Testosterone: The health elixir for men
Looking good, feeling good and maintaining an active sex life are critical for men’s well-being. And the thing they have in common is a powerhouse hormone called testosterone.
How testosterone is built
Like most actions in your body, testosterone production involves a lot of moving parts. In both sexes, a cascade of activity triggered by the pituitary gland leads to the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) into general circulation. FSH stimulates sperm production and is needed for the Leydig cells in the testes to produce testosterone.
In men, 95% of testosterone is produced in the testicles and the remaining 5% is produced through conversion of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in the adrenal glands. The entire process is regulated by a negative feedback loop to the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. In other words, blood levels of testosterone indicate whether additional testosterone production is necessary.
More than just for sexy time
This important hormone travels in the bloodstream to reach hormone receptors in almost every type of cell and therefore impacts whole-body health. Of course, testosterone regulates sex drive (libido), but it also impacts bone mass, fat distribution, muscle mass and strength, as well as the production of red blood cells and sperm.
Testosterone is an anabolic (building) hormone that regulates the availability of amino acids. It also supports the accumulation and reuse of protein. A small amount of circulating testosterone is converted to estradiol, which is a form of estrogen men need for strong bones, cholesterol balance and sexual function. Bottom line? Robust testosterone levels are critical for men’s health.
Over time, decreased testosterone is a factor in muscle wasting and osteoporosis. In the short term, however, low levels of testosterone have been associated with visceral adipose tissue, which is more commonly known as the “spare tire” or “beer belly” – even for non-drinkers. Low testosterone is also linked with non-alcohol fatty liver disease and insulin resistance.
The testosterone trinity
For younger men, researchers have described a trinity of health concerns that includes low testosterone, metabolic syndrome and erectile dysfunction. Each condition seems to exist in tandem with another. This means that addressing low testosterone is a priority for well-being.
What causes the drop?
Besides disease, dysfunction or injury, other potential causes of low testosterone include medication use, hormone imbalances, and obesity or extreme weight loss. Environmental estrogens and estrogen-mimicking chemicals in personal care products can also be a factor.
But all men are impacted by the calendar when it comes to waning testosterone: A natural decline in testosterone production starts after age 30 and continues (about 1% per year) throughout life.
You aren’t entirely at the mercy of Father Time, though, as there are plenty of things you can do to support healthy testosterone production. First of all, watch your diet. Be sure you’re getting adequate zinc (seafood, nuts), which works with LH and FSH enzymes in triggering the pituitary hormones. Magnesium levels have also been found to be linked with testosterone. Look for this mineral in in greens, seeds and chocolate.
A review of research recently found an association between vitamin D status and testosterone levels. Because vitamin D creation relies on skin exposure to sunlight, low D status is common for Canadian men. Very few foods supply vitamin D: The mushroom family is one of them. For insurance, look for vitamin D in supplement form, especially during winter months.
Research suggests that getting adequate sleep is critical for testosterone production. While the evidence on the sleep deprivation-testosterone connection is inconclusive, one study showed that only getting 5 hours per day contributed to a 10-15% reduction in testosterone levels. In other words? Sleep isn’t a waste of time.
Don’t get testy
Testosterone levels generally take a beating in response to chronic life stressors including worries about finances, work and relationships. The stress hormone cortisol has an inverse relationship with testosterone: Testosterone tends to limit the stress response and cortisol can also lower testosterone.
Aim to reduce the impact of stress on your body with the use of adaptogens. As their name suggests, adaptogens help your body adapt to stress by turning up or calming down physiological reactions. Remember that over-training has the same impact on testosterone as life stress does, so keep that in mind if you like to work out your stress at the gym!
Muscle, metabolism + vitality
Muscle building isn’t an issue of vanity. Across the lifespan, muscle-strength is associated with whole body health, including cognitive health. Testosterone is one of the most potent naturally-secreted anabolic hormones and is well-known to promote muscle growth by stimulating muscle creation and inhibiting protein break-down. A bout of resistance exercise generally triggers testosterone release.
This anabolic hormone also helps to boost fat-burning by dialling up receptors for adrenaline. To amplify your testosterone, include regular weight-bearing exercise in your health regimen.
The liver connection
Although the biochemical pathways aren’t entirely clear yet, the protein anabolic effect of testosterone happens in the liver. This means that if you want testosterone to do its job well, your liver needs to be in top shape.
But your liver is the most over-worked organ in your body. Your liver’s responsibilities include metabolizing hormones and detoxing from all of your diet an lifestyle choices. Give your liver an occasional rest by cutting back on toxins like coffee, alcohol and high-sugar foods. For a week or so, focus your diet on fruits, vegetables and lean protein, and drink plenty of water to help with the toxin flush.
Of course, even healthy choices lead to the production of free radicals that can impair liver function. And the best antidote to liver-damaging free radicals a good dose of antioxidants. You’re likely familiar with antioxidants like vitamins A, D, E and, of course C. But less well-known antioxidants are essential for health.
For example, glutathione plays a critical role in drug detoxification and elimination, and you use up a lot of it. Glutathione also has a reciprocal relationship with vitamin C: Glutathione helps to regenerate worn-out Vitamin C, while Vitamin C may spare glutathione and help to convert oxidized glutathione back to its active form.
The fungi factor
Functional mushrooms are valuable members of your testosterone team. For example, reishi and lion’s mane are excellent sources of the powerhouse antioxidant glutathione to support your liver.  For a one-two punch, compounds called triterpenoids in reishi protect against alcohol-induced liver injury by boosting antioxidant enzymes, while reishi peptides protect your liver against injury from toxins.
Adapt and overcome
Remember those adaptogens that help your body deal with stress? Functional mushrooms contain powerful adaptogens called beta-glucans that help your body regain and maintain homeostasis or balance. Studies have shown that some beta-glucans in several mushroom species are more concentrated in the fruiting body, which is the above-ground part of the mushroom. Consider reishi and lion’s mane for your adaptogenic stress support.
Let’s be direct
Because of its structural resemblance to compounds that naturally occur in your body, cordycepin from cordyceps mushroom can take part in various biochemical reactions, including regulating inflammation, boosting energy metabolism in the liver and secreting adrenal hormones. Multiple test tube and animal studies have also shown that cordycepin may stimulate testosterone production by activating Leydig cells. Cordyceps has also been shown in laboratory research to improve erectile function.
There may not be a fountain of youth, but testosterone is clearly an elixir of health and vitality for men. Give your body what it needs to keep your testosterone at optimal levels.
Lisa Petty, PhD understands the importance of healthy testosterone levels for both women and men.
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