Why it Matters and How to Do It Right
Hormones – chemical messengers in the body – are intimately involved in nearly every bodily function necessary for optimal health, whether it’s muscle-building, fat-burning, or cognitive enhancement.
Getting your brain and body functioning at their best depends on optimizing your hormones. Without addressing the hormone element, no anti-aging strategy is complete.
Whether your goal is greater productivity in your professional life or enhanced performance in the gym and bedroom, we’ll discuss here how to correctly optimize your hormones without jeopardizing your health.
What do the hormones do in the body?
There are over 50 naturally-occurring hormones in the human body that together comprise the endocrine system, otherwise known in everyday parlance as the hormone system or hormonal system. The glands and organs that produce the hormones are located throughout the body, in the brain, liver, reproductive organs and elsewhere.
The main role of the hormones is to act as signaling molecules, attaching to sites called receptor cells to catalyze important physiological activities, such as accelerating cell growth, absorbing sugar from the blood, regulating blood pressure, and other functions.
- Together, the hormones regulate:
- Growth and development
- Metabolism (energy processing)
- Sexual function
… and more.
What are common hormone imbalances in men?
It’s clear that sufficient levels of hormones are vital for good health. But what happens when hormone imbalance occurs?
Let’s run down a few common hormone imbalances that affect American men.
Low testosterone – also known as low T” or hypogonadism – is a public health catastrophe in the United States and, indeed, throughout the developed world.
“You’re not the man your father was,” Forbes declared recently.
Why, according to research, aren’t modern guys the men their fathers were? Forbes correctly cites a landmark study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism on testosterone counts in American men:
“Recent years have seen a substantial, and as yet unrecognized, age-independent population-level decrease in T in American men, potentially attributable to birth cohort differences or to health or environmental effects not captured in observed data.”
A toxic cocktail of factors, which we’ll explore coming up, contributes to this dramatic decline in testosterone levels.
Dovetailing with the research on men’s falling testosterone levels is another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that men now seek therapy for low testosterone at unprecedented levels.
Growth hormone deficiency (GHD)
Growth hormone is an anabolic (growth-promoting) molecule produced in the human pituitary gland. Growth hormone is necessary for building and maintaining muscle mass, strengthening the bones, and keeping your metabolism humming at full speed, among other functions.
Abnormally low levels of GH are seen in a condition known as growth hormone deficiency (GHD), which can have extremely negative health impacts on men.
“Adult growth hormone deficiency (AGHD) is being recognized increasingly and has been thought to be associated with premature mortality. Pituitary tumors are the commonest cause for AGHD. Growth hormone deficiency (GHD) has been associated with neuropsychiatric-cognitive, cardiovascular, neuromuscular, metabolic, and skeletal abnormalities. Most of these can be reversed with growth hormone therapy.”
(We’ll examine the benefits of hormone replacement therapy coming up.)
What factors negatively impact hormone health in men?
There are several ways that hormone levels might be compromised in the modern world. Here we’ll survey a few of the worst offenders:
- Chemical endocrine disruptors
- Poor diet
- Some prescription medicines
Hormone killer #1: Aging
Age is far and away the biggest factor that affects hormone levels in men. On average, based on large-scale studies, a man will lose 1% of his total testosterone each and every year after his levels reach their peak in his late teens or early twenties.
Hormone killer #2: Chemical endocrine disruptors
Hormone-wrecking endocrine disruptors are prevalent in consumer products, the water, and the food supply. Avoiding them is nearly impossible, but there are steps you can take to limit your exposure that we’ll explore more in-depth in an upcoming section.
Here are some of the worst testosterone-killing chemical offenders that men interact with in everyday life:
- Atrazine. Atrazine is one of the most commonly used pesticides in agriculture. As explained in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, “atrazine is also a potent endocrine disruptor that is active at low, ecologically relevant concentrations… atrazine-exposed males were both demasculinized (chemically castrated) and completely feminized as adults.“
- Bisphenol A (BPA). A chemical compound used in the production of commercial plastic, bisphenol A is a known anti-androgen that wreaks havoc on a man’s testosterone.
- Phthalates. Phthalates appear in food packaging, personal hygiene products, and other consumer products. These chemicals are disastrous for testosterone counts and also negatively impact sperm counts.
Hormone killer #3: Poor diet
You are what you eat, and your hormone levels respond accordingly. A wealth of clinical research demonstrates that poor diet correlates to lowered testosterone levels.
Pro-inflammatory diets (ones high in processed foods, seed oils, and added sugars) are especially damaging to men’s sex hormones, according to research published by the American Urological Association.
Hormone killer #4: Some prescription medicines
Numerous prescription medications – many of which are prescribed to millions of American men each year – are implicated in endocrine disruption.
Here are some of the most common examples, from the International Society for Sexual Medicine:
- Opioids for pain relief such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet
- SSRI antidepressants
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Statins for high cholesterol
Hormone killer #5: Obesity
Obesity is both a cause and an effect of hormone imbalance. Men who struggle with obesity often encounter a vicious spiral – as they gain weight, their hormones become more unbalanced, and the more unbalanced their hormones are, the more unwanted body fat they accumulate.
Obesity is particularly brutal for testosterone levels, as explained in research published via the Asian Journal of Andrology:
“Moderate obesity predominantly decreases total testosterone due to insulin resistance-associated reductions in sex hormone binding globulin. More severe obesity is additionally associated with reductions in free testosterone levels due to suppression of the HPT axis.”
Digging out of this obesity-hormone imbalance spiral is hard, but it’s necessary and doable.
Effective hormone optimization strategies for men
Let’s survey several proven strategies men can use to optimize their hormones and achieve peak mental and physical output.
Hormone optimization tip #1: Fix your diet
Arguably, the most important change you can make to optimize your hormones is to fix your diet.
There is a lot to be said about the diet and hormones that could fill volumes, but the best advice is to avoid processed foods like the plague and to increase your consumption of healthy fats.
For men looking to optimize their hormones, avoid these testosterone-killing foods:
- Soy and processed food products containing soy. Soy is literally everywhere in the food supply. Pick up a random processed snack, read the ingredients list, and you’ll see that it likely contains soy
- Vegetable oils. Ditch the seed oils (canola, sunflower, cottonseed) and switch to butter, olive oil, or coconut oil.
If you’re a heavy drinker, consider cutting back on your alcohol consumption. One study found that consuming the equivalent of 2-3 alcoholic beverages per day reduced testosterone levels by as much as 7% in just a few weeks.
Hormone optimization tip #2: Get more sleep
Getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night is crucial for achieving peak hormone health. Research shows that “sleep plays a major role in neuroendocrine function.” The release of human growth hormone, for instance, accelerates greatly during sleep.
Hormone optimization tip #3: Resistance training
Any form of resistance training, such as lifting weights, does wonders for the hormones. Research shows that as little as 15 minutes of weightlifting results in an impressive hormonal response as testosterone and HGH levels spike.
Also, maintaining lean muscle mass – a benefit of strength training — keeps testosterone and other hormone levels high.
Hormone optimization tip #4: Review your current medications with your doctor
If you are currently taking one or more of the drugs associated with a hormone imbalance that we discussed earlier, you might want to review them in consultation with your doctor. It may be possible to adjust your dose or try an alternative medication for the sake of your hormone health.
The important caveat here is to always rely on the guidance of a medical professional. Never stop taking any prescribed medication on your own.
Hormone optimization tip #5: Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
If a hormone deficiency is too severe or the underlying cause is not addressed properly, the lifestyle adjustments we’ve discussed so far might not be enough to get your hormones into the optimal range.
That’s where hormone replacement therapy (HRT) comes into play. Specifically, in the context of low testosterone, the solution may be a type of HRT called testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
TRT involves the supplementation of synthetic testosterone (usually in the form of testosterone cypionate) to support the body’s natural production of testosterone.
Via the medical journal Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management:
“Beneficial effects on mood, energy levels and patients’ sense of well-being, sexual function, lean body mass and muscle strength, erythropoiesis and bone mineral density (BMD), cognition and some benefits on cardiovascular risk factors.”
Taken altogether, these five hormone optimization strategies will improve a man’s hormonal profile and, as a result, substantially improve his quality of life.