Hormones have an impact on how you feel during the day. They can also significantly impact your sex life, sports performance, and play a role in your general overall health. Here’s what you need to know about the main hormones affecting male health, why you may consider enhancing these hormones, how to optimize male hormones, and some risk factors involved.
There are several male hormones, such as testosterone and other androgens, estrogens, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone. However, testosterone is one of the main and most widely recognized male hormones.
Many lifestyle factors, such as maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep, avoiding certain substances and medications when possible, and limiting stress, can assist with optimizing male hormones, including testosterone.
Not all supplements for optimizing male hormones may be safe or effective.
Testosterone replacement therapy may be an option for those diagnosed with low testosterone by their provider.
Testosterone tends to be the most commonly thought-of hormone when it comes to male health. However, several hormones affect male health. Here’s an overview of some of the hormones that play a role.
Testosterone and other androgens
Androgens are male sex hormones. They are responsible for male features and the development of the male reproductive tract.
The most commonly known male sex hormone is testosterone. However, its metabolite, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), also plays a significant role in male reproductive health. While there are several androgens, testosterone and DHT are the main ones in adult males.
DHT plays a vital role prenatally through puberty. It is responsible for various forms of body hair and prostate growth. However, by adulthood, DHT plays a lesser role in male reproductive health. DHT affects male hair loss in adulthood and can contribute to prostate enlargement.
In contrast, testosterone plays several vital roles in adult males. The following are several processes testosterone is involved in:
- Sex drive regulation
- Bone mass
- Fat distribution
- Muscle mass
- Muscle strength
- Red blood cell production
- Sperm production
Additionally, a small amount of testosterone is converted to estradiol, a form of estrogen. Because of this relationship, decreases in testosterone can sometimes result in less estrogen too.
While commonly thought of primarily with female health, males have small amounts of various forms of estrogen too, which plays an essential role in their health. For example, estrogen is vital in male bone health, like in females.
Estrogen is also crucial to energy homeostasis and metabolism in both males and females.
Other sex hormones
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are two other important sex hormones in males. FSH plays a role in sperm production, while LH is necessary for testosterone production.
Reasons to optimize male hormones
There are several health reasons to optimize male hormones for health. First, it’s important to note that hormones are often related. So optimizing the right one(s) can have a cascade effect. For example, LH is important for the production of testosterone, which is important in the production of estrogen.
It is recognized that as males get older, their testosterone levels may decrease over time. However, while it may be natural for testosterone levels to lower over time, it can also be harmful.
Beyond the more commonly known roles of testosterone listed above, it is crucial to note that testosterone and its derivatives are involved in some capacity in nearly every male body system. And it also has protective effects on the male body, including cardio protective and vascular protective effects.
So while many may choose to optimize hormone levels such as testosterone for its effects on libido and muscle mass, testosterone also plays a critical role in overall male health.
How to optimize male hormones
If you want to optimize your male hormones, here are a few ways to optimize them both with and without a supplement. The main focus is on testosterone specifically, but it’s important to note that levels of one hormone, such as testosterone, tend to have a cascade effect and affect other hormone levels.
Optimize male hormones with lifestyle changes
If you are simply looking for lifestyle changes, here are several natural ways to increase testosterone levels without the use of supplements:
Maintain a healthy weight
As a male ages, gaining weight in their belly can increase an enzyme known as aromatase. This enzyme converts testosterone in the fat cells into estrogen. The increase in estrogen may result in fat deposits in areas more typically seen in females, such as hips, breasts, and thighs — leading to hormonal weight gain in unwanted areas. Thus, it may also promote enlargement of the prostate and contribute to the development of prostate cancer.
In contrast, maintaining a healthy weight can minimize extra estrogen production and contribute to healthy testosterone levels, even in older age.
Avoid developing diabetes
For Type 1 diabetes, there is little one can do to prevent its onset. However, one can often take preventative measures to prevent the onset of Type 2 Diabetes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy, and exercising.
In individuals with diabetes, there is an increased risk of developing low testosterone levels over time. So preventing diabetes, when possible, is critical.
Get adequate sleep
The body produces most of its testosterone during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. So good sleep is important for optimal male hormone health—especially sleep that contains REM sleep.
Avoid alcohol and tobacco
Substances like alcohol, opioid pain medication, and tobacco can both contribute to low testosterone. Tobacco use can directly decrease testosterone, while too much alcohol (more than two drinks per day) can increase how much estrogen is produced from testosterone.
Avoid opioids when possible
Opioids can decrease testosterone levels, especially in higher doses. If you are currently prescribed opioids for a medical reason and are concerned about your testosterone levels or other side effects, consider talking to your healthcare provider about alternatives.
Xenobiotics is a term that means substances that act like hormones in your body. A common example of this is bisphenol A (BPA). Other examples include phthalates and organophosphates. Ways to minimize these include reading labels to see if a container or product is BPA phthalate free.
Additionally, organophosphates generally come from pesticides and herbicides, so washing produce and purchasing organic options when possible can help avoid organophosphates.
Too much stress can increase the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can increase fat deposits in your body. These increased fat deposits can decrease testosterone by converting more testosterone to estrogen.
Eat a variety of healthy foods
Poor nutrition can lead to several diseases and hormone imbalances. Consider limiting foods like excessive sugar, red meats, excessive caffeine, and processed foods.
Instead, eat a colorful diet of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, among other healthy foods.
Optimize male hormones with supplements
Besides dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to optimize male hormones, there are also several supplements you can try to optimize male hormones. Most of these focus primarily on testosterone—but remember, hormones work as part of a system, so optimizing one often has a cascading effect.
As mentioned previously, aromatase can decrease testosterone levels by increasing testosterone converted into estrogen. Several supplements may stop aromatase, and, thus, help keep up your body’s natural testosterone levels. These supplements include:
- Grape seed extract
Other ingredients in testosterone supplements that may increase hormone levels include:
- Anacyclus pyrethrum
- Ashwagandha extract
- Bulbine natalensis
- Fenugreek extract
- Pantothenic acid
- And many more
While several supplements may impact testosterone levels, many are not well-researched. In contrast, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is a well-accepted option for treating males with low testosterone.
However, despite TRT’s recognition as an effective method of increasing testosterone levels for many males with known low levels of testosterone, as many as 87% of men with low testosterone levels were not receiving TRT therapy.
It’s thought that many of these males were possibly seeking alternative methods of care by attempting to correct their hormones using supplements themselves. However, it’s important to note that a healthcare provider can usually offer TRT options if someone has medically recognized low testosterone.
Risks of optimizing male hormones
While most lifestyle changes to optimize male hormones are generally safe, there may be some risks with taking supplements to optimize male hormones. For example, one study published in 2020 in The World’s Journal of Men’s Health reviewed over fifty supplements that claimed to boost testosterone levels.
The study explained that while 90% of the supplements they reviewed claimed to boost testosterone levels, just less than a quarter of the supplements had data to back their claims up.
Several of the supplements' ingredients were poorly studied regarding whether they boost testosterone. And several supplements contained minerals and nutrients well above the recommended daily intake levels. So, there’s the possibility that supplements on the market for boosting testosterone could do more harm than good.
Additionally, many testosterone-boosting supplements contain several ingredients, and these ingredients may interact negatively with medications you are already taking.
If you are concerned about low testosterone levels, checking in with your primary care provider or a pharmacist is a good idea. They can help you read the label to determine if the supplements' ingredients have data to back up their claims. They can also look at medications you are currently taking to determine any possible interactions between them and the supplement you intend to take.
Depending on your health history, it is also a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider before making significant dietary changes or starting a new exercise regimen.
And finally, if you do have low testosterone levels diagnosed by a healthcare provider, or you’re concerned that your levels may be low, there are treatment options available through TRT. TRT may be more effective and possibly safer than trying to treat the condition on your own.
- Endotext. Androgen Physiology, Pharmacology, Use and Misuse.
- StatPearls. Biochemistry, Dihydrotestosterone.
- National Institutes of Health. Understanding How Testosterone Affects Men.
- The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology. Osteoporosis in Men.
- Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy. Estrogen as a key regulator of energy homeostasis and metabolic health.
Show all references
- National Cancer Institute SEER Training Modules. Male Sexual Response and Hormonal Control.
- Biogerontology. Male sex hormones, aging, and inflammation.
- Veterans Affairs. Improving Low Testosterone Naturally.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prediabetes – Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes.
- The World’s Journal of Men’s Health. ‘Testosterone Boosting’ Supplements Composition and Claims Are not Supported by the Academic Literature.