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You may have heard about testosterone killing foods that men of a certain age need to steer clear of to keep their youthful virility in check as they grow older. And while diet does play a role in testosterone production, it’s not quite as simple as “don’t eat these foods, and you’ll be fine.” Though a steady decrease in testosterone production is normal as men get into their 30s and 40s, it can still be a tough pill to swallow for many guys. And though it’s generally nothing to worry about, if testosterone levels become too low or unbalanced, it can lead to more serious problems down the line.
While no fountain of youth keeps your testosterone levels where they were during your teen years, living a healthy lifestyle and receiving routine lab testing can help to keep your levels where they need to be as you get older. And though this does mean maintaining a proper diet and exercise regimen, the idea that you have to cut out certain testosterone-killing foods is inherently flawed.
What foods affect testosterone levels?
Instead of thinking that a slice of chocolate cake will wipe out your testosterone levels (it won’t), think of your diet as the whole package. While individual foods like chips, cookies, french fries, chocolate cake, or ice cream do not directly reduce your testosterone levels, eating too much junk food is certainly going to have an adverse effect on your body. And when you don’t take care of your body, its most basic functions–including testosterone production–will start performing at a decreased rate. It’s not the food alone. It’s the lifestyle.
That said, while specific foods aren’t necessarily going to wipe out your testosterone, certain products can disrupt your hormone levels and cause imbalances. If you’re concerned about your testosterone levels, you may want to steer clear of the following foods:1
Don’t get me wrong. Soy is a wonderful plant-based protein and can do wonders for your overall health. It’s no coincidence that soy is a popular ingredient for protein bars, smoothie bars, and health food stores. The potential problem is that soy contains a high amount of what is known as phytoestrogens, which is a substance similar to estrogen. And while findings do not support the increase of estrogen production or the decrease of testosterone production, if consumed in large amounts or too frequently, some studies reveal that soy can potentially throw your hormone levels out of whack.1 For this reason, a lot of men tend to avoid soy altogether. However, consumed in moderation, soy is just fine.
Peppermint and spearmint might keep your breath smelling fresh, but some studies reveal that the menthol in mint can have an adverse effect on androgen receptors and testosterone levels.1 However, it should be noted that the leading tests regarding the correlation between mint and testosterone levels have been conducted on females and animal subjects. More testing is needed to evaluate the effects of mint on testosterone production in adult males. Still, if you want to err on the side of caution when it comes to foods that could affect testosterone production, you may want to find other ways of keeping your tea flavored and your bad breath under wraps.
Simple or refined carbohydrates are carbohydrates that have been stripped of bran, fiber, and nutrients. As the body digests these types of food, sugar is released, and insulin levels increase. Examples include white bread, pizza dough, pasta, and many pastries and desserts. Because these types of foods can be easily attributed to rapid weight gain, and obesity is a leading factor when it comes to decreased testosterone production, these foods do indirectly have an adverse effect on testosterone levels. However, labeling them as “testosterone killers” would be a bit misleading.
While the direct correlation between alcohol and testosterone production needs further exploration, certain studies reveal that excessive alcohol can cause a serious decrease in testosterone levels in men.1 Alcohol can potentially damage Leydig cells which produce testosterone. In addition, drinking heavily can release endorphins which have been shown to interfere with testosterone production. Not to mention, excessive alcohol consumption can have a negative effect on your overall health. While a drink here and there likely won’t affect your testosterone levels, like everything, you’ll want to consume in moderation. And if you’re still concerned that your drinking may be having a negative effect on your testosterone synthesis, it might be best to give up the booze entirely.
Licorice root is one of the world’s oldest herbal remedies and is used to sweeten candies, drinks, and foods. While it has been used for centuries to cure or treat various ailments, its effects are not generally supported by modern medicine. And in terms of testosterone production, licorice root is probably the closest to a “testosterone killer” as you’ll find on this list. Studies have shown licorice root to substantially decrease testosterone production in both men and women when consumed frequently or in high amounts.1 Keep in mind that this is only in reference to the root itself and not the popular black licorice candy (“Twizzlers” for example). These types of candies that you might sneak into the movie theater likely contain corn syrup and artificial flavoring and little to no licorice root whatsoever.
What else affects testosterone levels?
Remember, it’s completely normal to see testosterone production level off around age 20 and decrease on average by about one percent a year starting around age 30.2 This is to be expected and is nothing to worry about. However, several conditions can lead to more extreme decreases in testosterone levels. Conditions are typically broken down into two categories: primary hypogonadism or secondary hypogonadism.
Primary hypogonadism refers to a problem in the testicles caused by conditions including injury, genetic abnormality, or cancer treatments. Hemochromatosis (too much iron in the blood) or mumps can also have an adverse effect on testosterone production.2
Secondary hypogonadism is caused not by a problem with the testicles, but rather an issue with the pituitary or hypothalamus. This can be caused by certain medications, certain pituitary disorders, or obesity among other factors.2
If you’re concerned about your testosterone levels, consult with your physician to see if you’re at an elevated risk of a more serious condition. And the best way to get a handle on your testosterone levels is to take a testosterone test and discuss the results with your care physician.
If deemed necessary, your doctor will be able to recommend lifestyle changes, supplements, or procedures to bring your testosterone to a more manageable level. While the occasional drink or fast food burger isn’t going to kill your testosterone, you’ll want to maintain a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle, especially as you get older.
Bergen, Robert. “10 Testosterone Killing Foods: Lifestyle, Diet Changes and Supplements to Boost T Levels.” Farr Institute, August 26, 2021. https://www.farrinstitute.org/testosterone-killing-foods/.
“Testosterone Therapy: POTENTIAL Benefits and Risks as You Age.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, April 4, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/sexual-health/in-depth/testosterone-therapy/art-20045728.