Many of them do, but some don’t. (Article may need some updating – 11/30/23)
Testosterone in the Kalahari Desert
The !Kung San people live around the Kalahari desert in Southern Africa. Studies on their testosterone level show that it is not particularly high.
!Kung San people (hunter gatherers) – 473 ng/dl. Average age of these men was 26.5. The study was done around 1987. Source: (1)
For comparison, the nearby Kavango people (cattle herders and plant growers, not hunter-gatherers) – 603 ng/dl. Source: (1)
In another study in 1986, the !Kung San people’s average testosterone was 534 ng/dl before the hunt, and 544 ng/dl after the hunt. Source: (2)
In an earlier study from around 1975, the !Kung San people’s average testosterone was about 560 ng/dl (estimated). Source: (3)
In many of the developed countries at the time of these studies, testosterone was quite a bit higher in this age group than the testosterone of the hunter-gatherers.
Around 1987, in the USA, probably in Richmond, Virginia, men age 22-25 had 802 ng/dl testosterone.
Around 1987, in the USA, probably in Seattle, Washington state, men with an average age of 27.3 had about 545 ng/dl testosterone.
Around 1986, in Finland, men age 24-30 had 707 ng/dl testosterone.
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.
Another interesting thing is that the nomadic Turkana had outliers with such high testosterone that it would probably flag a steroid test! 14% of the nomadic Turkana men were over 1500 ng/dl, two of them were over 2000 ng/dl, and the highest result was 2663 ng/dl. Impressive!
Papua New Guinea Testosterone Levels
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.
Testosterone in the Amazon jungle
In Brazil in 1982, the hunter gatherers living in the jungle had pretty high testosterone. Here’s the averages of five different tribes that were studied:
- Surui – 891 ng/dl
- Xikrin – 745 ng/dl
- Paracana 1 – 690 ng/dl
- Paracana 2 – 671 ng/dl
- Paracategê – 608 ng/dl
At the time of that study, urban Brazillians (Caucasian) in Sao Paulo had testosterone of 591 ng/dl.
According to the study (translated into English), “The Paracategê or Gaviões do Oeste ou da Mata are members of a Timbira tribe, from the linguistic family Jê, located in the Mãe Maria reserve, approximately 35km from the city of Marabá, in the southeast of the State of Pará. […] We assume that the average testosterone of the Paracategê was close to the average of the Caucasoids and moved away from the averages of other forestry groups by greater degree of acculturation, due to the greater proximity to the city, due to the fact that the village is located close to the highway state, use motorized vehicles, get supplies in supermarkets, coming closer than other groups to the urbanized civilized way of life.”
So apparently the tribes that were living the hunter gatherer life more, had higher testosterone than the tribe that wasn’t.
There’s background info on these tribes at https://pib.socioambiental.org/en/Main_Page
Some other studies
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.
Translated into blood ng/dl terms, the testosterone of these people was somewhere around these numbers:
1993 – Lese people, plant-growers from Ituri forest (jungle), Congo: 499
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 pastoralists!
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 in the Amazon jungle was quite high, and again, it seemed that being a hunter gatherer produced higher testosterone than the levels in a tribe that was moving away from the hunter gatherer life.
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 Paraguay hunter-gatherers.
All in all, these lifestyles seem to produce high testosterone as long as there isn’t major malnutrition and starvation.
Why Do Hunter-Gatherers Have High Testosterone?
These groups get a lot of exposure to daylight and the natural circadian rhythm of life. Bright light keeps testosterone high.
They are much less exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals, especially pesticides. These chemicals lower testosterone.
They don’t eat our seed oil filled junk food. The amount of polyunsaturated fat they eat is usually pretty low. PUFA, especially from junk seed oil, probably osterone.
Preserving Natural Testosterone In An Industrial World
To avoid these modern industrial things that are lowering your testosterone, you can:
- Eliminate junk food, high PUFA food, and vegetable oils. Guide to eliminating vegetable oils here.
- Get a good water filter to remove endocrine disruptor chemicals.
- Make sure to get sunlight after waking up, and if you need it, get a bright light therapy device for your desk. Here’s our article about that: Does Bright Light Therapy Increase Testosterone?
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