Hormones are far from simple. They’re chemical messengers that circulate in the body and control virtually every aspect of body function, but when it comes to keeping them balanced, there are plenty of factors that interject.
We’re talking about diet, sleep, exercise, environmental toxins, and more. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the natural progression through aging can zap levels, too.
And for men, testosterone is the last hormone they want to decline. It’s what defines your manliness. It’s what allows you to build muscle, fire up that sex drive, mood, energy, and bone health. So when levels aren’t where you want them to be, panic starts to set in.
Hormonal balance isn’t something we think about often and factors that interfere with hormone production can come from just about every corner without you even realizing it.
Now, we’re talking about how diet can be the sneaky factor that causes testosterone levels to drop. We’re giving you a rundown of the top foods that lower testosterone and what you can do to avoid it.
What Is Testosterone And Why Do Men Need It?
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone produced by the Leydig cells of the testes. What estrogen and progesterone are to women, testosterone is to men; it’s the primary control mechanism for their felinity or masculinity.
Roughly 95% of a man’s testosterone is produced in the testes by luteinizing hormone (LH), while the remaining 5% is produced by the adrenal glands and production is under tight regulation by the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis.
The hypothalamus secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which triggers the pituitary to secrete luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which then signals the testes to produce testosterone 1.
For most men, testosterone levels stay relatively high throughout their entire life, but there is a natural decline that happens with aging. Levels peak in a man’s late teens and after 30 to 40, gradually start to decline.
Research shows that total testosterone levels fall at an average of 1.6% per year, while free and bioavailable levels fall a bit faster at 2%–3% per year 2.
But in comparison to women who experience a sharp drop in hormone levels at menopause, men experience a much slower decline that may go relatively unnoticed.
However, when you add in other factors that interfere with testosterone production, symptoms of low testosterone may become that much more obvious.
But Why Is Having Adequate Testosterone Important?
Like we said before, testosterone plays a major role in all the things that make you manly, but it has a few other key roles, including 2:
- Muscle growth and fat distribution
- Bone health
- Glucose metabolism
- Heart health
- Cholesterol metabolism
- Red blood cell production
- Mood and behavior
- Sperm production
Regardless of age, sufficient levels of testosterone are essential for maintaining proper health and well-being, so you want to do your best to avoid things that interfere with levels.
What Causes Low Testosterone?
Synthesis of testosterone requires a careful balance of nutrients, and deficiencies in the vitamins and minerals required for its production - things like zinc, selenium, vitamin D, magnesium, and boron - means inadequate T levels 3.
But diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can also wreak havoc on hormone levels.
While the cascade is rather complex, here's the short story: Sugar causes insulin release, resulting in the production of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). This then promotes the upregulation of the aromatase (CYP19) enzyme... which converts testosterone to estrogen 4.
So, the more sugar and poor quality carbs you eat, the more estrogen you’re producing.
Stress is an inevitable part of life, and while some amount of it is beneficial, strengthening immune responses, chronic stress can be disastrous.
For testosterone, it can be a vicious cycle - stress causing low testosterone and low testosterone causing stress. Stress increases levels of cortisol, which has an inverse relationship with testosterone 5; when cortisol levels increase, testosterone levels decrease.
But remember that stress doesn’t always mean mental stress. Cortisol levels can also be increased by physical activity, emotional trauma, dietary or environmental stress, and more.
Obesity has now become a global epidemic with more than a 25% increase in the prevalence of overweight and obese men in the last 8 years 6.
Low testosterone levels are frequently seen in obese men due to insulin resistance-associated reductions in sex hormone-binding globulin, with more severe obesity being associated with reductions in free testosterone levels due to suppression of the HPT axis.
But obesity and testosterone are a double-edged sword. Like stress, low testosterone itself leads to increasing adiposity, which results in a self-perpetuating cycle of metabolic complications 6.
That’s because adipose tissue, especially when in the inflamed, insulin-resistant state, expresses aromatase enzyme, which is responsible for the conversion of testosterone to estradiol (E2).
Essentially, more fat equates to more estrogen and less testosterone.
Hormone decline is something that’s a natural part of aging. For men, that decline happens at an average of about 1-2% per year after the age of 40 due to increases in sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) 2.
Other research suggests that the age-related decline in testosterone could be the result of changes in endogenous production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which underlie the changes in LH secretion, thus interfering with testosterone secretion. But in any case, this age-related decline happens whether we want it to or not.
With all of that said, there are things you can do to prevent a further drop in testosterone levels—and that starts with diet.
While eating a diet rich in foods containing the precursor nutrients to testosterone biosynthesis is a good place to start, it’s also essential to limit the consumption of foods that reduce testosterone levels.
Top 7 Foods That Lower Testosterone
Industrial Seed Oils
Canola, corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, and the other vegetable oils that are a staple in most people’s cooking oil shelves are not only disastrous for your overall health, but they can do a number on your testosterone levels.
The main reason we’re told to stay away from these oils is that they're highly processed and high in omega-6 fatty acids. This skewed ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids can be damaging to cardiovascular health. But these seed oils are also known to influence concentrations of sex hormones.
One study of 69 men found that those who consumed omega-6 fatty acids more frequently had lower serum testosterone concentrations 7.
Another study determined that there was a positive association between polyunsaturated fat intake, especially omega-6s, and luteinizing hormone (LH) concentrations. The intake of trans fatty acids was also linked to lower total testosterone and calculated free testosterone concentrations 8.
A diet high in sugar isn’t just bad for your teeth and your waistline, but it can also be bad for your androgen levels.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology found that 75g of glucose intake results in a whopping 25% decrease in testosterone levels for up to two hours after consumption 9.
Other studies also show that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages impacts male fertility by reducing the number and quality of oocytes, along with a significant decrease in total and free testosterone levels in men and impaired sperm motility 10.
Soy products have always been a biggie for men and testosterone levels, and it’s no wonder why. Soy and soy products inherently contain phytoestrogen, compounds that mimic the actions of estrogen in the body.
While the evidence linking soy and lower testosterone levels isn’t solid, there is some evidence suggesting that consumption of a phytoestrogen-rich diet decreases plasma testosterone and androstenedione levels 11.
Although consuming soy now and again likely isn’t going to cause your testosterone levels to plummet, a lot of soy available in markets is GMO and non-organic, which means it’s subject to all sorts of other chemicals and toxins that act as potent endocrine disruptors.
Licorice is both a staple in many candies and sweets, as well as in many natural health practitioners' medicine books. It’s an age-old remedy for all sorts of issues, including hormonal imbalances, but for men, it may not be such a good option.
Several studies note that licorice root consumption decreases serum testosterone levels in men, with one finding a massive 26% decrease after just one week of treatment 12.
Another study found similar results, stating that the potential mechanism may involve licorice’s ability to block 17-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, which catalyzes the conversion of androstenedione to testosterone 13.
Flaxseeds are loaded with tons of vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, and fiber, which makes them a great addition to most people’s diet. But for men, they may be a bit more of a problem than is welcomed.
Despite being high in nutrients, flax is also high in lignans, which are plant compounds that bind to certain nutrients or hormones for excretion out of the body.
Studies show that lignans can increase levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) and thus reduce levels of free circulating testosterone 14. They may also impair the production of 5 α–reductase, an enzyme required for the conversion of testosterone into its biologically active and more potent form, dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
Processed and Refined Foods
These guys are a big no-no for anyone, but for men struggling with low testosterone, they may be even more so.
Besides being loaded with sodium, added sugars, and poor quality oils, these foods are often a big source of trans fats, which have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and inflammation.
Research also suggests that regular consumption of trans fats from processed foods can interfere with testosterone levels.
One study specifically found that men who consumed the highest amounts of trans fats had 15% lower levels of testosterone, as well as a 37% lower sperm count and a decrease in testicular volume, which may be associated with impaired testicular function 15.
Everyone loves a glass of wine or a beer after a long day, but the alcohol you’re continually knocking back could be contributing to your low testosterone levels.
A 2004 study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research of 19 healthy adults found that consuming 30–40 grams of alcohol per day, which equates to roughly 2–3 standard size drinks, decreased testosterone levels in men by 6.8% over just 3 weeks16.
While the mechanism behind how alcohol impacts testosterone isn’t completely clear, research suggests that heavy acute alcohol consumption decreases blood testosterone levels in men due to an effect at the testicular level 17.
How To Boost Testosterone Naturally
Aside from avoiding the foods just mentioned, there are several other ways to naturally support testosterone levels without the use of anabolic steroids or T injections.
Load Up On T-Boosting Nutrients
Testosterone biosynthesis requires a delicate mix of nutrients that form the foundation for hormone production.
While you can get a lot of them through diet, why not load up in one easy and convenient supplement?
Testo Lab Pro® is one of the cleanest and most effective natural testosterone boosters on the market designed to support testosterone by providing the building blocks for its production.
By boosting things that increase testosterone and fighting things that kill it, Testo Lab Pro® unleashes a synergistic 2X surge in T and restores your masculinity.
Regular resistance training is incredibly effective in boosting levels of testosterone and growth hormone, which can support muscle growth and further increase testosterone levels.
High cortisol will kill testosterone faster than you can say goodbye.
Because they are inversely related, high cortisol inevitably leads to low testosterone. As such, practicing stress management techniques to reduce cortisol is essential if you want to boost testosterone levels.
Try things like deep breathing, meditation, nature walks, journaling, or any other practice that gets your parasympathetic nervous system activated and shuts off your sympathetic branch!
- P Dandona, MT Rosenberg. A practical guide to male hypogonadism in the primary care setting. Int J Clin Pract. 2010;64(6):682-696.
- RD Stanworth, TH Jones. Testosterone for the aging male; current evidence and recommended practice. Clin Interv Aging. 2008;3(1):25-44.
- M Wrzosek, J Woźniak, D Włodarek. The causes of adverse changes of testosterone levels in men. Expert Rev Endocrinol Metab. 2020;15(5):355-362.
- G Williams. Aromatase up-regulation, insulin and raised intracellular oestrogens in men, induce adiposity, metabolic syndrome and prostate disease, via aberrant ER-α and GPER signalling. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2012;351(2):269-278.
- KK Brownlee, AW Moore, AC Hackney. Relationship between circulating cortisol and testosterone: influence of physical exercise. J Sports Sci Med. 2005;4(1):76-83.
- MN Fui, P Dupuis, M Grossmann. Lowered testosterone in male obesity: mechanisms, morbidity and management. Asian J Androl. 2014;16(2):223-231.
- C Nagata, N Takatsuka, N Kawakami, H Shimizu. Relationships between types of fat consumed and serum estrogen and androgen concentrations in Japanese men. Nutr Cancer. 2000;38(2):163-167.
- L Minguez-Alarcón, JE Chavarro, J Mendiola, et al. Fatty acid intake in relation to reproductive hormones and testicular volume among young healthy men. Asian J Androl. 2017;19(2):184-190.
- LM Caronia, AA Dwyer, D Hayden, F Amati, N Pitteloud, FJ Hayes. Abrupt decrease in serum testosterone levels after an oral glucose load in men: implications for screening for hypogonadism. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2013;78(2):291-296.
- L Chen, YM Xie, JH Pei, et al. Sugar-sweetened beverage intake and serum testosterone levels in adult males 20-39 years old in the United States. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2018;16(1):61.
- KS Weber, KD Setchell, DM Stocco, ED Lephart. Dietary soy-phytoestrogens decrease testosterone levels and prostate weight without altering LH, prostate 5alpha-reductase or testicular steroidogenic acute regulatory peptide levels in adult male Sprague-Dawley rats. J Endocrinol. 2001;170(3):591-599.
- D Armanini, G Bonanni, MJ Mattarello, C Fiore, P Sartorato, M Palermo. Licorice consumption and serum testosterone in healthy man. Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. 2003;111(6):341-343.
- D Armanini, MJ Mattarello, C Fiore, et al. Licorice reduces serum testosterone in healthy women. Steroids. 2004;69(11-12):763-766.
- DA Nowak, DC Snyder, AJ Brown, W Demark-Wahnefried. The Effect of Flaxseed Supplementation on Hormonal Levels Associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: A Case Study. Curr Top Nutraceutical Res. 2007;5(4):177-181.
- JE Chavarro, L Mínguez-Alarcón, J Mendiola, A Cutillas-Tolín, JJ López-Espín, AM Torres-Cantero. Trans fatty acid intake is inversely related to total sperm count in young healthy men [published correction appears in Hum Reprod. 2014 Jun;29(6):1346-7]. Hum Reprod. 2014;29(3):429-440.
- A Sierksma, T Sarkola, CJ Eriksson, MS van der Gaag, DE Grobbee, HF Hendriks. Effect of moderate alcohol consumption on plasma dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, testosterone, and estradiol levels in middle-aged men and postmenopausal women: a diet-controlled intervention study. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004;28(5):780-785.
- T Sarkola, CJ Eriksson. Testosterone increases in men after a low dose of alcohol. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2003;27(4):682-685.