For men especially, keeping testosterone levels in check is vital to physical, mental, and sexual health. Testosterone is a hormone behind libido regulation, bone mass, fat distribution, muscle mass, and strength among other aspects. For adolescent males, testosterone levels rise during the teen years and level off around the age of 20. By the age of 30, a steady annual decrease is normal and nothing to be too concerned about.
Still, the thought of producing less and less testosterone can be a tough pill to swallow. And if levels become too low or unbalanced, it can lead to more serious problems down the line. It’s important to lead a healthy lifestyle and know what to look for in terms of decreased testosterone production. Many factors, including the “getting older” component all of us have to face sooner or later, can contribute to decreased testosterone production. However, the common notion that certain foods are “testosterone killers” is a bit misguided. Not to say that food doesn’t have an effect on your hormone levels, but likely not in the way the term suggests. Let me explain…
Are “testosterone killing foods” real?
To say that certain foods “kill” testosterone is inherently flawed. There’s nothing on the shelves of your local supermarket or on the menu of your favorite restaurant that is going to start wiping out testosterone the moment it enters your body. The idea that “testosterone killing foods” actually exist is false.
Isn’t that a relief? Now you can go about eating and drinking whatever you want whenever you want and your body is just going to keep cranking out the T and doing other macho guy stuff, right?
Not exactly. Not at all, actually.
But before we get into why it simply doesn’t work like that, we should explain a little more about what testosterone is and what it does. Understanding testosterone’s role in the body may help you understand more about how to keep your levels under control.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is the hormone behind the development of male sexual characteristics. When people think of testosterone, it’s often viewed synonymously to libido or sex drive. And yes, while testosterone is certainly important to a man’s libido, it actually plays important roles in maintaining muscle mass, bone mass, body hair, and reproduction. Testosterone is the most abundant androgen in the body and is secreted by the Leydig cells in the testes. It’s not uncommon for men to see lower testosterone levels as they age and treatments (including testosterone replacement therapy) can be administered to boost levels when appropriate. If testosterone levels are too low, it can lead to conditions such as hypogonadism or infertility. A healthy body will be able to adequately regulate hormones (including testosterone) to ensure that the appropriate levels are maintained. And while it would be inaccurate to call them “testosterone killing foods,” there are foods that can interfere in the body’s natural process of keeping hormones balanced.
How common is low testosterone?
If you’re experiencing low testosterone production, you are not alone. While it may not be a popular topic of conversation between men on the golf course or at the bar, chances are that you know several men experiencing some degree of concern about their testosterone levels. That being said, because testosterone levels in men vary so greatly depending on age, body mass index, exercise habits, diet, etc., it’s very difficult to define a “normal testosterone level.” It’s estimated that around 40% of men over the age of 45 have low testosterone, but because figures are so different from person to person, pinpointing an exact figure can be a challenge. While getting older is certainly the culprit in a vast majority of low testosterone cases, oftentimes low levels will be falsely attributed to aging and underlying conditions will go undiagnosed as a result. For this reason, it’s important to find a trusted and convenient testing provider, get the appropriate tests, and talk to your doctor about what your levels mean and (if necessary) how to address the issue.
How do I know if my testosterone levels are too low?
Common signs of low testosterone or hypergonadism in men include a decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, low sperm counts, or enlarged breast tissue. Low testosterone levels can also be the culprit behind a man’s loss of body hair, lower muscle tone, decreased strength, or increased body fat. However, the best way to diagnose low testosterone production is to have a reliable blood test administered. This will give you an accurate measure of your body’s testosterone levels. From there, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss what the levels imply and, if necessary, the appropriate next steps to take. But we’ll get more into that later.
How does my diet impact my testosterone levels?
Adequate testosterone production is directly related to one’s personal health. And having a junk food diet is a great way to put you on the fast track to poor health. So while individual foods like chips, cookies, french fries, chocolate cake, or ice cream do not directly reduce your testosterone levels, eating too much junk food is certainly going to have an adverse effect on your body. And when you don’t take care of your body, its most basic functions–including testosterone production–are going to start performing at a decreased rate. It’s not the food alone. It’s the lifestyle.
All that being said, while specific foods aren’t necessarily going to wipe out your testosterone, certain products can disrupt your hormone levels and cause imbalances. If you’re concerned about your testosterone levels, you may want to steer clear of the following foods:
Don’t get me wrong. Soy is a wonderful plant-based protein and can do wonders for your overall health. It’s no coincidence that soy is a popular ingredient for protein bars, smoothie bars, and health food stores. The potential problem is that soy contains a high amount of what is known as phytoestrogens, which is a substance similar to estrogen. And while findings do not support the increase of estrogen production or the decrease of testosterone production, if consumed in large amounts or too frequently, some studies reveal that soy can potentially throw your hormone levels out of whack. For this reason, a lot of men tend to avoid soy altogether. However, consumed in moderation, soy is just fine.
Peppermint and spearmint might keep your breath smelling fresh, but some studies reveal that the menthol in mint can have an adverse effect on androgen receptors and testosterone levels. However it should be noted that the leading tests regarding the correlation between mint and testosterone levels have been conducted on females and animal subjects. More testing is needed to evaluate the effects of mint on testosterone production in adult males. Still, if you’re wanting to err on the side of caution when it comes to foods that could potentially affect testosterone production, you may want to find other ways of keeping your tea flavored and your bad breath under wraps.
Simple or refined carbohydrates are carbohydrates that have been stripped of bran, fiber, and nutrients. Examples include white bread, pizza dough, pasta, and many pastries and desserts. As the body digests these types of food, sugar is released and insulin levels increase. Because these types of foods can be easily attributed to rapid weight gain, and obesity is a leading factor when it comes to decreased testosterone production, these foods do indirectly have an adverse effect on testosterone levels. Although labeling them as “testosterone killers” would be a bit misleading.
While the direct correlation between alcohol and testosterone production needs further exploration, certain studies reveal that excessive alcohol can cause a serious decrease in testosterone levels in men. Alcohol can potentially damage Leydig cells which produce testosterone. In addition, drinking heavily can release endorphins which have been shown to interfere with testosterone production. Not to mention, excessive alcohol consumption can have a negative effect on your overall health. While a drink here and there likely won’t affect your testosterone levels, like everything, you’ll want to consume in moderation. And if you’re still concerned that your drinking may be having a negative effect on your testosterone synthesis, it might be best to give up the booze entirely.
Licorice root is one of the world’s oldest herbal remedies and is used to sweeten candies, drinks and foods. While it has been used for centuries to cure or treat various ailments, its effects are not generally supported by modern medicine. And in terms of testosterone production, licorice root is probably the closest to a “testosterone killer” as you’ll find on this list. Studies have shown licorice root to substantially decrease testosterone production levels in both men and women when consumed frequently or in high amounts. Keep in mind that this is only in reference to the root itself and not the popular black licorice candy (“Twizzlers” for example). These types of candies that you might sneak into the movie theater likely contain corn syrup and artificial flavoring and little to no licorice root whatsoever.
What else can affect my testosterone levels?
Keep in mind that it is perfectly normal for testosterone levels to steadily decrease as you age (in men, it equates to about one percent per year after the age of 30). This is to be expected and is generally no cause for alarm or treatments of any kind. However, several conditions can lead to more extreme decreases in testosterone levels. Conditions are typically broken down into two categories: primary hypogonadism or secondary hypogonadism.
Primary hypogonadism refers to a problem in the testicles caused by conditions including injury, genetic abnormality, or cancer treatments. Hemochromatosis (too much iron in the blood) or mumps can also have an adverse effect on testosterone production.
Secondary hypogonadism is caused not by a problem with the testicles, but rather an issue with the pituitary or hypothalamus. This can be caused by certain medications, certain pituitary disorders, or obesity among other factors.
How to boost testosterone naturally
If your doctor recognizes a problem relating to your testosterone production beyond just normal aging, they will be able to best advise you in terms of supplements, therapies, or procedures to rectify the situation. However, you can also take steps to control your testosterone production on your own with positive changes to your lifestyle. Adjusting your diet regimen, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep each night can do wonders for your overall health and, as a result, your testosterone production.
How to check your testosterone
Priority Health Testing offers affordable and convenient testing options for men and women wanting to check their testosterone levels. Simply browse our collection of tests, select the test(s) you need, and stop by one of our 4,000+ testing locations. You’ll receive your comprehensive and conclusive results in as little as one business day. From there, our care counselors are standing by to answer any questions you may have. And we also suggest meeting with your primary care physician to discuss the next steps that are right for you.
While some studies have drawn a connection between certain foods and decreased levels of testosterone, the bigger factor at play is maintaining proper diet and exercise. Keeping your hormone levels balanced is one of the many benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. While gradual decreases in testosterone levels are normal for men of a certain age, and do not require treatment or replacement therapies, living a healthy lifestyle is key to keeping testosterone levels in check. The best way to get a handle on your testosterone levels is by taking a testosterone test and discussing the results with your care physician. If deemed necessary, your doctor will be able to recommend lifestyle changes, supplements, or procedures to bring your testosterone to a more manageable level.