The Mystery of Declining Testosterone

11/03/2017 04:09 pm ET

At present, our testosterone levels are under siege. Various factors appear to be pulling our T levels into the gutter—from sedentary jobs to poor diets and lifestyle choices to more ominous influences like environmental toxins. One particularly disturbing study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2007, indicated that men’s testosterone levels plummeted 17 percent from 1987 to 2004—and that’s controlling for health and lifestyle factors, such as obesity and diabetes, that are known to affect T levels. The study found not only that individual men were losing testosterone as they aged (which is fairly normal), but that same-age men from later eras had substantially lower T than their predecessors: a man who turned 65 in 2002, for example, had much lower T than a man who turned 65 in 1987. At the same time, males in the United States are experiencing an increased incidence of birth defects in the penis and testicles, a higher rate of testicular cancer, and a general decline in reproductive health.

Why are these things happening? The 2007 study suggests that although poor health in general is associated with a drop in testosterone, this generational decline cannot be fully explained by obesity, depression, or diabetes. Other studies—including one compelling study of 325 over-forty men by Dr. David Handelsman of the University of Sydney—have concluded that “age alone does not make you testosterone deficient.” And natural selection couldn’t solve the puzzle either; by all rights it would take generations to engineer such a massive shift in hormonal levels.

One possible explanation? Transgenerational epigenetics, a field that studies the ways in which environmental influences can be passed down from one generation to the next, just like our genetic coding. For example, animal studies have demonstrated that exposure to some toxic chemicals can result in epigenetic changes that can be inherited—thereby increasing the risk of chronic disease in the next generations.

So are unknown and noxious environmental influences robbing us of our T levels—and therefore our masculinity? It isn’t clear—but it’s possible.

Until we do know for sure, it’s on us to do everything in our power to counteract the influences that are known to deprive us of our physical and sexual health. Many guys assume that the solution is to pump themselves full of the hormone through artificial means—a solution that isn’t nearly as effective as many people believe, and that, for many reasons, I find highly problematic.

But T that naturally hovers on the higher end is generally a very good thing. Though some guys manage just fine with lower T, there’s no denying that a naturally higher T level, which offers benefits like clear skin, low body fat, better sleep, and good muscle tone, is a bellwether of overall health, and something that we older guys should strive to maximize. It’s both a cause and an effect of good health, an indication that our virility and vitality are on an upward, rather than a downward, spiral.

Through careful control of my lifestyle habits—diet, sleep, exercise, stress relief—I managed to raise my T levels 36 percent, from 517 five years ago to 816 today (at age 54)—and I accomplished this during the same period—my late forties and early fifties—when most men find their levels plummeting. I did it naturally, and I’ve never felt better. So I can attest to the benefits of making positive lifestyle changes to give your T a natural boost.

Although using these natural ways to increase your T are all scientifically valid, I’ll also admit that my experience is anecdotal. I’m one guy—albeit a borderline obsessive one who has tracked the research and scientific trends around testosterone for decades now. But even if you follow this advice to a (literal) T, you may not achieve exactly the same results I did. It’s conceivable—though unlikely—that your actual T levels won’t change that much.

My response to that: It doesn’t matter. If you are contemplating having testosterone replacement therapy because your T is low, or because of symptoms you are experiencing, I urge you, with every fiber of my being, to try the advice detailed here first. For the sake of your own health, make absolutely sure that the problems you are experiencing are due to your physiology rather than your lifestyle. Be sure, because otherwise, changing your lifestyle will help you feel better. Your sex drive will return. You will be more vital, more confident, more focused, more able to carry out whatever aspirations you have for yourself in this incredibly rich period in your life. And at the same time, in all likelihood, your T will also go up—but even if it doesn’t, you will banish many if not all of the symptoms that are driving you to contemplate T therapy in the first place. And that matters far more than some number on a blood panel report.

You can read more information about healthy living and peak performance as you age in my book: “Your New Prime: 30 Days to Better Sex, Eternal Strength, and a Kick Ass Life After 40”.

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