Male-Pattern Baldness, Man Boobs, or Prostate Problems? Why Testosterone Might Be Your Frenemy
If you’re a guy, when you think about testosterone, what do you think of? Big muscles, a strong sex drive, aggressive behavior and competitive sports? These traits are all influenced by testosterone, but research continues to show us that the whole system is much more complicated than we thought.
What if you found out your testosterone was hiding from you, changing behind your back, or leading you too far down the wrong path?
Do you have:
a receding hairline
a bald spot
issues with your prostate
extra fat on your chest, hips, or buttocks?
It might just be that Testosterone is Your Frenemy.
Here’s what I mean and what you can do.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is an androgen (male associated) hormone made in men primarily in the testes and a little in the adrenal glands. It increases at puberty and starts slowly decreasing around age 30. It is associated with muscle mass, sperm production, libido, sexual function and energy, and it is also related to mood, red blood cell production, bone mass, fat metabolism, and body hair.
These effects are not not simply a matter of one’s testosterone being high or low. There are complex relationships between this hormone and several other key hormones. The way testosterone is made, how it travels around the bloodstream, how it affects your cells, and how it is metabolized will all have a profound effect on what effects you feel from your testosterone.
Our endocrine system is a network of glands throughout the body, the hormones those glands secrete, and the receptors in our cells that respond to those hormones. In our brains the hypothalamus is a gland that connects our endocrine and nervous systems, and it sends out hormones to communicate with the the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland then sends out it’s own set of hormone “messages,” to the testes, adrenals, thyroid, and other glands. These systems involve highly complex negative feedback mechanisms, with the glands communicating back to the hypothalamus. Inefficiencies and errors can happen at any point in the neuroendocrine system.
Testosterone can be locked up for safe-keeping.
The body cannot have too much testosterone floating around the bloodstream and binding to cell receptors at any one moment, so it keeps the majority of it locked up with Sex Hormone Binding Globulin, SHBG, and albumin. Usually only 1-2% is free.
Many factors affect how much of your testosterone is “bound,” and how much is available to your tissues. Common causes of high SHBG include liver dysfunction, smoking, and lack of nutrients. If you’re consuming a lot of flax seed, green tea, or mint, this could raise SHBG. Much of the research on these foods was done on women, but it’s something to consider.
Testosterone can turn around and become estrogen.
Men do need some estrogen for great health, sexual function, and spermatogenesis. But not too much. An enzyme called aromatase converts androgens to estrogens. The precursor hormone androstenedione can be converted to testosterone, but it can also be converted to estrogen via the enzyme aromatase. Testosterone can also be converted to estrogen via aromatase.
So you might be producing beneficial levels of testosterone or it’s precursors, but it may be aromatized (converted) into estrogen, resulting in estrogenic effects, such as how fat is distributed around the body. Inflammation, insulin resistance (too many simple carbohydrates in the diet), stress, xenoestrogens (synthetic estrogens found in pesticides, plastics and hair/body products), and mold toxicity (which affects pituitary signaling) are among the culprits behind unregulated aromatization. Aromatization happens primarily in adipose tissues, so the more fat cells you have, the more this can become a problem.
Aromatase inhibiting pharmaceuticals are sometimes used off label when giving men testosterone to reduce it’s conversion to estrogen. Natural aromatase inhibitors include Indole-3-Carbinol, the phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts that may explain why these vegetables are being studied to see if they can fight estrogen-related cancers, especially in the bioactive form known as DIM.
Testosterone can go down different pathways, converting to 5a-DHT or to less potent androgens.
Androstenedione and testosterone are metabolized down two different pathways, the alpha or beta pathways. The alpha pathway is more androgenic, having a greater affinity for androgen receptors, and on average 10% of circulating testosterone is in this form, converted by the 5a-reductase enzyme. 5a-DHT is three times more potent than testosterone.
High 5a-Reductase activity is associated with obesity and insulin resistance. 5a-DHT can also build up in the hair follicles or the hair follicles can have more DHT receptors and so are more affected by DHT. Have you heard of medications called DHT blockers or that supplements such as saw palmetto or zinc oxide are good for stopping or reversing hair loss? These work by inhibiting 5a-reductase.
High 5a-DHT is also associated with prostate issues.
Here are 7 things you can do to balance your testosterone naturally: free your T, curb the flip-flopping, and steer away from problematic pathways.
Eat organic, whole foods, especially your animal products, and avoid simple carbohydrates like sugar and grain flour products. Nutrient deficiencies and exposure to hormones and toxins given to factory-farm animals interfere with your natural hormone pathways. Poor blood sugar regulation affects aromatization. Removing toxins from your diet improves liver function, thus improving SHBG levels and allowing your body to excrete excess hormones.
2. Eat cruciferous vegetables.
3. Exercise to build muscle, reduce fat and improve insulin response.
4. Get rid of conventional hair, skin and body products that are full of hormone-disrupting chemicals and
fragrances, especially paragons and phthalates.
5. Avoid soy, flax seeds, and plastics, which may have estrogenic effects on the body. The infamous
BPA was first formulated as a synthetic estrogen to prescribe to women suffering from low estrogen.
6. Reduce stress. Testosterone precursors are made by the adrenal glands, so repeated fight or flight
response activation can cause the body to de-prioritize the sex hormones.
7. Get 30 minutes of full-body, preferably naked, sunshine a day.
Vitamin D is critical to testosterone production.
If you have symptoms of high DHT like prostate issues and hair loss after making the above changes to your diet and lifestyle, you may want to research some of the natural topical and oral supplements that are out there. Some of them can be quite powerful when used over time.
This is a great shampoo and conditioner for men who want to avoid unhealthy chemicals and reduce DHT at the hair follicle. https://amzn.to/34UTCRG
If you still have symptoms of an imbalance of estrogen to testosterone after making these changes, then DIM, the phytochemical in cruciferous vegetables, and broccoli sprouts/sulforaphane may help improve estrogen detoxification pathways in the liver and intestines..
But please know, your hormones are critical to your health, so it’s not something you should mess around with willy-nilly. There are ways to work with a professional to be more strategic.
In the end, a simple testosterone blood test in your annual checkup may not be sufficient for your physician to address some of your critical health and wellness concerns. Many functional or integrative physicians and health practitioners are using a very interesting test that may give some insight into what is really happening in your glands, bloodstream and receptors. Instead of looking at how much overall testosterone is floating around at a given moment, it looks at a number of adrenal and sex hormones and their metabolites to paint a more accurate picture of the overall symphony (or mosh pit) going on in your body.
Precision Analytical makes a comprehensive test called the DUTCH Hormone Panel, which analyzes dried urine to map adrenal and sex hormone metabolites throughout the day for a more accurate picture of what’s really going on with your testosterone and everything else. It’s a really great test that can empower you to improve your health and, well, appearance.