As a man, testosterone levels are a major driving force in your overall quality of life. Maintaining testosterone levels above a particular range (>650 ng/dL) is a signal that your body is lean and muscular, and that you’re getting adequate amounts of the required vitamins and minerals through your diet.
In other words, your T level is a solid biomarker for overall health. The problem is, modern society has developed in a way that has led to a complete downshift in our hormones. From the processed foods we eat to the plastics and chemicals in our products, everything around us is robbing us of our natural testosterone production.
Testosterone levels in American men
over the past few decades. Supplement companies are well aware of this downward trend, and are marketing the solution in the form of testosterone booster supplements that are “scientifically proven to work.” I put that in quotations because in many cases, the ingredients are only scientifically proven to work in animal and test-tube studies. The same effects often don’t carry on to affect us humans in the same way.
In this article, I will cut through the nonsense and get right down to the vitamins, minerals, and herbs that are actually proven in human research to have a positive influence on testosterone.
Proven Testosterone-Boosting Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamin D is essential for human survival. It regulates over 1,000 bodily functions and is associated with a range of health benefits, including increased immunity, stronger bones, and sharper mental acuity.
Vitamin D is also directly correlated with testosterone levels. Men with sufficient vitamin D levels have been shown to have significantly higher testosterone levels than men with insufficient amounts of the vitamin.
In one study, men supplementing with a daily dose of 3332IU of vitamin D for one year had 25% higher testosterone levels compared to the placebo group.
The sun provides a major source of vitamin D, but we just don’t spend enough time outdoors anymore. As a result,
a global trend of vitamin D deficiency has emerged.
According to the British Medical Journal, vitamin D deficiency is
, in both children and adults. If most of your time is spent indoors, make it a point to supplement with vitamin D.
Zinc is a metal that is required by our bodies in trace amounts to ensure proper development and growth. It is naturally present in foods such as meat, eggs, legumes, and shellfish. Zinc is lost through sweat, which makes it a very important mineral for athletes.
In one study, elite athletes given 3mg of zinc per kg of bodyweight had significantly higher testosterone levels compared to placebo.
The same effect was found in sedentary men exercising on a stationary bike.
Keep in mind, though, that
the increase in your testosterone levels only occurs if you are deficient in zinc, to begin with.
If you’re already
, then increasing your levels even further through supplementation will not have a significant impact on your T.
In one study, subjects practicing martial arts were given 10mg of magnesium per kg of body weight. After four weeks of daily supplementation, they had significantly higher testosterone levels.
The same effect was also seen in the sedentary control group, but it was not as pronounced.
As with vitamin D, magnesium deficiencies are extremely common in the western world. One study estimated that 48% of the US population had sub-optimal magnesium levels.
Like zinc, magnesium will only increase your testosterone levels to the extent that you are currently deficient in it.
Potential Testosterone Boosting Herbs
Ashwagandha is an herb from Ayurveda, a branch of ancient Indian herbal medicine, that has traditionally been used to enhance aspects of male health. In Sanskrit, ashwagandha translates to “smell of horse,” implying that ingestion of the herb confers the strength and virility of a stallion. But traditional beliefs aside, ashwagandha has been shown in clinical human research to have a positive interaction with testosterone.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb. This means that it’s effective at reducing the physical and chemical effects of stress. Studies have shown that supplementing with ashwagandha significantly lowers cortisol levels.
Cortisol is the hormone your body releases in response to stress. It is
and holds an inverse relationship with T, i.e. lower cortisol = higher testosterone.
Ashwagandha supplementation has also been shown to be an extremely effective testosterone booster in infertile men.
In another study, untrained men put on a resistance-training program and given ashwagandha saw significantly greater increases in muscle size, testosterone levels, and muscle recovery compared to placebo.
Ashwagandha is an all-round super herb and one of the only proven herbal testosterone boosters.
Tongkat Ali is a Malaysian herb that has traditionally been prescribed as an aphrodisiac. In one study, subjects supplementing with 200mg of Tongkat Ali daily for one month increased testosterone levels by 46%.
But an important point to note is that the subjects in this study had very low testosterone levels to begin with. In another study, chronically stressed subjects receiving a daily dose of Tongkat Ali for one month experienced a 37% increase in testosterone levels.
Although the studies above show Tongkat Ali supplementation to have a positive influence on testosterone, it’s important to note that the subjects were either stressed or had very low testosterone levels to begin with. If you’re otherwise healthy and don’t meet either of these conditions, then it’s unlikely that Tongkat Ali supplementation will impact your T in the same way.
Mucuna Pruriens is a bean that has traditionally been used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Today, it is a popular ingredient in many testosterone supplements. Studies have shown Mucuna Pruriens supplementation to have a significant impact on testosterone levels in infertile men.
Ingredients Proven Not to Work
After reviewing dozens of testosterone boosters, a pattern seems to emerge. The most popular ingredients are the ones that have no research supporting their effectiveness. The following three ingredients are amongst the most commonly found in testosterone boosters that are proven not to work.
Tribulus is perhaps the most popular ingredient in testosterone supplements. Multiple studies have shown that supplementing with Tribulus has no impact on testosterone levels,
or body composition.
D-AA is another very popular ingredient present in many of the best-selling testosterone boosters on the market.
The first study observing the effect of D-AA on testosterone revealed that supplementation increased T levels by 42% in as little as 12 days of use.
Then, another study came out showing that D-AA supplementation over 28 days had no impact on testosterone levels.
After that, a third study came out showing that high doses of D-AA supplementation actually decreased testosterone levels.
The bottom line is that D-AA increases T-levels only in the short-term (within two weeks of use). Although this effect may remain in infertile men, in men with otherwise normal T, levels return to baseline within 28 days.
Fenugreek is an herb from India that has traditionally been prescribed as an aphrodisiac. Today, it is a popular ingredient in many of the best-selling testosterone supplements.
In the first study observing its interaction with testosterone, 30 resistance-trained men were given 500mg of placebo or fenugreek. After two months of use, the fenugreek group had higher T-levels and lower body fat.
This study shows promising results, but the fact is that
it’s the only study that has done so.
Two other studies have found that fenugreek boosts libido
without having any effect on testosterone levels.
More evidence than not shows fenugreek to have no impact on testosterone levels.
Why Include Stuff That Doesn’t Work?
If research has found no significant interaction between tribulus, Fenugreek, and D-AA supplementation on testosterone levels, why do companies continue to add them to their products? Because these three ingredients are potent libido boosters, i.e. they increase sex drive without having any effect on testosterone.
A large number of men looking to increase testosterone levels are in the market with the intention of boosting their sex drive. As far as that’s concerned, these three ingredients might do the trick.
Your Endocrine System Is Complex
If you’re trying to increase testosterone levels, know that your endocrine system is way too complex to be fixed with a simple pill. What you really need to do is make changes in your lifestyle.
What it really comes down to is this:
- Get in the range of sub-15% body fat. Excess body fat produces an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen.
- Ensure that you’re eating a varied diet that provides your body with the essential macro and micronutrients.
- Lift weights and get stronger.
- Sleep for seven to nine hours every single night.
- Manage your stress.
An imbalance in these five areas is what largely contributes to decreased testosterone levels. Fixing them will have the opposite effect, increasing testosterone levels naturally.
Testosterone replacement therapy is another option to increase testosterone levels. But TRT should only be considered if you have a condition that’s holding your body back from producing testosterone, e.g. a prostate condition or brain tumor.
Do Testosterone Boosters Work or Not?
I’m a firm believer that supplements should only be used for what they’re made: to supplement your diet and lifestyle. Many men approach supplements as the end-all-be-all, but we all know that if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
This is not to say that supplements don’t work. Some of the ingredients outlined above have scientific evidence supporting a positive influence on testosterone. Still, your major focus should be on making the simple diet and lifestyle changes that will allow your body to function more optimally. After that point, you can begin adding in supplements to enhance your results.
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