If you’re worried that your son may have low testosterone, you might be right. There are industrial chemicals polluting the environment, drinking water, and food, which are able to dramatically damage testosterone levels (and other hormones too). Thankfully, there is a lot we can do to protect ourselves and get testosterone levels back up to where they naturally should be!
How to tell if it’s low testosterone
Taking into account his personality, a high testosterone guy will be energetic, cheerful, interested in socializing, playing sports, and so on. Low testosterone guys often aren’t as enthusiastic for these things. Also if there seems to be an unusual and “hormonal looking” fat gain and absence of muscle; a soft and flabby body, that’s a strong sign of low testosterone. To really know, you can get a blood test done to measure testosterone.
Plastics and chemicals in the water
Get a good water filter that can remove all the endocrine disruptor substances. Pesticides, microplastics, pharmaceuticals, literal estrogen, heavy metals, and chlorine are all frequently present in modern drinking water, and they all lower testosterone. A good water filter can remove them all.
Pesticides and additives in the food
Organic food is a must in certain categories. Grain type food is very important to get organic, because grains are heavily sprayed with pesticide typically, and this accumulates in the final food product. (Source) Organic grains are certified to be free of pesticides. (In reality there can be a small amount of pesticides that accumulates here, but we do our best! Buying straight from a small natural farmer or even growing your own food would be the ways to do better, and even then, a tiny amount of pesticide residue could blow in accidentally.)
You also want to avoid unnatural, weird additives like dyes, artificial flavors, and preservatives.
Seed oils (vegetable oils) in junk food
Junk food is typically made with vegetable oil, also known as seed oil, which may possible lower testosterone. More info about that can be found in our article about that here.
Snacks made without seed oil are few and far between, which is why we are making potato chips fried in real tallow and no seed oil. No additives either. You’ll find them at https://noseedoil.com/chips
Home products that are natural and won’t hurt the hormones
You may have suspected that lifestyle also plays a role in this, and you are right. Getting good exercise, not being overweight, not being sedentary and spending all day in front of a screen are all very important. However, it may be a bit of a vicious cycle. A low testosterone guy could spend all his time being inactive, on his computer, not socializing, not playing sports because he isn’t craving outside, energetic, active, social things like a high testosterone guy would be. So fixing the lifestyle and the chemicals at the same time might feed on each other and get testosterone levels up!
Get more light, especially in the morning after waking up, and your testosterone levels will thank you! Fluorescent lights, such as office lighting, are not bright enough to wake you up and raise your testosterone. You need light as bright as natural daylight for a naturally high hormone level.
Exposure to bright light, especially sunlight, raises testosterone a lot.
Italian researchers took men with low testosterone and nearly doubled their levels in just two weeks, by exposing them to 30 minutes of bright light soon after waking up.
They went from a very low 210 ng/dl of testosterone to a more acceptable 360 ng/dl. Your body needs to see bright light right after you wake up to make you understand that it’s morning and it’s time to be awake and energetic! This seems to regulate the chemicals in your body, including testosterone. It’s not just men with low testosterone that benefit, another study found that in young healthy guys, Leutinizing Hormone, which is the hormone that tells testosterone to rise, was increased almost 70% by early morning light exposure. This study used a 1000 lux light box. The Italian researchers in the first study used a 10,000 lux light box similar to this:
Natural sunlight would be preferable, but some people don’t have access to this and so a light box would be a pretty good alternative. Even just normal lamps in your house would be beneficial. Turn on the lights, darkness will lower your testosterone! I’ve found that fluorescent lights in office buildings, despite being glaring and unpleasant, actually seem to be too dim to really wake you up and so they likely keep your testosterone low. You need sunlight!
Office buildings are typically 500 lux, while direct sunlight is 32,000 lux or more. The 10,000 lux that the researchers used is on the low end of ambient light outside. This daylight was sufficient to raise the the men’s testosterone, but direct sunlight’s much higher lux seems to raise testosterone even more. Florescent lights are so dim compared to daylight that they don’t even seem to wake you up. If you get 30 minutes or more of morning sunlight instead of going straight from your dim house to your dim office, you might find that you don’t need quite so many cups of coffee to stay energetic during the day!
Source of lux ratings: https://greenbusinesslight.com/resources/lighting-lux-lumens-watts/
UV Light Could Raise Testosterone
In 1939, a Dr. Myerson experimented with shining a bright UV light on depressed men. Dr. Myerson measured the excretion of androsterone, a testosterone metabolite. He found that this increased by 120% over the course of a 5 day treatment, where he shone UV light on the front of the body for a mere 8-20 minutes a day. Over the next 8 days, the androsterone levels slowly fell back to the earlier levels, but he found that he could always make them rise again by repeating the UV exposure. This study makes it clear that frequent sunlight exposure is the key. It seems that each sunbathing session will raise testosterone a little more until it reaches a high level, where it will stay as long as you keep sunbathing pretty frequently.
Sunlight for Testosterone
Sunlight is the gold standard for testosterone elevation, because it is by far the brightest, it contains UV rays, and its spectrum is the one that humans are biologically accustomed to. Sunlight raises Vitamin D, and Vitamin D apparently raises testosterone. This is one of the reasons that sunbathing would raise testosterone, but also the bright light by itself is important for raising testosterone, independent of Vitamin D. This is why taking a Vitamin D supplement is not a sufficient replacement for sun exposure.
Darkness Lowers Testosterone
Hamsters kept in permanent darkness for a while had their testosterone levels crash to apparently castrate levels. When they were put back into a natural light cycle, their testosterone came back up to normal. (Source)
How to Schedule Your Light Exposure
It’s important to be in bright light after waking up, and all through the day. It seems that this will keep your testosterone high. Ideally you would be in direct sunlight throughout the whole morning when there is minimal risk of sunburn (until 10AM or 11AM during daylight savings time). Then you’d get some direct sunlight after this point for the UV benefits. UV seems to raise testosterone, but it also can sunburn you and cause damage, so you should start with 15 minutes exposure, or whatever won’t burn you. I think it would be best to slowly increase this sun exposure as well, maybe up to 2 hours if you can handle it. Then the rest of the day, you’d get bright light on you from sunlight through a UV blocking window, or from a very well lit room. After 4PM (or 5PM during daylight savings time) the UV is minimal again, and you can be in direct sunshine without really worrying about sunburn.
Some people think we are better today than ever before, while others look to the past as a golden age. It seems that neither view is exactly correct. There are some improvements today, but there are also some troubling physical and mental health trends that have arisen quite recently. There are also some changes with effects that are unknown.
Body temperature has dropped nearly 1 degree on average. This suggests widespread thyroid concerns.
TSH may have risen, suggesting thyroid issues.
Digit ratio changes to a lower testosterone profile
Testosterone has dropped from a projected 900 ng/dl (this is a rough estimate) some time before 1960 to about 700 ng/dl in 1970 to about 400 ng/dl today. See our article for a lot more details about the drop in testosterone.
Skull and body frame changes
Height increase by quite a lot. This is a good change!
Flynn effect – IQ has risen apparently!
Autistic traits on the rise
Grip strength has dropped – this could have more to do with neural matters than muscles.
Incidence of mental distress and mental disorder has risen. About 4x more American high school and college students have low-empathy, pseudo-psychopathic traits.
People have many less friends on average than they used to.
Incidence of degenerative disease has increased tremendously.
But a huge improvement in the treatment of infectious disease.
Reaction time slowed from about 0.15 seconds to a good deal higher. There’s reason to believe that humans in a “natural state” may have had reflexes of 0.12 or 0.10 seconds. This is about the same as a similar sized animal’s reflexes, and this speed is just about the hard limit of the nervous system. You have to wonder why reflexes would be slow at all, and why our reflexes aren’t as fast as our nerves can go all the time?
This article is a work in progress! Check back soon for more info, and sources for all this data.
More info we want to add soon
details on reaction time (bring in that native american study and the canine study) details on other hormones if known details on skull (length, jaw, palate and maxilla), height, robusticity (elbow width) frequency of Minor Physical Abnormalities? hypothalamus (navigation) iris contraction? achilles tendon relaxation speed incidence of balding incidence of myopia Insights from the book The Shallows – creativity, focus, open-mindedness, friendliness (to strangers), independence
Show some differences in living conditions – EMF, lifestyle+philosophy, diet both good and bad, disease eradication, exercise, light source, pollution
I found testosterone data for many of the countries in the world, and I correlated this with total PUFA consumption for those countries.
There seems to be a strong correlation. High PUFA countries have less testosterone.
This is Omega 3 and Omega 6 PUFA combined. Most countries with high Omega 6 diets had low testosterone, but I saw several that had low Omega 6 diets and still had low testosterone. But what many of these countries did have was high Omega 3 diets. This suggests that Omega 3 is linked to low testosterone too, not just Omega 6.
Another study found a correlation between the ratio of PUFA to Saturated Fat in a person’s diet and their testosterone.
Chart adapted from here (link). As you can see, lots of PUFA but not much saturated fat means low testosterone, according to this study. The more PUFA, the lower the testosterone.
Here’s seed oil consumption in the USA correlated with the shocking drop in testosterone over the last hundred years or so.
Seed oils are in many snacks, but they don’t have to be! If you’re interested in potato chips fried in tallow, not seed oil, check these out. Click the horse to visit https://noseedoil.com/chips
This is my first draft. I plan to post the raw data here, and to improve the “PUFA in diet” scale on the chart of the countries, which in the current version is not done very well (mixed units, and no units visible on the chart). I’m getting the PUFA data from this study. (Link)
Here is a chart of agricultural chemical (like pesticides) use by country, compared to testosterone in that country. There seems to be a strong relationship! Testosterone is much lower in the countries that use a lot of agricultural chemicals.
This might help explain the very severe and mysterious drop in testosterone in most but not all parts of the world since about 1980. The other connection I’ve identified is PUFA consumption from the rise in seed oils in people’s diets around the world.
Here’s a chart that shows that places in the USA with many cornfields nearby generally have low testosterone. The few places in the USA that have testosterone that isn’t too low, generally don’t have cornfields nearby.
We think that it is cornfields specifically that correlate with low testosterone. Some of the locations on the map have many crop fields nearby, but testosterone wasn’t as low. It was only when we focused on cornfields that we found this pretty strong correlation. We think that it is because of the use of the pesticide atrazine, which is used mostly on corn and not so much on other crops. (Source)
You can start to protect yourself from pesticides lowering your testosterone by filtering your water. Pesticides get into water runoff from farm fields, and from there into the water supply. It’s probably worse if you live in an agricultural area.
Another way that pesticides can get into your body is on your food. This organization does a great job identifying which fruits and vegetables have the worst levels of pesticides – https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php
You should consider growing these plants on your own, or buying them from a farmer’s market or at least certified organic.
What else lowers testosterone?
Another potential cause of low testosterone is the seed oil found in junk food. We have an article about that here. And if you’re interested in snacks made without seed oil, check out our potato chips made with tallow, and no seed oil!
However, Testosterone among young men in the developed world today is generally lower than that of these hunter gatherers, because testosterone in the West and in East Asia has declined greatly since about 1980.
Nomadic Herdsmen with Very High Testosterone
Although not hunter-gatherers, the Turkana people of Kenya are also of interest. Traditionally, they are nomadic pastoralists mostly relying on milk and meat from their livestock.
In 1992, Turkana people living as nomadic pastoralists – 943 ng/dl at a mean age of 45.4
In 1993, Turkana people who have given up nomadic life for a settled agricultural life – 675 ng/dl at a mean age of 43.5.
Testosterone usually drops with age. If the Turkana have the same rate of testosterone decline with age as Americans do, which is likely, then we can guess what testosterone levels would be in Turkana men in their 20’s. For a group of men with an average age of 45 to have a testosterone level of 943 ng/dl, one would expect that the members of the group in their early 20’s would have a testosterone level of something like 1107 ng/dl.
And according to the study, the nomadic Turkana had their blood collected in the summer at a time when they were pretty low on food, in a calorie deficit, which will generally lower testosterone. So you could guess that the Turkana when well-fed would have even higher testosterone.
Testosterone levels are known from hunter-gatherer groups in Papua New Guinea. All of these are men in their early 20’s. The first three studies were done around 1983-1984.
Amele people – 667 ng/dl
Bundi people in their native highlands – 950 ng/dl
Bundi people having moved into more settled areas and not living a hunter gatherer life anymore – 686 ng/dl
Hagahai people from the highlands – 307 ng/dl – this group was first contacted in 1983. The info was published in 1993, but I don’t know when the testing was done. I think it may have been pretty soon after contact. This group was so malnourished that their growth was stunted and puberty was delayed into the late teens. This malnourishment is surely why testosterone was so very low.
There are a few more studies that I could find. However, they use saliva rather than blood to measure testosterone, which is not as accurate, and it is debatable how this can be compared with blood (serum or plasma) testosterone. Even so, they show lower levels in these people than in Americans at the time.
1996 Tamang people, mixed plant-growing and animal herding, from central Nepal: 447
1996 Ache people, hunter-gatherers (mostly hunting) from southern Paraguay: 373
The highest testosterone of these groups was found in the nomadic pastoralists, and it is very high. It is among the highest results I’ve found in hundreds of studies around the world. It’s interesting that the members of this group that stopped being pastoralists and lived a settled life had notably lower testosterone than the others!
Next, the testosterone in Papua New Guinea hunter-gatherers was very high as well, as long as the people were well-nourished. It seems that testosterone was also lower in the people who stopped living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle as well. In New Guinea, the downside of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle was also seen – when food is scarce, people suffer. The malnourished tribe had very low testosterone.
The testosterone among the !Kung San in Africa was not high. I don’t know what explains this.
Testosterone was also not high in the Lese people of the Congo jungle.
And testosterone was quite low in the South American hunter-gatherers.
All in all, these lifestyles seem to produce high testosterone as long as there isn’t major malnutrition and starvation.
We’ve got potato chips fried in tallow, not seed oil, if you are interested. Tallow is paleo, and potatoes were eaten by many tribal people. There are no additives in our potato chips. The chips can be found at https://noseedoil.com/chips
Cosmetics and lotions – there will be a guide to this too.
Cookware with no chemical coatings (or exposed aluminum), glass bottles instead of plastic.
Clothes, bedding, and furniture made with natural fibers and no chemicals. Artificial fibers like polyester may lower testosterone.
Dishwasher and laundry detergents that won’t damage your health and hormones. The best we are aware of is from Dapple Baby. They make certified glyphosate-free products, from the least chemically weird stuff.
One study looked at a bodybuilder doing an intense fat loss diet. During his 6 month diet, the bodybuilder’s testosterone dropped from 922 ng/dl to 225 ng/dl over the first three months, and remained in the low 200’s after the next three months as he continued to diet to get even leaner. When he stopped dieting, and began eating plenty of food again, his testosterone came back up.
Maybe not all diets will drop testosterone this drastically, but dieting certainly does tend to lower testosterone. Not good!
That low carb diet might be ruining your testosterone levels. (Source) It seems that the body wants plenty of food energy before it is willing to raise testosterone.
Not only does this carb-starved situation probably signal to the body that it can’t “afford” to produce testosterone, but low-carb also (initially) causes a corresponding rise in cortisol, which is a stress hormone that generally lowers testosterone.
So it’s not surprising to find that there’s a correlation between low testosterone and a high protein but low carb diet, which is the typical Paleo style diet with not a lot of carbs but plenty of meat and fish. Excessively high protein seems to lower testosterone too, which I will discuss further down.
PUFA is the type of fat found in seed oil like canola oil or soybean oil, the industrially produced fats used for making most processed foods. PUFA is also the type of fat found in Omega 3 supplements, which you may have been advised to consume by health gurus. You can read more about the possible dangers of Omega 3’s here: https://fishybusiness.site/
Saturated fat is the major component of coconut oil and of animal product fat, like butter.
Studies suggest that countries that consume a lot of PUFA have low testosterone compared to low PUFA countries. (And this includes Omega 3’s, not just Omega 6’s.)
The worst kind of PUFA is the PUFA found in vegetable oils, also known as seed oils. You can see that testosterone in America has dropped alongside the rise of seed oils.
Lowering testosterone isn’t the only bad effect of seed oils. Seed oils are involved with cancer, heart disease, obesity, and pretty much all the degenerative conditions that we struggle with today! To learn more about avoiding seed oils, you can check out https://noseedoil.com/
You don’t have to give up snacks to avoid seed oil. You might be interested in our potato chips fried in tallow, not seed oil, available at https://noseedoil.com/chips
Physical Trauma (disease, surgery, infection, wounds, immediately after TBI)
Any acute trauma will drop testosterone very low and very fast. Testosterone levels seem to recover over about a week’s time. Traumatic Brain Injury, such as a concussion, has this short term effect, but also there is often lasting damage done to the brain, and testosterone does not rise all the way back up, even a year later. I wrote more about that below.
Intense physical stress
Ranger School, an intense military training school involving fasting, cold exposure, sleep deprivation, and intense exercise is an 8 week event that absolutely crashes testosterone. Testosterone drops from 499 ng/dl to 87 ng/dl, which is extremely low, and totally insufficient for male function. After Ranger School is over though, testosterone rises back up. (Source)
This illustrates why “hardcore” practices are likely to lower testosterone rather than raise it, contrary to what people often assume. Not many people are putting themselves through something as intense as Ranger School, but there are some that are taking cold showers, training very hard in the gym, fasting frequently, and maybe burning the candle at both ends to get more work done, and these people should know that this is probably dropping their testosterone considerably.
Since these things are often done under the impression that they are RAISING testosterone, this is a very important concept to know! Hardcore stress on the body tends to damage it. By itself, stress does not make you “stronger.”
Very often, to become stronger, we need to relax and have some leisure. Of course this is not a license to eat junk food and scroll social media all day. That will weaken you too.
Fasting lowered testosterone from 556 ng/dl to 391 ng/dl over an 83 hr fast. (about 3 and a half days without food)
Animal studies suggest that if you accept defeat you will have lower testosterone. Keep your chin up, don’t give in!
Researchers found out that bright light increases testosterone. Depressed men had testosterone of 210 ng/dl, until they were exposed to a bright light box daily for 30 minutes soon after waking up. After two weeks of this, their testosterone rose to 360 ng/dl, which is a 71% increase, pretty impressive! They probably felt much, much better going from very low and insufficient testosterone up to 360 ng/dl, which is sufficient for at least a low level of male function.
Preferably you would get this bright light from going outside or sitting at a window, but if this is not possible for you, you can get a light box. The fluorescent light in the typical office is not really bright enough, believe it or not. In an office environment you ought to have a light box, or a lamp, or something to make it brighter where you are.
This light box has the same 10,000 lux brightness rating as the one used in the study:
I have one like this and I like it a lot. I usually feel better when I use it.
Consistent sleep loss has been seen to lower testosterone quite a bit. One study suggests that late bedtimes are worse for testosterone than early waking is.
TBI long term effects
Testosterone was measured following traumatic brain injury. Testosterone drops very far right after TBI, but then it partially recovers. Unfortunately it often does not fully recover. Possibly this is because the parts of the nervous system that regulate testosterone production have been damaged.
One severe TBI could do the damage, or several more mild TBI’s. However, even just one mild TBI could do it sometimes.
It is probably wise to avoid hard sparring in boxing, and the causes of traffic accidents.
Sadly, veterans often have TBI’s from the blast wave of nearby explosions.
There are other sources of brain injury than TBI, such as infection, and the long term effects of long-lasting depression, actually.
I believe that extreme “headbanging” can either cause or exacerbate TBI over the long term.
Brain injuries can be somewhat healed over time. Supplying the brain with energy by eating plenty of carbs, and reducing inappropriate inflammation by avoiding excess iron, alcohol, and PUFA are all good ideas. Lots of deep sleep is valuable.
“Red light” exposure on the head and pregnenolone could help facilitate brain healing. Pregnenolone is a precursor hormone which is found to increase the levels of allopregnanolone in the brain, a neuroprotective substance that helps the brain heal, and which is being studied as a way to reverse depression.
A zinc deficiency is associated with lower testosterone.
Deficient Copper (but don’t be excessive either)
Supplementing high levels of zinc without a corresponding amount of copper will deplete your body’s copper supply, which has been seen to cause low testosterone. Supplements which contain a bit of copper as well as zinc are therefore better than those that contain only zinc. However, it is important to not consume excessive copper either, because this is harmful.
Watch out for food products with excessive added iron!
Overtraining (weights or aerobic)
Excessive demands on your body seem to cause low testosterone. This is called “Exercise Hypogonadal Male Condition.” Many people lift weights to increase testosterone, but there is a serious risk of going too hard and actually lowering testosterone. It may actually be the norm among serious lifters. It is probably for this reason that one study found elite powerlifters have quite low testosterone. Runners and other endurance athletes frequently have lowered testosterone as well.
Health books and websites rarely mention it, but alcohol is quite bad for you. It seems that it probably lowers testosterone. One study from Gangtok, India found much lower testosterone in alcoholics than other people. Normal men had 756 ng/dl testosterone, while alcoholics had 496 ng/dl. This is a 34% decrease.
RF Exposure and possibly EMF exposure (phones, electric razors, laptops, offices, cities)
One study exposed rats to a cell phone making a call for an hour daily for three months. The rats’ testosterone dropped 51% from 634 ng/dl to 310 ng/dl. (Source) I’m not clear right now how this applies to humans, but it’s concerning.
I strongly suggest turning off your cell phone, and turning off wifi in your house and using ethernet cables instead. The strongest sources of RF exposure in a typical person’s life are probably the cell phone in your pocket and the computer in front of you. My phone was constantly transmitting, and transmitting powerfully too. You can carry your phone turned off and you will be exposed to far, far less RF and EMF. Putting it on airplane mode will greatly diminish the RF, but not the EMF, which is certainly a huge improvement, and if you’re not willing to turn off your phone you can do that instead. Some people say that turning your phone off isn’t enough, but as far as I’ve seen, my phone basically stops transmitting detectable RF and EMF when it’s off.
Next, connect your computer to your router with ethernet cable so that you can turn your computer’s WiFi off (this is the important part). The router itself is not that powerful when you’re pretty far away from it, although I still suggest turning it off. It’s your computer that you sit next to that is really transmitting the powerful waves that could harm you, because you are so close to it.
If you have any other wireless devices, like wireless headphones, or any smart devices, I would really suggest turning them off and not using them. Cordless phones probably transmit RF, likely from the “base station.” I found that the base station was constantly transmitting, all day and all night. I put the base station far away from the part of the house that I spend time in, and that seems to have brought the RF exposure way down, which I’m fine with, since it’s basically impossible to cut RF exposure down to nothing unless you intend to live inside a Faraday cage, or somewhere very remote!
The radio waves from cell towers are far less powerful than the radio waves from the devices right near you.
I haven’t investigated it in depth, but as far as I can tell, EMF from power lines is not really a concern.
If you want to check RF and EMF for yourself, you can get the TriField TF2 detector, which seems to work really well, and I’ve really enjoyed using.
It seems that grains are one of the big culprits for mycotoxins, either eaten directly, or when fed to an animal which is then used for meat or milk. Spices, nuts, beer, and wine can also be contaminated. Moldy fruits and vegetables should never be eaten. It may be that people respond well to grain-free diets because of the reduction in mycotoxin exposure. It may also be a benefit of pasture-raised meat and dairy that these animals are exposed to less mycotoxins than grain-fed animals. Mycotoxin contamination is a serious problem in animal feed.
Another source of mycotoxins is contaminated herbal supplements. Mycotoxins can also be produced in moldy buildings.
I don’t currently know how much of an impact mycotoxins have in a normal person’s diet, but it may be a factor to keep in mind.
Being cold is not good for your testosterone. A brisk cold shower might be a fine idea if it’s quick, but long term cold exposure is definitely not a good thing.
One study found that testosterone was lower in teenagers who had spent lots of time in indoorchlorine pools as young children. Outdoor pools were fine however.
Constant exposure to noise is not only aggravating, it actually lowers testosterone too! (Source)
Various types of plastic and other pollutants have some testosterone-lowering abilities. I suspect that agricultural chemicals and maybe plastics are the worst though. “Classic” pollution from factories and mines and such may not have too great an effect on testosterone. For one thing, I have found testosterone data from Ahvaz, Iran, one of the most polluted cities in the world. The men there apparently have very high testosterone apparently, similar to the rest of Iran. Russian industrial areas also generally have high testosterone. These are probably highly polluted places. The Soviet Union is said to have paid no attention to pollution controls, so the people in these regions have probably been exposed to industrial pollution for a long while, and yet their testosterone is much higher than testosterone in the USA, which has controlled industrial pollution. Strangely, testosterone was higher in the USA in the past, when there was probably more industrial pollution. That does not mean that pollution raises testosterone, but it does suggest that pollution from industry is not the main factor causing the huge testosterone decline in much of the world since approximately 1980. More supporting data: Mechanics in Nigeria, exposed to large amounts of pollutants, have very high testosterone. But of course, some polluted areas do have low testosterone. China has pretty low testosterone in its young people today, and it is apparently quite polluted. But there may be other reasons for this.
Nuclear Radiation from Testing
Kazakhstan has very low testosterone and a very high rate of urological issues, which is strange since the much of the rest of central Asia has high testosterone. Maybe it is because the Soviet Union used northeast Kazakhstan for testing many nukes over the years.
Similarly Belarus and Ukraine appear to have quite low testosterone. These are the countries that are closest to the Chernobyl accident of 1986. I have data from some of these areas from before 1986 and testosterone is high!
Japan’s testosterone is also pretty low. Maybe this is the long term effect of radiation from Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Unfortunately I don’t have testosterone data from Nevada where the USA tested many nukes.
None of this is proof that relatively low level nuclear radiation exposure causes low testosterone, but it is an interesting theory to be considered.
Apparently, just about everyone in the world has been exposed to low but measurable amounts of nuclear radiation from nuclear testing over the last few generations. Maybe this also contributes to the strange decline in testosterone around the world.
It’s conceivable that polyester underwear may decrease testosterone production, according to this study. I haven’t investigated it further.
Headphones and music
Strangely enough, listening to music appears to lower testosterone. I don’t know if the effect is really significant or not. I doubt it matters if you listen to a moderate amount of music. But the effect might become significant if you listen to music all day, like many do. I don’t know whether this produces a consistently lowered testosterone or not.
I also suspect that the EMF from headphones might disrupt the brain, which among other things could lower testosterone. I can’t prove this hypothesis right now.
Either way, I believe I have felt better avoiding constantly listening to music, on my headphones.
Apparently living in the mountains might raise your testosterone!
In this study (source), healthy, fit men between age 18 and 35 were sent from Palo Alto, California straight to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado the next day! There they lived in a research lab at the summit, which is 14,115 ft above sea level. Their testosterone rapidly increased from the low 700’s ng/dl to between 900 and a little over 1000. Testosterone stayed this high the whole time they were at altitude. It should be noted that these men were selected to be quite fit, so they were probably not gasping for air too much at this altitude. They were also made to eat enough to maintain their body weight, which is apparently hard to do at altitude.
Another study also shows an increase in testosterone at a more moderate altitude of about 6560 ft, which is just a bit higher than Colorado Springs.
Very low altitude decreases testosterone
Strangely, living about 984 ft BELOW sea level seems to decrease testosterone. (Source)
This suggests that the testosterone-altitude connection could have something to do with the variation of oxygen and carbon dioxide with altitude.
So does high altitude increase testosterone in reality?
It should be noted that other studies, such as this one, have found the opposite, that high altitude decreases testosterone. Another study found no significant change either way.
Possible reasons for these conflicting results:
Some studies are done on mountain climbers. This level of exertion will lower testosterone a lot.
Altitude tends to make people eat much less, along with increasing the calorie requirements, and a calorie deficit like this will decrease testosterone. The Pikes Peak study above found this effect as well. The men who increased testosterone were specifically made to eat enough to maintain their weight.
Finally, the Pikes Peak study was done with quite fit men. Other people who would have to gasp for air at altitude will likely be so stressed that their testosterone will drop.
What about Colorado?
We do have data from somewhat lower parts of Colorado, showing that testosterone there is not noticeably higher than the rest of the USA. Although it is a bit higher than its neighbor Kansas. Most US states have dismally low testosterone levels on average due to the strange drop in testosterone over the decades, around the world. (We blame diet and endocrine disruptor chemical pollution) You can see our article on testosterone in US states for more info and for the Colorado testosterone data.
Many articles say that average testosterone has been rapidly falling recently. But most of these articles don’t show you any actual numbers. Even studies of testosterone’s decline usually only show data from the 90’s or so. While there is currently no way to really know what testosterone was 100 years ago, I have discovered real data on testosterone from 1962 to the present day, and I have found some ways to estimate what testosterone was a few hundred years ago too. Finally, I have found a study of testosterone in hair from almost 2000 years ago in Egypt!
Testosterone Levels 60 Years Ago
As you can see, testosterone has fallen a lot in the USA since about 1980 to today. Testosterone from 1962 until about 1980 was a lot higher than today. It isn’t clear whether testosterone was higher in the 60’s than in the 70’s though. While I did find quite a few studies from this time period, I was not able to find what time of day and what age group many of the 60’s and 70’s studies were done with. Without the age group, I couldn’t correct for age. The time of day is important because testosterone is now usually measured around 8AM in the morning, since testosterone falls throughout the day, and then rises again through the night. They didn’t really know about this when they were doing the early testosterone studies, and I think it’s likely that many of these studies were done a good deal later than 8AM, thus providing lower results than the “morning testosterone” level that we use today and that we are comparing with. For these reasons, I have stuck to data that came from morning measurements, or in just a few cases, I’ve corrected data to reflect a morning measurement.
As you can see, average testosterone in the USA was something like 625 ng/dl in the 70’s, until the early 80’s. This is reasonably high testosterone. But since then it has been falling steadily.
Testosterone was something like 580 ng/dl in 1990, which is still acceptable.
In the period between 1999 to 2004 testosterone was 534 ng/dl.
For the average American man in the period of 2013 – 2016, testosterone was 420 ng/dl. (source)
420 ng/dl is quite close to being officially low testosterone, which is 300 ng/dl according to the American Urological Association. 420 is below the normal range of most studies from before 1980. That means that the average man today has lower testosterone than almost every man in the 60’s, 70’s, and early 80’s.
(For info about my sources and methods, check here.)
And now a quick word about potato chips!
If you’re here you’re probably interested in avoiding low testosterone. We believe seed oils (the junk food oils found all over the place today) could be one of the modern things that are lowering testosterone.
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OK, thank you for your attention and let’s get back to the article!
What About Testosterone Outside the USA?
Testosterone has dropped in much the same way in most parts of the world. But not all of the world. Testosterone has stayed at much the same high levels in Central Asia (with the notable exception of Kazakhstan) and in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the possible exception of South Africa. North Africa and Siberia have also mostly maintained the healthy high testosterone that they showed in earlier studies up into the present day. But Western Europe, Eastern Europe, East Asia, Latin America, and the USA have all been experiencing the same strong decline in testosterone since about 1980.
(I am not currently clear about whether other regions have experienced declines or not.)
But how high was testosterone 100 years ago or 200 years ago?
Testosterone is measured in the blood. The first time testosterone could be measured accurately in the blood appears to be around 1962. Any claim that “testosterone levels were 5000 ng/dl in the year 1800” is questionable because testosterone could not be directly measured until much more recently. (Unless someone can find some blood stored from back then, and measure the testosterone in it in such a way that the effects of time don’t mess up the measurement.)
However, testicle size correlates with testosterone. Old medical books mention the normal testicle size of their time. So we can estimate what testosterone levels may have been in the 1700’s and 1800’s!
As you can see, testosterone appears to be naturally high through the 1700’s, 1800’s, and early 1900’s. Somewhere after 1950 testosterone drops hard. This chart lines up with industrial chemical use very nicely, but there were many changes post World War 2.
Testosterone in the late 1600’s and 1700’s
“Their bigness differs very much in several persons; as big as a Dove’s Egg is reckon’d a mean size” – The Anatomy of Humane Bodies, Europe, pre-1682.
Unless dove’s eggs have changed in size, this size would be about 23.29 ml volume, which suggests 847 ng/dl in the late 1600’s.
Doves and pigeons are in fact the same species, but considering what breed the writer could have meant, and noting the word “nearly,” this size would be about 20.6 ml, which suggests 770 ng/dl in the mid 1700’s.
Testosterone in the 1800’s
“long diameter two inches, its transverse an inch and a half, and its lateral one inch and one-eighth” – Sir Astley Cooper, Britain, first half of the 1800’s.
This would be about 27.29 ml, implying 961 ng/dl in the early 1800’s.
That’s 20.47 ml, which is 767 ng/dl, in the mid 1800’s.
“They are from an inch and a half to two inches long, about an inch and a quarter from the anterior to the posterior border, and nearly an inch from side to side. The weight of each varies from three-quarters of an ounce to an ounce” – Quain’s Anatomy, between 1828 and 1877, quoted in A Text-Book of Human Physiology
This would be 23.88 ml, and 864 ng/dl, in the mid 1800’s.
In Egypt, there is an ancient cemetery called “Kellis 2” in the Dakhleh Oasis. It is estimated to be from between 50 and 450 AD. They say this was the Roman and early Christian period of Egypt’s history. This cemetery is so dry that natural mummies are found there, and hair has been taken from them for analysis. Testosterone has been measured in this hair. (Link to the study) Hair testosterone correlates somewhat with blood testosterone. The Egyptian males had an average hair testosterone of 21.14 ng/gram. This was compared to a modern sample of men about age 80 with hair testosterone of 13.56 ng/gram, and these modern men, being approximately 80 year old American men in the late 2010’s, would likely have testosterone of about 330 ng/dl by my calculation. By comparing these two results, I calculated that the Egyptians would then have blood testosterone of 514 ng/dl. The Egyptians were apparently an average of 29 years old. Correcting for age, the male Egyptians of this time and place would then have an average testosterone of 439 ng/dl, which is pretty low. However, the hair is from men who died, and so the testosterone in their hair would reflect the time leading up to their death, some of which would likely have been marked by sickness, which generally lowers testosterone.
There is more preserved hair from the past that could be analyzed in this way, but I’m not aware of any other studies that have done this yet.
Testosterone In Hunter-Gatherers
You might be wondering what testosterone levels were like in ancient tribes outside of civilization. We don’t know that, but we do know the testosterone levels of modern hunter-gatherers! These people do indeed have high testosterone usually, but not always. Sometimes they suffer from malnutrition, which lowers hormones. There’s a full article on our site about hunter-gatherer testosterone levels.
Testosterone has fallen drastically in most of the world from healthy levels to unhealthy ones. The big fall has occurred from the early 80’s onward. It might be that this is part of a larger trend of testosterone falling from very high levels before the 20th Century began, but much more evidence would be needed to say that. The fall of testosterone from 1980 to today has lots of evidence though. Nobody seems to know what is causing this. While obesity correlates strongly with low testosterone, an NHANES study (link here) showed that even men with a healthy weight are much lower testosterone than they used to be.
I can think of a few ideas about what is causing this:
PUFA consumption has risen through the twentieth century and especially after WW2 – this I believe is driving the obesity and chronic disease increase. I think it might be involved in low testosterone as well. More info here: PUFA Might Lower Testosterone
Chemicals and Plastics. The use of agricultural chemicals really took off in the decades after WW2. Read more here: Pesticides May Lower Testosterone Synthetic plastic was invented in 1907, and plastics have been increasing ever since. Plastics accumulate in the environment and in our bodies, and they are known to disrupt testosterone. There is a whole host of other chemicals that we are now exposed to as well, such as flame retardants in the furniture and preservatives in the food.
Radio waves. One study found that mice exposed to a long cell phone call every day had much lower testosterone. Our world is awash in radio waves. Over the 20th Century this has grown from almost nothing to very high exposure in the 21st Century from the cell phone in your pocket mostly! I plan to write more about this.
Social Changes. There have been many social changes that have occurred in this time. Possibly people feel less independent and more helpless, defeated, and disoriented in the face of high technology, the loss of “traditional values,” mass society, mass media, powerfully armed states, very large corporations, high amounts of regulation, and cultures that value intense education and “professional” work for a large company. Internalizing certain attitudes likely affects hormones. One study has found that Americans in 2007 were quite a bit more likely to be mentally disordered than in 1938. (Source)
Is it a myth that lifting weights raises testosterone? A meta-analysis found no such increase over time – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2018.01878/full Testosterone is briefly raised a small amount right after a workout, but it doesn’t stay there. And if you over-train, it will probably drop lower than before.
We’ve all heard that tons of exercise is healthy, and we’re encouraged to think of marathon runners and pro athletes as pictures of health, but they actually aren’t!
Too much exercise can actually be quite hard on your body. It raises cortisol, a stress hormone. Of course, some exercise is healthy, but you can definitely overdo it. Pleasant exercise improves brain health and strengthens bones, but too much exercise consistently and significantly lowers people’s hormones, especially testosterone. This study found that elite powerlifters have markedly LOW testosterone.
Many athletes suffer the consequences of over-exercise. Something like a quarter of college athletes are suffering from bone loss, much like osteoporosis. Pro runners and cyclists have more heart attacks than others. Long term powerlifters have a virtually 100% injury rate to their muscles and joints.
It’s good to be fit and active, and no one can deny the joy of intense sports, but it’s best not to force yourself every single time you train, if you want full vitality and health. It’s also important to give yourself lots of time, food, and sleep to recover.