So you wanna get jacked eh bro? Well whether you are a performance athlete or average gym junkie trying to gain a few kilos of lean muscle, maintaining healthy testosterone levels is a legitimate concern.
Yet step inside your local supplement store and supplements claiming to boost testosterone are a dime a dozen. Boasting 'steroid-like' results and promising similar cell swelling, shirt splitting gains you'd expect from using other 'performance enhancing agents.' Unfortunately, most of the supplements are either overhyped and overpriced, of questionable quality or no more than a costly placebo.
Yet all is not lost! There are however, plenty of way to optimise testosterone production naturally from a functional medicine perspective. We accomplish this naturally by modulating diet, lifestyle and nutritional supplementation to correct commonmincronutrient deficiencies that directly affect testosterone production.
TESTOSTERONE & ANABOLISM
Testosterone's role in relation to eliciting muscle growth really needs no introduction, as it is famous for its role in triggering muscle protein synthesis and supporting a healthy libido. Yet is it incredibly important to understand that the human body by nature is an incredibly fragile, and complex organism. Every second, it is going through undulating phases of cell death and repair at the hands of a multitude of biochemical processes - manufacturing testosterone is but one of these.
In a (sic) nutshell, testosterone is a steroid hormone essential for the wellbeing of males and females alike and is manufactured in the gonads - the testes in males and ovaries in females.It is well known as being primarily responsible for the development of male sexual characteristics including increases in muscle and bone mass, development of body hair and increased libido. High test is also linked to mood and cognitive behaviour traits typically associated with masculinity such as aggression, where studies have demonstrated a correlation between the peaking testosterone levels in youths who demonstrate abnormally violent and antisocial behaviour.
It is this relationship with masculinity which creates feelings of general wellbeing in men in particular.It is not uncommon in men suffering from hypogonadism, or low testosterone, to experience feelings of chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression and a general lack of interest in sex or zest for life. If you feel that this may be a cause for concern for you, I would strongly encourage you request our GP to run your bloods and have your sex hormones checked, BEFORE accepting defeat and settling for a case of depression or general anxiety as the diagnosis. In cases such as these, it is always important to ask the question, 'Why?'
THE TESTOSTERONE PATHWAY
Testosterone production commences with the stimulation of the leydig cells in the gonads. This signaling is regulated synchronistically by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain. The hypothalamus secretes gonadotrophin releasing hormone, which then stimulates the release of lutenizing hormone from the pituitary gland, travelling through the bloodstream to stimulate your testes to commence test production. It is this same feedback loop that upscales test when low, and down regulates when it reaches it's peak. This is why when administering testosterone artificially via injection, such as in the case of steroid abuse, shrinking of the testes can occur as a direct result of the down regulation of your bodies natural testosterone production via this same feedback mechanism.
Therefore it is important to understand the complexity of the testosterone production pathway, as a lot can go wrong which can cause your T levels to go down faster than a led zeppelin. If you test production is already compromised, directly injection testosterone may not always be the best course of action. An example of a common problem I see all the time in clients, is aromatase, or oestrogen synthase, caused by consumption of alcohol. The aromatase pathway converts testosterone to oestrogen, causing an increase in oestrogen levels, causing increased fat storage on the pectorals and enlargement of the tissue, giving blokes 'man-boobs.' In short, men become 'feminised.' So if you are a heavy drinker spending the largest parts of your days at home in yoga pants watching 'The Bold & The Beautiful,' it may be because your T levels have taken a nosedive.
TEST YOUR TEST
If you think your test levels may be less than ideal, then remember this, 'Where there is smoke, there is fire.' Diagnosing the cause is better than applying a bandaid. This is where functional medicine can help.
Symptomatology of low test can manifest as erectile dysfunction, low libido, depression, sleep disturbances, fatigue, brain fog, muscle loss and increases in body fat. People at higher risk categories for low T would be men over 30 and vegetarians/vegans, due to micronutrient deficiencies in their diet.
I recommend ordering a full set of bloods from your GP to help paint a clearer picture of your overall health. Have your sex hormones screened to ensure that they are all safely within functional reference ranges.
As a guide I would insist on checking the following markers:
- Total Testosterone
- Free Testosterone
- Lutenizing Hormone
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone
- Sex Hormone Binding Globulin
Ideally you will want ALL of these in balance. not just your test. This list is not exhaustive, however if a problem is present then these tests should help serve as a primary diagnostic to help you pinpoint any potential cause for concern.
The nutritional maxim I share with my clients is, 'supplementation is only necessary when the diet is inadequate.' The flip side of this however, is that most people thriving on a western diet potentially fall under the, 'diet is inadequate' part. Before looking at supplementation, let's get the nutritional basics down first.
- EAT A MEAT & NUTS BREAKFAST: I highly recommend starting each day with the 'Poliquin Meat & Nuts Breakfast.' Research shows us a direct correlation between me on low fat diets and low testosterone. This is because cholesterol forms the building blocks of the bodies steroid hormones. Therefore, insufficient fat intake means hormone production will hit the skids. Starting your day with a high animal protein and high fat breakfast improves insulin sensitivity, mood and also provides the necessary micronutrients to kickstart hormone production, muscle growth, detoxification, thyroid and immune function. Vary your sources of fat throughout the day such as omega 3 fats from seafood and omega 3 enriched eggs, avocados, grass fed dairy (if you tolerate it well), activated nuts/oils/butters, olives and coconut.
- ABSTAIN FROM ALCOHOL: Consumption of alcoholic beverages is the fastest way to drop T levels and increase conversion of test to estrogen via an aromatase enzyme. In terms of body composition, aromatase activity can result in increased fat storage on the pectorals, and can trigger gynocomastia in men. In medical terms, gynocomastia is puffy nipples and an enlargement of the gland on the pecs that gives men the appearance of breasts. The derogatory term, is 'bitch tits.'
- AVOID SOY PRODUCTS: Although there are many reasons why I would encourage you to avoid Soy like the plague, the primary point I would like to make here is the effect Soy has on the male endocrine system. Soy is rich in phytoestrogens, which are plant based estrogens so called because they mimic estrogen in the human body and can contribute to estrogen dominance. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian or not, you would do well to remove it from your diet completely.
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MAKE AN ENQUIRY
If herbal enhancements worked half as well as their marketing claims; then gyms around the world would be brimming with sexually charged alpha male types packing basketball sized biceps and raging hard-ons. But obviously this isn't the case. That being said, there are nutritional deficiencies that are detrimental to testosterone production. When properly addressed, you can expect overall increases in performance, recovery, mood and sexual health, particularly in men.
- VITAMIN D3 (25 HYDROXY): The further you are away from the equator and the longer hours you spend indoors, the higher the likelihood is of Vitamin D3 deficiency. By boosting D3 levels you are setting yourself up for success in the gym with increases in insulin sensitivity, immune function and testosterone. This means greater recovery, strength and increases in muscle mass.
- ZINC: To see a client with sufficient red blood cell Zinc in their blood work is about as rare as a nun in a bikini. This is one of the most underrated micronutrients out there for men in particular. It is important for proper detoxification, skin health, sexual function and also provides the 'fuel' for test production. It is also one of the cheapest, most effective anti-aromatase agents known to man.
- MAGNESIUM: Natures great muscle relaxant and recovery aid. Required for over 300 processes within the human body, this is one nutrient you do not want to deplete - yet most people are also horribly deficient in. It is by far one of the best supplements for recovery, restful sleep whilst also helping to increase insulin sensitivity, lowering cortisol and inflammation all contributing to its reputation for increasing testosterone.
- CREATINE: One interesting study credited Creatine supplementation with the up regulation of conversion of free testosterone to Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) via the alpha 5 reductase enzyme. DHT is often referred to as the 'father of the androgens,' and is quoted as being the most heavily anabolic. Unfortunately, high DHT levels also cause hair loss so if you have the genetic predisposition for hair loss you may want to rethink the use of creatine.
- GRAPESEED EXTRACT: Along with Zinc, another potent anti aromatase agents available is Grapeseed extract. It is also has antioxidant properties and is excellent for maintaining healthy circulation.
Herbal testosterone boosters have a long history of use in just about every culture as aphrodisiacs, to boost the libido and increase fertility. However the benefits of a lot of these folk remedies, tend to be purely anecdotal in nature and lend little scientific credence. However, here are some lesser known herbal compounds that may be worth experimenting with as they have produced some interesting results in studies.
- SHILAJIT: A blackish yellow mineral substance found in the mountains of Tibet that holds antioxidant properties and is said to reduce levels of oxidative stress. A study conducted in 2010 found that out of 28 patients given Shilajit, their overall sperm count increased along with an average elevation in serum testosterone levels of 23.5%, and follicle stimulating hormone by 9.4%.
- ASHWAGHANDA: A potent adaptogen with a long history of use in ayurvedic medicine. Ashwaghanda is very effective in the management of the bodies cortisol to DHEA ratio in stressed individuals. An indian study, found a 40% average increase in testosterone in male test subjects after supplementation of 5 grams daily over a 90 day period.
Nutrition may lay the foundations, but the importance of exercise cannot be overlooked. Strength training elicits a favourable hormonal response boosting levels of testosterone and growth hormone. These take home tips are sure to tweak your training to help you achieve an optimal hormonal response, resulting in greater training drive and strength gains.
- GET LEAN FIRST: Fat cells are endocrine organs that secrete estrogen and inflammatory proteins called 'cytokines.' So the fatter you are, more inflamed and estrogen dominant you are. These are the mortal enemies of testosterone! Stay lean to lower estrogen/inflammation levels and improve anabolism via increased insulin sensitivity.
- LIFT HEAVY: Befriend strength training protocols of high weight, low reps in order to get a positive hormonal response favourable to increased T production.
- FAVOUR COMPOUND MOVEMENTS: Centre your workouts around the core lifts. Focus on improving your performance in movements such as the squat, deadlift, bench, overhead press etc.
- PERIODISE YOUR WORKOUTS: Cycle your training intensity and volume to avoid entering an overtrained state. Nothing will make you want to kill yourself faster, or plummet testosterone quicker than burnout. Ask anyone that's ever done an overreaching phase and they will testify that you best be ready to forget about your penis over the course of the program.
Absorption of hormone disrupting chemicals is the leading cause of estrogen dominance in the world today. Referred to as xenoestrogens, hormone disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol-a, phthalates and paragons bind to the hormone receptor cells in your body and mimic estrogen. They can be found in everything artificial from plastics, household cleaning agents, cosmetics and even receipt paper. Every day we are all essentially swimming in a sea of estrogens, that have the potential to wreak havoc on our hormones unless we proactively seek to minimise our exposure.
- AVOID CHEMICAL EXPOSURE: Live by the rule, 'If it does not exist in nature, it doesn't belong in your body.' Limit contact with plastics, fumes, sprays or any other type of chemical contaminant. Go organise wherever possible when choosing cosmetics, cleaning products, and avoid heating food or beverages in plastic - choose glass instead.
- EAT ORGANIC: The safest way to lower your toxic load (and support farmers) is to buy local, organic produce. If price sensitive, then prioritise your leafy green and cruciferous vegetables as well as thin skinned fruits and vegetables such as capsicum, grapes and apples. As these are typically the worst for absorbing pesticides. Otherwise, wash your fruits and vegetables in a solution of water and L-Glycine to clean them of chemical residue.
- SUPPORT ESTROGEN DETOX: Excess oestrogen's are detoxified through the liver. Although detoxification is a complex subject, there are basic measures we need to have in place to assist our liver with doing its job. Your main objective is to up your daily fibre intake from cruciferous leafy green vegetables as they will give you a good dose of indole 3 carbinol, which helps begin the process of estrogen metabolism.
STRESS, SLEEP & SEX
Cortisol and testosterone levels are inversely related. This is best explained via a process commonly referred to as, 'the pregnenelone steal.' Pregnenelone is the mother hormone required to synthesise both cortisol and testosterone by branching down separate steroidogenic pathways. But if the bodies requirement for cortisol production is in consistent demand due to chronic stress, then pregnenelone will be rapidly depleted leaving minimal remaining to manufacture testosterone. So in short, if stress is high then test is low.
- LEARN TO MEDITATE: Meditation for stress management need not be made complicated. Many benefits can be felt by taking as many as 10 minutes spent calming the mind, and slowing the breathing. It reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, increases feelings of relaxation and welling whilst improving overall cognitive function.
- GET MORE SLEEP: Sleep is where the brain regenerates. If sleep is poor then the brain and body is under stress, which as we now know will slam the brakes on testosterone production. Most clients I see average 4-5 hours or LESS of quality sleep a night. If this sounds like you, then make 9 hours a night your priority.
- SLEEP NAKED: Sleeping naked to stay cool lowers cortisol levels and stimulates the production of serotonin, helping induce sleep. It also allows the testes to breathe. Wearing underwear can restrict blood flow and increase temperature in the groin region, which isn't an ideal environment for your little swimmers.
Having the discussion on the subject of hormones is no light task. But hopefully now as you can see, you really needn't a degree in biochemistry to grasp the basics of how to go about beginning to restore balance to your bodies hormonal makeup. Sometimes the simplest solutions are often the most effective, and some smart changes in your lifestyle and supplementation regime can effect radical, positive change.
ENSURE THAT YOU CONSULT WITH A PHYSICIAN BEFORE COMMENCING ANY TYPE OF NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTATION TO DISCUSS WHETHER IT IS RIGHT FOR YOU, AS SOME OF THE NUTRIENTS LISTED ABOVE CAN BE TOXIC IF TAKEN IN LARGE DOSES OVER TIME.
- James Lavalle, Your Blood Never Lies
- James Lavalle, Cracking The Metabolic Code
- Charles Poliquin, The Meat & Nuts Breakfast. Retrieved from: http://www.strengthsensei.com/the-meat-and-nut-breakfast/
- Clin J Sport Med. 2009 Sep;19(5):399-404. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e3181b8b52f. Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation affects dihydrotestosterone to testosterone ratio in college-aged rugby players. van der Merwe J1, Brooks NE, Myburgh KH.
- Cancer Res. 2006 Jun 1;66(11):5960-7. Grape seed extract is an aromatase inhibitor and a suppressor of aromatase expression. Kijima I1, Phung S, Hur G, Kwok SL, Chen S. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16740737
- Andrologia. 2010 Feb;42(1):48-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0272.2009.00956.x. Clinical evaluation of spermatogenic activity of processed Shilajit in oligospermia. Biswas TK1, Pandit S, Mondal S, Biswas SK, Jana U, Ghosh T, Tripathi PC, Debnath PK, Auddy RG, Auddy B. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20078516
- Withania somnifera improves semen quality by regulating reproductive hormone levels and oxidative stress in seminal plasma of infertile males. Mohammad Kaleem Ahmad, M.Sc., Abbas Ali Mahdi, M.A., M.S., Ph.D., Kamla Kant Shukla, M.Sc., Najmul Islam, Ph.D., Singh Rajender, Ph.D., Dama Madhukar, M.V.Sc., Satya Narain Shankhwar, M.Ch., Sohail Ahmad, M.D. June 08, 2009. Retrieved from: http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(09)01014-0/pdf
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