Testosterone levels often are associated with a man’s sex drive, and only his sex drive. However, the hormone has a far greater impact on a man’s overall health. For a man, testosterone is essential to his mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Men also need proper testosterone levels for improved resilience to stress. Without the proper testosterone level, men fighting chronic disease are often unable to gather the will to keep fighting. Testosterone gives a man the needed drive, motivation, and fortitude to battle and continue fighting chronic disease and life stressors. Clinically, I have seen this time and time again. Men with chronic disease often feel much better with improved testosterone levels.
How Do Low Testosterone Levels Present?
Many men suffer from low testosterone, particularly as they age, but few recognize that it impacts more than just libido and erectile function. Other side effects, according to the American Urological Association, include fatigue, memory loss, depression and mood swings, changes in body composition, difficulty sleeping, and reduction in bone density. It can even lead to higher rates of mortality and diabetes, according to a 2006 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers have confirmed that testosterone levels are dropping across the board by up to 1% annually, clear evidence that there’s a problem.
More and more, we are seeing men in their 30s and even their 20s exceptionally symptomatic of very low testosterone, with fatigue and lack of libido being the primary symptoms. But why are we seeing this so much more frequently? Physicians and researchers suspect environmental toxins are to blame. Those include environmental estrogens in our food supply, xeno-estrogens in our environment like plastics and even paper receipts, and other environmental toxins like heavy metals, dioxins, and other persistent organic pollutants. Certain medications also have the potential to lower testosterone levels.
High Estrogen Levels in Males?
Some men with low testosterone also have higher estrogen levels, which typically occurs for two reasons. Some men genetically have more aromatase enzyme, which converts testosterone to estrogen. However, men most often have high estrogen because they are overweight.
Fat cells are loaded with the aromatase enzyme and create estrogen. Additional estrogen further suppresses testosterone, thus leading to more fat storage and more estrogen. That, in turn, further suppresses testosterone, which is proven to burn fat. This is a vicious cycle we see in overweight men. In this situation, some individuals use a medicine to reduce estrogen levels. This may increase testosterone levels and reduce fat loss over time, as high estrogen drives fat deposition and increases appetite. Unfortunately, this increased appetite can lead to individuals craving for—you guessed it—sweets, chocolate being a very common choice.
There are some men who have both low testosterone and low estrogen. Alongside testosterone, estrogen is thought to play a key role in keeping the brain healthy, and it aids men in maintaining a healthy vascular system and bones. This is important because men derive their estrogen from testosterone. Testosterone converts in small amounts to estrogen, so if a man does not have enough estrogen, this shortage can potentially affect his mood, brain health, and overall health.
Too much estrogen is bad, but too little estrogen is also bad. The key is the right balance. In men with low testosterone, optimizing testosterone levels through natural solutions or actual testosterone replacement is often a very effective method of restoring the vitality he once had in his 20s.
Balancing Hormone Levels
With June being Men’s Health Month, it’s an ideal time for men of all ages in Southwest Florida to think about the one hormone that affects us in so many ways. A simple blood test can confirm testosterone levels, and for those with low numbers, urologists often provide treatment through prescription drugs or injections. Older men may pop a Viagra to fix erectile dysfunction, a side effect of low testosterone, but it doesn’t actually resolve the overall issue of low testosterone. As is the case with many medications, prescriptions for low testosterone also come with potential side effects: headache, upset stomach, muscle pain, nausea, abnormal vision, skin rashes, acne, and even heart attack and stroke.
When prescribing medication, many urologists in their course of treatment are isolated to one specific condition or concern—oftentimes erectile dysfunction—and that’s what they treat. The manner in which many urologists treat patients is a core principle that separates traditional medicine from functional medicine, a medical practice whereby physicians determine how and why disease, illness, and pain are occurring, and restore health by optimizing a patient’s body through an evidence-based, holistic approach to medical care.
For patients with low testosterone, I start with a thorough physical examination and complete a detailed health history analysis. Oftentimes, I suggest additional testing to measure biotoxin markers, glucose metabolism, nutritional deficiencies, and more. My goal is to develop a scientifically and genetically complete profile of a patient, which often points to factors that interrupt or inhibit the development of testosterone.
Most patients I treat can experience immediate results in their testosterone numbers by making changes to their diet and lifestyle. Here are some natural solutions I often suggest:
Diet: Cut out sugar and junk food such as French fries, cheeseburgers, potato chips, soda, candy bars, and pastries. Increase your intake of lean protein and healthy fats from natural foods like fish, nuts, and avocados.
Intermittent fasting: Eat healthy, well-balanced meals in a condensed period of time, ideally over eight to 10 hours, to allow your organs to rest and balance hormones.
Exercise: Intense or moderate training with weights and resistance machines is a natural remedy for hormone production and is good for your overall health.
Stress reduction: Overcome work-related stress by taking a brisk walk, making time for family activities and hobbies, and taking a minute or two for deep breathing.
Sleep: An ample amount of sleep each night—at least seven hours for most people—helps the body recharge naturally.
Vitamin D: Readily available simply by stepping outside, Vitamin D is also one of the most popular supplements on the market.
Zinc: Meats like beef, chicken, and pork, as well as nuts and beans, help replenish zinc and boost testosterone production.
Patients who seemingly do it all right—eat healthy, exercise, and generally take good care of their bodies—may still experience declines in their testosterone levels because we’re constantly being bombarded by environmental toxins and endocrine disruptors.
My goal is to help patients optimize their testosterone levels. It’s a powerful brain stimulant but is also a vital body regulator. Every individual is different, which is why I spend hours delving into patients’ medical histories and concerns before drafting a to-do list that, if followed, can reduce or eliminate many of their health concerns.
As always, consult with your physician prior to making dietary and lifestyle changes.
Dr. Eduardo Maristany is a board-certified internal medicine physician who specializes in functional and integrative medicine, genetics testing, and men’s health at the Naples Center for Functional Medicine.
For more information, call 239-649-7400 or visit: NaplesCFM.com.