Testosterone, according to the National Library of Medicine, “makes a man look and feel like a man.” This important hormone, made by the testicles, plays a role in several body functions. According to the NLM, testosterone:
— Helps maintain bone and muscle strength.
— Determines hair growth and where body fat gathers.
— Makes sperm.
— Maintains sex drive and erections.
— Make red blood cells.
— Boosts energy and mood.
Beginning around age 30 to 40, testosterone levels naturally start to decrease. This occurs slowly, but over time lower testosterone can lead to a diminishment of all those body functions. For this reason, many men seek ways to give their T-levels a boost — and lots of companies promote products that purport to do just that.
Are these products effective? Are they safe? Or are there natural, proven ways to pump up testosterone?
Most Men Have Normal T-levels
Along with aging, there are other reasons that testosterone may decrease:
— Side effects from medications or chemotherapy.
— Testicle injury or cancer.
— Disease in hypothalamus or pituitary glands, which control hormone production.
— Low thyroid function.
— Sleep deprivation.
— Excessive drug or alcohol use.
The vast majority of men, though, remain well within the normal range of testosterone measures. “Only about 2 to 3% of adult men have low T and manifestations of that deficiency,” says Dr. Bradley Anawalt, chief of medicine and professor of medicine at the University of Washington. That’s why there is no call for routine screening of testosterone for adult men. Those who should be tested, Anawalt says, would have symptoms like unexplained muscle weakness or anemia, osteoporosis, infertility or the conditions listed above.
Also, those with clinical sexual dysfunction — a total lack of sex drive or erectile dysfunction. “That’s not including a 50-year-old comparing himself to his memory of being 18,” Anawalt says. The fact is, that’s just normal for older men, not a sign of clinically low T.
[See: The Real Sperm Killers.]
If called for, a blood test can diagnose low testosterone, and there are proven medical treatments for that condition, including testosterone replacement therapy, or TRT. Man-made testosterone can be given as a gel, patch, injection or implant, and may relieve or improve symptoms in some men. The NLM says TRT appears to be more effective in young men with very low testosterone levels, but the evidence is unclear if it helps older men. It also carries risks, including:
— Enlarged prostate, causing difficulty urinating.
— Blood clots.
— Worsening heart failure.
Lifestyle Can Help — a Little
As for the majority of men who want to boost their flagging T levels in hopes of regaining some of their youthful vim and vigor, the first step is controlling factors that may be affecting testosterone, such as obesity or other chronic diseases like diabetes. “Low T may be corrected with proper management of those two,” says Dr. Ronald Swerdloff, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and senior investigator at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute. “Also, avoid medications that lower testosterone, for example pain meds like opioids.”
As for lifestyle changes that may help the natural lowering of testosterone, well, “that’s not so simple,” Anawalt says. Take sleep, for instance. “There are good studies showing that doctors who are on call overnight for 36 hours, their T concentration is low,” he says. For them, getting more sleep will help. But for those with fairly normal sleep patterns, “sleeping more won’t help,” he says.
Regular exercise, especially when it includes strength training, has been shown to boost testosterone slightly. However, some men overdo it and exercise too much. “They come in with body fat that is too low,” Anawalt says. “I have to tell them to exercise in moderation.”
A healthy diet is important for all aspects of health, including hormone production, but “diet has no effect on testosterone,” Anawalt says. Supplements are unproven at best –and harmful at worst. “Lots of herbal remedies have been tried, but there is no information to suggest it is effective,” he says. On top of that, supplements that overtly or covertly contain anabolic agents like andro and DHEA are not regulated and potentially dangerous. “Small amounts of these do nothing to your T level,” Anawalt says. “Huge doses of those do increase testosterone, but also increase estrogen out of proportion. Some of the products also have been spiked with something. We don’t encourage these because of the unknown health consequences.”
“The contents in the preparations are not properly labeled,” Swerdloff adds. “My feeling is, one should be extremely careful with these (products).”
The bottom line? According to Anawalt, “If there is no reversible cause (of low testosterone), no lifestyle change makes any difference. The vast majority of these men are normal. They just read that testosterone is a wonderous compound, and if a little is good, more is better.”
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What Are the Proven Ways to Increase Testosterone? originally appeared on usnews.com