Testosterone is a sex hormone that affects:
- sex drive
- bones and muscle health
- sperm production
- blood cell production
Testosterone declines as you age, but other factors can also cause low testosterone, including certain medications, high body-fat levels, and some health conditions.
Low testosterone, also called hypogonadism or low T occurs when testosterone levels fall below 300 nanograms/deciliter (ng/dL). Low testosterone can be medically treated through testosterone replacement therapy.
Hypogonadism is very common. Around 40% of men over 45 years old and 50% of men in their 80s are considered hypogonadal.
A health-promoting lifestyle, including diet, is important for maintaining optimal testosterone levels. Some studies have found that diets high in ultra-processed foods and low in nutrient-dense foods may reduce testosterone levels.
If you have low testosterone levels, follow a medical professional’s recommendations. Additionally, you may consider adopting a dietary pattern rich in foods that contain nutrients important for maintaining healthy testosterone levels.
Many nutrients, including vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc, are important for maintaining optimal testosterone levels.
However, there’s limited research investigating the impact of specific foods on testosterone levels.
This article covers 7 foods that are rich in nutrients that may help promote healthy testosterone levels.
1. Fatty fish
Fatty fish like salmon and sardines are rich in nutrients that are important for hormonal health, such as vitamin D, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Even though certain high-fat foods, such as fried foods, have been linked to decreased testosterone levels in some people, research has also shown that low-fat diets may be detrimental to testosterone levels.
A systematic review of six studies found that low-fat dietary patterns were associated with decreased testosterone levels, compared to higher fat dietary patterns.
However, the researchers noted that more high-quality studies are needed to fully understand this relationship.
Regardless, adding healthy sources of fat like fatty fish to your diet likely benefits overall health, including hormonal health.
What’s more, fatty fish are good sources of zinc, vitamin D, and protein — nutrients that are important for maintaining healthy testosterone levels.
For example, studies show that men with lower levels of vitamin D tend to have lower testosterone than men with higher levels. This is because vitamin D is essential for male reproductive health.
2. Dark, leafy greens
Dark, leafy greens are an excellent source of micronutrients, including magnesium, a mineral that’s critical for maintaining optimal testosterone levels, especially in older men.
It’s thought that magnesium increases testosterone bioactivity in the body because magnesium reduces oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between antioxidant defenses and free radicals in the body.
Oxidative stress and inflammation can reduce testosterone, so introducing nutrients that combat oxidative stress may help maintain healthy testosterone levels.
An older study in 399 men ages 65 or older found that those who had higher levels of magnesium in their blood had higher testosterone levels compared with those who had lower magnesium levels.
Additionally, a study in Taiwanese men found that low intake of leafy green vegetables was linked to lower testosterone levels.
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Therefore, eating more magnesium-rich foods, such as spinach, kale, and collard greens, may help promote healthy testosterone levels.
3. Cocoa products
Cocoa products like cocoa powder and cacao nibs are high in magnesium and flavonoid antioxidants, both of which are important for testosterone.
Flavonoids are plant compounds that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
Studies suggest that certain flavonoids, including cocoa flavonoids like quercetin and apigenin, may help increase the production of testosterone from cells in the testicles called Leydig cells.
When you shop for cocoa products, you may want to choose ones that contain no added sugar or only small amounts of added sugar. Consider cocoa powder, cacao nibs, or low-sugar dark chocolate for their impressive health benefits.
Avocados provide healthy fat, which is important for hormonal health. Plus, avocados contain magnesium and a mineral called boron, which studies indicate may benefit testosterone levels.
Boron is a trace mineral that seems to influence testosterone metabolism in the body and may protect against testosterone degradation.
Though some studies show that supplementing with high levels of boron may help boost testosterone in certain people, study results are mixed. More research is needed to fully understand how boron supplements impact testosterone.
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While it’s not currently recommended to take boron supplements to increase testosterone, adding dietary sources of this mineral, like avocados, may help maintain healthy testosterone levels.
Egg yolks are rich in healthy fat, protein, and selenium, a mineral that acts as an antioxidant in the body.
According to some studies in test tubes and animals, selenium may help enhance the production of testosterone by activating certain pathways and the expression of certain genes.
Additionally, some studies in humans and animals have found that testosterone levels are higher in those with optimal selenium levels in their blood.
However, we need more research, especially in humans, before we can conclude selenium’s effect on testosterone.
Eggs are highly nutritious, so adding them to your diet if they’re not already a part of it is a good idea unless you have an egg allergy. Remember that whole eggs are much more nutritious than plain egg whites since the yolks contain most of the micronutrients.
6. Berries, cherries, and pomegranates
Berries, cherries, and pomegranates are high in flavonoid antioxidants, which may help protect testosterone-producing cells from damage and increase testosterone production.
An older study in rats found that pomegranate juice supplementation helped protect against induced oxidative stress, increased testosterone levels, and helped protect Leydig cells (which produce testosterone) from injury.
However, we need more research in humans before we can conclude whether pomegranates or their juice can affect your testosterone levels.
Pomegranates, berries, and cherries may protect against obesity-induced inflammation, which can lower testosterone levels.
Therefore, consuming antioxidant-rich foods like these fruits may promote overall health, including hormonal health.
Shellfish like oysters and clams are excellent sources of zinc, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which may support optimal testosterone levels.
Because of its important role in reproductive health, zinc deficiency can cause hypogonadism.
What’s more, high-dose zinc supplements appear to be effective for treating hypogonadism in some men. Yet, zinc supplements are not currently recommended as a universal treatment for hypogonadism.
But eating foods high in nutrients important for maintaining optimal testosterone levels like zinc, selenium, and omega-3 fats may support hormonal health.
Other ways to boost testosterone
Health-promoting diet changes may help with low testosterone, but they’re not cures for hypogonadism. A doctor must confirm that you have low testosterone through a physical exam and blood test.
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If you’re diagnosed with low T, you may be prescribed testosterone replacements, such as:
- tablets or pills
- skin patches
- topical gel
These medications can come with the risk of serious side effects, so make sure you discuss all of them with your doctor.
Additionally, consider making dietary adjustments to boost your overall health, not just to treat low T.
Factors like body weight and certain lifestyle choices can affect testosterone levels as well.
For example, men with obesity are more likely to develop hypogonadism than moderate-weight men.
Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight is critical for hormonal health.
Being more physically active, quitting smoking if you smoke, and cutting back on alcohol and drug use may also help men with low testosterone improve their testosterone status.
Frequently asked questions
This section covers factors that may affect testosterone levels and the symptoms you may experience with low T.
What are the symptoms of low testosterone levels?
Symptoms of low testosterone include:
- decreased spontaneous erections
- decreased sex drive
- reduced testicular size
- reduced bone and muscle mass
- loss of body hair
- profuse sweating
Keep in mind that symptoms related to low testosterone are non-specific and overlap with symptoms of other, potentially serious health conditions.
You should not self-diagnose low testosterone. If you suspect that you may have low testosterone, talk with a healthcare professional for proper testing.
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Can drinking and drug use impact testosterone levels?
Yes. Research shows that harmful use of alcohol and drugs can affect sex hormone levels, including reducing testosterone.
Alcohol and drug misuse are recognized as potentially reversible causes of hypogonadism.
Are testosterone-boosting supplements safe?
It’s not a good idea to use supplements marketed as “testosterone boosters”.
That’s because many of these supplements contain ingredients like herbs that could potentially interact with medications or cause other dangerous side effects.
For example, pulmonary embolism and elevated liver enzymes are just some complications that have been associated with the use of supplements marketed to boost testosterone.
Plus, a study that evaluated 50 “T booster” supplements found that over 10% of the supplements contained ingredients that may negatively affect testosterone levels.
The study also discovered that many of the supplements contained unnecessarily high amounts of certain nutrients like zinc and B3.
If you suspect that you have low testosterone, avoid supplements marketed as “testosterone boosters.” Instead, talk with a healthcare professional for advice on safe and evidence-based treatments.
Diet and lifestyle impact hormonal health and may impact testosterone levels.
Adding foods rich in nutrients important for maintaining optimal testosterone levels like vitamin D, magnesium, zinc, and flavonoid antioxidants may help support hormonal health.
However, if you have low testosterone or suspect that you’re experiencing symptoms of low testosterone, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for advice on the right testing and treatment.