Throughout my years of practice in dietetics, it seems like the usage of testosterone replacement therapy has been increasing more and more by the minute! While the benefits of TRT can certainly outweigh the risks in many cases, it’s important to stay well-informed and consider lifestyle interventions for increasing testosterone levels naturally first.
Boosting testosterone levels naturally is a process and cannot be accomplished overnight. It takes effort, time, consistency, patience, and trust in the process. To many, testosterone replacement therapy might seem like a magic pill. Your levels are low, you find the proper dosage to bring them into balance, and voila - your energy is back, your mind is sharp, you’re building lean muscle mass like never before, and you finally have a sex drive again. Sounds great, right? Well, not so fast! This allure of TRT often leads people to jump the gun without first weighing out the risks versus benefits. After learning about TRT's drawbacks, you may want consider trying to optimize testosterone with diet and lifestyle interventions first. Fortunately, most factors that contribute to low testosterone levels are modifiable through diet, exercise, stress management, and sound sleep.
One of the primary concerns of TRT is its effect on cardiovascular health. Some research has found that testosterone medications can decrease HDL levels, which is a healthy type of cholesterol that protects our heart and vascular health. Cardiac symptoms are one of the most commonly observed side effects.
Another consequence of TRT is its effect on the body’s natural hormone production. Once you get started on TRT, your body becomes reliant on the exogenous influx and stops its own production. Should you have reason to come off of it in the future, building your body’s natural production back up can be a long and challenging journey.
Additional risks and side effects of TRT include increased risk of prostate cancer in men, acne, increased red blood cell count, and sleep disturbances.
Despite the risks associated with testosterone replacement therapy, the benefits may outweigh them for some, making it a good fit. However, we should all be well informed on its potential consequences before making the decision to proceed with it. In many cases, testosterone levels can be increased just by modifying certain health behaviors.
For starters, finding the right calorie intake is important, as both under-eating and over-eating can lead to low levels. Consuming fewer calories than the body’s daily energy expenditure demands not only leads to micro- and macronutrient imbalance and/or deficiency, but it also places a massive stressor on the body. Any time the body is under chronic stress, it will put sex hormone production on the back burner. Think of it this way - reproduction is not necessary for survival. If your body is in danger (or so it thinks), these processes will not be prioritized. This is why strategically increasing calories over time can significantly bring testosterone levels back up.
Keeping within the diet realm, under consumption of healthy dietary fat is also a common pitfall. Cholesterol is the building block of all of our sex hormones, meaning, they are literally made out of the healthy fats that we eat. So, quit tossing those egg yolks aside and aim for ten or more per week! Yep, you read that right.
Vitamin D is another huge player in testosterone production, as it serves as a precursor to sex hormones. It's very common to see low vitamin D in conjunction with low sex hormone output, AKA, hypogonadism). One of the best sources of vitamin D we can get from the diet is egg yolks. There they are again! It’s also abundant in cold water fatty fish like mackerel and salmon, and contained in most animal products altogether. Plant sources of vitamin D are hard to come by, but mushrooms are one example, so let’s eat more of those too! I could write an entire blog on all of the additional health benefits of mushrooms, but we'll save that for another time. Vitamin D supplementation is often necessary to optimize levels, so make sure to ask your dietitian or doctor what they recommend in terms of products and proper dosing.
Exercise plays a large part in optimizing testosterone levels as well. In fact, strength training, AKA resistance training, is one of the strongest stimuli for increasing testosterone output. While it's absolutely important to keep in good cardiovascular shape, if that’s all you’re doing for exercise, let’s cut back on that cardio and pick up some weights!
As you can see, there's a lot to consider before making the decision to pursue testosterone replacement therapy. In my professional opinion, the most important one is this - how much time and effort have you spent on targeting lifestyle interventions to boost levels naturally, first?
Working the lifestyle habits mentioned above into your daily routine can be hard work! Many will benefit from working with a dietitian to build up these healthy habits. If you're interested in what that could look like, shoot me a message using the contact from below!