We all know that maintaining healthy levels of the sex hormone testosterone are important for improving and maintaining sexual function. And most if us also know that the right levels of testosterone are influential in helping you gain muscle mass and improve strength.
On the flip side, many health conditions such as metabolic syndrome, heart conditions like atherosclerosis, obesity and type 2 diabetes have been linked to low levels of testosterone in the blood.
While testosterone levels are regulated by many factors, making sure that you eat a healthy diet can help to keep those levels stable and prevent them from dropping too low.
Research has shown that there are some foods out there that can have an adverse effect on your testosterone levels, and some of them may surprise you! Let’s take a closer look at a few of them.
Foods to eat with care
Searching the internet for advice on healthy eating to maintain good body condition, including healthy levels of testosterone, time and again you’ll find the same foods cropping up as potential problems.
While it might not be a surprise to be told that eating too much processed food can have a detrimental effect on your testosterone levels, some of the other foods that have been linked to reductions in testosterone level may come as a bit more of a surprise.
Similarly, while studies show that eating certain foods or enjoying a tipple can have a beneficial effect on health, eating or drinking to excess can have quite the opposite effect, and some of these foods have a greater effect on testosterone levels than you might imagine.
So let’s take a closer look a some of these problematic foods.
Soy and soy-based products
You’ll commonly find soy-based products and soy itself mentioned as possibly having a detrimental effect on testosterone levels. We’re thinking here of things like tofu, edamame beans, soy protein drinks and soy milk.
There is even talk of dairy products made from milk where the cows have been fed a soy-based diet having an impact. Let’s take a closer look at why this might be the case. Soy-based foods are naturally rich in phytoestrogens. These mimic the effect of the female reproductive hormone estrogen in the body and it has been suggested that this might cause a drop in testosterone levels.
There have been studies in rats showing that phytoestrogens do cause a decrease in the size of the prostate and a drop in testosterone levels. But the jury is still out on whether soy foods would have a similar effect in men.
Alcohol is a tricky one. There are plenty of studies out there showing that regular modest intake of alcohol may offer a range of health benefits and having a glass of red a day has even been promoted as part of a healthy lifestyle.
The problem comes with more excessive alcohol intake. Studies have looked at what happens if you get totally wasted – testosterone levels increased in women, but declined in men – or if you drank the equivalent of 2-3 standard drinks a day over a period of weeks – there was a 6.8% drop in blood testosterone level at the end of the study period. But other animal and human studies haven’t had such clear results, with some even suggesting alcohol intake increased testosterone levels.
So, we have to say the jury is still out on this one too.
Some of the other foods that are commonly mentioned as possibly having a negative impact on testosterone levels include nuts, flaxseeds, licorice root, vegetable oil and even herbs like mint. In each case the research findings are mixed and often complicated. Studies have often been done in animals or women, so generalising the findings to men is problematic. Let’s take a closer look at nuts for instance. Like vegetable oil, many types of nut contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, and there are a few studies that have linked this to a drop in testosterone levels. In addition, there have been some studies using almonds and walnuts for example, that linked consumption to a rise in a different hormone, sex-hormone binding globulin or SHBG, which, as its name implies binds to testosterone reducing the blood level. However, these studies were done in women with polycystic ovary disease.
From this brief review of the foods that are often suggested as having a negative impact on testosterone levels, we hope that it’s clear that more research is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn. The main take home message is that moderation is key. Of course, if you’re at all worried about low testosterone levels, you should head on over to see your family doctor for a checkup. If all is well, but you want to be on the safe side, then you can consider substituting some of these potentially testosterone-lowering foods with a range of whole food alternatives. Of course, making sure that you have a healthy lifestyle by getting in some daily exercise, making sure that you get a good night’s sleep and eating a balanced and varied diet, will go a long way to keeping your testosterone levels just where they should be.