If you’ve done any research into hormone optimization, you probably already know the terminology surrounding testosterone levels is enough to make anyone’s head spin. “Free testosterone”, “bioavailable T”, and “bound T” are just a few of the terms used when talking about T deficiency. Luckily, we’re here to help you decipher all the medical jargon and help you implement strategies to increase your levels.
What is Free Testosterone?
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Most testosterone circulates tightly bound to sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) or weakly bound to albumin.” The small percentage left over, and the T that is loosely bound to albumin is considered “free” or bioavailable.
Think of T molecules bound to SHBG as being welded together, and the molecules attached to albumin as being wrapped loosely with yarn. Our androgen receptors can easily unravel the yarn but are unable to separate T from SHBG. That’s because bioavailable T is the only form of testosterone that can adhere to our receptors and its tremendously important physiological processes, like the production of sperm and red blood cells.
Another term you’ve probably heard is “total testosterone,” which (as the name suggests) is a cumulative measurement of all testosterone in the body. “Total” T is a misleading standard when it comes to testosterone testing since it doesn’t differentiate between bound T and the T our bodies can actually use.
How to Increase Free Testosterone
Take Up Weightlifting
Multiple independent studies have found that strength training exercises can cause a short-term increase in circulating T levels. These hormonal effects can last up to an hour and may be responsible for the mood boost a lot of men experience after workouts. Take it slow if you’re not accustomed to weightlifting: overexertion can have the opposite effect, so it’s important to work up to your fitness goals gradually.
Maintain a Healthy BMI
High BMI is one of the leading contributors to low T levels in otherwise healthy men. Fat tissue can cause the production of the enzyme aromatase, which breaks down certain molecular components of testosterone and reconstructs the molecule to form a weak estrogen called estradiol.
One study found the probability of an overweight man having low T is 8 times higher than the probability of a man of the same age with normal BMI. Ridding your body of excess fat, particularly around your middle, can improve testosterone production–though this probably won’t help if your BMI is in the normal range. The body needs a certain amount of body fat to maintain hormone production.
Meal planning is an excellent way to manage your macronutrient intake and help incorporate T-boosting foods that you might not normally cook. Men need sufficient levels of carbs, protein, and healthy fats to optimize natural testosterone production.
An unbalanced carb to protein ratio can cause T-production to dip, so focus on incorporating carbs and protein-rich foods like sweet potatoes, black beans, and brown rice. These complex carbohydrates will also help keep you full for longer, decrease blood sugar spikes, and help you to maintain a healthy BMI. Tuna, oysters, and eggs are other nutrient-dense protein sources that can help to replace muscle mass lost from low levels.
Besides being tasty, ginger has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. Studies show this spicy superfood may also aid in the production of testosterone and luteinizing hormone. Add grated ginger root to supercharge your sweet potato mash, or use it in marinades for a more muted flavor.
We know that zinc and vitamin D deficiencies are linked to low levels, though the exact role these nutrients play in T production is still being studied. The animal-derived amino acid D-Aspartic Acid has also been studied as a testosterone booster but findings have been mixed. One clinical study showed a 60% increase in T levels, so it can’t hurt to try, right?
Some men also find promise in using the ancient medicinal herb, ashwagandha, to help boost levels of free T. Scientific evidence backs up these claims, with one study finding men who took ashwagandha had an average increase of 10-22% in T levels after 3 months.
Cut Out Alcohol
Studies show that alcohol negatively impacts areas of the brain which regulate testosterone production. Drinking can also cause cell death within the testes since the tissue that comprises them are very sensitive to oxidative injury. A couple of drinks occasionally probably won’t hurt, but experts advise to steer clear of beer since it has a two-fold effect on hormone production. Hops used to flavor beer, contain plant-based estrogens, and can interfere with testosterone’s ability to bind to androgen receptors.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Testosterone replacement therapy is currently the only FDA-approved treatment on the market for low T. While the name may sound invasive, this treatment is typically self-administered in the comfort of patient’s homes, and for most has few to no side effects.
Benefits of TRT include better mood, more spontaneous erections, muscle growth, increased stamina, and improved memory. TRT is also shown to slow down bone degradation and even rebuild bone exterior in men with osteoporosis. Findings from multiple independent studies show that TRT can improve the metabolism of overweight men with low T and increase the percentage of overall weight loss.
Men with a history of certain cancers, sleep apnea, and urinary problems should talk to their primary doctor to make sure they are healthy enough for TRT. Though this therapy typically has minimal side effects, this medication may cause complications in men with these conditions.
We at Renew Vitality, believe in using a three-fold approach to hormone management. We offer treatments to control the symptoms of low circulating levels and also arm our patients with education and lifestyle coaching to help them manage levels naturally. Our providers understand the challenges that come with a hormone deficiency, that’s why our team works tirelessly to help keep men comfortable while they are on the road to optimal health. To learn more about our services, please contact us for consultation.
This content was reviewed by Dr. Gary Kawesch. Dr. Kawesch graduated from Yale University, getting his degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. He then got his medical degree at the UCLA School of Medicine. He completed his internship in internal medicine at USC’s Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, and his ophthalmology residency at the UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. For over 18 years, Dr. Kawesch was one of the foremost ophthalmic surgeons in the US and has consulted with and was a team doctor for seven professional sports teams in California. He continues to work with the Oakland Raiders. He trained with the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and helps men increase their vitality, lifespan and overall healthspan.