What To Know About Testosterone-Boosting Supplements

Low testosterone is not an uncommon problem in men, particularly as you age. If you’re experiencing unexplained fatigue or a reduced sex drive, you may be wondering if boosting your testosterone levels could be the answer—and if there are vitamins and supplements that can help.

While there is not strong evidence backing the use of certain supplements for boosting testosterone levels, a number of key vitamins and minerals might make a difference. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Testosterone?

Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and is produced in the testicles. During puberty, its presence contributes to hair growth, strength and a deeper voice. Later in life, it’s responsible for maintaining muscle mass, bone density and sexual function. However, as you age, testosterone levels can drop—research estimates that levels decrease at a rate of 1% to 2% per year after the age of 40.

It can be difficult to identify whether your testosterone levels are low, as the symptoms overlap with many other conditions, such as those that affect the thyroid or heart, says Vikas Desai, M.D., a urologist with Northwestern Medicine in Geneva, Illinois.

Symptoms of low testosterone levels include:

  • Reduced lean muscle mass
  • Decreased energy
  • Low libido
  • Depression
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Decreased testicular size
  • Lower bone density
  • Increased fat production

Vitamins and Minerals That Boost Testosterone

If you are low in testosterone—or feel like you might be—it can be tempting to look for a vitamin or other supplement that can help. Just one internet search and you’ll find pages of results with suggestions.

The problem is that there’s not a lot of high-quality scientific evidence that supports particular vitamins and minerals as being an effective way to boost testosterone, says Dr. Desai.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an important fat-soluble vitamin present in certain foods and dietary supplements, and is also produced within the body after exposure from ultraviolet rays from the sun.

Some research shows a link between vitamin D deficiency and reduced testosterone. In one small study of overweight men undergoing a weight reduction program, those who received 3,332 IU of vitamin D daily for a year saw a significant increase in testosterone levels compared to those who did not supplement with vitamin D.

Given that the daily recommended dose of vitamin D for most adults is 600 IU, Dr. Desai cautions that not everyone hoping to boost their testosterone levels should start taking a dose of 3,000 IU. “You need monitoring if you’re going to take that high of a dosage,” he says. “The concern is that toxicity can build up and lead to side effects such as bone pain, hypercalcemia and kidney stones.” But if your vitamin D level is low, it may be helpful to supplement, and experts note the most effective form of supplementation is vitamin D3.

Zinc

Research has also found a link between the essential mineral zinc and testosterone levels. A study in the Journal of Exercise Physiology found that when a small group of college football players took 30 milligrams of zinc a day (along with magnesium and vitamin B-6) they increased their testosterone levels. However, this is about three times the recommended daily allowance.

Note that this study was very small in size and on subjects who were engaging in intensive training—therefore, experts emphasize that the main take-home message here may be to have your zinc levels checked if your testosterone level is low and, if that level is low, to work on increasing your zinc levels through supplementation or diet.

“Zinc has some promise, but it can cause side effects and interact with medications you may be taking,” says Dr. Desai. Instead of supplementation, you can also get zinc from foods such as:

  • Meats (beef, chicken, pork)
  • Oysters
  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Beans
  • Yogurt
  • Oatmeal
  • Nuts
  • Fortified cereals

Supplements to Boost Testosterone

There are numerous supplements out there claiming to boost testosterone. The important thing to remember when looking at supplements is that besides there not being evidence supporting their use for this purpose, they’re not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as medicine, and there is no regulatory body overseeing the ingredients.

“Don’t pick the first thing you see or the supplement with the best marketing,” says Dr. Desai. “Find out what the active ingredient is instead of the tag name, and do a search for that. Search the side effects—that’s a way to do your due diligence, as is seeing a medical provider to ask his or her opinion before you try any of these. It will be beneficial in the long run.”

The most promising supplement for boosting testosterone, according to Dr. Desai, is ashwagandha. A 2019 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health examined overweight men, ages 40 to 70, with mild to moderate fatigue or reduced vitality. Taking an ashwagandha extract for eight weeks significantly boosted their levels of testosterone, but researchers noted that further investigation is needed .

“I can’t say that I’d recommend any supplements, but if you’re interested, I’d definitely talk to a medical provider before you embark on trying one,” says Dr. Desai.

When to See a Doctor

The only way to know for sure if your testosterone levels are low is to get tested by your doctor. Start by talking to your primary care doctor, who may refer you to a urologist. “Oftentimes people come in thinking they have low testosterone and they don’t,” he says. “A lot of times there are simple diet and exercise tweaks they can make to naturally boost it.”

Some of the lifestyle factors that have an impact on testosterone levels include:

  • Sleep. “If you sleep five hours a day or less, your testosterone levels can go down by up to 15%,” says Dr. Desai. Create a sleep routine and prioritize getting enough rest each night.
  • Diet. A healthy eating plan that’s light on sugar, caffeine and processed foods will give you the best shot at keeping your hormones in balance. Also, maintaining a healthy weight helps keep testosterone levels up. The more body fat you have, the more likely you are to have lower testosterone.
  • Exercise. A combination of resistance and cardio training will increase the production of testosterone. (Although it’s worth noting that a high amount of endurance training or sports with calorie restriction can decrease testosterone levels.) Higher amounts of muscle mass contributes to higher levels of testosterone.
  • Alcohol and tobacco. Both drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes can reduce testosterone.
  • Stress. Excessive amounts of stress can lead the body to convert testosterone to estrogen.

If you’re interested in trying a vitamin, mineral or supplement to see what impact it has on your testosterone levels, talk to your doctor about the potential side effects and whether it’s safe for you.

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