopause. During andropause, testosterone levels drop by around 1-2% per year and by the age of 70, testosterone levels have usually dropped 30% lower than their peak level at age 20.

A number of studies done in the US have identified that the decline in testosterone levels is occuring at an earlier age. One study revealed that 20% of adolescent and young adult men aged between 15-39 years have testosterone deficiency and this was attributed to increased BMI, obesity and the rise in chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Other factors contributing to lower testosterone levels include chronic stress, poor diet, high phytoestrogen intake, sleep apnea, statin medications, low vitamin D levels and environmental toxins.

Symptoms of low testosterone levels include:

• Fatigue

• Low libido

• Erectile dysfunction/sexual dysfunction

• Infertility

• Bone loss

• Loss of muscle mass

• Muscle weakness

• Increased adipose tissue

• Poor sleep quality

• Low mood

• Poor concentration

• Brain fog

• Insulin resistance

Natural ways to increase testosterone levels

The conventional treatment for low testosterone involves testosterone replacement therapy. This may provide some improvement in symptoms, but it may cause side effects including irritability, acne, hair loss and lower sperm count, and doesn’t address any potential root causes of the low testosterone.

Holistic and natural ways of supporting healthy testosterone production include:

Avoiding processed and packaged foods, refined sugar and grains

These foods are nutrient deplete and contribute to obesity which is associated with low testosterone levels.

Increasing healthy fats

Studies have shown that men who reduced their intake of healthy fats had lower levels of testosterone in their blood. Eating omega-3 rich fatty fish, olive oil, avocados and coconut oil will help support healthy testosterone levels.

Increasing zinc-rich foods

Zinc is an essential mineral for testosterone production and regulating testosterone levels in the blood. Zinc deficiency is common in NZ due to our food being grown on zinc-depleted soil. Boosting foods that are high in zinc like oysters and other shellfish, grass-fed beef and lamb, activated pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds and cashew nuts will help increase zinc levels.

Managing stress levels

Testosterone is produced down the same pathway as the stress hormone cortisol. When we experience chronic stress, the body prioritises the production of cortisol over testosterone, leading to a decline in testosterone levels. Managing stress with daily mind-body practices like meditation, mindfulness and yoga helps lower cortisol levels and supports testosterone production.

Quality sleep

It is during sleep that the majority of daily testosterone release occurs in men. Research has revealed that men who sleep 5 hours or less have significantly lower morning serum testosterone levels compared to when they slept 10 hours. Sleep fragmentation (waking throughout the night) and sleep apnoea are also associated with lower testosterone levels.

Sleep hygiene practices can improve sleep quality and potentially give testosterone a boost. These include regular sleep/wake times, reducing blue light exposure, natural sunlight first thing in the morning and winding down with a calming bedtime routine (e.g. meditation, soft lighting).

Avoiding endocrine disrupting chemicals

Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s) is associated with a reduction in testosterone levels. Common EDC’s include: phthalates in plastics and personal care products, BPA in plastics and lining of cans and perfluorinated compounds (PFC’s) in teflon and lining fast food wrappers and pizza boxes.

Written by Shaz Andrew, Naturopath and Holistic Nutritionist