What is Testosterone?
Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men with several important functions, such as:1,2
- The production of red blood cells and sperm
- The growth and development of the male sex organs
- Libido (sex drive) regulation
- Development and maintenance of bone and muscle mass
As testosterone levels gradually decline with age, it’s common for men (particularly those over the age of 40) to seek natural ways of boosting their testosterone levels. While some may make the mistake of running to the local store to pick up the latest ‘testosterone-boosting’ herbal supplement, most changes men are actually seeking are similar to those advocated for general health: improving sleep quality, exercising more frequently, and improving diet quality 3–5.
But can a lifestyle change such as diet really impact your testosterone levels?
Learn more about the relationship between age and testosterone
Can food increase Testosterone levels?
The short answer is yes, although it’s not as straightforward as you may think.
Although more research is needed, current studies indicate that certain aspects of a poor diet (high intake of bread and pastries and low intake of vegetables) predict low testosterone levels 6. Normal testosterone levels are also more common in groups that consume more fruits and vegetables.6
The extent that testosterone levels change is almost entirely dependent on how the dietary change impacts body weight. Specifically, how much diet supports you to achieve a healthy body weight. It’s not as simple as ‘eat healthier, increase testosterone’.
It is unlikely that testosterone levels will change with diet for men who are already a healthy body weight. But in men with potential to achieve a healthy body weight by making positive dietary changes, testosterone levels can increase.
Soy and Testosterone
One common concern for men who consume lots of soy foods is the effect this has on their testosterone levels. As soy is rich in isoflavones which mimic the structure of a hormone linked more with female health, oestrogen, it is intuitive to think that soy foods could be ‘feminising’. Yet repeated studies have come to the same conclusion that regardless of the dose, soy and isoflavone intake does not meaningfully affect testosterone levels. For those who follow a more plant-based diet, rest assured - you can consume your soy protein without compromising your health! 7
Flavanols are a type of polyphenols, which are compounds typically found in plants thought to exert beneficial effects on health. Recent discussions within the literature have proposed these compounds may influence testosterone levels. Although plenty of speculation exists regarding the mechanisms of how flavonols could increase testosterone, there’s a severe lack of human clinical data to support their use. In fact, in one of the few human trials in healthy men, there were no observed changes in serum testosterone levels following flavanol supplementation.8
Does alcohol intake affect Testosterone levels?
For alcohol and testosterone, the devil is in the dose. One scientific review concluded that an ethanol (the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages) dose greater than 1.5 g/kg of body weight is need to cause a significant reduction in testosterone levels. Up to this level of intake, testosterone levels remain stable.
So, let’s say that for a 70 kg man to reduce his testosterone levels by drinking alcohol, he would have to consume roughly five to six glasses of beer (355 ml per glass, alcohol content between 4.5% and 6%). The same effect applies to adolescents; 10 however, because they are lighter than adults (on average), the total amount of alcohol needed to reduce testosterone will be less.
Keep in mind, however, that the effect of alcohol on testosterone is usually short-lived. The only known exception to this is in men with alcohol abuse disorders, when their testosterone-producing cells start to impair and their testicles shrink. 9
Do Testosterone-boosting supplements work?
The evidence suggests that ‘testosterone-boosting’ supplements are unlikely to meaningfully impact testosterone levels. One study exploring the claims and effectiveness of testosterone-boosting supplements found that most had no proven effect on testosterone, and some even lowered it.11 The supplement industry still does not have tight regulations for advertising and marketing claims on their products, so we recommend a healthy degree of scepticism when scanning the shelves.
Some leading men’s health experts warn that testosterone supplements might be dangerous. In fact, when TRTed sat down with the world-renowned Endocrinologist, Dr Channa Jayasena, he echoed the warning:
- ‘’We think that this is a worrying and growing trend, particularly amongst younger men, and often the reasons are wanting to improve one's body image and maybe feeling low. The problem with taking these supplements and taking them non-medically is, first of all, there are no benefits to your health and in fact, they are harmful to your health. Everything I said before about not having an association with heart problems is not true if you’re taking it (testosteorne) and you don’t need it. If you’re taking it too much it’s undoubtedly going to cause problems with blood clots, maybe increase blood pressure and cause strokes – so it’s not safe. Secondly, when you take supplements particularly online outside of traditional prescribing behaviour, you may be taking preparations that are pure and also are completely the wrong dose. So I would urge people to always seek medical care and get a proper diagnosis.’’
As emphasised by Dr Jayasena, if you are concerned about your testosterone levels, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional who will provide you with a professional diagnosis.
- To the extent that healthy eating helps you to achieve a healthy body weight, diet can increase testosterone levels
- Alcohol seems to reduce testosterone above a certain level of intake (1.5 g of ethanol/kg of body weight). However, other than in alcohol abusers, this effect is short-lived
- There is no evidence to support testosterone-boosting supplements. These supplements may pose unnecessary harm
- If you are concerned about your testosterone levels, it’s essential to visit your healthcare professional for a professional diagnosis
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- Hackett G, et al. The journal of sexual medicine. 2017;14(12):1504-1523.
- Jayasena C, et al. Clinical Endocrinology 2022;96:200–219.
- Wu F, et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2008;93(7):2737-45.
- Harman SM, et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2001;86(2):724-31.
- Kaufman JM, Vermeulen A. Endocr Rev 2005;26(6):833-76.
- Hu, TY et al. Nutrients 2018; 10(11): 1786.
- Reed KE, et al. Reprod Toxic 2021;100:60–67.
- Scholten SD, et al. Open Access J Sports Med 2015;6:229–239.
- Adler RA. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 1992;74:957–960.
- Bianco A, et al. Nutrition & Metabolism 2014;11(26).
- Clemesha CG, et al. World J Mens Health 2020 ;38(1) :115–122.