The T Protocol is a complete review of what is known to optimise Testosterone in Men.
Originally intended as a single resource, it has grown into a series of posts on key areas that Men need to address in order to realise the natural Testosterone levels that are their birth right.
Previously we have discussed how to improve T levels through taking action on issues like sleep duration and what dietary modifications to make.
Here we shall discuss what to actively avoid ingesting, because of a detrimental effect on your T levels.
Statins, the most profitable drugs ever created, are used to treat or prevent cardiovascular disease. They do that by in theory by lowering cholesterol. But one of the less known side effects of statins is that they lower Testosterone.
This makes sense, since cholesterol is used to make Testosterone.
Schooling et al conducted a meta-analysis of relevant published papers and concluded just this - statins lower Testosterone. The effect was dose dependant. In a trial comparing 80mg/day versus 40mg/day of Simvastatin median T levels lowered by 10.3% and 7.5% respectively after 48 weeks. Another study using 20mg/day showed a 3.4% reduction.
Ibuprofen, a very widely used anti-inflammatory drug available in most stores without prescription, has been shown to cause ‘Compensated hypogonadism’. This sounds as about as desirable as it is - your endocrine system having to compensate because the ibuprofen is preventing it from working properly.
Kristensen et al clearly demonstrate, in a well designed study, that ‘ibuprofen alters the endocrine system via selective transcriptional repression in the human testes, thereby inducing compensated hypogonadism.’
After only 14 days of Ibuprofen use (levels equivalent to approx. 600mg dose – a pretty standard dose), LH (the hormone that asks for Testosterone to be produced by the testes) had increased by 23%.
This may seem like a good thing, except T levels stayed the same. What the researchers showed was that after only 24 hours of Ibuprofen exposure, steroidogenesis (Testosterone creation) in the Leydig cells (in the testes) was inhibited in a manner that was ‘significant and dose dependant.’ Their bodies were having to produce more Leutenizing Hormone to keep their Testosterone levels the same.
This was ultimately due to repressed expression of the genes that result in T being produced.
Considering the wide use of Ibuprofen, and the rising epidemic of low T and poor Male fertility, this information should be duly considered before reaching for the pill packet!
Moderate and heavy alcohol ingestion will lower T levels (Maneesh 2006, Sierksma 2004). This is fairly common knowledge and intuitive to most Men.
Interestingly, low dose alcohol (about a standard double serving of a spirit such as whisky or vodka) ingestion may actually increase T levels (Sarkola 2003). Even more interesting (although this study was conducted with a small sample of Men) a post workout dose of alcohol doubled T levels in resistance trained Men! (Vingren 2013)
The dosage here was about equivalent of a couple of standard doubles of spirits.
But Alcohol comes from many sources. What about types of Booze? Does that change things?
We’ve all seen the classic beer monster physique, big bloated belly, extra chins, man boobs.
Is this a symptom of epic beer fuelled binges, or just coincidental correlation?
Well, any brief investigation will uncover enough evidence to demonise beer as being highly oestrogenic. That is, it contains compounds called phytoestrogens which mimic the action of Oestrogen in the body.
In fact, it is the Hops in beer which is the most likely culprit for being Oestrogenic.
Hops contains a phytoestrogen called 8-prenylaringenin. This is more potent in its Oestrogenic activity than Genistein, the phytoestrogen in Soy. Indeed, it is the most potent phytoestrogen identified to date (Milligan 2000). However, if the dosing used in animal studies, where 8-prenylaringenin was shown to be Oestrogenic, is translated to human beer consumption, the results appear how no cause for concern. Even in a high hops craft beer variety, you would need to consume around a 1000 litres of beer per day to achieve a detectable Oestrogenic effect (Biendl 2011). Even a serious ale bender isn’t going to get you close to that figure!
Maybe there is another reason for the feminising effects of regular, large quantities of beer?
Prolactin is a hormone that enables mammals, usually females, to produce milk. As with other hormones, its influences don’t end there. Prolactin plays a role in many other physiological processes. Of interest here, elevated levels of prolactin will decrease Testosterone in Men.
Barley, a key ingredient of beer, contains a polysaccharide that stimulates prolactin release. Beer has been shown to cause prolactin release (Koletzko 2000) although it is worth noting that chronic alcohol intake will also raise prolactin levels (Oczkowski 2014).
So increased Prolactin release may well be another factor in how beer consumption produces the classic man boobs and beer belly.
Beer and Calories
If the direct Oestrogenic and hormone influencing effects of beer are debatable, what is not debatable is the calorific content, the alcohol content and the palatability of beer.
A pint of export strength lager will contain around 200-250 Kcals.
Consider that in a past life I would have gone out at least once a week and drank around 10 pints of beer. That is up to 2500Kcals of alcohol and empty carbs that your body has to process. Add in the insatiable hunger cravings incited by the booze in the early hours of the morning (think curry houses, kebabs and pizza) plus a fry up on waking and you could easily add 7 or 8000 Kcals to your normal daily food intake.
Repeat this cycle regularly enough and it is easy to see how supping gallons of ale makes you fat. It is this calorie intake and body fat, through insulin resistance, leptin resistance and increased Aromatase activity, that reduces T levels in Men. (Find a more detailed discussion of this mechanism here)
Oestrogenic and Prolactin stimulating compounds certainly don’t help, but it is the chronic high volume alcohol and calorie intake associated with Beer drinking that ruins T levels.
The same calorie arguments could be made for any alcoholic beverage, although amongst Men I think the culture around Beer drinking promotes habits that create its consumption in high quantities.
A bottle of red wine for example contains approximately 650 Kcals. Too much of it is most certainly going to have negative consequences for your body composition and your T levels.
But red wine is often touted as a healthier option due to compounds like Resveratrol, which may promote healthy aging. It is also less likely to be downed by the pint at the local sports stadium.
In fact, red wine may be a potential candidate for increasing your Testosterone. Not only has it been shown to have anti-aromatase activity, but several of the phenolic compounds in it have the ability to prevent the breakdown of Testosterone in the body by other routes (Jenkinson 2012).
Although no studies were found that investigated this effect in humans, dosing rats with similar compounds (also found in green tea) increased their T levels (Jenkinson 2013) and several studies have demonstrated aromatase inhibition by red wine (Oczkowski 2014).
Thus, red wine may prove a good choice for the discerning Testosterone savvy drinker when taken in moderation.
Xenoestrogens are a type of xenohormone that imitate the action of Oestrogen in the body. They can be synthetic, or natural.
Because of the large amount of information uncovered on the current state of xenoestrogens and how they affect Male health, we will tackle this topic specifically in another post.
However, the most contentious dietary source of xenoestrogens can be placed on the dock and cross examined immediately – Soy!
Soy must be the most recognised and vilified food stuff amongst Men looking for optimal T levels. The term, ‘Soy Boy’, which is used to label weak, effeminate Men, encapsulates the current polarised thoughts surrounding Soy.
Soy contains several isoflavones, the main of which is called Genistein. It is these isoflavones that are responsible for Soy’s Oestrogenic effects in the body.
Genistein is an ‘endocrine disruptor’. This makes complete sense under an evolutionary lens. Disrupt the endocrine system that controls fertility in the creatures that like to eat you, and you will prevent their numbers from increasing, thus managing predation.
This phenomenon was initially observed in sheep grazing heavily on red clover. Red clover is rich in xenoestrogens, Genistein amongst them, and it significantly reduces their fertility (Morley 1966).
In humans, a dose of just 30g of soy flour per day has shown frank Oestrogenic effects in Women (Doerge 2009). But will Soy intake affect Male hormone levels?
Well, several animal studies exist showing dietary Soy reducing androgen levels (Weber 2001) In humans, a study of 42 males who had their lean meat replaced with tofu (Soy protein) for only 4 weeks had a lower Testosterone : Oestrogen ratio, lower free androgen index and higher SHBG (Habito 2000) Another study also showed Soy protein Powder reduced T levels in young Men by up to almost 20% - this effect subsequently reversed two weeks after stopping the Soy intake (Goodin 2007).
Perhaps this is why Men consuming soy foods twice or more per week had 41,000,000 fewer spermatoza per mL of semen than men who did not consume soy foods (Minguez et al 2015)
It isn’t just actual Testosterone levels that may be affected. Soy has been shown to actually reduce Androgen Receptor expression (Hamilton-Reeves 2007, Mahmoud 2014). Your circulating T levels are irrelevant unless they have Androgen receptors to bind to.
It is important to note that data on this topic is mixed. But regardless of Soy’s effect on your Male health, there are several other points to consider before reaching for the Soy protein powder.
Soy is a well-known goitrogenic agent – it is toxic to the thyroid gland. Not ideal for something marketed as a health food. Reportedly, manufacturers began adding iodine to soy infant formulas as far back as the 1960’s in order to mitigate this goitrogenic effect. Soy has also been shown to be a developmental toxicant (Doerge 2009).
The serum/plasma concentration of Genistein achieved in infants fed Soy formula exceeds the concentration seen in lab studies using doses that were toxicologically active (Chen 2004). That is correct, large corporations push Soy infant formulas in doses that animal studies have shown to be toxic.
We have digressed somewhat, but if you are not concerned about its effects on your Male health, perhaps the logical sentiment on Soy consumption is best summarised in two recent scientific reviews.
Cederroth et al (2014) cautioned against drawing firm conclusions on this topic, due to the usual paucity of data on factors affecting Male health, and the presence of several conflicting study results. However, it went as far as to highlight that there were indications that Soy could indeed alter reproductive hormones and fertility (Cederroth 2014) and it also reiterated avoiding exposing infants to Soy based formula feeds.
In another recent, in depth review article, Rietjens et al (2017) concluded that, “the literature overview presented in this paper illustrates that the beneficial health effects (of Soy) are not so obvious that they clearly outweigh the possible health risks”
There are plenty of superior protein sources available, many of which positively contribute to your Testosterone levels. Choose wisely.
We’ve also written before about Iron and iron overload. It seems that Testosterone and Iron are closely interrelated. In fact, Iron stores are negatively related to serum T levels, that is, the higher your Iron levels climb, the lower your T (Gabrielsen 2018).
This is an area that needs more research. however, after you have checked your iron levels, if they are high, it may be possible to increase your T, simply by donating blood! A win-win situation for all involved.
The effects on your Testosterone levels of some over-the-counter drugs for that sore back, a few beers (and a few more) with the lads, the Tofu you’ve been misled into eating by the food industry, may alone and of themselves be small.
When you start to stack combinations of the above together, the effects become very real and significant. This is partly why scientists have struggled to pinpoint the exact cause of the Testosterone and fertility decrease in the last few generations of Men. It is a multi-pronged assault.
Men, forewarned is forearmed!
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