10 Testosterone Lowering Foods That Are Expanding Your Waistline And Starving Your Brain
There are many reasons for the generational decline in testosterone as we face it today, but there is one in particular that stands out:
Our dietary habits...
Thanks to the introduction of industrial-scale food processing, Americans have changed their dietary habits more in the past 100 years than all of humanity had in the previous 100,000.
- Drew Ramsey and Tyler Graham from The Happiness Diet
Our bodies have simply not evolved to deal with all the crap we feed it these days.
In this article I'll reveal the testosterone lowering foods that are making you fat, lazy, unproductive, and depressed. Avoid them and move towards a life of testosterone-enriched vitality.
1. Refined Sugar
In 1822, the average American ate just 6.3 pounds of sugar per year. Today, that number jumps up to more than 100 pounds (1).
Over the course of the last two hundred years, we've increased our sugar intake by 3,000 percent. This is the single biggest change to the human diet since the invention of fire.
- Drew Ramsey and Tyler Graham from The Happiness Diet
Eating refined sugar decreases your insulin sensitivity
When you munch on, say, a Mars bar, it instantly spikes your blood sugar levels.
Your pancreas responds to this spike by pumping out insulin.
Insulin's job is to remove the glucose molecules from the blood stream because excess blood glucose is toxic and potentially life threatening - as any diabetic can attest.
Insulin does such an efficient job at removing the glucose that blood sugar levels immediately come crashing down, only to have you craving more sugary foods.
Your body responds to these rapid blood glucose fluctuations by decreasing insulin sensitivity, i.e. the pancreas begins to pump out more and more insulin to do the same amount of work.
Decreased insulin sensitivity makes it near impossible for you to lose fat
Decreased insulin sensitivity is definitely something that you don't want. Not only does it significantly lower testosterone (2) and growth hormone (3), but it also makes it near impossible for you to lose fat.
Because high insulin causes low glucagon.
Glucagon is the hormone responsible for tapping into your body’s stored sources of energy and low levels of it means an inability to tap into fat for fuel.
And if you didn’t know, excess body fat is public enemy #1 of testosterone.
It's difficult to cut out sugar completely. But anytime you're craving your favorite dessert or ice cream, make sure to have it ONLY after a heavy workout. That is a time when your muscle glycogen stores are depleted and the calories are more likely to be directed towards muscle rather than fat.
2. Refined Grains
Pre-industrial revolution, all grains were stone-ground, i.e. we were unable to separate the germ from the kernel.
With the industrial revolution came iron rollers that gave us the ability to pop the germ out from the kernel.
Why did we do this?
Because although the germ packed the grains full of nutrients, refining the grains gave them a longer shelf life.
Refined grains can spike your insulin even more than refined sugar
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a system that ranks carbs on a scale of 1-100 based on how much they spike insulin.
A tablespoon of sugar has a GI of 63. A slice of white bread? 71.
But what's really scary about eating refined grains is how they affect your brain...
Dr. David Ludwig, Harvard professor at the Department of Nutrition, brought in 12 overweight or obese men and had them drink two different milkshakes (4).
The shakes had an identical macronutrient profile with the only difference being that one had carbs from a fast-acting source (high-fructose corn syrup) while the other had carbs from a slow-acting source (uncooked corn-starch).
As expected, blood glucose levels were higher in the group drinking the fast-acting shake. At the 4-hour mark, though, blood glucose levels crashed and reported hunger in the subjects was higher compared to the group that drank the slow-acting shake.
And here’s where it gets interesting:
The subjects were then put under an fMRI machine to see the effect that the milkshakes had on their brains.
In the fast-acting group, a part of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens was lit up. The nucleus accumbens is the reward centre of the brain - it is also ground zero of addiction and what lights up for alcoholics and cocaine addicts. Activation of the nucleus accumbens destroys willpower and increases the craving for sugary foods.
To get off the blood sugar roller-coaster ride and jump start weight loss, substitute those processed carbs for high quality fat, protein and natural carbohydrates.
- Dr. David Ludwin from Your Brain on Fast-Acting Carbs
Eating refined carbs literally hijacks your brain chemistry and sabotages your metabolism. If you're serious about getting lean and boosting T, start by reducing your intake of refined flour.
3. Vegetable/Seed Oils
Vegetable oils have the word “vegetable” in them, but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy.
Before the industrial revolution, we didn’t have vegetable and seed oils in our diets.
Today, the average American consumes more than 20% of his calories from soybean oil alone (5).
Why are vegetable and seed oils bad for you?
Because they contain an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio that’s out of whack.
Let me explain:
Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory fatty acids while omega-6’s are inflammatory fatty acids - your body needs both to maintain healthy function.
Anthropological evidence shows that humans evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega 3’s to omega 6’s that’s approximately 1:1.
But in traditional Western diets, the ratio is something like 16:1 in the favor of omega 6’s (6), and vegetable oils are a large contributor to this.
It took millions of years of evolution for our bodies to get to where they are today.
Up until a hundred years ago, we didn't have a single drop of these vegetable and seed oils in our diets.
You don't need to think very hard about why that might be a problem.
Vegetable oils are ubiquitous. To avoid them completely, you've got to start eating home cooked meals.
4. Factory Farmed Meats
Animals brought into a factory farmed environment are introduced to three things:
That being said:
There is currently no long-term evidence to suggest that eating factory farmed meat negatively affects male health.
But know this:
Much of the research done in this area is sponsored by the food industry giants themselves.
Why opt for grass-fed:
Why avoid factory farmed:
Grass-fed meats also maintain a better ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. And finally, grass-fed meat contains more antioxidants.
You are not just what you eat. You are also what your food eats.
5. Trans Fats
Trans-fats are manufactured in an industrial process whereby hydrogen molecules are added to vegetable oils in order to make them more stable.
Trans-fats are so dangerous that the FDA actually made a reclamation to ban them in 2018. I haven’t seen this come into effect so it’s still worth mentioning.
Every 2% increase in trans fat consumption leads to a 23% increase in the development of cardiovascular disease.
Have a look in your pantry and scan the ingredients. If you see the word “partially hydrogenated...” on anything, toss it out.
Trans-fats are evil. Avoid them like the plague.
There’s a lot of controversy over soy’s impact on male health.
On one side we have vegans and vegetarians that view soy as a great source of protein and claim that there is no evidence to support a testosterone lowering effect.
On the other, we have men claiming that soy is estrogenic and causes man-boobs.
Although the truth very rarely lies at either end of an extreme, there is evidence to suggest that soy exerts an estrogenic influence on the male body.
Research has shown that soy consumption lowers both testosterone and sperm quality
When twelve healthy men were given 56 grams of soy protein powder for 28-days, their testosterone levels took a dip by 19% (8). After discontinuing, testosterone returned to normal. In the same study, researchers also found soy consumption to activate estrogen receptor sites.
Other research has found soy consumption to be inversely correlated with sperm quality - the higher a man's soy consumption, the lower his sperm concentration (9).
Why is soy so bad for male health?
The first is that it's estrogenic. Soy is a rich source of isoflavones, which are a plant hormone that structurally resemble estrogen (10). Evidence suggests that isoflavones play a role in activating estrogen receptors (11).
A second reason to avoid soy is because it's anti-androgenic. Along with isoflavones, soy also contains a compound called equol, which is known to suppress the activity of DHT (12) - the most potent androgen in the male body.
If you don't have a habit of reading ingredient labels, you've definitely been eating a lot of soy without even knowing it. Soy is everywhere. Read the label before you eat.
Flaxseed has been consumed for thousands of years and is sometimes even referred to as a superfood for it high omega-3, fiber and protein content.
Like is the case with soy, a lot of controversy has generated around the impact that flaxseed has on male health.
Because just like isoflavones in soy, flaxseed contains a phytoestrogen called lignans.
How a woman with unusually high T lowered her levels with flaxseed
In doing the research for this article, I came across a single case-study on a woman suffering from hirsutism - a condition of unwanted, male-pattern hair growth in women that results from unusually high T-levels.
The woman was given a daily dose of 30g grams of flaxseed for 4-months, after which her total testosterone level dropped by 70% and her free testosterone dropped by 89% (13).
That's a pretty dramatic drop, but we cannot extrapolate the results from this study because men and women have very differently reproductive systems. Still, they are interesting to note.
The only published research on flaxseed and male-health
The only human research I was able to find on flaxseed's impact on men's testosterone levels was performed in men with prostate cancer.
In another study on 25 men with prostate cancer, the subjects were given 30 grams of flaxseed for over a month, after which their total T dropped by 15% and free T dropped by 20% (14).
But, again, there are a few things for us to consider:
The first is that the men were patients of prostate cancer, and the second is that the subjects were also switched over to a low-fat diet.
Dietary fat is a key component in testosterone synthesis, which leads us to the question:
Is it the low-fat diet or the flaxseed consumption that's causing testosterone to drop?
A classic case of correlation versus causation.
Although the published research on flaxseed and testosterone is limited in scope, I was able to find some anecdotal evidence.
How a university student slashed his T-levels in half by eating too much flaxseed
In 2011, Christian was a student at the National University of Health Sciences. On an article on his blog, he shared an anecdote about how his testosterone levels were slashed in half by eating too much flaxseed.
He wrote that he was eating 150-240 grams of flaxseed-almond butter every single day.
Upon the shocking discovery of his low T, he immediately cut out flaxseed from his diet.
In just two weeks, his testosterone levels rose from 298 ng/dL to 607 ng/dL.
That's a pretty dramatic change, but again there are a few things to keep in mind:
The first is that this is anecdotal evidence and the second is that Christian was eating more than 5x the standard dose of flaxseed, i.e. 150 grams as compared to the standard dose of 30 grams.
Published research is limited, but anecdotal evidence shows a significant testosterone-lowering effect of flaxseed consumption.
Mint is another food that keeps coming up as having an estrogenic influence on the male body.
Diving deeper into the research, I found that there were no studies performed on men the topic but the following rat studies found interesting results.
Mint decreases testosterone levels...in rats
Researchers split 48 male rats into 4 groups of 12.
Rats in the first group served as the control and were merely given commercial drinking water. Rats in the second group were given 20 grams of peppermint tea, group 3 got 20 grams of spearmint tea, and group 4 got 40 grams of spearmint tea.
Rats in all three groups experienced a dip in total testosterone level (15).
In reading the abstract for this study, researchers wrote that the results were statistically significant but as per the numbers, I was unable to get access to the full details.
In another study, researchers gave rats an aqueous solution of spearmint, which ended up having anti-androgenic effects on the brain. Researchers theorized that spearmint causes oxidative stress in the hypothalamus which then suppresses the production of testosterone (16).
Mint also decreases testosterone levels...in women...with hirsutism
As per the human studies, there have been none performed in men but surprisingly there are a few performed in women who battle with hirsutism, i.e. unusually high T resulting in the development of unwanted facial and body hair.
21 women with hirsutism were given a daily dose of 2 cups of spearmint tea for 5-days. Total testosterone remained unchanged during this time, but the bioavailable free testosterone actually made a huge dip by 30% on average (17).
The same study was repeated, but this time with more subjects and over the course of 30-days. Again, the spearmint tea significantly reduced testosterone levels (18).
There is currently no research observing the effect that mint has on male health, but rat studies reveal a downward trend.
The main ingredient in licorice is something called glycyrrhizic acid. This is a substance that has been found to block testosterone levels in a rat’s leydig cells. But this was just a test-tube.
There’s even a human study in which healthy men consumed 7g of licorice which contained 0.5 grams of glycyrrhizic acid. Just 4-days after eating this everyday, the subjects’ total testosterone levels made a dip from 740 ng/dL to 484 ng/dL (19).
But just 4-days after laying off the licorice, their testosterone levels shot up back to normal.
The topic of licorice and testosterone is relatively understudied, but the one study cited above does show a reversible T-lowering effect.
It should come as no surprise that alcohol holds a negative relationship with testosterone. This does not mean, however, that one night of drinking will cause your T-levels to plummet.
In one study, researchers had men and women consume 30-40 grams of alcohol per day. At the end of 3 weeks, the men showed 6.8% lower T-levels while the women showed no change (20).
In case you were not aware, 30-40 grams is about 2-3 drinks per day for three weeks. Considering that the subjects drank every day for 21 straight days, the 6.8% drop in T is not much at all.
In another study, researchers had male subjects consume a total of 1.5 grams of alcohol per kilogram of bodyweight. Each subject served as his own control in an identical experiment without alcohol, carried out 1 month later. On average, subjects experienced a 23% drop in testosterone for up to 16 hours after the drinking (21).
As with most things, the danger is in the dose. Drinking heavily over extended periods of time can cause a serious dent to your T.
Timing your alcohol intake can also be a factor in determining the extent of its effects. Researchers examined this by analyzing the effect of post-workout alcohol consumption using 70-80 grams of alcohol. Despite drinking so heavily post-workout, no effect on testosterone was found and only a very modest effect on cortisol was found (22).
To fit alcohol into your life while minimizing its effects on testosterone, you need to narrow your thinking down to three key areas…
1. How much to drink
Drink within 0.3 grams of alcohol per pound of body weight no more than 2 times per week. To provide context, a “standard” drink in the United States is one that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. So let’s say you weigh 185 pounds. That would mean a maximum of 4 drinks, no more than twice a week.
2. What to drink
Stick with hard liquor (vodka, whiskey, tequila) and drink it on the rocks, with water, or with diet soda. Avoid beer because it contains an ingredient called hops. Hops contains strong estrogenic effects. So strong, in fact, that it’s being studied to help women with menopause disorders.
3. When to drink
On the day that you’re drinking, try and get a workout in.
Drinking alcohol lowers testosterone levels, but there's no reason why you can't maintain high T if you're smart about it.
When it comes to naturally increasing your testosterone, what you DON'T eat is just as important (if not more important) as what you do eat.
Know that these foods aren’t just killing your testosterone levels - they’re destroying the quality of your life as well.
Making the right food choices is the most important aspect of natural testosterone optimization - if you neglect it, nothing else you do for increasing T will matter.
The knowledge is at your fingertips.
What’s left is you taking action on that which you now know.