“Food is medicine.” The belief behind this quote is that whatever you put into your mouth as nourishment can have a lasting effect on your body. The reason for this is that everything, including us, is made out of chemicals. Each food, much like people, are full of unique molecules that gives foods (and our bodies/skin) their distinct color, taste, and smell.
As we ingest food, the chemicals that comprise it react with the chemicals that make up our body. Positive effects transpire when our body digests foods such as oranges that are high in Vitamin C, lean chicken that is full of protein, and walnuts that are laden with omegas. However, just as some foods can have a positive effect on our bodies, others can have a negative. One of those negative effects may be low testosterone.
Some foods that we eat are naturally estrogenic. Other foods may be derived from livestock who are treated with hormones. Some are packaged in hormone-changing containers. Whatever the case may be, the testosterone that our bodies rely on to increase our libido and boost muscle mass may be compromised by some of the foods we eat.
Here are 10 foods/drinks that lower testosterone.
Whiskey penis is not just a funny term for someone who is too drunk to perform in the bedroom. Alcohol in general can lower inhibitions, but also testosterone. The main ingredient in alcohol, ethanol, decreases the amount of the NAD+ enzyme in the testes and liver. This enzyme is a crucial electron donor that is needed to produce testosterone.
One study confirmed these suspicions by administering 8 healthy men a high dose of ethanol. The conclusion stated, “Our results suggest that in addition to direct testicular effects of alcohol, increased adrenal secretion of cortisol may contribute to the decrease in serum testosterone in men acutely intoxicated with ethanol.”
However, you can breathe a sigh of relief if you are a happy hour regular. Alcohol in low doses does not affect testosterone. In fact, one study shows that low doses of alcohol can slightly increase testosterone levels. For more information check out this post (Does alcohol lower testosterone levels?).
Trans-fats received a lot of publicity in the news over the last few years as it has become banned from many ingredients lists. A lot of products will boast they are trans-fat free. However, the FDA still allows foods to contain up to .5 grams of these harmful fats. To ensure you are staying free of trans-fats, skip out on the fast food, margarines, and baked goods such as cakes and donuts.
Much like PUFA oils, trans-fats have negative effects on testosterone production. Trans-fats are typically a by-product of the hydrogenation process that adds shelf-life to many oils. In a study where researchers observed the effect of trans-fats on male rats, the scientists noted, “Hydrogenated fat adversely affected litter size, sperm morphology and regularity of oestrous cycle, and prolonged the period of gestation in experimental animals.” I have written more about trans fats in this post (Do Trans fats Reduce Testosterone Levels?).
The first red flag on bottled water is the fact that it comes in plastic. Plastic is a non-biodegradable man-made product that is doing a number on the environment, wildlife, and humans. The plastic used to produce the bottles contain a chemical group called phthalates.
Studies have proven that phthalates can delay puberty, as well as lower testosterone levels in both men and women. Researchers have also noted that since the rise in bottled water production, testosterone levels in men have decreased gradually over the last 50 years.
Flax is all the rage in health food stores right now for the high amounts of protein and omega-3 fatty acids that are contained within these tiny seeds. While flax seeds look great as a garnish on a yogurt bowl, men should wearily consume them.
A study involving a woman who consumed flax seed over a four month period found that her free testosterone levels dropped a whopping 70-89%. The reason for such a dramatic drop-off in testosterone is that flax seeds contain high levels of a chemical compound called “lignans.” So much so that flax seeds have lignan levels 800 times higher than most foods. Lignans are a highly estrogenic compound that suppresses enzymes in the body called “5-a reductase.” This enzyme’s primary responsibility is to convert testosterone into the more potent dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
However, as lignans become introduced to the body, they increase the levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). This is the key to the lowering of free testosterone, as SHBG binds to the molecules, causing them to become inactive for the androgen receptors. This is the area of the body that is responsible for the development of sexual traits for males.
Shrimp is an aphrodisiac and can actually boost testosterone levels…only if you buy organic. Most shrimp is treated with a pesticide called 4-hexyl resorcinol. The reason that this chemical is used in the production of shrimp is to prevent natural discoloration called “blackspot.”
4-hexyl resorcinol is highly estrogenic. The compounds mimic naturally produced estrogen, and has been linked to lower sperm counts in men as well as the growth of breast cancer cells in women. Shrimp is mostly treated with this chemical, but isn’t the only seafood that is. Eel, farmed salmon, and tilapia are all treated with 4-hexyl resorcinol.
If you suspect that you are suffering from low testosterone, back off the Twizzlers. As we know, low testosterone is not something that most men in the early 20’s need to worry about. However, in a study where licorice root was administered to a group of males between the ages of 22 and 23, these young men tested low for serum testosterone.
Licorice is one of those trickier foods as it is used as an additive in a lot of wines, teas, and gums. Be sure to read the labels to see if this testosterone-reducer is listed as an ingredient. The reason this root is added is for its flavor. The distinct licorice flavor is due to its high concentration of glycyrrhizic acid.
This acid blocks the production of testosterone due to its ability to inhibit the activity of the 17β-HSD enzyme that serves as the catalyst to create the hormone. Although licorice reduces the production of serum testosterone, it does not create permanent damage. Testosterone levels should return to optimal levels four days licorice-free.
Popcorn itself isn’t the unhealthiest of options. However, microwave popcorn comes with a litany of health hazards. One being that the butter used to season the kernels is full of PUFA oils, which we will get into momentarily.
The other is the amount of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that is used in the lining of the bag. Much research was conducted in preparation of yet another study on the effects of PFOA on humans. Reports drafted by scientists conducting this new study found that PFOA can result in lower birth weight for babies, abnormal growths in the liver and testes, and lower testosterone. If you need your popcorn fix, be sure to pop it on the stove top with a fruit-based oil such as olive or coconut oil.
The term “mint” is a broad term for members of the “mentha” family that includes spearmint, peppermint, and wintermint. Mint is not just an herb sold in the produce aisle or grown in your backyard. It’s also an active ingredient in many products in the supermarket including lip balms, teas, shampoos, and cough suppressants.
In a study where rats were administered peppermint tea, results found a significant drop in testosterone levels on the subjects. The reason behind this decrease is that mint induced oxidative stress within the hypothalamus in the brain. This leads to a slower synthesis of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These are the hormones that journey to the testes to create sperm (FSH) and convert cholesterol into testosterone (LH).
PUFA- Vegetable Oils
Remember the microwave popcorn section? Most of the cooking oils people use today are PUFA (Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid)-based oils. PUFA oils include:
- Canola Oil
- Corn Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Flaxseed Oil
- Grapeseed Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Vegetable Oil
- Walnut oil
These ingredients are used in many processed foods such as potato chips, cookies, and microwave popcorn. Instead of using these PUFA vegetable oils, switch to SFA (Saturated Fatty Acid) fruit-based oils such as avocado, olive, or coconut.
A study was conducted with 30 men comparing testosterone levels for those who use PUFA-based foods as compared to SFA-based oils. The conclusion stated, “Our results indicate that in men a decrease in dietary fat content and an increase in the degree of unsaturation of fatty acids reduces the serum concentrations of androstenedione, testosterone and free testosterone.
Soy is one of the most estrogenic foods in the world. Three isoflavones (daidzein, genistein, glycitein) are present in soy-based products (beans, milk, vegan butters) that act as estrogen receptors. Thus, soy severely down-regulates androgens.
Another way soy disrupts testosterone production is its ability to interfere with the iodine uptake process that transpires in the thyroid gland. A study confirmed this theory, noting that suppressing any activity in the thyroid can throw off hormonal balances, specifically the production of testosterone in men.
Food can be medicine, but it can also be harmful. Keeping an eye on ingredients lists and becoming an informed shopper can do wonders for your body, including your testosterone levels. Many times it’s not the food itself that’s the problem, but rather the way that it is produced. You can still treat yourself to popcorn and shrimp, just make sure you are cooking it yourself and buying organic.
If you are looking to boost your testosterone, start with eliminating the foods that hurting it. Just taking testosterone-reducing foods off your dinner plate can facilitate the balance necessary to ramp up your sex drive and put on muscle mass.