Apparently being in the mountains might raise your testosterone! But maybe not for a good reason.
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.
Why does this happen?
As I understand it, this is what happens. Testosterone increases during acute exposure to the oxygen-deprived air of high altitude as your body attempts to get you enough oxygen. But this state of things goes along with “excessive erythrocytosis” and chronic mountain sickness. Natives of high altitude places, that have lived there for many generations, mostly have unusually low testosterone, because their bodies have adapted to the high altitude, such that they no longer have erythrocytosis and mountain sickness. But this adaptation involves testosterone going lower. The ones that do have high testosterone still, are the ones that aren’t yet adapted to high altitude, and still have erythrocytosis. The researcher Gustavo F. Gonzalez explains all this.
In Peru, at high altitude, testosterone levels can be quite low among the native people who are adapted to it. In Puno, Peru, testosterone was 220 ng/dl. (source). (Not all the results from Peru were this low however.)
In Azerbaijan, in the “Karabakh highlands” among natives of high altitude villages, testosterone was 313 ng/dl, in 1988 which is very low. (source)
In Kyrgyzstan, among natives of these mountain villages aged 18-55, at 1200m testosterone was 448 ng/dl, at 2300m testosterone was 452 ng/dl, and at 3600m testosterone was 169 ng/dl, very low. (source) However, in the city of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (altitude just 800m), among 20 year old wrestlers and judokas, testosterone was 738 ng/dl. (source)
In Tajikistan, in the Pamir mountains among native Tajik people, in 1986, testosterone was 535 ng/dl at 2000m altitude, 500 ng/dl at 3000m, and 465 ng/dl at 3640m. (source) At the time and the place, this wasn’t very high testosterone for Central Asia.
In Bolivia, in those who aren’t adapted to the high altitude and have excessive erythrocytosis, testosterone is high – 714 ng/dl at age 44. (source)
However in Tibet, among the native Tibetans, testosterone is OK, being 623 ng/dl at age 21. (source)
Very low altitude decreases testosterone
Strangely, living about 984 ft BELOW sea level seems to decrease testosterone. (Source)
So does high altitude increase testosterone in reality?
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.
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.