11/18/2014 11:15 am ET Updated Jan 18, 2015

Ask JJ: Optimizing Testosterone Levels


Dear JJ: I'm a 39-year-old guy. My doctor recently mentioned I have low testosterone and wanted me to start treatment. I'm not opposed to that option, but can you suggest alternate strategies to help normal testosterone levels?

Studies show testosterone declines about one percent every year after age 30, and researchers believe low testosterone affects 20 to 40 percent of older men.

One study found "restoration of testosterone levels to the normal range improves libido, sexual function, and mood; reduces fat body mass; increases lean body mass; and improves bone mineral density."

That's among the reasons more doctors recommend testosterone replacement therapy. "My personal opinion is that testosterone therapy is an effective anti-aging treatment that can significantly improve well-being, energy, and mood as well as body composition and libido," writes Dr. Jonny Bowden in The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer.

Talk with your doctor if you struggle with low libido, weight-loss resistance, mood swings, and other symptoms that potentially signal low testosterone levels.

Before you begin testosterone replacement therapy, you might want to consider these steps to optimize testosterone levels and then retest. Many times, other hormonal imbalances such as insulin can lower testosterone, and normalizing these hormones can reset testosterone.

Even if you do opt for testosterone therapy, these strategies can complement your therapy and help normalize hormonal levels.

1. Pull the sweet stuff. High-sugar impact foods keep your hormone insulin ramped up, storing belly fat, lowering muscle mass, and crashing testosterone levels in the bargain. Belly fat elevates estrogen levels, and low libido and erectile dysfunction often result. One study found glucose significantly reduced total and free testosterone levels in men. Going cold turkey off sugar doesn't work. In my new book Sugar Impact Diet, I provide an easy-to-implement plan to gradually taper off low-sugar impact foods without withdrawal and other symptoms.

2. Get optimal nutrient levels. Researchers find men with sufficient levels of certain vitamins and minerals have optimal testosterone levels. One study found higher zinc levels equate with normal testosterone levels. Another found magnesium supplementation increases free and total testosterone values in sedentary men and athletes. Studies also find a correlation between vitamin D levels and testosterone, although a 2013 study found mega-dosing with vitamin D did not raise testosterone levels. At the very least, take a professional-quality multivitamin/ mineral with optimal amounts of these and other nutrients.

3. Burst to raise T. The most efficient, effective exercise on the planet can also help normalize testosterone. "High intensity short duration exercise known as HIIT -- "High-Intensity Interval Training" -- boosts testosterone whereas long
'marathon' style exercise has the potential to lead to adrenal fatigue and lower levels of the hormone," writes Craig Cooper in a HuffPost blog. One study found for middle aged men, supplementing with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) combined with burst training could raise free testosterone levels.

4. Get sufficient sleep. Studies find sleep loss reduces testosterone levels in men. Add that to the zillion other reasons you want to aim for seven to nine hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night.

5. Reduce stress. In a HuffPost article, Amanda L. Chan discusses a recent study that found stress negatively impacts men's sperm. That same study found "job strain is associated with decreased testosterone." Stress management is not a luxury. Whether you choose a massage, yoga, meditation, or deep breathing, find something that helps you de-stress and prioritize it.

Whether or not you've opted for testosterone replacement therapy, what strategies would you add to normalize testosterone levels? Share yours below. And keep those questions coming at Next week could be your question.