Men have hormones too!
Feb 13, 2019
OK, so that is probably not news to you.
AND, you probably know how important these hormones are to your health.
But, did you know 1 in 4 men over 30 years old have low testosterone?
Did you know men’s sperm counts have declined by an average of 60% worldwide in the last 40 years?
Beyond maintaining healthy sperm (for procreation), male hormones are fundamental for every aspect of health and wellbeing from weight management, to emotional health, and healing/regeneration of the body.
A little more about hormones
Every human body has over 50 different hormones!? Each one of these unique chemical messengers acts to facilitate different physiologic processes. The many hormones are secreted by various glands in the body, each having a unique rhythm that is dependent on countless feedback mechanisms. To make matters more complex, it is truly impossible to modify one of these hormone messengers without altering the entire network of signals sent throughout your body. The very nature of hormones is yet another example of the universal fact that “everything is connected.”
Did you know that male and female bodies have the exact same hormones circulating through their bodies? Of course, many of these hormones are at different rhythms and levels when males are compared with females. It is even true that comparing any two males, even of the same age and general physical characteristics, their hormone levels may likely be dramatically different.
You already know how incredibly unique each human being is. Hormone levels in the body are yet another expression of your uniqueness. This is why the various laboratories that investigate hormone levels in the body have such a wide reference range. Labs that measure these hormones, whether it be through blood, saliva, or urine, simply capture a snapshot within your natural rhythm. When using laboratory testing we attempt to account for these fluctuations and rhythms by collecting a sample at the same time of day (i.e. early morning testosterone) or the same time of month (i.e. day 21 progesterone). Furthermore, most hormones, including testosterone, circulate through the body bound to carrier molecule, and only “free” hormones are able to elicit their full effect. These carrier proteins, often termed binding globulins, are a confusing topic in and of themselves. It turns out that liver health is the real key to managing regular levels of binding globulins, as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is strongly associated with decreased free testosterone and increased sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG).1
Laboratory values can certainly glean all sorts of useful information, especially when multiple tests are compared. However, due to our dynamic and rhythmic nature, I believe that it is always best to follow your symptoms (i.e. how are you FEELING) over the laboratory numbers.
Two hormones to know about
I don’t want to get too deep into the science and physiology of hormones. There is an entire medical specialty devoted to that; endocrinology. I do want to focus on two hormones, GROWTH HORMONE and TESTOSTERONE. Specifically I want to discuss some simple yet extremely powerful ways to naturally modulate these essential messengers of the body to promote a state of optimal health and wellbeing. The great thing about naturally supporting physiologic hormone production is that the main side effect is enhanced wellness. This is seen through increased immune function, weight management, blood sugar regulation, and decreased risk for chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
First, I’d like to show some basic facts and functions of these two hormones.
Testosterone – “male sex hormone”
Increased motivation and competitive spirit
Enhanced libido and sex drive
Sperm production in the testes
Growth of strong hair and nails
Enhanced fat metabolism
Increased bone density
Growth Hormone – The “longevity hormone”
Growth hormone and testosterone do not have a direct connection. Growth hormone does not stimulate testosterone production, or vice versa. So why am I talking about them together? It turns out that so many of the things that promote growth hormone production also support and maintain increased testosterone levels. Since everything is indeed so intimately connected, these natural lifestyle changes promote health, vitality, and longevity in all ways.
It is important to note that when it comes to naturally managing hormones, especially testosterone, weight management is key. Excess fat mass is known to “aromatize” active testosterone, ultimately decreasing testosterone levels while increasing estrogen in the body. The good news is that all of the following items are directly effective at decreasing fat in the body, increasing lean muscle mass, which naturally allows for higher levels of testosterone to be maintained.
Managing hormone health naturally
All of these points are equally important. Like a puzzle, if you pull out a piece, you have an incomplete picture. If you focus more energy to make one piece bigger, you will still have an incomplete picture.
If there were a most important piece to the puzzle, this would be it. Without sleep energy levels will obviously be diminished. And without energy, it will be hard to have the motivation and drive to carry out any of the following activities. In addition to simply providing refreshment and restoration of energy, sleep is also critical in healthy hormone rhythms. While some hormones, like cortisol, are lowest during restful sleep, others, like growth hormone are highest. It is important to obtain sufficient slow-wave sleep, the most restorative sleep state, in order to maximize growth hormone release.2 There are a number of practices that can be done to optimize the quality of your sleep, which can be seen in my article Sleep Hygiene. It is important to also know that sleep deprivation is cumulative.3 This means that if you lose a night’s sleep, you may in fact need to accumulate those lost hours and account for your deficit before feeling fully refreshed. (Note: In the “old days,” BED REST was a real prescription, which truly provided time and space to restore and to heal.) If you are doing all of these things and still have trouble waking up in the morning, even after sleeping soundly for at least 8 hours/night, that may be a sign that hormones or deregulated or there is a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea. The good news is that both of these conditions can respond to the following lifestyle modifications, which allow your body to come back into balance, its optimal state.
Exercise naturally comes next, because it is best to exercise in the morning after restful sleep and during a fasting state (I’ll get to this in just a bit), especially if your intention is to build lean muscle and burn fat.4 The question is always, “what is the best type of exercise.” The short answer is ANYTHING. Anything that gets your heart rate up and allows you to work hard while enjoying the process (or the end of the process!) is beneficial. However, it is true that there is one exercise that is best when it specifically comes to boosting testosterone, and that is high intensity interval training (HIIT).5 This sort of workout involves working as hard as possible for 20-30 seconds and then taking a brief break, just to barely catch your breath, before pushing yourself again. Whether your intervals are sprints, push-ups, burpees, squats, or other calisthenic exercises, it really depends on what areas of body you’d like to develop. I think that Fitness Blender offers a great array of HIIT exercises that are accessible to any skill and strength levels. The great thing about this exercise program is that it does not require a gym or any equipment at all. All that is required is you and your body, along with some space to move it!
After you are hot, sweaty, and feeling invigorated from your exercise, it’s time to rinse off in the shower. No, washing your body does not do anything for your hormones, however, exposure to COLD WATER does! For this reason, it is always best to end each hot shower with at least 20-30 seconds of cold water. While it is indeed an invigorating and vitalizing practice, this brief cold water exposure has numerous physiologic effects, including boosting levels of testosterone in the body.6 If you’d like to learn more about different hydrotherapy applications and their broad effects, you can check out my Hydrotherapy chapter in our book, Vital Lifestyle.
After restful sleep, a great workout, and invigorating hydrotherapy, it’s probably time for some good quality nourishment. What to eat is a HUGE topic, and I’m not going to go into it here. However, I will see that your biggest bang for your buck is focusing on WHOLE FOODS. This means a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. There are truly endless possibilities here. The main point is that as you stay away from excess fat, protein, and processed foods, you are able to maintain a lower level of inflammation in your body.
WAIT – did he say to stay away from fat and protein!? I thought I needed these!
Fat and protein are macronutrients that are absolutely important for every aspect of your body, including hormone production. BUT, once again, be sure that you focus on getting these nutrients from whole food sources.7 Metabolizing fat and protein from processed foods or animal sources is an extremely oxidative and inflammatory process. If your body is constantly working to counter the effects of metabolism, less energy and resources will be available to promote healing and restoration.
There are indeed some additional foods that specifically support testosterone production (pumpkin seeds, cruciferous veggies, garlic, pomegranate), though these always seem to have best results when all other pieces of the diet are adequately addressed.
Now that we focused briefly on WHAT to eat, let’s turn to HOW to eat. While we eat food in the form of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats it is important to understand that excess macronutrients are stored in two forms; as glycogen (linked glucose molecules) in the liver, and as fat in adipose tissue throughout the body. Your stored glycogen will give you about 8-12 hours of fuel, which of course is highly dependent on your activity level. Therefore, upon waking in the morning, rather than breaking the fast, it is best to prolong your fasted state for a number of reasons. For one, you are able to start burning those fat stores which, of course allows you to maintain healthy weight and increase relative lean muscle mass. Additionally, you are able to experience enhanced and prolonged spikes of growth hormone in the morning, which has shown to be a response of the fasted state.8 This is certainly compounded by implementing your exercise routine, during which you are able to further burn stored fast while boosting testosterone levels. So, what is the most ideal amount of time to stay fasted each day? That depends on your overall health goals as well as your general lifestyle. There is an abundance of information on intermittent fasting available. If you’d like a slightly bigger bite, check out the Intermittent Fasting chapter in my book, Vital Lifestyle.
You thought we could get through this thing without talking about the S-word!? HA! Stress is an absolutely critical component to health in every possible way. With regard to both growth hormone and testosterone, numerous studies have shown inverse relationships with cortisol, the chief stress hormone. That is, as stress levels in your body rise, growth hormone and testosterone fall. Notice I said stress levels in your body, I didn’t say stress levels in your life. You can’t avoid stress levels in your life. However, you most definitely can change your relationship with stress. That relationship, between you and stress, is very personal. ‘Stuffing’ things down and denying the presence of stress can be detrimental over time. The key is finding ways to regularly and productively express yourself that allows you to fully experience the energy of stress as it moves through you. As you do so, your experience of stress is transformed. You are no longer running from stress, hiding from stress, or denying stress in your life. You are welcoming stress into your life for the gifts that it provide, shaping you into the beautifully unique person that you are.
Xenohormones are not the hormones of superheroes, like Xena the warrior princess! Xenohormones are synthetic substances that have hormone-like effects in the body. They are essentially “endocrine disrupters,” innocently entering the body only to confuse and disturb natural hormone functioning. The most common, or at least most widely discussed, are xenoestrogens. Xenohormones are found in the form of various synthetic compounds such as:
4-Methylbenzylidene camphor (sunscreen lotions)
Butylated hydroxyanisole (food preservative)
Bisphenol A (monomer for polycarbonate plastics and resins)
Chlorine and chlorine by-productsDieldrin (insecticide)
Erythrosine (Food coloring – Red No. 3)
Ethinylestradiol (combined oral contraceptive pill)
Metalloestrogens (a class of inorganic xenoestrogens)
Nonylphenol (industrial surfactants, emulsifiers, detergents, pesticides)
Pentachlorophenol (general biocide and wood preservative)
Polychlorinated biphenyls / PCBs (electrical oils, lubricants, adhesives, paint)
Parabens (preservatives in personal care products)
Phenosulfothiazine (a red dye)
DEHP (plasticizer for PVC)
Man that is one long list!
You’ll notice that many of these are insecticides and plastics. So, the best way to mitigate exposure is to eat organic when possible, avoid eating from plastic containers, and choose natural products. The main issue with these xenoestrogens is their estrogen-like estrogen like effects. For men, this leads to decreased levels of testosterone. For women, this leads to menstrual disturbances as well as estrogen driven cancers (most breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers). There are countless other detriments that are slowly being uncovered.
I put this last, as this is not an integral piece of the puzzle. Supplements are called supplements because they are intended to supplement what you are doing and eating. Therefore, this is actually when supplements work best, after the entire foundation is in place. That said, there are a few different herbs and nutrients, specifically with regard to testosterone support. Some herbs that have shown to support testosterone production include: Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris), Malaysian ginseng (Eurycoma longifolia), Yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Pine bark extract (Pinus pinaster).10 Additional supportive nutrients include zinc (prevalent in pumpkin seeds), which acts as a natural aromatase inhibitor, blocking the transformation of testosterone to estrogen.
I would be remiss to end this article without touching on psychospiritual implications for male hormone health. Testosterone is produced by your testes, which lie in the energetic center of the body known as the sacral, Swadhisthana, or simply 2nd chakra. This energetic center embodies your emotional aspects pertaining to sexual energy, intimacy, personal relationships, and self-acceptance. To really enhance and maximize the healing that is available, you may wish to consider how you can enhance these areas of your life.
How can you be more sensual and Loving with yourself or with others?How can you open up to receive more intimacy and Love in your life?How can you release any grudges or judgments that may be held against friends or loved ones in your life?How can you become more light-hearted and Loving of yourself in the most challenging times?
(image from bigchitheory.com)
Boosting healthy hormone levels requires more than reading an article.
I encourage anybody wanting to experience natural healing through lasting lifestyle changes to do so with a sense of commitment and determination. Create a positive intention for yourself, along with a quality or affirmation that may bring more inspiration to your day-to-day activities. Give yourself at least two to three months of focused attention on this intention. And, as always, do your best to bring joy to your journey.
Mody A, White D, Kanwal F, Garcia JM. Relevance of low testosterone to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Cardiovascular endocrinology. 2015;4(3):83-89. doi:10.1097/XCE.0000000000000057.
Van Cauter E, Spiegel K, Tasali E, Leproult R. Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep medicine. 2008;9(0 1):S23-S28. doi:10.1016/S1389-9457(08)70013-3.
Krueger PM, Reither EN, Peppard PE, Burger AE, Hale L. Cumulative exposure to short sleep and body mass outcomes: a prospective study. J Sleep Res. 2015;24(6):629-38.
Bajer B, Vlcek M, Galusova A, Imrich R, Penesova A. Exercise associated hormonal signals as powerful determinants of an effective fat mass loss. Endocr Regul. 2015;49(3):151-63.
Di blasio A, Izzicupo P, Tacconi L, et al. Acute and delayed effects of high intensity interval resistance training organization on cortisol and testosterone production. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2016;56(3):192-9.
Mooventhan A, Nivethitha L. Scientific Evidence-Based Effects of Hydrotherapy on Various Systems of the Body. North American Journal of Medical Sciences. 2014;6(5):199-209. doi:10.4103/1947-2714.132935.
Allen NE, Appleby PN, Davey GK, Key TJ. Hormones and diet: low insulin-like growth factor-I but normal bioavailable androgens in vegan men. British Journal of Cancer. 2000;83(1):95-97. doi:10.1054/bjoc.2000.1152.
Hartman ML, Veldhuis JD, Johnson ML, et al. Augmented growth hormone (GH) secretory burst frequency and amplitude mediate enhanced GH secretion during a two-day fast in normal men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1992;74(4):757-65.
Xenoestrogens and How to Minimize Your Exposure. https://www.organicexcellence.com/blogs/news/xenoestrogens-and-how-to-minimize-your-exposure
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database [database on the internet] Available from: http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Subscription required to view.