Does food affect testosterone levels?
Testosterone is a hormone used to regulate things like sex drive and sperm production in men, though it also contributes to hair growth, muscle mass and bone health.
Foods that could boost testosterone levels include:
According to research, though, there are a few foods that have the potential to lower testosterone levels as well, and so these may be things to watch out for:
- Processed foods
Here I'll be examining how these foods may influence hormone levels, plus I take a look at other ways to keep testosterone steady.
Foods that may increase testosterone
When we reach our 40s and 50s, testosterone levels naturally begin to fall. This can result in a number of symptoms including fatigue, mood swings, poor sleep and fat redistribution. It is because of this that some men seek to raise their testosterone levels.
Although more research is needed, initial studies suggest that vitamin D supplementation might help to boost testosterone.1 This means foods that are high in vitamin D, such as tuna, could go some way to improving overall levels.
Although some researchers point to the fact that vitamin D can directly influence the balance of testosterone, it also helps that foods rich in this nutrient are often both healthy and fresh. Low testosterone has been linked to poor diet and being overweight, therefore, a healthier diet full of vitamin D rich foods could raise testosterone levels.2
Other food sources of vitamin D include:
In addition, Balance Mineral Drink can help to boost vitamin D levels. This drink contains 5.0µg of vitamin D which is obtained from lichen. Balance can be mixed with water or into a smoothie and is suitable for both vegans and vegetarians too.
It has also been suggested that zinc could help to modulate testosterone levels and, since this nutrient is found in shellfish, this is another food that you could consider eating more of.
A US study found that, when men didn't get enough zinc for a period of 20 weeks, it resulted in a slight decrease in their overall testosterone levels.3 In contrast, another group of men in the same study experienced an increase in their testosterone levels when taking a zinc supplement.
It isn't completely clear how zinc influences testosterone levels. Various hypotheses have been put forward, one of which is that zinc affects the cells in the testes.4 Again, though, the fact that zinc is found amongst healthy, fresh foods, and may therefore improve weight and overall diet, further indicates how it could raise testosterone.
Over on our recipe hub we have a tiger prawn and watermelon salad which contains a good quantity of zinc. Other food sources of zinc include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Cashew nuts
- Wheat germ.
Foods that may lower testosterone
If you are concerned about low testosterone and the resulting symptoms, there are a few foods that have the potential to reduce levels further.
Soy-based foods that contain phytoestrogens are the first ones to consider. Phytoestrogens act similarly to oestrogen so, if there's any in your food, it could disrupt your body's overall hormone levels. If you were to eat a lot of soy this could lead to a reduction in testosterone levels, as well as symptoms of high oestrogen like erectile dysfunction and low sperm count.5
It must be noted, however, that more research on humans is still needed on this topic. There is also the issue that studies into soy-based products and testosterone levels often involve participants taking very high amounts of soya that we wouldn't normally get through our diet alone.6
My verdict: Soya products contain an array of vitamins, minerals and nutrients including fibre, B vitamins and calcium so, in moderate amounts, they are generally quite healthy.
Some research has suggested that, because milk contains hormones (whether synthetic or natural), it may affect testosterone levels.7
Others have suggested that, because cows are often fed soy-based products, their milk could be oestrogenic in action and could, therefore, influence testosterone further.
My verdict: There is a lack of research on this topic so I wouldn't cut milk out of your life completely. If you have concerns, you could stick to organic milk or explore dairy-free alternatives like almond milk.
Not only do processed foods like cakes, white bread and ready meals offer very little nutritionally, they are also likely to contain fats and will, therefore, contribute to weight gain. Both poor nutrition and being overweight are risk factors for developing low testosterone levels.8
Research clearly indicates this link. A Taiwanese study found, for example, that trans fats (which are found in fast food and the likes of pre-packed biscuits) were associated with lower testosterone levels in the body.9
My verdict: Swap processed foods for slightly healthier snacks like fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain bread and fresh meat and fish. Take a look at our recipe hub for some inspiration!
Although it isn't strictly a food, alcohol is another thing to bear in mind if low testosterone levels are a worry for you. Research shows that considerable alcohol intake could be linked to low testosterone.10
On top of this, there is the fact that drinking alcohol excessively for a long period of time could also put you at risk of other problems including high blood pressure, liver disease and more.
My verdict: Know the alcohol guidelines and seek help in cutting down your alcohol intake if you need it. The NHS provides a wide range of resources you may wish to consult here, though your GP will also be able to offer further advice.
How to deal with low testosterone
It can be hard to find out if you are actually low in testosterone and, although symptoms such as mood swings and loss of libido could be an indicator, you should visit your doctor should you have any concerns.
Low testosterone can often be dealt with through a range of lifestyle changes:
- Exercise more – you could join an exercise class, start a new sport or simply follow some of our exercise videos from the comfort of your own home!
- Adopt a healthy diet – as I mentioned previously, fresh foods are always best if you want to eat healthily. Try to avoid snacking on the likes of crisps and biscuits and opt for nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or even an oatcake or two, should you get peckish.
- Reduce your alcohol intake - remember that you shouldn't consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week and one 440ml can of lager usually contains around 2.3 units!11
- Cut out smoking – see the NHS website for advice on giving up or speak to your doctor for extra support.
- Address sleep problems – you may find it helpful to visit our sleep hub for some tips and advice on dealing with the likes of insomnia.
In some cases, medical treatments may be necessary to treat symptoms of low testosterone. This includes taking hormone treatments in the form of tablets, a topical gel or an injection.12 Your doctor will be able to advise if these are necessary in your case.