How to Improve Testosterone For Healthy Aging | Levels & Benefits
Testosterone is an essential hormone for men and women. Even though many people associate testosterone with male bodybuilders and athletes, women can also have health complications when their testosterone levels dip too low. Unfortunately, testosterone levels naturally decline as men and women age.
When testosterone levels become clinically low, the resulting disorder is referred to as hypogonadism.
- What is Testosterone?
- Signs of Low Testosterone
- What Should My Testosterone Levels Be?
- Benefits of Increasing Testosterone Levels
- Testosterone Benefits for Women
- Types of Testosterone Supplements
- Common Ingredients in Testosterone Supplements
If you have low testosterone levels, raising testosterone back to a healthy range can benefit your energy levels, body composition and mental health.
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is a hormone produced primarily by the testes in men and ovaries in women. The adrenal cortex of the kidneys also produces a small amount of testosterone.
Testosterone production slows when you’re about 30. Each year after 30, testosterone levels decline by about 1 percent per year1. The pathway for testosterone production starts in the hypothalamus of the brain. The hypothalamus releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) that acts on the anterior pituitary gland. The anterior pituitary gland releases luteinizing hormone (LH) that signals the testes or ovaries to produce testosterone.
Medical conditions that can cause low testosterone can affect either the brain or testes/ovaries. Alcoholism, testicular damage and hypothalamic disease are all potential causes of low testosterone. Testosterone production increases rapidly at the onset of puberty, increasing about 30 times compared to in childhood2.
The rapid spike in testosterone during adolescence causes many of the body changes that occur during puberty like voice cracks, pubic hair growth and acne. In adulthood, testosterone helps regulate the following:
- Body hair growth
- Sexual desire
- Bone density
- Body fat
- Muscle growth
- Red cell production
- Sperm production (in men)
Signs of Low TestosteroneLow testosterone can have specific symptoms and non-specific symptoms. Specific symptoms of low testosterone reverse traits associated with masculinity. Experiencing any of the following signs doesn’t necessarily mean you have low testosterone, but if you experience a mix of symptoms you should have your testosterone levels tested. Here are some specific signs of low testosterone listed by the American Urological Foundation:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Reduced sex drive
- Reduced body hair
- Reduced beard thickness
- Muscle loss
- Chronic fatigue
- Symptoms of depression
- Low energy
- Reduced strength
- Reduced endurance
- Poor focus
- Declining performance at work
The mental effect of low testosterone in men is well documented. When testosterone levels decline mental function suffers. One study found that high levels of testosterone is associated with improvements in repetitive mental tasks3.
Testosterone Levels in Healthy Individuals
As already mentioned, levels of testosterone are highest throughout your 20s and start to decline around age 30.
Men, on average, have 630ng/dL of testosterone circulating through their bloodstream. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers normal testosterone levels in men to be between 300–1000 ng/dL4. However, The Endocrine Society has a slightly wider range for what’s considered a healthy testosterone level. They consider low testosterone to be under 263 ng/dL. Women have about 20 times less testosterone than men. The healthy testosterone range for women is 15-70ng/dL. On average, women have 32.6ng/dL of testosterone.
Benefits of Increasing Testosterone
Increasing testosterone can undo symptoms of low testosterone. If your testosterone levels are already normal, you won’t likely see much of a change from increasing testosterone.
Fatigue is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of low testosterone. Often fatigue present with low testosterone doesn’t go away with adequate rest. Low testosterone can also cause insomnia, which may further lower testosterone levels by disrupting sleep cycles. One study found testosterone levels declined by 10-15 percent after a week of sleep restriction5.
Improved Libido and Sexual Function
Poor sexual function and low sex drive are both common complaints from people with low testosterone. One study found that 28 percent of men who reported low libido also had low levels of testosterone. The part of your primitive brain called the amygdala is responsible for sex drive6. The amygdala is covered with testosterone receptors. When testosterone molecules fit into the receptors like a key into a lock, sexual desire increases.
SEX OR CARDIO: Which Burns More Calories?
However, when testosterone decreases, fewer molecules bind to the receptors and libido decreases. Low testosterone can also contribute to erectile dysfunction when it occurs along with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or chain-smoking7.
Lowered Risk of Heart Disease
Research shows that men who increase their testosterone levels have a lower risk of heart attack than men with low testosterone. This study of more than 83,000 men published in the European Heart Journal found men who reached normal levels of testosterone were 33 percent less likely to have a heart attack. Testosterone stimulates the production of red blood cells. It may also improve the oxygen-carrying capacity of these cells by increasing hemoglobin concentration8.
Increased Muscle Mass
Low testosterone leads to muscle wasting even without changes in diet or exercise. Low testosterone may also lead to a general feeling of weakness. Increasing testosterone levels can undo this loss of muscle and improve body composition. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle found that testosterone replacement therapy was effective at increasing lean muscle mass and muscular strength in middle-aged and elderly individuals9.
Muscle cells have testosterone receptors similar to the testosterone receptors in the amygdala. When testosterone binds to these receptors, the muscle fibers store more protein and grow in size10. When testosterone levels drop, protein synthesis declines.
Decreased Body Fat
Obesity is a contributing factor to abnormally low testosterone levels. However, low testosterone can also cause an increase in body fat11. Part of the reason low testosterone may cause an increase in body fat is because low testosterone reduces muscle mass. Reduced muscle mass leads to a slower metabolism and more fat storage12.
Another contributing factor to fat gain may be the presence of the enzyme aromatase. Fat cells produce aromatase, which converts testosterone to estrogen13.
Testosterone Benefits for Women?
Even though men produce significantly more testosterone, testosterone has most of the same health effects in women (with the exception of sperm production). In fact, testosterone is the most common biologically active hormone in the female body. Women need testosterone for optimal bone and muscle health. Women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than men.
One study at the NIH Clinical Center in Maryland found that elevated testosterone levels may increase bone density in women with primary ovarian insufficiency.
High levels of estrogen in women are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. However, some research shows that higher testosterone levels in women may lower the risk of breast cancer14. Testosterone also plays a role in regulating the female sex drive.
Types of Testosterone Supplements
If you suspect that you have low testosterone levels or have been diagnosed with low testosterone, there are several options available for raising testosterone levels.
Testosterone-boosting supplements contain vitamins, minerals and herbs that aid the body with its natural production of testosterone. Testosterone replacement therapy involves taking a synthetic form of testosterone.
Testosterone-boosting supplements offer a natural way to improve testosterone levels without undergoing testosterone replacement therapy. The effectiveness of testosterone-boosting supplements varies widely between formulas and brands. Many ingredients that are found in testosterone-boosting supplements either have little evidence to support them or only have evidence to support them for individuals with deficiencies.
Common Ingredients in Testosterone Supplements
The following ingredients are commonly found in testosterone boosting supplements and have at least some evidence to support their use.
Research on zinc supplementation consistently shows that it can improve testosterone levels even in young, healthy individuals. Zinc supplementation is thought to increase insulin-like growth factor-I, which has a positive relationship with testosterone17.
This study examined the effect of 30mg of zinc in a ZMA supplement on the testosterone levels of football players. The researchers found that the group given zinc had significantly higher strength and testosterone levels over eight weeks compared to a placebo.
A study performed in South Korea examined the zinc levels in men with low testosterone between the ages of 40-6018. The researchers found that men with low testosterone had significantly lower zinc levels in hair samples than men with normal testosterone.
Magnesium supplementation may also have a positive effect on testosterone levels. This study looked at the effect of 10mg of magnesium per kilogram of body weight on sedentary individuals and athletes. The study concluded that magnesium supplementation increased testosterone in both groups and had a bigger effect on athletes.
Vitamin D may have an effect on testosterone by aiding hormonal regulation. One study found that men given 3332IU of vitamin D per day had a significantly higher increase in testosterone than a placebo group19.
Supplementing vitamin E may increase testosterone by protecting the testes from oxidative damage. There’s limited evidence in humans connecting vitamin E to increased testosterone. A study performed on rabbits found that rabbits supplemented with vitamin E had increased testosterone production20.
Boron is an essential mineral that isn’t well known. However, early research shows supplementation may increase testosterone. In one study, supplementation of 11.6mg of boron per day for a week increased free testosterone significantly21. However, this is the first study linking boron to increased testosterone in humans and more research is needed.
Tongkat Ali is a flowering plant native to Indonesia. One study on tongkat ali found supplementation increased testosterone levels in individuals with moderate levels of stress23.
Ashwagandha is also known as Indian ginseng. At least one study found that ashwagandha supplementation boosts testosterone in healthy individuals. In a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine, researchers gave untrained men between theage of 18-65 300mg of ashwagandha per day for eight weeks24. They found that the men had significant increases in strength and muscle mass compared to a placebo group.
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"Low testosterone is part of growing old!"— Daniel Kelly 🇬🇧 (@DanielKellyTRT) January 11, 2020
Research actually show that it’s your lifestyle, rather than your age that can lower your T.
Things such as obesity, smoking and poor nutrition can all contribute to accelerated biological aging and lower testosterone levels.