Testosterone is commonly thought of as a male sex hormone, but it is actually found in both men and — in small amounts — in women. Testosterone affects many aspects of male health. Some men turn to supplementation with testosterone patches, injections or gels in an effort to increase testosterone levels, but these may have undesirable risks. Better nutrition, including the use of vitamin and mineral supplements, may also increase testosterone levels.
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While men do not experience a cessation of testosterone production similar to menopause in women, testosterone production does tend to decline with age. In men, testosterone affects bone density, fat distribution, muscle strength and mass, red blood cell production, libido, and sperm production. Lack of testosterone may induce symptoms such as changes in sleep patterns or lack of sexual drive and may lead to decreases in muscle size, thinner bones, or lowered fertility.
Minerals and Testosterone
Zinc deficiencies have been clearly linked to low testosterone levels in both young and elderly males, as reported in the May 1996 issue of “Nutrition.” When cellular zinc levels were high, serum testosterone increased; young men fed a zinc-deficient diet developed a significant decrease in testosterone after 20 weeks on the restricted diet. The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements lists a number of food sources of zinc. The NIH lists these foods as the top four sources of dietary zinc: oysters, beef shanks, Alaskan king crab and pork shoulder. Oysters, which have long enjoyed a reputation as an aphrodisiac, have an average of just over 76 mg of zinc per serving. While legumes and whole grains also contain zinc, the NIH notes that they are high in phytates, which bind to zinc in the body and can prevent its absorption.
Another mineral that has been definitively linked to testosterone, at least in rats, is selenium. A report noted in “The Journal of Reproductive Fertility” in March 1996 found that rats fed a selenium-deficient diet lost testicular function and fertility and had lower testosterone levels.
Vitamins and Testosterone
At this time, vitamin D seems to be the only vitamin that has been clearly shown to be related to testosterone. A study reported in the August 2010 issue of "Clinical Endocrinology (Oxford)” that men with sufficient levels of vitamin D also had higher levels of testosterone than men with insufficient levels of the vitamin. Vitamin D is manufactured in the human body when there is adequate exposure to sunlight, and some foods such as milk have added vitamin D--check labels to be sure.
As always, eating a well-balanced diet for overall good health is a wise choice. If you have concerns about your testosterone level or want to supplement your diet with individual nutrients like zinc, be sure to talk to your health care professional.
- National Institute on Aging: Frequently Asked Questions About Testosterone and the IOM Report; November 12, 2003
- “Nutrition”; Zinc Status and Serum Testosterone Levels of Healthy Adults; Prasad AS, Mantzoros CS, Beck FW, Hess JW, Brewer GJ;; May 1996
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: Selected Food Sources of Zinc; January, 2011
- "Clinical Endocrinology (Oxford)"; Association of Vitamin D Status with Serum Androgen Levels in Men; Wehr E, Pilz S, Boehm BO, März W, Obermayer-Pietsch B; August 2010
- Journal of Reproductive Fertility: Effects of Selenium Deficiency on Testicular Morphology and Function in Rats; Behne D, Weiler H, Kyriakopoulos A.; March 1996