Low testosterone is a common problem particularly for older men, causing many to embrace testosterone boosters. But are testosterone boosters safe?
The bulk of scientific evidence suggests that testosterone boosters are safe when used as directed, although most have the potential to produce side effects.
In this article, we’re going to look at the risks associated with the most popular types of testosterone boosters.
- Testosterone boosters are a popular way to treat low testosterone.
- Testosterone boosters are considered generally safe by most experts.
- Testosterone boosters may, however, produce some side effects.
What Is A Testosterone Booster?
Any product, food, or activity that raises the level of testosterone in a person’s system is a testosterone booster. There are three generally accepted types of testosterone boosters in use today:
- Testosterone replacement therapy or TRT
- Over-the-counter testosterone boosting supplements
- Testosterone-boosting foods and activities
Let’s look at the relative risks associated with each type of testosterone booster.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy Risks
With testosterone replacement therapy your doctor or healthcare provider will prescribe one of several different types of clinical-grade testosterone. They will then work with you to monitor the results and make any changes or adjustments that may be necessary to produce the desired result.
Clinical-grade testosterone is typically either bioidentical testosterone (1) or synthetic testosterone (2) and may be suspended in oil or water. Or it may be added to a patch that is affixed to the skin or infused in a gum-like substance that is placed in the mouth.
Risks associated with oil-based testosterone
Oil-based testosterone is typically suspended in refined sesame oil, castor oil, cottonseed oil or grapeseed oil. If you have an allergy to any of these oils you should tell your doctor and avoid this type of TRT. Delatestryl® is an example of this type of injectable testosterone.
Other risks associated with this type of injectable testosterone include:
- Blood clots (3)
- Gynecomastia (man boobs)
- Fluid retention
- Oily skin
- Pulmonary oil microembolism (4)
It’s important to mention that such side effects are comparatively rare and that most people who engage in TRT under the supervision of a qualified medical professional experience only very minor or no such side effects.
Risks associated with water-based testosterone, (testosterone suspension)
Testosterone suspension is a favorite of bodybuilders due to its potency, its relatively quick uptake and its availability via countless websites that do not ask for a prescription.
When this type of injectable testosterone is administered under medical supervision it is considered quite safe. However, when men take it upon themselves to self-administer and self-monitor they open themselves up to an increased risk of side effects ranging from nuisance-level to serious. Those potential side effects include:
- Urinary tract infection
- Blood clots
- Dilated pupils
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (5)
- Pulmonary oil microembolism
The risk of such side effects increases in those who self-administer testosterone-suspension. Nonetheless, such side effects are still relatively rare.
Risks associated with testosterone patches
Testosterone patches are a convenient and painless way to administer TRT, but they are not without their potential side effects, including:
- Blisters or redness at the point of attachment
- Sore breasts
- Acne or oily skin
Rare but more serious side effects include:
- Peripheral edema (6)
- Shortness of breath
- Numbness in the arms or legs
- Persistent erections
- Jaundice (7)
- Slurred or difficult speech
Again, these more serious side effects are extremely rare but the possibility of their occurrence only underlines the importance of making sure you engage in TRT under the supervision of a qualified health professional.
Testosterone Supplements Risks
Over-the-counter testosterone supplements are produced using a variety of ingredients that have proven themselves more or less effective at boosting testosterone levels in men whose levels are depressed.
The following are some of the most popular ingredients in over-the-counter testosterone boosters and their relative dangers if any:
Dehydroepiandrosterone (8) or DHEA is a testosterone precursor. DHEA supplements are widely used with some studies indicating they can help boost testosterone, especially when used in conjunction with High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT (9). However, other researchers remain doubtful about the efficacy of DHEA supplements (10) to raise testosterone levels on their own.
With that in mind, the risks of DHEA supplementation include:
- Acne or oily skin
- Upset stomach
- Nasal congestion
- Reduced cholesterol levels
That last side effect is noteworthy because testosterone is a by-product of cholesterol. So it’s possible that lowering cholesterol levels too much could lower testosterone levels.
D-aspartic acid or DAA is an amino acid that helps trigger testosterone production. It is generally considered safe, although it must be said clinical research is somewhat lacking when it comes to DAA.
Nonetheless, what research there is does not suggest it produces any particularly notable side effects. If you have any questions or concerns about this supplement you should speak to your doctor.
Magnesium (11) is one of those compounds the body simply can’t live without. It’s involved in hundreds of biochemical and metabolic processes, including testosterone production.
There is practically no chance a person could get too much magnesium from their normal diet. However, magnesium supplements are another matter altogether. If you are taking magnesium because you’ve heard it could boost testosterone and even slow the aging process (12) you will need to be careful how much supplemental magnesium you take.
Too much could result in stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and headaches and can also interfere with the action of antibiotics and various other medicines.
If you’ve ever felt more sexually vigorous after eating oysters you can thank zinc (13). Oysters are rich in zinc (14) and zinc has been clinically proven to increase serum testosterone levels in men with lower than normal testosterone.
Zinc, however, is not without its potential downside (15). Ingesting too much zinc either in your diet or by way of a testosterone booster could lead to vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, loss of appetite and compromised immune function.
Zinc may also negatively interact with antibiotics, diuretics and other drugs. If you are currently on medication talk to your doctor before taking zinc-based testosterone boosters.
Natural Testosterone Boosting Risks
It is possible to boost testosterone levels without engaging in TRT or using supplements. Natural testosterone boosting methods include various types of exercise and adjusting your diet to include more testosterone-boosting foods.
The following are some of the most popular methods of naturally boosting testosterone and the associated risks if any.
Strength training, otherwise known as weight lifting or resistance training, is one of the best-known types of exercise (16) and one of the best ways to raise testosterone levels short of TRT (17). Weight training has the added benefit of strengthening bones, improving cardiovascular health and helping you lose unwanted fat.
But with weight lifting comes the risk of injury. Especially for men who engage in strength training on their own. Dropping the weight, pulling muscles and even passing out from lifting too much weight are common risks of strength training. Even if you use resistance bands instead of free weights the band could snap or come unhooked, resulting in injury.
High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short, is another excellent way to boost testosterone levels (18). As the name implies HIIT entails engaging in short bursts of very high-intensity exercise interspersed with short recovery intervals. The exercise spurts can last anywhere from 20 seconds or so to a few minutes during which you push your body to the limit.
For younger men who begin the process in decent shape, the main risk associated with HIIT is injury, including both muscle and joint injuries. That risk is magnified the older you get. Also, if you have a history of heart disease you should talk to your doctor before engaging in HIIT.
There are a lot of foods that have the potential to boost testosterone levels including oysters, garlic, spinach and lean meats. The risks associated with choosing to eat more of any of these foods is minimal for most people. However, if you are currently dealing with a health condition that requires medical supervision you should talk to your doctor before making any major adjustments to your diet.
Testosterone boosters are generally considered safe by health professionals. Just be mindful that the different testosterone boosting methods each comes with the potential to produce side effects. While most men will experience few if any side effects, the risk increases for those who self-administer TRT.