Men today face an uncomfortable fate that seems to be happening at younger and younger ages—at alarming rates.
Men’s testosterone levels have been declining for several decades. The average modern man has testosterone levels far below levels from even 50 years ago and most likely drastically lower than men hundreds of years ago.
While it is somewhat normal for testosterone levels to decline with age, there has been a generational drop, with every generation, since the 70’s or before. On average, our Gen Z men and millennials have significantly lower levels of testosterone when compared to their fathers and grandfathers—and probably farther back in the family tree.
Measuring testosterone levels in men only dates to the mid 20th century, and obtaining accurate measurement of testosterone in blood has only been possible since the development of radio immunoassay techniques in the 1960’s, otherwise, we would most certainly see a serious decline in testosterone going back several generations.
Average total testosterone level of a 60-year-old man in the late 80’s was approximately 17.5nmol/L or 504.32ng/dL, according to this 2007 study. However, a 60-year-old man in 2002 had an approximate total testosterone level of 432.28ng/dL. And this is 2023, with testosterone levels dropping even further. Based on this, average testosterone levels in men are declining by approximately 10-15% every year, but could be as high as a 25% drop in testosterone.
Research carried out on Finnish and Danish populations are showing similar trends. More recently, another large-scale study of Israeli men has shown average testosterone levels dropping between 2006 and 2019, by more than 10% across every age category.
This Finnish study also shows free testosterone levels declining, combined with higher levels of Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG), a substance that binds up free testosterone, making it unusable in the body.
What is the Difference Between Free Testosterone and Bound Testosterone?
Total testosterone levels include both bound and unbound portions of testosterone. These are calculated in a simple blood test that measures testosterone levels.
Total testosterone levels have been a primary indicator of men’s health and fertility for many years. But when measuring testosterone, it’s important to look at both bound and unbound levels of this hormone.
Free testosterone is considered “unbound testosterone” and can attach to receptors on any cell in the body. Free testosterone can freely execute functions such as regulate metabolism and execute cellular functions.
There are proteins in the body called Sex Hormone Binding Globulins. SHBG is made mostly in your liver. It binds (attaches) to testosterone. SHBG controls the amount of sex hormones that are actively working in your body. When testosterone is bound to SHBG, the body cannot access or utilize testosterone that is bound. Body tissues can only use free testosterone.
For various reasons, SHBG levels can be overly high, causing more bound testosterone that cannot be utilized. So even if testosterone levels are normal, a man can have symptoms of low T, if there is too much SHBG attached to testosterone. High levels of SHBG combined with normal T levels, also contribute to the low testosterone epidemic.
However, the problem is not just bound or unbound testosterone levels in men. Sperm counts are dropping, along with other reproductive disorders, like ED, impotence, and testicular and prostate cancer.
Testosterone is an important hormone. Testosterone is not only considered a man’s sex hormone—the thing that makes a man a man—but testosterone also has to do with a man’s overall health and wellness. Testosterone helps with mood, motivation, drive, a sense of wellbeing, hair growth, bone density, weight management, muscle size, and more.
Why are testosterone levels falling?
That’s a complicated question. The truth is, it’s not entirely clear, but it most likely boils down to a combination of factors that exist in the modern world. These things were not present in earlier times—or at least not to the degree that they are now in modern industrialized societies. So, it’s no surprise testosterone levels seem to be plummeting overall.
High Levels of Xenoestrogens Everywhere
It becomes more and more difficult to avoid encountering hormone-disrupting chemicals in our food and water supply, personal care products, cookware, sunscreens, lawn care products, household cleaners, and even pharmaceutical products.
Many of these chemical-based endocrine disrupters are dangerous because they mimic estrogen in the body. These synthetic estrogen-like compounds are called ‘xenoestrogens’. Xenoestrogens attach to estrogen receptors and amplify harmful effects of estrogen, causing natural hormones to go askew.
Xenoestrogens can contribute to unnatural early puberty, hormone imbalances, reduced testosterone and fertility, reproductive problems, and a higher risk of certain types of cancers. Xenoestrogens are also responsible for weight gain, erectile dysfunction, and ‘man boobs’.
Xenoestrogens cause an unnatural increase in estrogen in men, block the natural production of testosterone, and lower sperm count and decrease fertility.
Obviously, xenoestrogens sound like something people should avoid at all costs. But how do we avoid them when they are everywhere? It may be difficult to totally avoid them, but there are definite ways to reduce exposure to xenoestrogens. Let’s look at where xenoestrogens are found:
Xenoestrogens can be found in pesticides, plastics, fuels, foods, preservatives, and drugs. Many xenoestrogens are present in processed, packaged foods and conventionally grown produce—as either preservatives or pesticides.
There are also xenoestrogens in conventional dairy, meat, and eggs. Commercial dairy and egg farmers often feed estrogenic chemicals to dairy cows and chickens because it will increase production of their milk or eggs. This makes conventional dairy, eggs, and meat major sources of xenoestrogens. Growth hormones given to commercial livestock have estrogen-like qualities as well.
Plastics contain a lot of xenoestrogens, particularly in softer plastics like water bottles, soft drink containers, and storage containers. Worst of all are the plastic food containers that are used to heat up leftovers in the microwave. Microwaving sends a large dose of the xenoestrogens from the plastic into food.
High Cortisol and Testosterone
Life has become very competitive and very stressful. Jobs, money, family, climate change, pandemics, wars, and on and on. More people than ever are dealing with unprecedented levels of chronic stress today. While you probably already know that stress can impact moods, sleep, and immune function—it also can affect your testosterone levels as well.
High stress levels cause higher cortisol levels. According to research from University of Texas at Austin, chronically elevated cortisol levels will lower testosterone, increase the occurrence of impotence, and lower libido by inhibiting testosterone production in men.
Stress and cortisol can come from physical stress like exercise, or mental and emotional stress. Male athletes who are training hard tend to have lowered levels of testosterone as well. Athletes who overtrain, and don’t take enough time off for their bodies to recover, tend to have lower levels of testosterone than average. Reductions in testosterone at the low end of ‘clinically normal’ is generally true particularly with excessive endurance training.
The problem with stress and testosterone is that it can turn into a vicious cycle. Low testosterone levels lead to more stress, which raises cortisol and causes testosterone levels to drop even lower.
Researchers are still learning more about the direct physiological connection between stress and low testosterone. In addition to the physical response other side effects of stress like poor sleep, and low energy also contribute to lower testosterone levels.
Men’s bodies contain three glands responsible for production of testosterone in men: The hypothalamus, the anterior pituitary gland, and the testes. The hypothalamus releases a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which acts on the pituitary gland.
- The pituitary gland releases luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
- In response to circulating LH and FSH levels, your testes will begin to make more testosterone.
Alcohol disrupts testosterone production by interfering with the signals of all three glands. This results in the usual low testosterone symptoms: erectile dysfunction, infertility, and reduced male sexual characteristics. Alcohol also impairs the function of the testicular Sertoli cells that play an important role in sperm maturation.
Disruptions to these LH and FSH can lead a complete stoppage of sperm production. Studies have found that 50 percent of heavy drinkers had spermatogenic arrest compared to only 20 percent of men who were not heavy drinkers. They also found that men who drank heavily had significantly smaller testicles than men who don’t drink.
Alcohol is also a substance that can cause the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. When alcohol is consumed, alcohol stimulates an enzyme called aromatase, which initiates the process of converting testosterone into estrogen. So, testosterone levels decrease, and estrogen increases in response to drinking.
Overweight, Obesity and Testosterone
We all have body fat, but some of us have more than others. One of the biggest health issues in modern society is the prevalence of excess body fat and obesity. There are many reasons for this including, a poor diet high in carbohydrates and sugar, stress, lack of exercise, and sleep issues that can pile on the pounds.
Unfortunately, being a man and being overweight can cause free testosterone levels to drop drastically. There is a ton of evidence that shows obesity as being a primary factor in low testosterone levels. Obesity, in fact, is the number one most effective predictor of low testosterone in men—out of all possible risk factors.
The key reason is that fat cells contain aromatase. As with alcohol, aromatase converts testosterone and its ‘parent’ hormones into estrogen. What happens is this—when a man starts gaining extra fat, aromatase levels go up. This converts existing testosterone into estrogen. And by the way, abdominal fat contains the highest levels of aromatase.
Here’s an all-too-frequent-scenario of today’s modern man: Our modern guy is carrying around excess chronic stress from work, his home life, kids, and more. This causes him to have high cortisol levels which in turn begins to lower testosterone, and probably affects his sleep as well.
Cortisol also increases blood sugar and causes this guy to get the munchies and gain weight—especially around the midsection. Aromatase starts to increase.
To combat the excess stress, our guy goes out and throws back a couple pints every evening after work with his buddies, instead of heading to the gym to work out. The alcohol raises his cortisol levels and his aromatase levels. More testosterone is converted to estrogen and testosterone production also slows down. The excess alcohol, combined with the higher-than-normal cortisol levels begin to cause a ‘beer belly’ in our guy.
All these things increase aromatase, raising levels of estrogen, and lowering testosterone. Lower testosterone makes managing stress more difficult. In addition, low testosterone levels decrease muscle mass, instead of increasing it, meaning more body fat as well. Low T also means low motivation, so instead our guy feeling like he can ‘take on the world,’ he’d much rather sit on his couch with a cold one in his hand.
The result for our poor guy is a vicious cycle of low testosterone, high estrogen, low motivation, low energy, low libido, erectile dysfunction, ‘man boobs’, more body fat, loss of lean muscle tissue, along with irritability and depression. This is today’s man stuck in a downward spiral of stress, excess fat, and consuming too much alcohol and junk food. This happens every day, all the time, with too many men. No wonder average testosterone levels are way lower than the past!
Contrast that with a primitive man, who spent most of his day laboring or tracking animals. he was lean and muscular. Stress was short-lived, and not chronically present in his everyday life. Alcohol was not readily available, food was completely natural and void of excess sugars, and there were no processed vegetable oils and refined carbohydrates. And no xenoestrogens in his environment. This guy had plenty of testosterone, along with motivation, drive, high libido and energy.
How to Regain Control of Testosterone Levels
- Cut out sugar, starches, carbs, and processed vegetable oils, and, if necessary, get a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to monitor blood sugar levels.
- Eat REAL meat, especially grass-fed meat. Eat organic, grass fed dairy. Sorry vegans.
- Cut way back on alcohol or quit all together. One drink per day should be maximum. Hint: sometimes it’s easier to quit totally then trying to reduce alcohol intake.
- Remove or reduce xenoestrogens in your environment. Switch to natural, organic personal care products including shave cream, soaps, deodorant, shampoos, lotions, sunscreen, laundry soap, and cleaning products. Stop the cologne and body sprays. Avoid all plastic, especially if it is in contact with your food. Stop microwaving your food. Avoid other chemicals, solvents, and paints.
- Get back to the gym! Lift heavy weights, sprint, and do intense exercise. Lifting weights and other intense exercise not only helps to increase testosterone levels but also burns fat, and increases lean muscle mass. Working out also decreases stress and cortisol.
As the article mentions testosterone is dropping at an alarming rate for men all over the world, so if you’re a man over the age of 40, then pay attention…
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Ori Hofmekler, “The Anti-Estrogenic Diet, How Estrogenic Foods and Chemicals Are Making You Fat and Sick”, North Atlantic Books, 2007.
Joseph Mercola, “12 Food Additives to Remove from Your Diet’, Mercola.com,
July 14, 2009
Elizabeth Smith, MD, “Xenoestrogens interfere with Normal Hormones.” Endo101.com
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Corona G, Rastrelli G, Monami M, et al. Body weight loss reverts obesity-associated hypogonadotropic hypogonadism: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Endocrinol. 2013;168(6):829-843. Published 2013 May 2. doi:10.1530/EJE-12-0955
Cabler S, Agarwal A, Flint M, du Plessis SS. Obesity: modern man’s fertility nemesis. Asian J Androl. 2010;12(4):480-489. doi:10.1038/aja.2010.38T
Saad F, Aversa A, Isidori AM, Gooren LJ. Testosterone as potential effective therapy in treatment of obesity in men with testosterone deficiency: a review. Curr Diabetes Rev. 2012;8(2):131-143. doi:10.2174/157339912799424573
Vingren JL, Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA, Anderson JM, Volek JS, Maresh CM. Testosterone physiology in resistance exercise and training: the up-stream regulatory elements. Sports Med. 2010;40(12):1037-1053. doi:10.2165/11536910-000000000-00000
Grossmann M, Matsumoto AM. A Perspective on Middle-Aged and Older Men with Functional Hypogonadism: Focus on Holistic Management. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2017;102(3):1067-1075. doi:10.1210/jc.2016-3580