So first things first. Testosterone. When we're talking men's hormonal health, we're talking testosterone right? But we're not just talking testosterone in terms of mindlessly jacking it up to "perform," make gains and be buff.
So let's get clear on what testosterone is, why men need it and how men can support the healthy production and function of this vital hormone within their bodies.
What Is It?
Testosterone to men is what oestrogen is to women. Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and plays a really crucial role in the many processes involved in the overall health and longevity of a man's body.
Why Do Men Need It?
Testosterone plays a primary role in fertility, bone health, immunity, muscle mass, cognitive acuity, sleep and recovery. Basically everything that keeps a man rocking and on his game, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Safe to say, it's incredibly vital.
What Can Men Do To Ensure Their Testosterone Levels Are Optimal?
There are many simple daily tweaks a man can do to create balanced hormonal health. Below we will explore a few of these, outlining the diet and lifestyle factors men can embody to ensure they remain feeling vital, strong, grounded and fertile. Our fave naturopath Dan Sipple has written an article for us on our fave herbs to support testosterone (namely eucommia bark, cordyceps, ashwagandha and deer antler), you can check it out here.
Zinc is a big one here fella's, zinc is the mineral associated with proper androgen function, androgens are the sex hormones that give men their male characteristics (e.g. testosterone is an androgen). Zinc is involved in the important hormonal cascades that unfold within the male body. Adequate zinc levels ensure that hormones such as progesterone (in the context of the male body) are properly converted into testosterone. If this conversion is unable to occur due to a deficiency in zinc, progesterone will instead be converted into oestrogen, a process that is not favourable to a male's physiology. The immune system and skeletal structure also require zinc to remain optimal.
Food sources of zinc include good quality grass fed and finished beef, venison, oysters and eggs etc. High sources of zinc are primarily found in animal foods, if you are a vegetarian or vegan we suggest you chat to your practitioner about getting your zinc levels checked and working with zinc supplementation where appropriate. We really like the zinc picolinate supplement for max absorption.
The body uses cholesterol to create the sex hormones in both men and women. The sex hormones cannot be made in the absence of pregnenolone. Pregnenolone is an endogenous chemical that is the precursor to all the other steroidal hormones within the body. Sex hormones are steroidal hormones. Cholesterol is the precursor to pregnenolone. Simply put, without cholesterol the body can't make pregenonlone, when there's no pregenonlone, there's no sex hormones, when there is no sex hormones, there is no testosterone. Oooft! We got there!
Alright, so now we understand why our body needs cholesterol, what can we do to ensure we are getting it in daily, in the correct form?
*The cholesterol we are referring to here is the "good" kind, also known as high density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol.
FATS! By now we're all pretty familiar with the fact that not all fats were created equal. The fats that can contribute to healthy cholesterol levels (HDL), and therefore healthy hormones, are saturated, mono-unsaturated and omega 3 fats. These can be found in food sources such as:
Vitamin D is often referred to as vitamin, but it's actually a hormone. Vitamin D is manufactured in the skin from 7-dehydrocholesterol in the presence of UV light. Here pre-vitamin D is converted to its active form, vitamin D3. Vitamin D (or hormone D) helps to regulate testosterone levels. A direct correlation between vitamin D and testosterone has been observed in numerous studies, and participants who received higher quantities of the hormone had a higher testosterone count.
Generally, getting in enough safe sun exposure is all most people need to keep their levels in check. So if you're in the sun more often than not throughout the year, you're probably ok. We suggest about 20-30 minutes of full body sun exposure per day (depending on skin tone), including the testicles, or as Mason loves to call it, "getting Ds on your Bs". If you feel your vitamin D levels may be low, consult with a naturopath who can help you supplement with a practitioner grade vitamin D supplement.
Androgenic herbs encourage the production of male sex hormones. Below is a list of herbs that perform this function.
You can check out a more detailed breakdown on how some of these herbs increase men's health in this article.
Sleep, Stress and Breath
Sleep, stress and breath are our absolute pillars of health. Particularly sleep, if you are consistently not getting the quality rest your body needs to rebuild and repair, everything else you are doing to create sound health and happy hormones will be considerably impaired. Plus, lack of sleep can decrease the production of testosterone. We've got a handy article on how to improve your sleep, check it out here.
There is an obvious interplay between the breath and the body's stress response. The breath is an effective vessel that can be used to reduce our sympathetic stress response (fight, flight, freeze). The breath is a fairly instant (and free) therapy we can use to create harmony within the cells and system as a whole. When we draw deeper and slower breaths our body receives the signal that it can relax. This opens up the space for the parasympathetic phase to kick in (rest and digest). The more we operate from a parasympathetic place the more our endocrine and nervous systems deem the body to be a safe and fertile environment. This allows our sex hormones to keep in tune with the melody of good health.
When we are in a constant state of sympathetic dominance or "stress" the body's music becomes noise and all manner of topsy turvy hormonal imbalances can ensue.
Setting up a foundation of health that revolves around these three pillars, helps the rest of the steps fall into place. After all you actually need to have enough energy or Jing Essence to make positive change no matter how good your conscious intentions are (if you're unsure what Jing essence is, take a peek at our How To Cultivate Jing article for an expanded articulation on the concept). Supporting yourself in this way puts you in the best position to embody the aspects of health you desire.
Detoxification - Supporting The Liver, Gallbladder and Gut
The body is designed to be in constant state of “detoxification” as a means to maintain balance (you can read more about the in's and out's of this process in our article on detoxification). So it's a given that to create hormonal balance, we need to create balance within the body as a whole.
One of the key players in keeping balance within the body in regards to detoxication is the liver. The liver plays many roles within the body, and one of its primary functions is to keep hormonal balance in check. It does so in three phases which involve the gallbladder and the gut.
Where the liver becomes super relevant in the testosterone conversation, is primarily its involvement in oestrogen metabolism. The majority of oestrogen in both men and women is processed by the liver. If the liver's detoxification pathways are inefficient or burdened by a toxic load, excess oestrogen will have a hard time exiting the body via its excretion processes (you know, those which begin in the liver and end in the gut and faeces). Excess oestrogen, as we've explored above, is not beneficial to male physiology and been associated with a higher incidence of erectile dysfunction.
The liver is also involved in the homeostasis (balance) of lipids (fats), glucose and cholesterol, factors integral to hormone health. This busy organ has a role in many of the enzymatic conversions that allow the body's hormonal cascades to dance with ease and precision.
*There are many herbs and supplements that support the liver's natural three step detoxication process. We suggest you check in with your holistic practitioner to dive deeper and learn which phase of liver detoxification you need support with.
Some of our favourite herbs and supplements for general liver support include:
If you want to gain a clearer insight into the intricacies of your body's metabolic pathways and hormonal cascades etc it may be worth exploring DUTCH testing with a DUTCH trained practitioner.
Consistency In Practice - Chop Wood/Carry Water
What you do most of the time in regards to diet and lifestyle is more important than what you do some of the time. Health, like happiness is a consistent practice.
This is where the "chop wood, carry water" analogy becomes relevant. Chopping wood could mean having a consistent bed time, breath, stress reduction/movement practice. It could mean that 6 nights out of 7 you get to bed before 10pm. It could be making the choice to cut out screen time two hours before sleep each night so your nervous system is relaxed and calm, ready for rest. Or establishing regular meal times, and ensuring more often than not, those meals are balanced in a way that is relevant to your particular constitution and energetic output.
So there you have it guys, some pretty foundational health tips, we view as integral to healthy male hormones.
We've got several other very cool, very interesting and of course, very educational resources regarding men's health. Feel free to have a peruse of the below, if any catch your eye:
1. Check out our latest podcast with Mason and functional naturopath Dan Sipple; here the gents wax lyrical on men's hormonal health and many of the points we have covered above.
2. A podcast episode discussion on all things prostate, prostate cancer, quality men's diet and lifestyle tips and andropause (the male version of menopause) with Dr Ralph Esposito
3. The Incredible Benefits of Deer Antler article
4. Our four fave adaptogens for men... check out this article to find out what they are
5. Read about which herb can nourish and nurture your sperm health, quality and quantity
6. Hear Mason talk up ashwaghanda and why it's so beneficial for men's health