9 Key Factors That Can Make or Break Your Testosterone Levels

Hormones impact our bodies in many ways. Testosterone (T), for example, impacts sexual health. Without normal levels of testosterone, a man’s physical, emotional, and mental health will be affected. Men should check their testosterone levels to understand if intervention needs to be made. Low T (hypogonadism) can be a gateway to many other health conditions and complications like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

1. Diet's impact on testosterone

Make: Research has shown that minerals such as magnesium (pumpkin seeds, beans, nuts), zinc (shellfish, fortified cereals, lentils), and potassium (avocados, bananas, potatoes) support healthy testosterone levels. Nutrients like these and others play many different roles, like decreased fat mass and improved heart health, which are factors that improve testosterone levels. Including these foods can help a man support his overall health.

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Break: Excessively high intake of sugar (sweets, soft drinks, desserts) and saturated fats (red meats, pastries, fried foods, dairy) are known to be pro-inflammatory. This means that they cause inflammation in the body and make it hard for the body to produce healthy hormone levels, including testosterone. Men should limit the amounts of these foods that they eat.

2. Impact of lifestyle factors

Make: Studies mainly show positive associations between physical activity and testosterone production. One reason is the effect exercise has on cortisol, the main stress hormone. High levels of cortisol may decrease testosterone production.

Due to exercise’s role in reducing stress, it can help increase testosterone levels. Other benefits of exercise include improved heart health, increased muscle mass/strength, and improved bone health. Research indicates resistance training and HIIT as the preferred exercise methods to support testosterone health.

Break: There is strong evidence linking alcohol and nicotine use with hypogonadism. There are many ways that these lifestyle factors destroy testosterone production, starting in the brain down to the Leydig cells of the penis. Not only this, but alcohol consumption and drug use are risk factors for other chronic conditions like heart disease, which can also impair testosterone production.

Overall, men are more likely to drink alcohol and smoke nicotine. The recommended intake of alcohol is <2 drinks/day for men. Currently, there is no active recommendation for nicotine use because of its known negative effects. It is recommended that men quit smoking to protect their heart, liver, and overall health.

3. Health conditions and testosterone

Make: Certain chronic diseases are associated with high levels of testosterone. For example, prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) are linked to testosterone levels in the blood that are above the normal range. This is not a direct cause, but in some cases, testosterone can feed cancerous cells in the prostate gland, thus causing growth.

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Break: Chronic diseases that affect the body’s metabolism (e.g., diabetes and heart disease) can cause decreases in testosterone levels. This decrease is due to the inflammation caused when these diseases are not well-maintained.

Taking medication is one way to help manage chronic disease. However, some prescription drugs may decrease testosterone levels. Such include certain antidepressants, statins, blood pressure medications, pain medications, and more. Men should not avoid taking medication for fear of decreased testosterone but rather should follow their doctor's recommendations and make lifestyle changes to manage their conditions and support healthy testosterone levels.

Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is a treatment method for hypogonadism where testosterone is administered via gel, tablets, patches, and injections. Men who are on TRT should be under the supervision of a medical professional to avoid the risks of overmedication. Many products on the market today, such as over-the-counter testosterone boosters, are widely available but should be avoided by men.

Make: There are two times when testosterone levels in a male are at their highest — at birth to support the constant growth and development of the reproductive system and during puberty to support the growth and maturation of sperm. A boy’s testosterone can easily spike during these times and sometimes even past the normal range. This explains those 'teenage hormones' or other factors like acne, voice deepening, etc.

Break: Aging is a natural testosterone breaker. A man’s testosterone will decline at a yearly rate of 1–2% starting as early as his late 20s. This is different from women who experience a rapid decrease in estrogen during stages of menopause. A man’s declining T levels are more gradual and often are not noticed until symptoms appear.

5. Genetic factors

Make: Research has pointed to certain genetic factors that are correlated with increased testosterone production. One study showed how athletes who had stronger hand grip strength, fat-free mass, and muscle twitch fibers also had several testosterone-increasing genes. Genes affecting muscle fiber and size can also correlate with increased testosterone production.

Break: Men born with genetic mutations, such as Klinefelter syndrome, can have low testosterone levels. In this specific condition, men are born with an extra X chromosome. This genetic makeup may impair normal testosterone production.

Other genetic factors that may affect testosterone levels include gene mutations in the hypothalamus and pituitary glands of the brain. This is where testosterone production is started. They release signals to the testes to make testosterone. When the brain’s testosterone production signals are impaired, this is known as secondary hypogonadism.

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6. Psychological factors

Make: When a man has no psychological factors or conditions, this supports healthy and normal testosterone production. A man who is at risk or has some sort of mental condition should work closely with a medical doctor to learn about the best treatment plan for his body. He should also incorporate testosterone-making lifestyle choices for his hormonal health.

Break: Symptoms of anxiety and depression are associated with hypogonadism. Such include decreased motivation, drive, and libido. Also, antidepressants can cause increases in appetite and lead to weight gain and decreased muscle mass, which directly impact testosterone levels.

7. Sleep pattern impact on testosterone levels

Make: A healthy amount of sleep at 8 hours/night supports healthy testosterone levels. During nighttime sleep, the body is working on repairing, building, and strengthening the body, including testosterone levels. Activities such as listening to relaxing music, reading a book before bed, or turning off electronics can help promote healthy sleep and testosterone levels.

Break: Research agrees that poor sleep quality can cause low testosterone levels. The Sleep Foundation indicates that testosterone spikes at around 8 a.m. and falls around 8 p.m. Men who have problems sleeping, work night hours, and have irregular sleep patterns are at higher risk of low testosterone. Aging men are at risk for muscle mass decreases and lack of sleep.

8. Sexual activity and testosterone

Make: As stated earlier, testosterone improves sexual function. Testosterone helps with erections and the maturation of healthy sperm. When a man has normal testosterone levels, this increases his fertility, desire to have sex, and enjoyment of sex too.

Break: Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a direct result of hypogonadism. ED is defined as difficulty getting or keeping an erection firm enough for sex. This affects millions of men around the world and can impact a man’s self-esteem, sexual relationships, mental health, and more.

9. Hormonal balance and interactions

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Make: Cortisol is a hormone released in response to stress. Research varies when talking about cortisol and its link to testosterone levels. In certain people, high testosterone could increase cortisol levels and further increase the risk of stress-mediated disorders. This does not mean that stressing out is a good thing. Men should aim to lower their stress levels to support their health.

Break: A percentage of testosterone naturally gets converted into an estrogen called estradiol. Healthy levels of estradiol are needed in men at much lower levels than in women. However, in some men, too much testosterone gets converted into estrogen, altering the hormone balance and causing symptoms like gynecomastia (man breasts), decreased muscle, and increased fat mass.

What are the next steps?

Working with healthcare professionals, such as an endocrinologist, urologist, registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, etc., can help maintain healthy testosterone levels. Many men find themselves trying to figure things out on their own regarding their health, causing problems later down the road and time wasted. Contact a healthcare professional to learn how to support your physical, emotional, and mental health.

Key takeaways:


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