BY DR. ROBIN BERZIN AUGUST 29, 2014
Do you find yourself too busy, too tired, or too distracted for sex? Or does your drive just not seem to be there like it used to?
Testosterone is not responsible for libido alone. Especially for women, desire stems from a much more complicated set of hormonal and emotional interactions. But for men, while testosterone is not the whole story, it does play a leading role and the modern lifestyle may be your T’s worst enemy.
There is a new syndrome called Irritable Male Syndrome, or IMS, that’s due to testosterone deficiency. It goes beyond low libido, and includes emotional withdrawal, lack of motivation, aggression, personality changes, and anxiety. It can also present as self-destructive behaviors like gambling, alcoholism and workaholism.
If this sounds like you or your man, you’re not alone. Low testosterone affects at least 13.8 million men, with a significant number of those being men in their 30s.
The impact of low T is not just low sex drive or even mood issues. Testosterone deficiency leads to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and bone fractures, projected to cost upward of $500 billion in the US in the next 20 years.
Low testosterone also increases a man’s chance of death. One study tracked 800 men for 50 years and showed that the group with the lowest testosterone levels had a 33% greater chance of death from all causes than the group with the highest testosterone levels. And another study showed that men with testosterone deficiency had 88% higher mortality levels than men with normal testosterone.
So how do you know where you stand when it comes to T? If you’re a man experiencing IMS symptoms, or noticing weight gain, fatigue, muscle loss, male pattern baldness, or changes in libido, get tested by a functional medicine doctor who can help you address the root cause of the problem.
While hormone replacement is an option for some, men who take the following seven steps are often able to rehab their testosterone, their sex drive, and the many other symptoms of T deficiency that go along with it.
1. Stay trim.
Belly fat and obesity are testosterone killers. One study showed that obese teen boys have up to 50% less testosterone than their non-obese peers. One reason for this may be that fat cells contain more aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen.
Unfortunately, obesity and low testosterone reinforce each other, leading to a spiral of weight gain and hormone imbalance in men. The good news is that reversing the spiral is mutually reinforcing as well.
2. Get eight hours of sleep.
One study showed that after only one week of just five hours of sleep nightly, testosterone levels dropped 10-15%. While surviving on only a few hours may sound macho to some, it’s actually eroding your most important male hormone.
3. Avoid toxins that harm the testicles.
Phthalates and parabens in personal care products like lotions and shaving creams, and BPA in plastic bottles and on store receipts, are anti-androgens, meaning they disrupt the production and function of multiple hormones including testosterone.
So, green your bathroom cabinet, use stainless-steel reusable water bottles, and say no thanks to receipts at stores to avoid these chemicals.
4. Relax like a pro.
Stress is a major driver of low T. Ultimately your adrenal hormones, thyroid hormones and sex hormones are all interconnected in a beautiful but complicated dance.
A stress-driven phenomenon called “cortisol steal” can lead to a hormone imbalance where the production of testosterone is decreased in favor of cortisol. Stress also increases the production of aromatase and 5-alpha-reductase, two enzymes that break down testosterone.
If you relax and breathe, meditate, do yoga or otherwise boost your parasympathetic nervous system, even for just 10 minutes a day, you give your hormone system a chance to reboot and rebalance, lowering cortisol and increasing testosterone.
5. Avoid statins and eat more fish oil.
Not only do statin drugs negatively impact mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of your metabolism, they have been shown to lower free and total testosterone. This is most likely because cholesterol is the building block of all of your steroid hormones: cholesterol becomes DHEA, which in turn becomes testosterone.
Eating more fish oil will lower inflammation (inflammation lowers testosterone) and will also support the production of healthy cholesterol, the ultimate building block for T. As a bonus, fish oil also lowers sex-hormone binding globulin, the school bus-like protein that ferries testosterone around the body, so that more testosterone is free and available.
6. Take your vitamins seriously.
Vitamins A and E, and minerals zinc and selenium are like fertilizer for androgen production and testicular function. While in the developed world we may eat a lot of food, most of it is low or totally missing these important micronutrients.
Supplements are one targeted way to get more of these critical nutrients, or, eat more shellfish for zinc and selenium, carrots and kale for vitamin A, and almonds and sunflower seeds for vitamin E.
7. Get some sun!
The male reproductive tract is a target for vitamin D, and vitamin D supplementation has been shown to increase total testosterone, bioavailable testosterone and free testosterone. We have an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. If you aren’t sure of your level, get tested, and in addition to supplements, be sure to get your 15 minutes of direct sunshine a day.