In many circles, testosterone has become a dirty, villainized word.
Yet this powerful hormone is also the backbone of:
- Confidence and mood
- Mental health
- Fat-burning and muscle building
- Optimal health
Both men and women require it for a fully optimized life.
Global testosterone levels have plummeted, threatening our quality of life.
Before relying on lifelong testosterone hormone replacement injections, try the bioharmony route. The primary side effect is overall health improvements.
Today, we’ll cover the most powerful and safe testosterone-boosting techniques. From timeless natural supplements to modern therapeutics. This guide will help you biohack your testosterone.
Why Testosterone Matters
Testosterone is an incredibly misunderstood yet vital hormone for both men and women.
That’s right. Even women should naturally have higher levels of testosterone than they do another famous sex hormone called estrogen.
Due to epigenetic lifestyle and environmental factors, most modern humans suffer from insufficient testosterone levels. Correcting this can rapidly improve overall health and well-being.
Testosterone is famously the athlete’s tool to rapidly build muscle mass and strength. But everyday folks benefit from it too. In addition to the obvious physical performance benefits, testosterone also improves metabolism, bone density, and overall health.
It’s the hormone of vitality, “anti-frailty”, and growth. It protects against common degenerative diseases like osteoporosis, dementia, and injury.
This hormone also has a tremendous impact on mental health, mood, different measures of brain function, and confidence.Living with low testosterone detracts from your relationships, career, success, happiness, wealth, and health Click To Tweet
Not to mention the time cost of constantly visiting the doctor and medications to alleviate surface-level symptoms.
Excess testosterone without hormone replacement is a black swan. I’ve never met someone with natural levels above the optimal reference range. Plus, high testosterone is safer and healthier than low testosterone.
Causes of low testosterone
Modern living impairs the endocrine system.
Unfortunately, testosterone is one of the first hormones to suffer.
Some of the causes contributing to low testosterone include:
- Catabolic workouts like running & jogging
- Overexposure to toxins & man-made chemicals
- Alcohol & drugs
- Bad sleep
- Processed foods
- Seed oil consumption
- Drinking tap water
- Inadequate protein
- Eating too many or too few carbs
- Stimulants and caffeine overuse
- Certain medications
- Inactivity and sitting all-day
- Lack of sunlight exposure
- Fluorescent and low-quality light exposure
- Insufficient “Earthing”
- Nutrient deficiencies
Notice that aging itself isn’t on there.
Contrary to popular belief, aging alone does not cause testosterone to drop. A thorough 2014 study followed over 10,000 healthy males aged 3-101. Researchers concluded that it wasn’t aging directly, but lifestyle choices that accounted for the substantial hormonal decline that often occured later in life.
Bad choices result in feeling lousy.
Testosterone deficiency symptoms
Most folks have no idea about their hormonal status. Even doctors and primary care physicians commonly overlook sub-optimal T.
Here’s the issue.
The currently accepted “normal” range has slid dramatically over the last few decades. Men 60 years ago had nearly triple the level of testosterone of men today. Biologically, nothing has changed to make lower levels acceptable.
So you shouldn’t be okay with “normal” testosterone levels.
Symptoms of low testosterone, also called hypogonadism, vary by person and severity. Men experience it more often than women, although women need some testosterone too.
Here are some common symptoms of low testosterone to watch out for:
- Muscle or strength loss
- Brain fog
- Decreased sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Endurance issues
- Fat gain
- Bone conditions
- Mood imbalances
- Memory difficulties
- Hair loss
- Breast enlargement (gynecomastia)
Note that some of these result from an imbalance between testosterone and other sex hormones like estrogen. Luckily, improving your testosterone levels can fix every one of these issues.
How The Body Produces Testosterone
I’m not one for dry, written biochemistry.
You can check out that video to learn exactly how the body produces testosterone.
The important takeaways are as follows.
Testosterone is produced differently in men and women.
The simplified pathway is:
Hypothalamus —> GnRH —> LH —> Leydig cells in testes —> LDL cholesterol converted to testosterone
This has two primary benefits:
- Liver: increases muscle protein synthesis
- Muscles: increases muscle mass
Dramatically increasing testosterone, especially exogenously, has other downstream hormonal effects.
This is a massive oversimplification, of course.
Benefits of Testosterone Optimization
For both men and women, optimal testosterone has myriad quality of life and health benefits.
Since deficiency is so common, people notice all kinds of benefits from making even just a few simple changes.
Some of the top benefits of naturally improving testosterone include:
- Increased muscle & strength
- Improved bone density
- Enhanced cognitive function
- Increased energy and stamina
- Improved mood and well-being
- Reduced body fat
- Better sexual health
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Increased red blood cell production
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Enhanced immune function
- Increased self-esteem and confidence
- Faster recovery from injuries
- Improved sleep quality
- Increased assertiveness and competitiveness
To live your best, highest vitality life, you’ll want to bring your testosterone into a therapeutic range (for virtually everyone, that means increasing it). When you do, these are just a few of the benefits you can expect.
Muscle mass & strength
Testosterone is iconic for its role as the top muscle-building hormone. Muscle mass, strength, and physical performance are all deeply interconnected.
There are a number of mechanisms contributing to testosterone’s acceleration of muscle growth. The primary is increased muscle protein synthesis.
Increasing muscle mass & strength aren’t just aesthetic. They’re both highly correlated with metabolic health, quality of life, and bodily protection of connective tissue (tendons, joints, ligaments) and bone.
Testosterone improves overall body composition (increase lean mass and reduces fat). It does so both directly and indirectly.
Testosterone’s fat-burning benefits stem from multiple different mechanisms:
- Improved overall hormonal signaling
- Increased metabolic rate
- Inhibited fat cell creation
- Preferentially burning fat instead of muscle tissue
Conversely, we can look at the effects of decreased testosterone on fat mass. When researchers used medication to halve total testosterone from 600 ng/dL to 300 ng/dL, subjects gained 32-33% more fat mass.
Best of all, therapeutic testosterone appears to burn the worst form of fat — visceral fat. The kind that impairs organ function. The body transformation effect is consistent for virtually everyone that optimizes testosterone. Of course, made better alongside other healthy lifestyle habits.
Energy & stamina
Low energy and fatigue often indicate hormonal problems. Compared to muscle building, there isn’t as much research on the therapeutic testosterone’s effects on endurance & stamina.
Studying this is complicated by the lack of willing participants. Elite athletes ethically won’t join because exogenous testosterone is banned in all sports. Still, a number of mechanisms explain how testosterone improves athletic stamina:
- Improved oxygen transport
- Better oxygen utilization by muscle
- Increased max oxygen uptake
- Greater red blood cell production
Researchers show that, across healthy young and old populations, improving T leads to greater endurance capacity.
First and foremost, I call testosterone the hormone of vitality.
To look, feel, and perform your best consistently, you require optimal T. There’s a direct correlation between testosterone levels and quality of life. Both objectively and subjectively.
Testosterone helps build and maintain muscle mass, which is the very best deterrent to aging-related conditions (most chronic diseases).
It helps you develop into the strongest and best version of yourself. Physically, mentally, socially, and more. Testosterone is well known to amplify your personality and transform your mood. Especially confidence, leadership, and competitiveness. All of which modern society rewards.
People will high T commonly report feeling more alive.
Inflammation is considered the root of all diseases. Aging also correlates with increased full-body inflammation, giving rise to a new term called “inflammaging”.
Many of the symptoms of low testosterone likely stem from high inflammation levels. Unhealthy visceral fat also drives inflammation.
At the same time, inflammation caused by chronic conditions inhibits testosterone production.
Everyone that participates in athletics eventually gets injured. It’s only a matter of time.
Having low testosterone at the time of the injury makes it dramatically worse. Conversely, increased testosterone levels:
- Decrease the likelihood of injury
- Decrease the severity of the injury
- Shorten the duration of injury recovery
This is especially true of fractured bones, and muscle issues.
There’s a bi-directional relationship between testosterone and sleep. Low sleep quality or duration negatively impacts testosterone. Low testosterone also hurts sleep.
The vast majority of the literature has investigated how sleep (or lack thereof) influences testosterone.
Excess testosterone, however, can also impair sleep.
Like most hormones, testosterone impacts the immune system.
Higher T levels are associated with better immune modulation and less incidence of sickness. Having a chronically activated immune system is actually not healthy. That causes inflammation and, eventually, disease.
Both low and supra physiologically high testosterone worsen hair loss & thinning.
There’s a myth that high testosterone causes hair loss.
It’s more complicated than that, and your genetics are a large determinant. That’s why getting a thorough, personal, and actionable DNA analysis is vital for anyone wondering about testosterone. You need to know the sensitivity of your hair follicles to a related hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
Low testosterone actually causes your body to produce extra DHT to compensate. Resulting in a thinning of the hair.
Libido & sexual health
In both men and women, testosterone plays a key role in sexual function, health, and satisfaction as well as libido.
Just a 10% decline in testosterone is enough to cause issues.
This often presents in men as erectile dysfunction (ED).
Physiologically, low testosterone is strongly associated with physical sexual issues. Psychologically, testosterone is intertwined with libido and arousal.
Sexual health and testosterone also share a bi-directional relationship. Improve either, and the other follows. Unfortunately, however, that can also lead to a downward spiral.
Mood & confidence
Related to its benefits on vitality, testosterone notably boosts mood and well-being.
Research shows that optimal T reduces feelings of anxiety, depression, overall mood, and contrary to popular belief, irritability. Yes, the right levels of testosterone can indirectly reduce irritability.
According to this doc, men with low testosterone are 4X more likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression and mood disorders like irritability.
Some research even pegs it as a potential SSRI alternative, useful to improve depression issues.
Testosterone is often regarded as the hormone of confidence, ambition, and self-esteem. Benefitting both professional and personal relationships.
Memory & cognition
Testosterone has significant effects on the brain. High levels of testosterone are both neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing.
- Visual memory
- Verbal memory
- Verbal fluency
- Spatial processing
- Dopamine production
Benefitting humans of all ages.
Additionally, optimal T can help alleviate brain fog and improve emotional regulation through the modulation of a brain structure called the amygdala.
Longevity & anti-frailty
Lean muscle mass is the overlooked key to anti-aging and healthspan.
Popular longevity doctors like Dr. Peter Attia, Dr. Mercola, Dr. Kaufmann, Dr. Turner, and more all rank muscle mass as the most important predictor of aging.
Low testosterone alone, independently of muscle, predisposes you to all kinds of degenerative conditions. Some of these include diseases, while others are just higher risk. Decreasing bone density, for example, is a major issue in the elderly. This increased risk of fractures is a leading contributor to early (and preventable) death.
As confirmed by quantitive biological age testing, optimizing your testosterone slows the process.
Another common old testosterone myth is that high levels cause heart disease.
Newer research by the esteemed Cleveland Clinic suggests that even exogenous testosterone therapy does NOT increase cardiovascular risk. And that’s using exogenous testosterone replacement therapy.
High testosterone may actually protect against cardiovascular disease through the following mechanisms:
- Increases production of red blood cells
- Promotes iron homeostasis
- Improves blood sugar control
- Enhances insulin sensitivity
- Reduces insulin resistance
- Reduces visceral fat
Some of that research studied unhealthy populations.
But meta-analyses of all the existing literature nicely summarize the effects of optimized testosterone on cardiometabolic health,
“The largest meta-analysis to date revealed no increase in CV risks in men who received T and reduced CV risk among those with metabolic disease. In summary, there is no convincing evidence of increased CV risks with T therapy. On the contrary, there appears to be a strong beneficial relationship between normal T and CV health that has not yet been widely appreciated.”Testosterone therapy and cardiovascular risk: advances and controversies
How to Biohack Max Testosterone
When I first paid attention to my blood work, my total testosterone levels hovered around the high-300s to the low-400s (ng/dL).
Today, I’m usually between 870-940 ng/dL. I maintain this without using any dedicated testosterone products or efforts.
To get here, I did a thorough analysis of the research around natural testosterone optimization.
I followed a process and made some tweaks to my diet, supplementation, and lifestyle. I’ll share all this below.
We’ll start with the basics and then progress to the advanced testosterone-boosting biohacks.
Step 1: getting your hormonal baseline
Quantified and qualified testing should form the foundational first process of any hormone optimization protocol.
Without it, you’re flying blind. How else will you know which, if any, of your efforts works?
There are two main classes of tests to run:
- Genetic analysis — foundational but requires an accurate and thorough service
- Blood panels — the core of most hormone optimization, repeated often
Most folks skip genetic analysis and go straight into blood work. While blood is the “red gold” of understanding hormone status, neglecting your DNA is a big mistake.
Your DNA contains all kinds of vital information such as hormonal setpoints, susceptibilities to particular nutrient deficiencies (vitamins, minerals, and micro-nutrients), and “healthy” lifestyle practices that might actually harm your endocrine system.
We can also use information about our liver function and enzymes (GGT, AST, cholesterol synthesis, APoB) and other hormonal tendencies (particularly prolactin), to build your personalized plan
Genetics can explain as much as 65% of differences in testosterone levels and metabolism between individuals. Plus, this can depict the why behind any issues spotted in blood labs. In this DNA software review, I explain why I only trust one particular company.
Once you’ve gotten your actionable DNA report, you’re ready for blood testing. Unfortunately, the body is a complicated system of systems (cybernetic). So you’ll want a thorough panel. The commonly recommended test include:
- Total Testosterone
- Free Testosterone
- DUTCH Cortisol Test
- NMR Lipoprotein (Advanced LDL, HDL, Triglycerides)
- Vitamin D & B12
- Oestradiol (E2)
- Liver Function Tests
- Renal Tests
- RBC Magnesium
- Creatine Kinase (CK)
- C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
The first eight are the most important. Many of the others will highlight potential problems arising from supplementation and living but are not quite as indicative of testosterone.
You can get some of these during your annual insurance-covered physical.
If you have the budget, you could also get a complete blood panel that tests you for deficiencies of all the micronutrients.
This baseline will highlight any important gaps currently keeping your testosterone low.
Step 2: remove testosterone kryptonites
Even if you take exogenous hormones, they won’t work as well and you’ll have more side effects if you don’t address certain things.
You can also notably naturally increase your testosterone without adding a thing.
Next, we want to remove or reduce the following testosterone destroyers:
- Certain medications
- Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs)
- Body fat
Stress is one of the major culprits of low testosterone. That’s because cortisol, the primary stress hormone, antagonizes androgens like testosterone. You can’t maintain high levels of both. Luckily, you have lots of ways to bioharmonize stress into your superpower.
Over-training, especially heavy endurance volume, is taxing on the nervous system and body. The research is quite clear — frequent and intense endurance training results in a prolonged net catabolic state. Lower the volume and/or switch to super walking combined with the Swiss Army Knife of fitness, KAATSU training.
Alcohol shifts hormonal balance towards catabolism too. It both damages tissues and stimulates the production of stress hormones like cortisol, prolactin, and catecholamines. I suggest choosing one of these powerful alcohol alternatives that still give you a nice euphoric buzz. If you must drink, at least biohack your alcohol.
Medications, unfortunately, often interfere with testosterone levels. These include blood pressure meds, antidepressants (SSRIs), antihistamines, statins, opioids, cocaine, ketoconazole (used to treat athlete’s foot, dermatitis, and dandruff), and benzamides. Work with your medical professional to find a suitable alternative.
EDCs & fat. The last two bullets above are related. Body fat is a sink for the storage of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The body stores these toxicants in fat tissue to insulate them. Visceral fat poses the biggest risks. So what do you do?
Lower your exposure to EDCs! These are substances that modify the functioning of the endocrine system (hence their name). They disrupt in two primary ways. First, by mimicking estrogen in the body (called xenoestrogens). Also, by directly impairing testosterone.
Here’s what you can do:
- Eat non-GMO, organic food whenever possible (especially when buying meat)
- Filter your water (I use the AquaTru system)
- Filter your air (I prefer either the budget Air Angel or the AirDoctor Pro)
- Switch from plastic containers to glass or steel
- Avoid plastic as much as possible
- Minimize canned food (they contain BPA, BPS, BPE, etc)
- Buy low-VOC, low-chemical furniture
- Use EWG’s free Think Dirty app to choose clean cosmetics & sunscreens
While EDCs are ubiquitous in modern life, conscious effort makes all the difference.
Each item in this list will help you.
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to move on to the more exciting part.
Step 3: implement these practices
Next up are the nutrients, protocols, and things to add.
I’ll split it into sections.
The primary targets of testosterone-boosting practices include:
- Stress management
We’ll start with sleep.
Sleep is the single most anabolic, tissue-building state of every 24-hour cycle. Virtually all repair and regeneration occur in this period, as does testosterone release. Research by Dr. Matt Walker conclusively showed that even short-term sleep restriction can reduce testosterone by up to 15%.
Sleep less than 4-hours per night, and your testosterone may drop by 60% compared to folks sleeping 8+ hours.
Shift workers, those with abnormal sleep/wake schedules, have lower testosterone and worse symptoms.
Together, this is why optimizing your sleep is among the most impactful ways to improve T levels. Before we go on to the popular strategies, let’s cover another.
We discussed stress’s role on testosterone previously, in the “things to remove” section. So we’ll keep it short here and provide a small list of anti-stress tips.
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. It’s essential to life, but chronic elevation leads to major issues. In order to build the hormones, both testosterone and cortisol compete for the same nutrients and precursors. Since survival matters more than growth, cortisol wins every time.
- EFT Tapping
- “Forest Bathing” Therapy
- Adequate nutrients, especially carbs
- Adaptogens like Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Ginseng, Holy Basil
- Apollo Neuro Tech
- Therapeutic Touch
- KAATSU Recovery Training
Of course, there are countless ways to reduce stress levels. These are just a few.
This section is actually fairly simple and straightforward.
The simple preface is that the body requires ample nutrients, calories, and fluids to produce optimal amounts of testosterone.
Now for the specifics…
- Eat cholesterol
- Eat enough macros
- Eat saturated fat
- Eat adequate calories
Fat and cholesterol are not the evil villain it’s often portrayed as. It’s actually a precursor required for all steroid hormone production. Restrict cholesterol and your T production suffers. Luckily some of the best sources of saturated (stable) fats are fairly cholesterol-rich.
For max bioavailability of fats and proteins, I get affordable grass-fed and grass-finished meat from Wild Pastures. It’s harder to get these high-quality nutrients on a vegetarian or vegan diet (cacao butter and dark chocolate do provide highly beneficial stearic acid). Plant-based proteins can harm testosterone-to-estrogen ratios.
Protein. The simple target is ~0.8-1g of clean protein per pound of ideal body weight. As long as you hit the lower range, in order to balance the anabolic & catabolic hormones, you want to consume adequate carbs. Avoiding carbs increases cortisol relative to testosterone.
Carbs. I personally feel best when about 20% of my calories come from clean, low-glycemic carbohydrates. On my 4,500-calorie diet, that works out to ~200g of carbs. I backload most of these carbs to the night for better sleep, improved thyroid, and to maximize body fat burned throughout the day.
Calories are biological energy. Fuel for metabolic processes. Including the synthesis of sex hormones. Without sufficient energy intake, the body conserves energy. Reducing unnecessary functions like testosterone production. Your ideal intake depends on your current body status.
If you’re lean and trying to bulk up, you’ll certainly want to eat a caloric surplus. If you’re lean and trying to lose weight, you should eat around maintenance. If you’re overweight, you can handle a slight caloric deficit. Try not to exceed a 10-15% deficit, and note that your thyroid still might suffer.
Hydration. Another unsexy topic. Hydration is more than just water intake — electrolyte balance matters. Without electrolytes, too much water can harm you. Basically, the more dehydrated you are, the larger the increase of cortisol and epinephrine and the lower your testosterone. Even just 1% dehydration makes a big difference.
Make sure to regularly sip on water throughout the day (about half your body weight in ounces is a very loose ballpark) and get adequate minerals. Either through diet, quality sea salt, or a special product (I use this electrolyte supplement).
Exercise, but not in all forms, is one of the highest-impact and most reliable testosterone-boosting hacks available.
Of all exercises, the hex bar deadlift likely has the largest beneficial impact on the release of sex hormones and anabolic hormones like growth hormones.
Best practices for hormone optimization exercise includes:
- Short sessions of <60 minutes (ideally <45 min)
- Luxurious rest periods
- Minimize medium to high intensity (jogging, running), steady-state cardio
- Choose compound lifts whenever possible
- Stop short of complete failure
Dopamine and testosterone are intricately linked. Dopamine is an excitatory neurochemical that matches many of the characteristics of T. The two share a reciprocal, bi-directional relationship.
Increased dopamine —> increased GnRH —> more LH sent to the testes
So re-sensitizing the body to dopamine can improve levels of sex hormones. A one-week social media and news “detox” should help.
One easy and safe way to increase dopamine is to compete. This works regardless of the outcome. Self-sufficiency also increases dopamine, while reliance on others increases estrogen.
The jury is still out on how sex and masturbation impact testosterone. So far, it looks complicated.
Step 4: add targeted nutrients (& supplements)
Everyone’s favorite (and often only) approach to naturally increasing testosterone is through supplementation.
The right nutrients can make a big difference, and even more when implementing the previous steps.
We’ll break down testosterone-boosting supplements into three categories:
- Essential nutrients
- Botanicals, herbs, spices
For max T and general health, consuming the right amount of essential nutrients matters most.
While many vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients contribute to healthy endocrine function, several stand out above the rest.
- Vitamin D
With a lot of these nutrients, deficiency drops serum level testosterone levels. One great example is retinol, the bioactive form of vitamin A. If you’re not getting enough from grass-finished meat, you may consider supplementation.
Others like vitamin D, however, directly increase total and free testosterone levels.
Vitamin D works more like a steroid hormone than a vitamin. It regulates 1,000+ bodily functions, and an estimated 50% of the world population is deficient.
A huge body of research suggests a strong correlation between vitamin D levels and sex hormones like testosterone:
- Association between plasma 25-OH vitamin D and testosterone levels in men
- Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men
- Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and testosterone deficiency in middle-aged Korean men: a cross-sectional study
- Association of vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men
- Influence of Sunlight and Oral D3 Supplementation on Serum 25(OH)D Concentration and Exercise Performance in Elite Soccer Players
- Vitamin D and sex steroid production in men with normal or impaired Leydig cell function
A few notes. Much of the research has focused on men. The effects are consistent in both unhealthy obese folks and elite athletes, young and old.
So get plenty of natural sunlight or supplement with a quality vitamin ADK.
Boron is perhaps the most common mineral supplemented for its testosterone-enhancing benefits. It’s actually a trace mineral, naturally found within the soil. Deficiency impairs the endocrine system and cognition.
Dosing around 10mg reduces testosterone-inhibiting sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), as well as reduces inflammatory biomarkers like high sensitive CRP (hsCRP) and TNF-α. Supplementation takes about a week to increase free testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, cortisol, and vitamin D. At the same time, it reduces estradiol. You can get it from some foods like certain fruit, almonds, and avocados.
Zinc is a micronutrient cofactor involved in many bodily processes. It’s another popular nutrient supplemented by those looking to improve T with supplements. Deficiency is fairly common as typical diets don’t include many zinc-rich foods, and deficiency is correlated with reduced levels.
Magnesium is the best overall “super mineral”. Virtually everyone needs more to live optimally. Magnesium promotes anabolism by balancing stress hormones and excess neuroexcitation. It also improves sleep quality.
According to Dr. Thomas Levy, magnesium is a critical cofactor involved in over 80% of all chemical reactions occurring in the body. The late Charles Poliquin called mag one of the best anti-aging minerals. Magnesium is also a cofactor to help vitamin D perform all its functions.
Hormonally, magnesium increases bioactive free testosterone as well as total testosterone. Both in athletes and sedentary adults. Magnesium improves other key anabolic sex hormones, including HGH, and IGF-1, and also helps free-bound testosterone. Foods rich in magnesium include greens, nuts, chocolate, avocado, and even certain high-quality salts.
Creatine is another non-essential amino acid that’s synergistic in testosterone-boosting regimens. It improves exercise performance, improving hormonal response post-training. It also has a slight impact on increasing testosterone when supplemented at 5g daily.
Initial use increases the conversion of testosterone to the related but more potent DHT. But that seems to subside. Overall, creatine’s effect on testosterone appears mostly indirect and related to improved athletic performance. Meat and fish are the best sources of dietary creatine.
Adaptogens are some of my favorite substances. We’ll cover them next.
Adaptogens are a special class of plants & fungi that fit very specific criteria regarding safety and mechanisms of action.
All adaptogens work by bringing the body into a greater state of balance (homeostasis). Adaptogens modulate the stress response and build personal resilience. Also building general health.
They generate and modulate the endocrine system, particularly the HPA axis which governs the production of anabolic and catabolic hormones. Many of them have indirect sex hormone-increasing effects.
Ginseng, for example, has three distinct hormonal mechanisms. First, it inhibits two hormones that lower testosterone (cortisol and prolactin). Ginseng also regulates the powerful and related androgen, DHT. Animal research showed an impressive 62% T increase from a high-potency ginseng extract. Another type called “Brazilian Ginseng” appears to directly increase testosterone too.
Shilajit is among the more unique substances supplemented by humans. This goo-like substance is harvested from high-elevation mountains, and affectionately nicknamed by ancient cultures the “conqueror of mountains”, “destroyer of weakness”, and “nectar of the Gods”. It acts on testosterone production enzymes and supports optimal synthesis. Shilajit contains one of nature’s most powerful electrolytes, fulvic acid, along with 80+ trace minerals. It, directly and indirectly, improves testosterone.
One study showed 90 days of supplementation significantly increased total testosterone (20%), bioavailable free testosterone (19%) and the precursor to testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (31%) (DHEAS). Another study focusing on fertility also found serum testosterone levels rose by 23%, and FSH by 9%.
Plus, this substance has natural energy-boosting/anti-fatigue effects, provides a cornucopia of micronutrients, and even acts as a cognitive-enhancing nootropic. Learn more in my shilajit super supplement guide.
Cordyceps is the favorite mushroom of athletes everywhere for its powerful ergogenic performance benefits. It helps increases cellular energy (ATP) production. It increases resistance to fatigue. Hormone-optimization-wise, animal research on cordyceps shows potential benefits.
It can increase testosterone release from the Leydig cells in the testes. Another rodent study showed increased serum testosterone and estradiol-17 (E2) concentrations (but not FSH, LH, or prolactin). Yet another found increased plasma testosterone. Overall, cordyceps seems best to help prevent the breakdown (catabolism) of T.
Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub that’s been a cornerstone in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia. It’s one of the most revered medicines in herbalism due to its pleiotropic benefits and outstanding safety profile. As with most adaptogens, ashwagandha modulates sex hormones and a few small-scale human studies confirm its testosterone-boosting potential.
A 2010 fertility study found ashwagandha restored optimal sex hormone levels. Other research found it improves strength, muscle mass, and testosterone. A later 2019 study of overweight men found a 16-week course of this herb increased DHEA-S by 18% and testosterone by 14.7%. Then a more recent 2022 study of healthy men found 8 weeks of ashwagandha improved testosterone by 15%.
Then you have the most popular ingredients found within testosterone-boosting supplements.
Other herbs & botanicals
These foundational herbs and botanicals make up the backbone of most male optimization products.
Cistanche is the premier natural testosterone enhancer. It has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is rumored to have been “Genghis Khan’s favorite herb”. This plant is so powerful it’s often called a natural selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM). It also benefits immunity, overall health, and the brain through dopamine, nerve growth factor (NGF) & neurogenesis, and of course, endocrine function.
Sadly, there are actually not that much human clinical data on this ingredient. Yet it seems to work great and is recommended by Dr. Andrew Huberman and others in the testosterone-boosting space.
From the animal data, researchers hypothesize that cistanche increases LH levels and also upregulates testosterone synthesis enzymes in the testes. Plus, it also increases levels of human growth hormone. Extracts of cistanche activate dopamine D2 receptors and dampen prolactin (high prolactin has many undesirable estrogen-like effects). The primary active ingredients appear to be plant glycosides echinacoside and acetonide. It’s safe to take it daily.
Tongkat Ali is another classic herbal testosterone booster, suggested to help with various male health focuses such as athletic performance, muscle mass, fertility, and of course, hormones. The primary active ingredients are considered a family of compounds called quassinoids.
Some research does suggest that Tongkat Ali can increase testosterone levels. As well as ameliorate common symptoms of low T. This 2022 research shows dual-pronged benefits, “reduced cortisol exposure (−16%) and increased testosterone status (+37%)”. A meta-analysis of existing research suggests it improves testosterone, DHEA, IGF-1, and other hormones.
Tongkat seems best to reverse abnormally low testosterone and the symptoms associated with it. If you’ve already optimized and looking for a massive bump, you’ll be disappointed. In those cases, increases of 40-70 points are most common. Note that it may exacerbate prolactin issues. Therefore, it should be stacked with cistanche. It’s also a fairly powerful cortisol inhibitor, so you may want to stack it with ginseng.
Other supplement ingredients to boost testosterone levels include:
- Fenugreek: wide-ranging benefits in multiple studies, including increasing testosterone up to 46%
- Apigenin: reduces prolactin and improves recovery
- Pine Pollen: contains a natural biosimilar form of testosterone
- Tribulus Terrestris: increases LH production, and the high levels of saponins and protodioscin may increase testosterone
- Diindolylmethane (DIM): a natural compound derived from cruciferous vegetables that reduce the conversion (aromatase) of testosterone into estrogen
- Oyster Extract: contains 59 trace elements and is a rich natural source of zinc
- Stinging Nettle: natural aromatase inhibitor that also reduces SHBG, thus increasing free testosterone
- Ginger: increases LH production & cholesterol in the testes
- EGCG: inhibits myostatin which can increase lean muscle
- DHEA: steroid hormone precursor boosts testosterone, stacks nicely with pregnenolone and Tongkat, must be combined with some form of aromatase inhibitor
- Horny Goat Weed: modulates estrogen back into balance
What you take may be less important than what you avoid.
Testosterone Enhancers to Avoid
Most testosterone-boosting products are little more than a few vitamins and herbs packaged into a sleek label.
Then they’re marketed heavily as “over-the-counter alternatives to injectable testosterone”. Yet they’re not at all the same.
One common criticism of the supplements (especially herbals) is that their modes of action are “imprecise”. A double-edged sword, depending on the other mechanisms at play.
These supplements require caution before using to improve sex hormones:
- D-Aspartic Acid (DAA)
Since the body is an intricate web of systems, mega-dosing individual vitamins or minerals can have detrimental effects. Throwing off these precise ratios can tank your hormones and overall health.
Supplementing DHEA can increase the conversion of testosterone into estrogen if not paired with an aromatase inhibitor. It’s also regulated in certain countries like Canada & the UK.
DAA is indeed effective for increasing T levels. So why does it make this list? It appears to increase testosterone numbers, without conferring the usual benefits of increased levels. Research shows it does not improve muscle or strength gains.
Fadogia agrestis is an herbal popularized by Dr. Andrew Huberman for its purported testosterone and sexual health benefits. Yet after learning about it, this is one supplement I won’t touch. This deep dive by the Nootropics Depot Science Team nicely explains why it’s sometimes called “the toxic testosterone booster”.
Biohacker’s Testosterone Boosting Supplement Stack
There are countless products on the market.
And even more individual ingredients.
What actually works?
I’ll stack rank my favorite single ingredients in terms of overall health benefit. You can use that to build your own stack. Then I will list a few products that combine multiple.
Best ingredients to naturally increase testosterone:
- Vitamin DK
- Magnesium + Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- Stinging Nettle
- Oyster Extract
These individual ingredients both increase testosterone and improve health. Most people combine multiple.
Then, we have the pre-blended products.
My favorite multi-ingredient testosterone-boosting supplements include:
Advanced Testosterone Biohacks
Once you’ve gone through the basic process and amplified your results with targeted nutrition, you can consider the more advanced therapeutics.
These range from fancy biohacks to fringe lifestyle practices.
If I really prioritized maxing my T, I’d consider these:
- Cold exposure
- Light therapy
Cold exposure via deliberate, intense immersion has a host of systemic health benefits. Little direct research has investigated the effect of cold therapy on testosterone levels. Yet overwhelming anecdotal evidence from biohackers and elite athletes shows major results from no other lifestyle changes.
Some of the mechanisms I imagine play the biggest role include reducing the temperature of the testes. Heating them via sauna usage decreases testosterone, and cold immersion offsets that effect. You also increase levels of androgens by burning more brown (visceral) fat. Then there’s the increased dopamine from cold immersion, which correlates with testosterone. Finally, cold exposure antagonizes cortisol and prolactin — two hormones that antagonize T. The colder the water, the less time required.
Light therapy (photobiomodulation) is light exposure to specific beneficial wavelengths of light. Red light therapy (RLT) is the most popular and well-studied, but near-infrared light (around 810-850nm) also shows impressive benefits.
Full-spectrum sunlight (which contains some UV) also appears powerful, increasing testosterone by 120-200%. Red light is hypothesized to increase energy availability to the Leydig cells in the testes, leading to more T. Again, most of the human success stories are anecdotal, but given the low risk and profound benefits some folks see, it could be worth grabbing one of these top red light therapy panels.
KAATSU is one of the hottest emerging forms of fitness because it’s very low-impact yet produces a favorable hormonal response akin to heavy strength training or sprinting. KAATSU is extremely portable, safe for all ages, and multi-use. This KAATSU guide and full review break down the science behind the methodology, along with the top uses. Although there’s little research on how it directly impacts T.
Biohacks that may work but I couldn’t find much scientific evidence for:
- Electrical muscle stimulation using a device like Neufit to upregulate androgen receptor density
- Acupoint stimulation, electronic or likely manual, may increase total testosterone and DHEA-S
- PEMF to rebalance hormone production and the neuroendocrine system overall
- HRV training attenuates cortisol and stress hormones which should increase testosterone indirectly
What About Exogenous Testosterone Therapy
Exogenous hormone optimization therapy (HOT) changes lives.
It’s a surefire way to get your testosterone levels back into the ideal range. I see several glaring issues.
First, testosterone declines for a reason. Usually, in response to your environment and/or lifestyle. This may be a protective mechanism that we don’t fully understand. For an analogy, think of a street-legal race car. Mechanics install a governor on it to prevent your age person from driving 200 mph on the freeways. This is primarily for safety. You could get it removed, but the consequences of a crash at 200 mph are very different than at 40 mph. Exogenous testosterone may be similar.
Secondly, few doctors do it properly. They often take shortcuts and put patients on high doses. You’ll want thorough monitoring and the lowest therapeutic dose for your particular use case and goals. That’s how you minimize side effects and long-term consequences. They should run full blood panels on you often to make sure no issues arise. The best docs also run your DNA through comprehensive analyses.
Third, you will start feeling amazing. As with anything that feels great, users struggle to resist the temptation to increase the dosage over time. If, for any reason, you cannot continue using therapeutic testosterone (travel, medication, cost, etc), coming off is a major adjustment. Expect a low mood, less motivation, and to lose significant muscle mass while also gaining fat.
Supraphysiological testosterone does have side effects. Sure, it’s likely still far better than living with low T. At the same time…
Hormone therapy is not bioharmonous.
You’re fighting your biology, and in the end, you’ll lose.
That’s why I advocate doing everything you can to naturally increase your androgens. People have doubled—even tripled—their testosterone levels from just some simple tweaks.
Biohacking Testosterone Q&A
Is testosterone bad for the heart?
When used properly and safely, testosterone is not bad for the heart. Research into that claim has shown exogenous testosterone does not increase cardiovascular risk. Still, you should naturally optimize your levels first.
Are testosterone boosters safe?
Products formulated to increase testosterone levels are safe only if they use high-quality well-researched ingredients, and dosed appropriately. Make sure to choose the right product, or you’re better off avoiding them altogether.
Do testosterone supplements work?
Most natural testosterone supplements do not work well and cause negative side effects. High-quality, powerful boosters tend to be more expensive but can do what they claim and increase testosterone.
Best Ways to Naturally & Powerfully Increase Testosterone Levels
Testosterone is the hormone of vitality.
It has a long list of benefits, and it’s healthier to be higher than lower.
Unfortunately, for reasons described earlier, it’s hampered by modern living.
Men today walk around with a fraction of the levels naturally enjoyed by our grandpas.
Before reaching for questionable hormone therapies, follow the natural T optimization process.
Since testosterone support supplements are here to stay, consider these foundational ingredients:
- Vitamin D + Vitamin K
- Magnesium + Vitamin B6
- Stinging Nettle
- Oyster Extract
But, the truth is…
You’ll move the needle most with the core healthy living wisdom.
The bioharmonous practices everyone’s heard of:
- Natural, unfiltered sunlight exposure
- Stress management
- Sleep and recovery
- Time spent around other men
Stack the lifestyle habits and nutrient support together, and you’ll see how many men get results good enough that they gladly skip hormone replacement therapy altogether.
Well, that’s a lot for one article. Over to you…
Do you have any tips to biohack your testosterone levels or key little-known ingredients I missed? Let us know in the comments below!