Is "Low-T" All in Your Head?
Surprise, surprise: New research suggests that chronic, overwhelming stress can lower your testosterone levels and crush your sex life.
But you’ll have to pardon my sarcasm. Because while this finding is anything but surprising, it is important — to you and every other man out there. Not just because it shines a light on one of the leading causes of “low T.” (A modern men’s health buzz term with questionable origins, to say the least. But that’s a conversation for another day.)
This latest research also points out a shockingly simple way to mitigate some of the destructive toll that chronic stress takes on your manhood. And it’s a strategy that all guys can get excited about.
So let me share the details...
The goal of this recent study was to examine the effect of chronic stress on the bodies and sexual behavior of rats. (Not humans, I know — but as a model for a human biological phenomena, rodents are a reliable choice, which is why scientists use them.)
Anyway, these researchers stressed one group of rats with regular, forced swimming. And lo, the rats that were chronically stressed in this way ejaculated less frequently and took longer to ejaculate than control rats. After 20 days of chronic stress, their testosterone levels had also significantly decreased.1
On the other hand...
Regular copulation reduced some of these stress-related physical changes, such that the stressed rats resembled control rats in certain areas. For example, the testicles of stressed rats that were not allowed to copulate shrunk slightly over the course of the trial. Regular sex also demonstrated a protective effect on the stressed rats’ prostates and body weights, as well as their adrenal and seminal glands.
(Unfortunately, copulation didn’t ameliorate the drop in testosterone. Though previous research on humans shows that salivary testosterone levels do rise, at least temporarily, in the hours following a roll in the hay.2)
So what does this mean for you?
Like I said, animal studies like this are excellent gateways to human research, and they can help us predict what might happen in human beings under similar conditions. The behavior of these rats confirms what every guy already “knows” about stress: It can crush your testosterone levels and tank your sexual health.
How you choose to use this information is completely up to you. But as a practicing ND, I can tell you that most men’s health issues have complex origins that cannot be solved with a simple prescription. “Low T” is one of these issues — despite what the companies who trade in testosterone replacement will tell you.
At the very least, these rats serve as a stark reminder of that fact. Which is why, when I’m designing a lifestyle plan for a patient, I always account for the whole man. Not just physical factors such as diet, body composition, and activity patterns — but also the physical and psychological stress caused by his work, his general outlook, and his family life.
The bottom line: If your virility is on the ebb, little blue pills and pricey injections shouldn’t be the first place you look for answers. Instead, you need to take a good, hard look at your lifestyle. And before you do anything else, you need to cut your chronic stress.
As this research showed, regular sex is a great way to do that. But it’s not a solution for low testosterone levels by itself. So here are five key strategies you also need to be working into your daily routine...
1) Take 5 big belly breaths two times a day. Most people think they know how to breathe — but they usually don’t. Factors like stress and bad posture contribute to “chest breathing,” which is exactly what you don’t want to do. To combat stress and get more oxygen into your body, you need to breathe with your belly.
Go ahead and try it: Lie down or sit with a straight back. Put a hand on your belly and breathe deeply through your nose such that your belly — not your chest — expands. Take your time inhaling and exhaling — and repeat five times. Trust me, you’ll feel better when you’re done.
2) Download the Headspace app and listen to it. It’s really good — and it works. Because at the end of the day, dealing with chronic stress really is mind over matter. And giving yourself a time-out with some guided meditation is one of the best ways to stay in the game.
3) Exercise regularly — but not too hard, for too long. A few hours of moderate intensity exercise every week — along with around 8,000 steps every day — is what you should be aiming for. I wouldn’t advise anyone struggling with burnout to do much more than that. (And always build in plenty of recovery time.)
But I’d strongly advise against hardcore endurance exercise like marathon training. Research shows that this type of exercise sends stress hormones soaring and crushes your testosterone levels in the process.3 It’s counterproductive, to say the least.
4) Reset your adrenal glands by eating right. The adrenals generate all of those fight-or-flight hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline. Obviously, they take a beating when you’re chronically stressed — and this wreaks havoc on your body. But what you’re eating can make or break you, in this regard.
Toss all that processed and sugar-packed junk in favor of clean, whole foods — lean protein, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. If you’re interested in a more focused program to nurse your adrenals back to health, pick up the book The Adrenal Reset Diet by Dr. Alan Christianson. It’s an awesome read.
5) Try supplementing with supportive “adaptogens.” These are herbs that help to steel your body against daily stress and ward off fatigue — both mentally and physically. They’re no substitute for a nice, long vacation, but they can help to keep your defenses strong in the meantime.
My personal and professional favorite is Rhodiola rosea. Studies show that Rhodiola supplementation can help to boost immune function and endurance, and combat anxiety and depression.4-7
All of these benefits contribute to a healthy androgen profile — and they especially come in handy when you’re dealing with erectile problems. That’s why I recommend Rhodiola to all aging men, to the tune of 400-800 mg per day.
Stay tuned and stay well,
Geo Espinosa, N.D., L.Ac, C.N.S., is a renowned naturopathic doctor recognized as an authority in integrative management of male and urological conditions. Dr. Geo is the founder and director of the Integrative Urology Center at New York University Langone Medical Center (NYULMC), a center of excellence in research and integrative treatments for urological conditions.
1. Retana-Márquez S, et al. Horm Behav. 2014 Nov;66(5):766-78.
2. Dabbs JM, et al. Physiol Behav. 1992 Jul;52(1):195-7.
3. Daly W, et al. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2005 Jan;93(4):375-80.
4. Darbinyan V, et al. Phytomedicine. 2000;7:365-‐371.
5. Spasov AA, et al. Phytomedicine. 2000;7:85-‐89.
6. Shevtsov VA, et al. Phytomedicine. 2003;10:95-‐105.
7. Olsson EM, et al. Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105-‐12