What Causes Low Testosterone?
(All About Testosterone Part 3)
This is the third installment in our three part series about Testosterone-
- "What's a Normal Testosterone Level For a Healthy, Sexually-Active Male?"
- "How to Increase Your Testosterone Levels Naturally (Try This Before HRT)"
- "Things That Are Killing Your Testosterone Levels That You Aren't Aware Of"
Even though all of these articles are written by an licensed pharmacist who was also a competitve bodybuilder - none of these articles should be considered medical advice or a suitable replacement for a physician's professional opinion. These articles are subject to our medical disclaimer.
What Is Lowering Your Testosterone Levels?
“What? Never!” I’m sure that is the emphatic response of nearly all of you reading this. But what if you are; but just don’t know it?
Because, in fact, on a daily basis we typically come into contact with at least one substance, which may negatively be affecting our testosterone levels.
Just like what you do know - can help you, what you don't know - can hurt you.
We are frequently bombarded by substances we shall refer to as “endocrine disruptors” or in this case “xenoestrogens”.
But what are these "xenoestrogens" exactly?
(I'm not a girl...)
As defined by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences -
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.
In other words - a xenoestrogen is any compound, which has the ability of eliciting a response (as an agonist) at the estrogen receptor in the body (though being artificial). And While these compounds do not necessarily bring about the same effects as estrogen itself, they are capable of inducing the same changes, albeit either weaker or slightly modified.
Basically- the mess your shit up.
Effects of High Estrogen Levels (Xenoestrogens)
Before we start the glorious bashing of all things estrogen, please keep in mind that a small amount of estrogen is necessary for normal male physiology and functioning. Ask any bodybuilder, athlete or women - if estrogen falls too low, they are massively fatigued, depressed, anxious and their body aches like they got the crap beaten out of them.
In era of mass production, processed food, radiation and invisible pollution - chances are, you are exposed considerable amounts of xenoestrogens that you may not be aware of. Especially if you live in big city and even if you eat healthfully.
As you may have guessed, the effects of these xenoestrogens are remarkably similar to estrogen itself, but in case you are not fully aware- these are the possible effects of these xenoestrogens;
- Impaired functioning of the testes, and subsequent decreases in testosterone production
- Promoting storage of fat
- Disrupting normal onset of puberty in boys
- Compromised functioning of the immune system
- Cardiac or bone problems
- Considerable increase in the risk of cancer
Where are Endocrine Disruptors and Xenoestrogens Found?
Exposure to them is inevitable and to some extent your body/genetics has learned to tolerate them - but it's definitely not a bad idea to minimize exposure to them as much as possible.
To date, over 87000 different MAN-MADE endocrine disruptors have been cataloged, and are being studied by the Environmental Protection Agency.
It is no easy task identifying all the sources of these pseudo-estrogens you may come into contact with.
They are in our food, in our personal care items, in our luxuries and in our homes. Even the water we drink might not be particularly safe, especially if our source is bottled water.
Does the Amount of Exposure Matter?
Yes and no, since the concentration of these substances needed to elicit an effect varies greatly; but generally very little is required to do damage (that is why the concentration is typically measured in parts per trillion).
To put this in perspective, a study at the Harvard School of Public Health, published in the 2011 "Journal of the American Medical Association" concluded-
Eating canned food meals five consecutive nights in a row can increase BPA concentrations [a significant endocrine disruptor] in your body by over 2000%, resulting in an immense estrogen spike.
Which Ones Should I Know About?
The following list consists of the most popular disruptors.
Obviously we can't list all 87000 (the Environmental Protection Agency can) - but here are some that we almost guarantee you come in contact with on a daily basis.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Bisphenol A is commonly found in many plastics and linings of canned foods, as a raw material used in production.
BPA is a potent testosterone disruptor, of which you may be taking in much more than you would like to know.
Bottled water is notorious for being made of BPA plastics and could be your biggest contributor to estrogenic dominance. Men exposed to chronic high levels of BPA encounter problems with erection potency, have altered libido and sometimes mood disorders. The effects also appear to be much more pronounced over the age of 30.
Check this out if you are interested in what the Food and Drug Administration has to say about BPA's-
Green Tea (5+ Cups)
This one will probably come as a shocker and a possibly a huge disappointment.
Chances are, you are currently drinking green tea or taking green tea extract in an effort to be healthy or help decrease body as part of a fat loss diet.
After all, it's supposed to be the healthiest drink in the world.
It still is, except -
A study published in the September 2011 issue of the "Indian Journal of Experimental Biology", found that drinking 5 cups of green tea a day, for 26 days reduced testosterone levels by around 20%. [i]
In the case of green tea- certain "catechins" are responsible for the hormonal disruptions, green tea isn't a BPA or xenoestrogen risk.
This just goes to show that green tea is not the total miracle drink that most of us believe it is.
(we cannot confirm if this is true of all types of tea)
Good Looking Loser says-
This study was news to me. Disappointing news.
I'm not going to avoid green tea since I administer my own doctor-supervised hormone replacement therapy and I'm basically immune to these types of things. I don't think you need to stop drinking green tea altogether either, especially if you are taking other measures to optimize your natural testosterone levels.
In fact, a 2013 study in the "Front Endocrinology" suggests that moderate green tea consumption (probably less than 5+ cups) actually increases testosterone.
There's a lot of worse things than green tea, like- fast food and the liquid diarrhea we call "breakfast cereal".
Still, you might want to avoid what I did in college - when I used to drink over 1 gallon (8-10+ green tea bags) a day.
You might want to opt for high-quality organic loose-leaf instead of those generic tea bags. The majority of mainstream, mass-produced tea is the cheapest of the cheapest and often sits in a basement in China for years before you drink it. Organic loose-leaf tastes WAY BETTER too.
A critic, like myself, can reasonably point out that the study was done on rats, with excessive quantities of green tea considering how small rats are and basically the only evidence in the world of this.
Still, it's our job to present and discuss non-mainstream topics that you won't find elsewhere and that's what we've done.
This issue is also discussed here-
- Suppversity: Nutrition and Exercise Science for Everybody: Green Tea Lowers Testosterone Levels by ~20%
Soy and Related Phytoestrogens
We've discussed how "Soy is for Pussies (But Even Women Should Avoid It)" before.
Many men are led to believe that soy and its phytoestrogens are perfectly safe, when in fact it could be making you more emo with each pill you pop or chunk you eat.
According to countless studies similar to the one cited below, soy consumption can have a definite negative effect on male sexuality and testosterone levels, being particularly troublesome in pre-pubertal boys and teenagers. In addition, older men were found to have developed ED after frequent consumption of soy based products.[ii]
Although you probably haven't heard of this one before, this chemical is actually very common in many personal care items and can significantly reduce your testosterone levels.
Oxybenzones are found in many things from the lip balm you use, to sunscreens and skin moisturizers.
Oxybenzone acts primarily as a UV protectant, hence its presence in many products of the sort. A 2008 study in the "Environment Health Perspective" found that more than 95% of Americans have tested positive for the presence of these compounds in their urine (even though the concentrations were relatively low.
Opt for natural lip balm (it actually works pretty well) instead of the generic "chap sticks". Even mainstream news networks, like CNN, has suggested this.
I've heard that average women has almost a pound of wax in her stomach/intestines by age 50 that has come from lipstick, lip balms and mass produced commercial cosmetics. I didn't find anything scientific confirming this however.
To avoid this compound, just look at the 'drug facts' on the label-
Many bodybuilders may have used ATD before (or 1,4,6-androstatriene-3,17-dione) as a potent anti-estrogen and purported testosterone booster, but research has shown that it is actually a strong anti-androgen as well.
What’s more interesting is the fact that the study was conducted in rodents being treated with external testosterone shots, for a super physiological level, and yet suppression was significant.[iii]
Luckily, ATD is not in prevalent use at it once was.
Good Looking Loser says-
I thought ATD was pretty good when I used it in my 20's. I used it as a standalone and for post cycle therapy. My lifts went up both times and it was the only compound that gave me acne on my shoulders.
My doctor at the time said that most of these post cycle compounds helped control estrogen but didn't really help increase testosterone during the recovery period. The human body naturally got itself back to normal and I had "good balls".
The last thing you want to do is kill your testosterone if you are recovering from a cycle.
Oddly, evidence existed as early as 1988 that suggested that ATD might hurt testosterone levels. But for some reason it still became a super popular supplement and seemed to be an "okay" post-cycle alternative for college kids that used legal pro-steroidals such as M1T, 1-Test, 4-ad, 1-ad and 4OHN. (those were the days)
I don't know what to make of it but Nolvadex was always a better post cycle option and ATD wasn't something that you could remain on indefinitely because it absolutely wipes out estrogen levels. My theory is that ATD raises testosterone initially but [over time] when your estrogen becomes too low, you'll see a subsequent decline in testosterone too. That would make sense of conflicting studies and user reports. I'm not entirely sure though.
Hopefully it’s not summer where you live; or chances are you’ll be generously applying the skeeter beater to many of your bodily appendages. And this may be contributing to your hormonal woes. In fact, many of the older repellants, such as DEET, were notorious anti-androgens, blocking the ability of cholesterol to be synthesized into testosterone. Fumigants (mosquito foggers) were also the same, with DDT being the worst offender. Luckily, many of them are outlawed, but their derivatives still possess mild anti-androgenic affinity.
Your best bet?
Slather on as much citronella oil as you want; it’s cheap, safe for the whole family and won’t leave you holding your head (or balls) later on.
Your iPhone/ iPad
Okay, well I’m exaggerating; not only those two, but also many of your high-end communication electronics might be messing with your testosterone levels.
Two compounds; Polybrominated Diphenyl ethers (PBDE) and Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), which are used as flame retardants in the devices are brutal for their effect on impairing normal testosterone and estrogen synthesis signaling, and as a bonus, your thyroid gland as well.
The radiation from your cell phone can mess with your testosterone production, especially if you keep it in your pocket all day according to Tim Ferris in his book "The 4 Hour Body".
(take the Ferris' claims with a grain of salt, but it does seem plausible)
And know what’s worse?
US citizens routinely test 2000% higher for the compounds that their European counterparts.[iv]
What You Can Do About It?
Now before going batshit crazy about it all, there are things you can do to minimize the impact these endocrine disruptors have on your body. Here’s a practical action-plan you can follow in addition to the suggestions we made for optimizing your testosterone levels.
- Reduce Your Known Exposure- now that you know quite a bit of the common offenders, the first step is riding your house of them, or keeping the hell away. This can actually be the easiest step, once you are conscious of the culprits.
- Learn to Read Labels- if the expiry date is all you look for when buying, now is a great time to start inspecting the fine print. Seek out body-builder friendly options when possible (and general man-friendly)
- Eat Antioxidant Foods (especially vegetables that contain indole-3-carbinol)- Cruciferous veggies, like broccoli and cabbage, help normalize the testosterone-estrogen ratio. Fiber is also a great add on to reduce your estrogen burden.
- Avoid Plastics When Possible- especially when they’re used in consumables. By now you should know to avoid plastic bottles ( and your BPA exposure) as well as your plastic utensils and cooking ware. Switch to glass or metal when possible.
We usually want any comments/feedback to be from real life experience but it's not realistic to get your testosterone measured to check what the effect of a certain food, cosmetic, lifestyle change, etc. will do.
If you know of any other common things that can reduce testosterone levels and have a reliable source to confirm it, we encourage you to tell us about it. I have learned a lot about this topic in the past 3 weeks and always appreciate constructive commentary.
[iv] Schecter A, et al. Polybrominated dipheyl ether (PBDE) levels in an expanded market basket survey of U.S. food and estimated PBDE dietary intake by age and sex. Environ Health Perspect 2006;114:1515-1520