Testosterone is an androgenic sex hormone produced by the testicles (and in smaller amounts in women’s ovaries), and is often associated with “manhood.” Primarily, this hormone plays a great role in men’s sexual and reproductive function. It also contributes to their muscle mass, hair growth, maintaining bone density, red blood cell production, and emotional health.
The effects of testosterone in humans and other vertebrates occur by way of multiple mechanisms: by activation of the androgen receptor (directly or as DHT), and by conversion to estradiol and activation of certain estrogen receptors. Androgens such as testosterone have also been found to bind to and activate membrane androgen receptors.
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There are several supplements on the market claiming to be natural testosterone boosters. I get these sorts of things in the mail all time. The companies that produce these products claim that the herbs (typically stinging nettle and tribulus) in their pills increase free testosterone by reducing SHBG. They also throw in some B vitamins for “increased energy and vitality.”
Studies of the effects on cognition of testosterone treatment in non-cognitively impaired eugonadal and hypogonadal ageing males have shown varying results, with some showing beneficial effects on spatial cognition (Janowsky et al 1994; Cherrier et al 2001), verbal memory (Cherrier et al 2001) and working memory (Janowsky et al 2000), and others showing no effects (Sih et al 1997; Kenny et al 2002). Other trials have examined the effects of testosterone treatment in older men with Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive decline. Results have been promising, with two studies showing beneficial effects of testosterone treatment on spatial and verbal memory (Cherrier et al 2005b) and cognitive assessments including visual-spatial memory (Tan and Pu 2003), and a recent randomized controlled trial comparing placebo versus testosterone versus testosterone and an aromatase inhibitor suggesting that testosterone treatment improves spatial memory directly and verbal memory after conversion to estrogen (Cherrier et al 2005a). Not all studies have shown positive results (Kenny et al 2004; Lu et al 2005), and variations could be due to the different measures of cognitive abilities that were used and the cognitive state of men at baseline. The data from clinical trials offers evidence that testosterone may be beneficial for certain elements of cognitive function in the aging male with or without cognitive decline. Larger studies are needed to confirm and clarify these effects.
Testosterone was first used as a clinical drug as early as 1937, but with little understanding of its mechanisms. The hormone is now widely prescribed to men whose bodies naturally produce low levels. But the levels at which testosterone deficiency become medically relevant still aren’t well understood. Normal testosterone production varies widely in men, so it’s difficult to know what levels have medical significance. The hormone’s mechanisms of action are also unclear.
Elevated testosterone levels have been demonstrated to increase the growth of body muscles and contribute to better activation of the nervous system, resulting in more power and strength, a better mood, enhanced libido, and many other benefits. Previous researches done on the anabolic role of testosterone and its impact on muscular strength in training-induced adaptations has provided rather conflicting findings, and a positive correlation between testosterone-mediated responses and both functional performance and body composition was found.[4,5] There are a number of naturally occurring substances that can boost testosterone levels in the body. Foods containing such substances are known as testosterone-foods; and they tend to be rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals like zinc, which plays a key role in testosterone production.[2,6-8]
Zinc is little more of a nice-to-have ingredient than a must-have. It’s on our radar as an ingredient that possibly boosts testosterone levels, and while we couldn’t find enough supporting evidence that taking zinc would increase natural testosterone, low zinc levels have been connected to infertility. A low zinc level is also possibly a sign of hypogonadism. The closest support we found is in a study which found that people recovered from nutritional deficiency-related problems more quickly if they took a zinc supplement than those who did not. Zinc is available in many foods, such as oysters, fortified breakfast cereals, and red meat.
These researchers took saliva samples from recreational women athletes before and after playing 10 minutes of flag football. The data showed that this short, intense burst of competitive sport triggered the immediate release of testosterone. Interestingly, the subjects' mental state also contributed to the data. Self-rated performance scores were directly related to testosterone levels.
Both testosterone and 5α-DHT are metabolized mainly in the liver. Approximately 50% of testosterone is metabolized via conjugation into testosterone glucuronide and to a lesser extent testosterone sulfate by glucuronosyltransferases and sulfotransferases, respectively. An additional 40% of testosterone is metabolized in equal proportions into the 17-ketosteroids androsterone and etiocholanolone via the combined actions of 5α- and 5β-reductases, 3α-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, and 17β-HSD, in that order. Androsterone and etiocholanolone are then glucuronidated and to a lesser extent sulfated similarly to testosterone. The conjugates of testosterone and its hepatic metabolites are released from the liver into circulation and excreted in the urine and bile. Only a small fraction (2%) of testosterone is excreted unchanged in the urine.
Exercise boosts testosterone in two important ways. First, specific types of exercise actually cause our body to produce more testosterone. We’ll talk more about those in a bit. Second, exercise helps to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat. As we’ve discussed previously, adipose tissue converts testosterone into estrogen. The less fat we get, the more T we have.
Testosterone makes a contribution to nitric oxide formation. Nitric oxide, released from penile nerves stimulates guanylate cyclase which catalyzes the transformation of guanosine-5-triphosphate into 3′,5′-cyclic, guanosine monophosphate (cyclic GMP). Gyclic GMP causes vasodilatation and hence erection formation (Morelli et al 2005). The breakdown of cyclic GMP to GMP is mediated by the enzyme, phosphodiesterase type-5, the inhibitors of which (eg, sildenafil citrate) enhance erection formation and maintanence (Carson and Lue 2005).
Cardiovascular disease, and its underlying pathological process atherosclerosis, is an important cause of morbidity and mortality in the developed and developing world. Coronary heart disease in particular is the commonest cause of death worldwide (AHA 2002; MacKay and Mensah 2004). As well as increasing with age, this disease is more common in the male versus female population internationally, which has led to interest in the potential role of sex hormones in modulating risk of development of atherosclerosis. Concerns about the potential adverse effects of testosterone treatment on cardiovascular disease have previously contributed to caution in prescribing testosterone to those who have, or who are at risk of, cardiovascular disease. Contrary to fears of the potential adverse effects of testosterone on cardiovascular disease, there are over forty epidemiological studies which have examined the relationship of testosterone levels to the presence or development of coronary heart disease, and none have shown a positive correlation. Many of these studies have found the presence of coronary heart disease to be associated with low testosterone levels (Reviews: Jones, Jones et al 2003; Jones et al 2005).
We’ll be honest. Testosterone boosters don’t really boost. The best testosterone booster is like taking a multivitamin with extra herbs that might slightly and temporarily increase your testosterone levels. Like all supplements, finding the right testosterone booster means wading into a sea of ingredients, all promising to help. Of 133 testosterone boosters, we found only one with the right ingredients to help raise your testosterone levels: Beast Sports Nutrition - Super Test ($45.88 for 180 capsules, or $2.04 per day).
In order to discuss the biochemical diagnosis of hypogonadism it is necessary to outline the usual carriage of testosterone in the blood. Total serum testosterone consists of free testosterone (2%–3%), testosterone bound to sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) (45%) and testosterone bound to other proteins (mainly albumin −50%) (Dunn et al 1981). Testosterone binds only loosely to albumin and so this testosterone as well as free testosterone is available to tissues and is termed bioavailable testosterone. Testosterone bound to SHBG is tightly bound and is biologically inactive. Bioavailable and free testosterone are known to correlate better than total testosterone with clinical sequelae of androgenization such as bone mineral density and muscle strength (Khosla et al 1998; Roy et al 2002). There is diurnal variation in serum testosterone levels with peak levels seen in the morning following sleep, which can be maintained into the seventh decade (Diver et al 2003). Samples should always be taken in the morning before 11 am to allow for standardization.
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Next, while testosterone levels do decline with age, this may simply be because the older that men get, the less they take care of themselves – they stop exercising, start putting on weight, and don’t pay as much attention to their diet. A recent study suggests that age-related T decline is not inevitable, and that if you keep living a healthy lifestyle, you can maintain healthy testosterone levels. So if you’re an older guy, try to do all you can as far as lifestyle changes before you get on the prescription T. I don’t mean doing a little cardio a few times a week, using the machines at the gym, and eating “pretty” healthy. Follow the guidelines above, and see what happens first.
Zinc deficiency also negatively affects testosterone levels, according a 2014 article in the Journal of Plant Biochemistry and Physiology. The authors of this review note that zinc supplementation can increase circulating testosterone in some populations. In fact, daily supplementation with typical doses may double testosterone within a few months.
A loophole in FDA regulations allows pharmaceutical marketers to urge men to talk to their doctors if they have certain "possible signs" of testosterone deficiency. "Virtually everybody asks about this now because the direct-to-consumer marketing is so aggressive," says Dr. Michael O'Leary, a urologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. "Tons of men who would never have asked me about it before started to do so when they saw ads that say 'Do you feel tired?'"