Testosterone is the most significant of hormones, being vital for health, mental outlook, and body composition. While adequate testosterone is absolutely essential for men, it is also an important hormone for women who want to feel good and look their best.
For myriad reasons, low testosterone is an increasing problem for both sexes. A 2007 study found that the average levels of testosterone in men dropped by 1 percent over the 15-year study period. This means that a 45-year old man in 2002 has a testosterone level that is 15 percent lower than those of a man of the same age in 1987. Studies in women are scarce but anecdotal reports show that testosterone imbalances are an increasing problem that are affecting well-being, metabolic function, libido, and body composition.
There are many theories for the decline in testosterone, but one thing we know for sure is that the chronic stress that dogs most people’s lives is a major killer of testosterone. Not only does chronic stress directly lower testosterone, it has peripheral affects that result in the body’s lower ability to produce testosterone. This article will explain how it works and what you can do about it.
Stress drains testosterone levels, leading the body to pump out muscle-degrading cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone that is released by the adrenal glands. Although cortisol can be lifesaving when you are under an acute threat, it breaks down muscle, kills strength, and makes you feel depleted when your body produces too much. Elevated cortisol also triggers inflammation, suppresses the immune system, and leads the body to deposit fat in the abdominal area.
Testosterone does the opposite, improving muscle mass and tissue repair, driving strength and physical ability, and making you feel energized and confident. This is one reason the ratio between testosterone and cortisol is often used to assess training status and performance potential in athletes. Scientists have hypothesized that high increases in cortisol on a daily basis may reduce testosterone via inhibitory actions.
Even though women require a fraction of the testosterone that men need for optimal health, chronic stress is just as harmful on their well-being. Because testosterone is produced by the adrenal gland in women (the same gland that produces cortisol), it gets depleted when the adrenals are overtaxed due to high cortisol output.
Another way that stress drives low testosterone is in how it impacts appetite and body fat. When experienced chronically, stress makes you hungry and stimulates fat storage around the belly—two actions that further drive down testosterone. Visceral belly fat is especially harmful because it is metabolically active, releasing inflammatory markers that lead to changes in how your brain experiences satiation, while also raising levels of aromatase.
Aromatase is the enzyme that transforms testosterone into estrogen. This means that not only does stress deplete testosterone, it raises estrogen, a hormone that has numerous harmful effects when it is out of balance in both men and women.
If you think about it, it makes sense biologically that stress would have such a negative impact on testosterone. Testosterone plays a central role in reproduction in both men and women. When you are under chronic stress, your brain senses that your body is not capable of taking care of progeny and it blunts reproductive drive. Adopting a stress management plan that combines nutrition, supplements, exercise, and lifestyle habits can reverse the problem and improve testosterone levels.
Solve Sleep Issues
Sleep deprivation triggers an increase in cortisol and sends blood sugar and insulin out of whack, triggering a drop in testosterone. Whether it takes a sleep routine (set bedtime, grateful log, dim lights at night), supplementation (melatonin, magnesium), or sleeping according to your chronotype (natural tendency toward being a morning or evening person), solving sleep issues is your first line of defense for improving your testosterone-to-cortisol ratio.
Eat A Lower Carb, Higher Fat, Whole Food Diet
Fixing what you put in your mouth lays the groundwork for you to successfully cope with stress. Choosing a diet based on whole foods including meat, seafood, plants, eggs, and dairy will help balance blood sugar and insulin, which helps to moderate cortisol release. A healthy diet also provides the building blocks for testosterone production, providing cholesterol to synthesize steroid hormones along with other nutrients that will minimize aromatase and inflammation.
Meditation is everyone’s go-to habit for stress management because research shows that in addition to helping the body clear cortisol, it can improve release of testosterone and related androgen hormones such as DHEA. Meditation also helps you handle difficult challenges better by shoring up mental and biological resources: One study found that when people who meditate experience extreme stress, they have a more robust hormone release to better respond to the threat.
Supplement With Zinc, Magnesium & Vitamin D
Certain nutrients have a powerful impact on the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio, helping the body manage stress and improve testosterone release. Zinc has a mild effect on aromatase, reducing the transfer of testosterone to estrogen, and it reduces inflammation that targets the sex organs (ovaries and breast in women and testes and prostate in men).
Best known as the anti-stress mineral, magnesium plays a central role in the body’s hormonal cascade, helping to metabolize cortisol and sensitize cells to insulin. It has also been shown to help overcome testosterone deficiency in men and can improve testosterone release in response to intense exercise.
Vitamin D plays multiple roles in helping to regulate testosterone: Not only does it help inhibit aromatase, this pro-hormone enhances the sensitivity of cell receptors that release testosterone. For example, one study found that men with low testosterone who supplemented with 3,332 IUs of vitamin D increased their bioavailable testosterone levels by 20 percent.
Train With Weights, Do Sprints
Along with helping minimize body fat levels, intense exercise triggers testosterone release in both men and women, while helping to reset the body’s stress response. Instead of logging hours on a treadmill or elliptical, do strength training with heavier weights that target the whole body: Deadlifts, squats, lunges, presses, and rows should make up the majority of your workout. Adding a few sprint or strongman exercises, such as battle ropes or sled pushes, will also stimulate testosterone and improve hormone balance.
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