- Testosterone levels in younger men have been declining for the last several decades.
- Declining levels of key nutrients in our food is one significant reason; the other is the abundance of toxic chemicals we encounter every day.
- Natural treatments to increase “free” testosterone include therapies that help detoxify the body, and supplementation with vital nutrients and botanicals.
For literally hundreds of thousands of years—except perhaps during the time of the Roman Empire—when a man’s testosterone declined to low levels, it meant he was getting significantly older, and nothing more. (We’ll get back to the Roman Empire later on.) Over the last hundred years, or maybe a bit longer, declining testosterone has not been just a marker of age—it’s also been an increasingly important marker of environmental toxicity and a lack of essential nutrients! The explanation for this follows, but first a fact or two about declining testosterone at ever-earlier ages.
In 2007, researchers reported that the average testosterone level in men had declined an average of nearly 20% between 1987 and 2004. They wrote that this decline was significantly greater than the decline typically associated with age.[i] Men’s average testosterone levels have actually been declining for significantly longer; the decline appears to have started in the 1950s or even sooner. In the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, it wasn’t at all unusual to find a strong testosterone level in a man in his 60s or even early 70s. In 2016, it’s possible, but not very likely.
Fertility problems in men have been steadily increasing right along with declining testosterone levels, especially in the last two or three decades. As is the case with testosterone levels, sperm counts are generally lower in the “average” man in the 21st century than in the 1950s.
As noted above, two major reasons for lower testosterone at earlier and earlier ages (along with increasing infertility) are a lack of key nutrients and a large burden of toxins, most of which have never been found on planet Earth before the 20th century.
Where did the key nutrients go? They’ve been lost to food processing and soil depletion from over a century of non-organic farming practices. The words “organically grown food” weren’t needed prior to the 20th century because everything was organic!
The use of chemically based herbicides, pesticides, and other unnatural chemicals has increased exponentially throughout the 20th century and continues to increase in the 21st. A colleague who practices medicine in eastern Washington tells me that it’s routine to see young farm workers in their 20s with low testosterone levels.
“GMO agriculture”—which uses incredible quantities of the chemical spray Roundup—has made the problem much worse. A principal ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate, a chemical that is toxic to testicular cells even in very small quantities. Here’s an abstract—with explanations [in brackets]—from research published in 2012:
Roundup is being used increasingly . . . on genetically modified plants grown for food and feed that contain its residues. Here we tested glyphosate and its formulation on mature rat fresh testicular cells from 1 to 10,000 parts per million . . . the range [found] in some human urine and in the environment. . . .We show that from 1 to 48 hours of Roundup exposure, Leydig cells [the testicular cells which make testosterone] are damaged. Within 24-48 hours, this [Roundup] formulation is also toxic on the other cells, mainly by necrosis [cell death], by contrast to glyphosate alone which is essentially toxic on Sertoli cells [testicular cells which make sperm]. Later, it also induces apoptosis [cell suicide] at higher doses in germ cells and in Sertoli/germ cells co-cultures. At lower . . . concentrations of Roundup and glyphosate (1 part per million), the main endocrine disruption is a testosterone decrease by 35%. The pesticide has thus an endocrine impact [lower testosterone levels and sperm counts] at very low environmental doses, but . . . a high contamination appears to provoke an acute rat testicular toxicity [cell death].[ii]
Unless a man has been “eating organic” nearly 100% of the time for years, he’s likely to be low in one or more nutrients that are important for his body’s internal synthesis of testosterone. He’s also likely to be carrying around a burden of testosterone-suppressing toxins in his body, most of which have never, ever been in human bodies before!
So what to do if you’re a man whose testosterone is low? If you’re in your 70s or 80s when low testosterone is found, for the best of health it may be best to start right away with bioidentical hormone replacement, which includes not only testosterone but also DHEA, often thyroid, and sometimes melatonin or oxytocin—all of which decline with age.
But if you’re a younger man whose testosterone is low, perhaps in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or even 60s, it’s a very good idea to think about restoring your own body’s ability to have the same levels of testosterone that Grandpa (and Great-grandpa and all the generations of men who’ve gone before) had at that age.
I realize this is serious repetition, but it’s important: low testosterone (especially in younger men) is not due to “just getting older”! And it’s not just your testosterone that is affected. The same things that can make your testosterone “go low”—thousands of possible pollutants, and likely low essential nutrients—are also messing with the rest of your bodily functions, your brain, heart, lungs, liver, every cell in your body. No kidding! Every cell in your body!
For a younger man whose testosterone is low, ignoring all that—and just relying on a testosterone prescription to stay healthy—puts him on the road to premature deterioration of many areas of his body, then obvious illness, and even a significantly shorter lifespan. Low testosterone is in many ways just a marker for body-wide health problems, even if those problems haven’t come to the surface yet!
If a program to raise your own internal testosterone level—before considering a testosterone prescription—is successful, it can’t help but improve your overall health significantly, not just your testosterone!
So where to start? The first step is to “remove the barriers” to optimal testosterone production. All the nutrients in the world can’t help raise your testosterone levels if you have lead and cadmium (known to repress testosterone),“environmental estrogens,” glyphosate (Roundup), or many other unnatural chemicals in the way. Using nutrients to raise testosterone without detoxification is like trying to lift a manhole cover from below while a large rock is sitting on top of it!
Start with “detox”! There are many ways to detoxify our bodies; two effective ways are heavy sweating and chelation.
Heavy sweating? Yes! There’s been research[iii] on that. Fat was biopsied from the same areas of research volunteers’ bodies and sent for testing to a toxicology laboratory. Everyone’s biopsied fat was found to have significant levels of chemical toxins. Using saunas, the volunteers sweated heavily in saunas for thirty days, thirty to forty minutes each time. After that, second biopsies were done as close to the first biopsy site as possible, and that fat was found to have significantly fewer toxins than were found in the first biopsies.
Infrared saunas not only help us to detoxify, but they also help improve blood circulation. When infrared rays penetrate into the walls of blood vessels, the enzyme that produces nitric oxide is activated (for the technically inclined, that enzyme is called nitric oxide synthase), more nitric oxide is produced, and blood vessels dilate (but not abnormally so) all over the body.
Not just saunas—anything that makes us sweat heavily will help us detox, too. Heavy sweating from exercise will help us detox, and of course, that exercise helps build muscle and has many other beneficial effects too. As noted above, lead and cadmium are proven to suppress testosterone. The most effective and quickest way to remove toxic metals (although it may still take weeks to months) is intravenous chelation therapy, done at physician’s offices. There’s also oral chelation, which is less expensive and less time-consuming, but the process takes considerably longer and many not remove as much toxic metal.
A single intravenous chelation followed by a urine collection (usually for six hours) and then tested for all the toxic metals is—in my opinion—the best way to determine the proper treatment. It will reveal whether oral chelation may be enough to do the job, or whether the toxic metal load in your body is high enough that intravenous chelation is the best and most effective way to remove all the toxic metals you may have. (Physicians who do intravenous chelation therapy can be found at www.abcmt.org and www.acam.org.)
Back to the Roman Empire for just a moment. Historians know that one of many reasons for the “decline” of the Roman Empire was the extensive use of lead in urban plumbing! Yes, lead pipes! Chances are excellent that Roman men who drank that water had premature decline in testosterone! Chelation therapy might have helped slow the decline of the Roman Empire! But back to the real topic. . . .
There are certainly other ways to “detox,” significantly reducing levels of the thousands of harmful chemicals never before found in human tissues (or on planet Earth), but there’s not enough space in this article to include them all. It’s very sad, but very true: in the 21st century, everyone needs detoxification, as we aren’t yet able to convince many of our friends, family, or associates—and especially not politicians—that the use of toxic chemicals must be dramatically decreased. Unfortunately, for toxic metal elimination, nothing else works as well as chelation treatment.
Returning to that younger man with low testosterone: he needs detoxification! For a younger man, covering up the problem with a testosterone prescription and not detoxifying first to raise his own testosterone is not at all a good idea for the best of overall health, as well as for his longevity.
Once “detox” is done, or at least well underway, what nutrients can help raise testosterone levels? Here’s at least a partial list of research proven testosterone boosters, starting with essential nutrients:
The famous “Iranian dwarf studies” done in the 1960s by Professor Anada Prasad demonstrated that zinc deficiency led to low levels of human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone. Zinc supplementation for these individuals added inches to their height and enabled “secondary” sexual development.
As is the case with most nutrients, zinc only raises testosterone levels if a zinc deficiency exists; however, as a mid-twentieth century report from los federales (in this case, the USDA) told us,in all states west of the Mississippi except Nevada, soils were zinc-deficient, so odds of one or another degree of zinc deficiency are quite good.
Vitamin A (not beta-carotene or other carotenoids) is not only necessary for internal testosterone secretion, but also for sperm production. Researchers wrote, “Retinoids . . . exert action on the three main testicular types of cells.”[iv] In our bodies, vitamin A is made from beta-carotene. As do many other functions, this process (the conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A) slows with time.
Double-blind research found that vitamin D increased testosterone very significantly (for the technically inclined, p<0.001), while placebo didn’t increase testosterone at all. As a bonus, men with higher vitamin D levels had lower levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). Since SHBG makes less “free” testosterone available, it’s a good idea to have lower SHBG. (“Free testosterone” is the active form of testosterone. It’s good to know that total testosterone is adequate, but it’s “free testosterone” that “gets the job done.”)
Manganese is very necessary for stimulation of LHRH (luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone), which is secreted by the hypothalamus. LHRH travels to the pituitary gland, where it stimulates secretion of LH (luteinizing hormone), which in turn stimulates the testicles to secrete testosterone.[v] (For women this same chain of events stimulates the ovaries to make progesterone.) If testosterone is low, then it makes sense to try manganese by itself, as no other essential nutrient is known to stimulate LH, directly or indirectly.
Magnesium is another essential nutrient that—like vitamin D—has been found to increase both total[vi] and free testosterone.[vii] However, unlike vitamin D, which increases free testosterone by lowering SHBG, magnesium inhibits the binding of free testosterone with SHBG, making more free testosterone available without lowering the SHBG level itself.[viii]
Vitamin K—specifically the vitamin K2 fraction named MK-4—increased both testicular and serum testosterone in experimental animals. This appeared to be a direct-on-the-testicles effect, as there was no change in LH levels.[ix]
Boron increases free testosterone. After one week of taking ten milligrams of boron daily, free testosterone increased significantly, and (more “bonus points”) estradiol decreased significantly.[x] The researchers made sure that the blood tests were done at exactly the same time to give the best comparability.
In experimental animals (male rats), gold very significantly increases serum testosterone.[xi] Gold is also good for male fertility as there was a significant increase in sperm count, too. (For the technically inclined, for both effects the significance was p< 0.001). (Since this is the Seattle area, to be both gender-neutral and diverse, we must mention that gold elevated estradiol in immature female rats. The researchers also wrote that several aspects of fertility appeared to be improved in the immature female rats given gold, but not in the immature female rats in the control group.[xii])
From essential nutrients, we’ll go to botanicals. Nearly every human culture has determined that one or more botanicals can enhance “male function.” Whether that “male function” increase was due to increased testosterone or not wasn’t known, as the testosterone molecule itself had not been isolated. Here are a few botanicals which increase “male function,” most of which are now known to improve testosterone levels:
Ashwaganda (also known as Withania somniferum) has been reported to significantly increase LH and testosterone,[xiii] suggesting that the effect was not directly on the testicles. The same team of researchers reported that Ashwaganda increased testosterone levels by 10% in cigarette smokers and 22% in men under psychological stress, and by 13% in non-cigarette smoking men not under psychological stress.[xiv] I’ve learned a lot about Ashwaganda because it’s extremely helpful for adrenal health. However, there are many botanical experts—including Kerry Bone[xv] and Stephen Harrod Buhner[xvi]—who know much more than I about botanicals, testosterone, and “male function.”
The list of botanicals that help “male function” that follows is from Stephen Buhner:
- Pine pollen tincture,
- Nettle root,
- Tribulus terrestis,
- Panax ginseng,
- Tienchi ginseng, and
- Eleutherococcus senticosus.
He writes that these botanicals “will reliably act to increase testosterone levels, general energy levels, and overall sense of well-being.” The details about how whether these work by increasing testosterone and/or by other means are to be found in the thirty-five pages of his book The Natural Testosterone Plan.
Back to a main point of this article: as important as estrogen is for women, testosterone is very important to a man’s health for his entire lifetime. Unlike estrogen—which drops to a permanently low level after menopause—a man’s testosterone declines gradually. Moreover, it can often be revived, although the odds of doing so decline with age. It’s certainly possible for younger men!
Detoxification and essential nutrients can help revive not only testosterone, but also all the hundreds of other body function that are being “messed up” by those thousands (it’s actually tens of thousands) of environmental pollutants that have been released just in these United States over the in the 20th and 21st centuries. Ridding our bodies of lead, cadmium, and other toxic metals is a very good idea for long-term good health, too. And if any or all of the essential nutrients are needed for better testosterone levels, they’re also needed in every part of bodies for better function.
The botanicals are also “bonus points.” Unless we think that eating our vegetables is “using botanical remedies,” we actually can live long healthy lives without any botanicals. But many men—if not most—wouldn’t mind at all if their testosterone levels could be boosted even further with botanicals; that’s very likely why there have botanicals used for “male function” for hundreds (if not thousands) of years!
A few years back, there wasn’t a supplement available that combined most or all of the eight essential nutrients described above—and a few of the botanicals—that men’s bodies need for internal testosterone synthesis. Now it’s available; it’s named “Vicariin.” Vicariin[xvii] can be found at Tahoma Clinic Dispensary, but for whatever reason not at natural food stores or compounding pharmacies. Vicariin doesn’t contain gold, which can be quite variable in price, or vitamin D, as quantities of vitamin D necessary to achieve the “tropical optimal” level[xviii] are usually more than are in combination formulations. Of course, all these nutrients can be found separately too, and in multiple vitamin formulations, but the quantities of each may not be the same.
Remember: If you’re a relatively young man whose testosterone levels are low, don’t start trying to improve them with essential nutrients and botanicals alone! Results will not likely be as good as they can be without detoxifying first, or—at the very least—at the same time. And yes, when any of us men get old enough, we will need a testosterone prescription to maintain optimal health—including most importantly, mental health—for as long as possible. Until then, try to get your own body to make as much testosterone (and by the same means improve o
[i]Travison TG, Araujo AB et al. A population-level decline in serum testosterone levels in American men. J ClinEndocrinolMetab 2007;92:196-202
[ii] Clair E, Mesnage R, Travert C, Séralini GÉ. A glyphosate-based herbicide induces necrosis and apoptosis in mature rat testicular cells in vitro, and testosterone decrease at lower levels. Toxicol In Vitro. 2012 Mar;26(2):269-79.
[iii] Sorry, that research was done sufficiently long ago that I can’t find the original research paper. However, I am certain about what it reported.
[iv]Livera G, Rouiller-Fabre V, Pairault C, Levacher C, Habert R. Regulation and perturbation of testicular functions by vitamin A. Reproduction 2002 Aug;124(2):173-80.
[v]Prestifilippi JP, Fernandez-Solari et al. Effect of Manganese on Luteinizing Hormone–Releasing Hormone Secretion in Adult Male Rats. Toxicological Sciences 2007;97(1):75–80.
[vi] Maggio M, et al. Magnesium and anabolic hormones in older men.Int J Androl. 2011 Dec;34(6 Pt 2):e594-600.
[vii]Cinar V et al. Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Testosterone Levels of Athletes and Sedentary Subjects at Rest and After Exhaustion. Biol Trace Elem Res 2010
[viii]Excoffon L, Guillaume YC, Woronoff-Lemsi MC, André C. Magnesium effect on testosterone-SHBG association studied by a novel molecular chromatography approach. J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2009 Feb 20;49(2):175-80.
[ix] Ito A, Shirakawa H. Menaquinone-4 enhances testosterone production in rats and testis-derived tumor cells. Lipids Health Dis. 2011 Sep 13;10:158.
[x]Naghii MR et al. Comparative effects of daily and weekly boron supplementation on plasma steroid hormones and proinflammatorycytokines.J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2011 Jan;25(1):54-8
[xi]Biswas N, Effects of gold on testicular steroidogenic and gametogenic functions in immature male albino rats. Life Sci. 2004 Dec 24;76(6):629-36.
[xii]Chattopadhyay A, Sarkar M, Biswas NM.Effect of gold on stimulation of reproductive function in immature female albino rats .Indian J Exp Biol. 2006 Dec;44(12):971-5.
[xiii]Ahmad MK, Mahdi AA, Shukla KK et al. Withaniasomnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males. FertilSteril. 2010Aug;94(3):989-96
[xiv]Mahid AA, Shukla KK, Ahmad MK et al. Withaniasomnifera Improves Semen Quality in Stress-Related Male Fertility. Evid Based Complement Altern Med 2009; doi:10.1093/ecam/nep138
[xv]Kerry Bone, Simon Mills. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone, 2000
[xvi]Stephen Harrod Buhner, The Natural Testosterone Plan, chapter 4, pages 20-55, Phytoandrogens: Natural Hormone Replacement for Men. Healing Arts Press, 2007
[xvii]Yes, I am responsible for asking a manufacturer to combine the ingredients in Vicariin to make it more convenient for myself and others to find them in sufficient quantities “all in one bottle” rather than in many separate containers.
[xviii]The “tropical optimal level” of vitamin D is the amount found in the blood of people living in the tropics (60-100 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), who do not have any overdose effects from those levels, and are known, among other things, to have significantly less auto-immune disease, high blood pressure, and (before the days of airplanes) rarely “caught the flu.”