Do you remember what life was like when you were in your early twenties? If you’re like most men past middle age, probably not, so let me remind you. Those were the days when you had the energy to pop out of bed—not get out of bed and hear a pop! Those were the days when you couldn’t stop feeling your rock hard abs—not rub your big belly. Those were the days when your hair actually grew on top of your head—not out your ears. And “ready for action” meant “ready anytime”—not just for the next 36 hours like the Cialis® commercial promises.

If you’re a man over 40, there is little doubt that you have already begun to experience the downward “so-called” inevitability of aging. A decline of almost everything that made you feel like the man you once were. Almost every man will eventually experience a drastic decline in his male hormones levels whether he likes it or not. This decline actually begins in a man’s thirties and most men can expect a loss of almost 10 percent each decade thereafter —especially if they don’t take the necessary means to stop this insanity!

This drop in primarily the male hormone testosterone has been well documented for over 60 years by the medical establishment, yet very few doctors will admit that it exists. The “it” is referred to as Male Menopause or Andropause, however I prefer to call it the Beer Belly Blues, as a couple of the hallmarks of male menopause are: an enlarged waist circumference followed by a decline in your usual jovial mood. After all, women don’t call us “Grumpy Old Men” for nothing.

Belly fat is so closely linked to our testosterone levels that Norwegian researchers have discovered that most men can determine whether they are deficient in testosterone just by measuring the size of their waist. The researchers discovered that men with waist sizes greater than 40 inches had on average 30 percent lower testosterone levels than men with waist sizes that were less than 37 inches.1

If you’re wondering why all the fuss about testosterone, well this manliest of hormones (even though women produce it as well) may be the most important health factor in the male body. When naturally abundant, it is at the core of energy, stamina, sexuality and a lean body. But when it is deficient, it is at the core of fatigue, aging, disease and obesity. Without adequate testosterone most men can experience:

  • decreased energy
  • lowered metabolism
  • decreased muscle mass
  • cognitive decline
  • increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • increased risk of diabetes
  • increased body fat, especially a potbelly
  • diminished sex drive or sexual ability
  • depressed mood or lack of motivation

The good news is that men can restore their testosterone levels to youthful levels again and in the process reverse the above conditions. But in order to find out how, let’s first look at what happens to our valuable testosterone as we age.

Free the Testosterone

The reality is it really doesn’t matter how much total testosterone you have in your later years, especially if the majority of your testosterone is out of commission! The only testosterone that counts is referred to as “free” or “unbound testosterone.” Most testosterone in the body is bound to specialized proteins (like sex hormone binding globulin or SHBG), which make it a lot less functional then the testosterone that is free (unbound) and ready for action. The bad news is as we age, we experience increases in these binding proteins and more and more testosterone is taken out of commission. This is why free testosterone is the ultimate measurement of a man’s true testosterone status.

Testosterone and Estrogen

Unfortunately declining levels of free testosterone is far from a man’s biggest threat as he ages, it turns out that we also have to contend with ever increasing levels of estrogen as well—yes the same estrogen that helps give women those soft curves.

One of the body’s great little tricks is it can turn testosterone into estrogen quite easily. The conversion of testosterone to estrogen is called aromatization and is carried out by the enzyme aromatase. The aromatase enzyme creates trouble as men age because it lives in their belly fat, which quite literally become estrogen producing factories and the larger the belly fat, the more aromatase gets made and the higher the estrogen rises. More aromatase means less testosterone. In fact, it is not uncommon for a man of retirement age to have higher estrogen levels in his body than a woman of the same age—yikes!

Researchers have discovered that this high estrogen/low testosterone status most men experience with advancing age is responsible for the majority of the negative effects men experience with the Beer Belly Blues—especially heart disease and prostate problems, including prostate cancer. The other problem with rising estrogen levels is they increase the body’s binding of free testosterone by increasing the production of SHBG, further reducing testosterone.

Reversing the Effects of Male Menopause

In order to effectively increase the amount of natural testosterone in the body, men must find ways to reduce SHBG and inhibit the conversion of valuable testosterone into estrogen. Thankfully there are natural ways to achieve this scenario. Following are natural ways to elevate testosterone levels, reduce SHBG levels and reduce aromatization:

Exercise: Regular resistance exercise has been documented to increase free testosterone and maintain lean body mass.2 Lose the fat: Excess body fat makes it difficult for the body to hold onto healthy testosterone levels.3 Reduce stress: Stress enhances the hormone cortisol, which reduces testosterone.

Nutrition: Consume more high quality protein (which has been shown to lower SHBG levels, thus freeing up more testosterone), reduce trans fats and limit alcohol consumption (one night of drinking can lower testosterone levels for up to 24 hours4).

Supplementation: Although there are numerous scientifically validated nutrients for helping to restore the proper balance between testosterone and estrogen, these are a few of my favorites:

  • Tongkat ali. Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) is a Southeast Asian herb that has been touted by the Asian Congress of Sexology as an incredible aphrodisiac with testosterone-boosting powers.5
  • Chrysin. Chrysin is a flavonoid that is found in a variety of plants and is processed into pure form as a nutritional supplement. Its effects on hormone levels have been known since 1984. Chrysin is one of the most effective aromataseinhibitors6,7, however it needs to be combined with a nutrient enhancer like Bioperine® due to its otherwise low bioavailability.
  • Stinging nettle. The root of stinging nettle helps to balance hormone levels and is used as an effective treatment for BPH (enlarged prostate).8 Phytonutrients within nettle root help to enhance free testosterone by preventing bonding of testosterone to SHBG.9,10
  • Indole 3 carbinol (I3C). I3C is found in vegetables that you love to hate like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage. I3C helps reduce the level of estrogen in the body.11,12

References:

  1. Svartberg J, et al. “Waist circumference and testosterone levels in community dwelling men. The Tromsø study.” Eur J Epidemiol, 2004, 19: 657–63.
  2. Vogel RB, et al. “Increase of free and total testosterone during submaximal exercise in normal males.” Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1985 Feb;17(1):119–23.
  3. Rabijewski M, et al. “The relationship between testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate concentrations, insulin resistance and visceral obesity in elderly men.” Endokrynol Pol, 2005 Nov/Dec;56(6):897–903.
  4. Badr FM, et al. “Suppression of testosterone production by ethyl alcohol. Possible mode of action.” Steroids, 1977 Nov;30(5):647–55.
  5. Ismail MTM. Proceedings paper: Asian Congress of Sexology. 2002.
  6. Kellis, JT and Vickery, LE: “Inhibition of Human Estrogen Synthetase (Aromatase) by Flavones.” Science, 1984, 225:1032–4.
  7. Kellis, J.T., et al. “Inhibition of aromatase cytochrome P-450 (estrogen synthetase) by derivatives of alpha-naphthoflavone.” Biochem Pharmacol, 1986, 35(17):2887–91.
  8. Koch E. “Extracts from fruits of saw palmetto (Sabal serrulata) and roots of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica): viable alternatives in the medical treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia and associated lower urinary tracts symptoms.” Planta Med, 2001;67(6):489–500.
  9. Konrad L, et al. “Antiproliferative effect on human prostate cancer cells by a stinging nettle root (Urtica dioica) extract.” Planta Med, 2000;66(1):44–7.
  10. Anon. “Urtica dioica; Urtica urens (nettle).” Monograph. Altern Med Rev, 2007 Sep;12(3):280–4.
  11. Michnoviez JJ, Bradlow HL. “Induction of estradiol metabolism by dietary indole-3-carbinol in humans.” J Natl Cancer Inst, 1990;82(11):947–49.
  12. Michnoviez JJ, Bradlow HL. “Altered estrogen metabolism and excretion in humans following consumption of indole-3-carbinol.” Nutr Cancer, 1991;16(1):59–66.