Do you feel a bit tired, depressed, and have difficulty concentrating? Lost that loving feeling? You may be one of the approximately 13 million American men who have low testosterone levels or "Low-T."
Testosterone levels are highest when a man is young, and fall steadily beginning around age 30. In addition to being responsible for sexual function, adequate testosterone is also important for maintaining strong muscles and bones, and keeping fat evenly distributed.
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Besides changes in sexual function and a decrease in muscle mass and bone density, low levels of testosterone can be responsible for a laundry list of problems including increasing "bad" cholesterol.
Testosterone supplements have been around for years, but doubts continue as to their long-term safety. And some men, such as those with a history of prostate cancer or those with elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, should never take them. Fortunately, there are natural, safe ways to boost your testosterone levels. They include:
Lose excess pounds. Extra body fat lowers testosterone levels, especially if extra weight is in the form of belly fat. A study at the University at Buffalo found that 40 percent of obese men had low testosterone readings. And additional studies have found that 75 percent of men considered very obese, whether young or old, had low testosterone. The decrease can be reversed by losing weight.
Cheer on your favorite team. Be sports-minded. Researchers at the University of Utah found that rooting for the winning team caused a 20 percent increase in testosterone. Just make sure you back a winner — the same study found a 20 percent decrease when the favored team lost.
Enjoy a cup of Joe. In addition to providing a jolt of energy, caffeine boosts testosterone. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that drinking five 6-ounce cups of coffee a day for a month increased the testosterone-to-estrogen ratio in overweight men by almost 200 percent, although the effect wasn't long-lasting.
Take vitamin D. Vitamin D is actually a hormone, and according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, about 75 percent of Americans are deficient. A three-year study of older men published in Hormone and Metabolic Research found that men with higher levels of vitamin D had higher levels of free testosterone.
Another study found that men with low testosterone who were given a vitamin D supplement (3,332 IUs) every day for a year experienced a 20 percent rise in free testosterone. Scientists believe that vitamin D keeps the body from changing testosterone into estrogen while, at the same time, making the receptors on adrenal glands (which release testosterone) more sensitive.
Reduce stress. If you're stressed, your body releases large amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, which blocks the effects of testosterone, according to a study from the University of Texas at Austin. "When cortisol levels remain elevated, as is the case with so many people who are under constant stress, the ability to reproduce can suffer greatly," said study leader Robert Josephs. "However, these effects of cortisol are reversed when stress levels go down." Common techniques to reduce stress include meditation and yoga.
Get enough sleep. Dutch research found that older men (between 64 and 74) can double their testosterone levels by getting a good night's sleep. The longer they slept, the more testosterone circulated in their blood. Too little sleep can quickly lower levels. A study at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that being sleep deprived for a week decreased testosterone levels by 10 to 15 percent.
Exercise. Exercise of all kinds appears to boost testosterone levels. A study at Baylor University found that testosterone levels remain elevated for 48 hours after lifting weights, while a different study found that a series of short, intense 6-second sprints significantly increased testosterone. Other studies have indicated that the best boost comes from evening workouts. But don't get carried away — a study at the University of North Carolina found that extreme exercise can cause testosterone levels to drop by 40 percent.
Snack on nuts. Almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and peanuts increase the production of testosterone. Studies have found that men who eat a diet high in monounsaturated fats, the kind found in nuts, have the highest levels of testosterone. High D-aspartic acid levels promote the production of testosterone, and the generous amounts of amino acids in nuts increase blood flow.
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