The Importance of Testosterone in Men and Women + 7 Foods To Boost Testosterone
When you hear “testosterone” you probably immediately think about how important it is to the health of men.
Which is true. Testosterone is a vital hormone responsible for the development and maintenance (in men) of male attributes.
But testosterone matters to the health and wellbeing of women as well.
It is a crucial hormone produced in both genders.
In fact, healthy women make up to 300 mcg of testosterone in their ovaries and adrenal glands every day.
Yet low testosterone is becoming an increasingly widespread health issue among both men and women. Over the past 20 years, testosterone levels in American men have rapidly declined.
And low testosterone in women had been linked to anxiety, depression, weight gain and osteoporosis and a low sex drive.
In this blog I want to discuss how testosterone works; why it matters to the well-being of both genders; why levels of this key hormone can decline or become insufficient; and lastly, share some testosterone boosting foods and lifestyle tips.
Testosterone is produced by the gonads (by the Leydig cells in testes in men and by the ovaries in women), although small quantities are also produced by the adrenal glands in both sexes.
It is an androgen, meaning that it stimulates the development of “male” characteristics.
It’s true, testosterone is present in much greater levels in men than in women, but it still has an important role in both sexes.
In men, testosterone initiates the development of the male internal and external reproductive organs during foetal development and is essential for the production of sperm in adult life. Testosterone is linked to many of the changes seen in boys during puberty (including an increase in height, body and pubic hair growth, enlargement of the penis, testes and prostate gland, and changes in sexual and aggressive behaviour).
Testosterone regulates the secretion of luteinising hormone and follicle stimulating hormone. To effect these changes, testosterone is often converted into another androgen called dihydrotestosterone.
As I mentioned, in women, testosterone is produced by the ovaries and the adrenal glands.
The majority of the testosterone produced by the ovaries in women is actually converted to the principle female sex hormone, oestradiol.
Why Testosterone Is Important
Healthy levels of this key hormone are necessary for a healthy libido, a healthy pain response, sufficient levels of red blood cells, healthy sleep patterns, bone density, muscle mass, energy, and mood stability.
As we age, testosterone levels in both men and women naturally decline, but this decline is often accelerated by the typical American lifestyle. Things like:
Low vitamin D levels
Prescription drugs (especially statins)
All of these risk factors deplete the normal immune response, lead to being overweight or diabetic, can tax the body, and decrease metabolism.
Research shows that low testosterone has become an issue impacting approximately 40% of men over the age of 45.
Unfortunately, testosterone isn’t as thoroughly studied in women so no one knows the hard numbers on the prevalence of women with low testosterone, but a Wall Street Journal article suggests that the pain epidemic many women struggle with may be linked to an imbalance of hormones, including testosterone.
Why Is Low Testosterone A Problem?
Low testosterone can have some seriously negative health consequences. One study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism linked low testosterone to a higher risk of death from heart disease and other causes, and not just in men, but in women as well.
In fact, as of 2020 the AUA now includes testosterone supplementation for females as part of its core curriculum for urologist's education despite TRT in women having been largely “taboo.”
Existing science also supports the importance of healthy testosterone levels in women, despite the role of testosterone in women being largely undervalued.
It impacts bone strength, libido, ovarian function, builds muscle, impacts mood and energy, protects against cardiovascular disease, protects against cancer, keeps the brain healthy, and is vital to metabolic function.
In women, normal testosterone levels range from 15 to 70 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) of blood.
Testosterone levels lower than 15 ng/dL may cause:
changes in breast tissue
low sex drive
missed or irregular menstrual periods
Loss of muscle mass
Heightened anxiety and depression
Brain fog or cognitive decline
non-lean weight gain
In men, a testosterone level of at least 300 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) is considered normal.
A man with a testosterone level below 300 ng/dL would definitely experience symptoms of low testosterone.
In addition to what I listed for women, men may experience erectile dysfunction, hair loss, low semen volume, and smaller testicle size.
Testing for Low Testosterone
Diagnosing and confirming low testosterone requires thorough lab testing and a careful interpretation of the results.Inaccurate or misinterpreted test results can either falsely diagnose or miss a case of testosterone deficiency.
If you feel you have symptoms of low testosterone, the standard next step is to measure the level of testosterone in the blood. But testing for total testosterone is not a fail proof process.
For example total testosterone fluctuates during the day so the timing of when you have the blood drawn for the test may matter.
Also, the definition of "low" depends on the standard adopted by your doctor and the testing lab. Most labs have their own ranges. What one lab flags as low another may flag as normal and vice versa.
Another issue with the total testosterone lab test is that a lot of the hormone it measures is not biologically active in the body.
A small fraction of total testosterone- from 1% to 2%- floats around on its own in the blood. This is what’s known as "free" testosterone and is biologically active.
About half the remaining hormone is loosely attached to a protein called albumin. This kind of testosterone, like free testosterone, is potentially available for work.
The two, together, represent the "bioavailable" hormone the body's tissues actually respond to.
But anywhere from 40% to 70% of total testosterone travels around with a protein called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). This makes it unavailable to your cells.
As a result, a large portion of your measured total testosterone actually may be biologically INACTIVE.
This can be misleading in certain circumstances.
For example if SHBG is on the high side, total testosterone may be solidly in the normal range even though biologically active testosterone is low.
The opposite is true, too: If the SHBG is low, total testosterone may look abnormally low even though bioavailable testosterone is well within the norm.
To obtain a clear-cut diagnosis —either confirming low testosterone or ruling it out—work with a physician who understands the complexities of testosterone testing and can interpret the results in light of any symptoms you’re experiencing.
A careful evaluation could involve testosterone measurements on more than one day, as well as tests for levels of hormones related to testosterone.
7 Foods that Boost Testosterone
There is a lot of hype about what foods and supplements can boost testosterone. Science supports these seven as being among the most effective.
1. Healthy Fats
One group of foods that boost testosterone is an adequate intake of healthy fat.
A study published in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry examined the effects of diet on serum sex hormones in healthy men.
Results showed that when men decreased their healthy fat intake, serum concentrations of androstenedione, testosterone and free testosterone also decreased.
Dietary fat is essential to testosterone production in the body, with cholesterol being the essential building block of all steroid hormones.
This study demonstrated that increased intake of SFAs (saturated fatty acids) and MUFAs (mono unsaturated fatty acids) resulted in a higher testosterone production in the body, while increased intake of PUFAs (poly unsaturated fatty acids) actually decreased testosterone in the body.
The study suggested that the optimal ratio of dietary fats was around 35% of total calories consumed, with a majority of these being SFAs and MUFAs.
Examples of the best fats to include would be coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, fermented dairy products, like goat milk kefir, yogurt, or raw goat or sheep milk cheese, flax and chia seeds, cage free or pastured eggs, grass fed red meat, and nuts like walnuts and almonds.
2. Quality Protein
To maintain healthy testosterone levels, it’s important to consume high quality protein sources.
Studies have indicated that restricting protein intake or a protein-energy deficiency affects testosterone biosynthesis.
When selecting sources of protein it’s imperative to choose grass fed, pastured and organic.
Commercially-raised animal products are exposed to growth hormones and as a result have higher levels of estrogens. A diet heavy in foods with estrogenic properties will counteract the benefits of testosterone.
Try consuming more grass-fed beef, wild salmon, organic chicken, pastured eggs, and nuts and seeds.
3. Complex Carbohydrates
The consumption of complex carbohydrates is important for optimizing testosterone levels and maintaining energy.
This is especially true for athletes or active men and women who strength train.
This study found that a high-carb diet improved testosterone levels and decreased cortisol better than a low-carb diet over just 10 days.
However, much like protein quality, the TYPES of carbohydrates you consume, matters.
Opting for plant-based carbohydrates can drastically improve your general health and help naturally boost your testosterone levels.
Eating fruits and wholesome starchy veggies also lowers inflammation.
Some of the best complex carbohydrates that improve energy and mood, while helping to maintain healthy testosterone levels, include high fiber grains like oats and quinoa, fruits, potatoes and sweet potatoes, squashes and rice.
Ginger consumption has been linked to enhanced testosterone production, especially among males with oxidative stress conditions.
Study participants used ginger supplements, which improve testosterone levels by enhancing luteinizing hormone production, normalizing blood glucose and reducing oxidative stress.
You can also add ginger into your diet by drinking ginger tea, using the root to make fresh juices or adding it to recipes.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that both helps to enhance the body’s ability to deal with stress and helps to reduce cortisol levels.
Research shows that it also promotes muscle strength and endurance, and increases testosterone levels.
A study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health found that ashwagandha intake for an eight-week period was associated with an 14.7% greater increase in testosterone compared to placebo.
Ashwaganda can be consumed in several ways. It’s available as a tea, in capsules, tinctures and powders.
6. Zinc Foods
Zinc is an important nutrient for hormonal health, and it plays an important role in hormone production by increasing testosterone naturally.
Research suggests that zinc plays an important role in modulating serum testosterone levels in normal men.
Some of the best foods that are naturally high in zinc are lamb, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, cage free eggs, mushrooms and cashews.
7. Magnesium Rich Foods
Studies conclude that magnesium consumption is linked to increased testosterone levels .
Also worth mentioning is the role magnesium plays in vitamin D metabolism and sleep quality — two important factors for normal testosterone production.
This study observed a significant increase in total, bioactive, and free testosterone levels in males who supplemented with 3,332 IU of Vitamin D.
Some magnesium rich foods are wheat bran, dark chocolate, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, cooked spinach, bananas and almonds.
Other Natural Testosterone Boosters
In addition to consuming more foods that boost testosterone, the following lifestyle changes can help.
1. Intermittent Fasting/ Fed & Unfed windows
One of the biggest benefits to IF or using fed and unfed windows of time is that it has been shown to increase testosterone by nearly 200%... even up to 400%.
In addition, a study by the University of Virginia Medical School noted that growth hormone levels increased 2,000% over the baseline in men who fasted for 24 hours. This is important as growth hormone levels are correlated with testosterone.
Fasting allows your digestive system and organs to rest, especially your liver, which is so crucial for naturally balancing hormones, including testosterone.
2. Weight Training
If you want to naturally boost testosterone and HGH, then add in some heavy weight training.
Researchers at Ball State University found that “strength training can induce growth hormone and testosterone release.”
Another study from the University of Nebraska Medical Center researched the acute effects of weight lifting on serum testosterone levels. The results concluded that even light and moderate weight lifting increased serum testosterone levels in participants.
3. Liver Detox
Your liver is so crucial to testosterone levels.
Research proves that when your liver does not function optimally, it affects your testosterone output.
The liver holds an enzyme that conjugates the 17beta-hydroxyl group of testosterone.
A study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology notes that “serum testosterone is reduced in up to 90% of men with cirrhosis, with levels falling as liver disease advances.”
This shows just how vital liver health is to your testosterone, and countless studies verify the effects of liver function on testosterone.
4. Stress Reduction
For most men and women with low testosterone, if you struggle with anxiety, a poor stress response, frustration, anger issues, etc., those things all drop your testosterone levels over time.
It’s one of the many ways chronic stress plays a crucial role in health decline.
While acute or short lived stress can have a positive effect on the mind and body, chronic or ongoing stress has just the opposite effect.
A 2010 study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior first suggested this when researchers evaluated the “dual-hormone hypothesis” clinically.
They discovered that when cortisol is initially elevated (acute stress) testosterone responds by elevating as well but when stress persists (chronic) testosterone dropped, often at a much lower level than before cortisol kicked in.
This means it is important to find ways to relieve stress, and manage your stress response to help support your testosterone levels.
5. Get Quality Sleep
An article from the journal Current Opinion of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity relays that getting enough sleep is one of the most effective natural ways to raise testosterone.
Most adults need at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
For more in depth information about the importance of sleep click here.
6. Lower Body Fat Percentage
Body composition has a predictable and linear relationship with increased testosterone naturally.
When you consider the effects that insulin resistance and poor sleeping habits have on testosterone, this makes perfect sense because they are all closely knit together with obesity.
It’s important to maintain a healthy body fat percentage.
The Bottom Line:
Testosterone is an important hormone produced in both men and women
Low testosterone is not just a male issue, but also a female issue.
To test for low testosterone be sure to work closely with a qualified practitioner
To boost your testosterone levels naturally you can prioritize certain foods like healthy fats, fiber, protein, magnesium, and zinc
In addition, you can crowd out testosterone-lowering foods, such as processed and refined sugars, grains and alcohol.
Other ways to naturally help maintain healthy testosterone levels include intermittent fasting, weight training, detoxing the liver, reducing stress, getting quality sleep and lowering body fat.