Testosterone, according to the National Library of Medicine, is an important hormone that plays a critical role in several body functions:
— It helps maintain bone and muscle strength.
— It determines hair growth and where body fat gathers.
— It makes sperm.
— It maintains sex drive and erections.
— It helps make red blood cells.
— It boosts energy and mood.
The pituitary gland, located in the brain, controls the production of many of the body’s hormones, including testosterone, which is actually produced in the testicles. Low levels of testosterone, also known as hypogonadism, can cause:
— A reduced sex drive.
— Poor erections.
— Poor sleep.
— Lowered muscle mass.
Decreased total testosterone may be caused by:
— Chronic illness, such as diabetes.
— Problem with areas of the brain, including the pituitary gland, that control hormones.
— Low thyroid function.
— Delayed puberty.
— Diseases of the testicles (trauma, cancer, infection, immune disorder).
— Benign tumor of the pituitary cells that produce too much of the hormone prolactin.
— Too much body fat (obesity).
Aging also lowers testosterone. Beginning around age 30 to 40, testosterone levels decrease naturally, though slowly. Over time, however, lower testosterone can cause symptoms such as loss of strength, lower sex drive and performance and sleep disturbances. As a result, many men search for ways to up their T-levels. Some take supplements, which are at best unproven and at worst dangerous to one’s health.
But there are natural ways to boost T-levels through diet — at least to a small degree.
Dietary Changes to Boost Testosterone
Quite a few foods that can help raise testosterone levels, according to Aileen Birkitt, a registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition 4 You in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. “It’s mostly foods rich in zinc, vitamin D, selenium and magnesium,” she says.
Some testosterone-boosting examples of zinc-rich foods are:
— Oysters, which have a very high amount of zinc.
— Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.
— Other shellfish, such as crab and lobster.
— Beans, such as lentils, chickpeas and black beans.
Ground beef and beef liver also contain high amounts of zinc — but it’s not recommended to have red meat very often due to higher risk of cancer and heart disease, Birkitt says.
Foods rich in vitamin D include:
— Fortified cereals.
— Eggs (specifically the yolks, which contain quite a bit of vitamin D).
— Low-fat milk.
— Fortified orange juice.
— Fortified plant-based milk, like soy, rice or oat milk.
Foods rich in magnesium include leafy greens like spinach and kale. Brazil nuts and other nuts have selenium, which can help as well, Birkitt says.
In addition, onions, garlic and ginger release all sorts of natural compounds which can help boost testosterone, Birkitt adds. And pomegranates include antioxidants that seem to support testosterone production.
If you are looking for a single eating plan that includes most of these foods, consider the Mediterranean diet. “Following the Mediterranean diet, with an emphasis on some of the testosterone-boosting foods mentioned here, can help someone who is looking to raise testosterone levels,” Birkitt says.
[READ: Exercises to Lower Cholesterol.]
Other Lifestyle Changes to Boost Testosterone
What you don’t consume can be just as important as what you do. For example, taking drugs and drinking alcohol can lower T-levels. The chemical BPA, which is found in many plastics, has been shown to lower testosterone, so avoid exposure to these chemicals.
Along with a proper diet, there are other ways to help naturally boost testosterone:
— Regular but not excessive exercise.
— Weight control.
— Proper sleep.
— Controlling chronic diseases like diabetes.
Taking supplements is risky. For one, they are unregulated, so you don’t know exactly what you are taking. Second, the amount of these drugs needed to raise T levels also raises other hormone levels, like estrogen, which can cause hormonal imbalance and lead to other health issues.
It’s also important to remember that lower testosterone is natural as you age, and the vast majority of men — well over 90% — are not below the appropriate T-level for their age. Only those with unusual symptoms, such as muscle weakness, anemia, osteoporosis or infertility, need to be tested for low T through a blood test. Medically low testosterone is caused by another health condition, which often can be treated.
But a sex drive that can’t compare to your younger days or a drop in the amount of weight you can lift are just a somewhat sad fact of getting older. Proper lifestyle, including diet, can help — but it can’t make you 20 again.
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Update 04/26/21: This article was previously published and has been updated.