Low testosterone can cause a variety of health problems including ED, fatigue, loss of bone mass, hair loss, mood swings and more.
The good news is that you can boost your testosterone levels by making a few minor adjustments to your diet.
In this article we are going to take a close look at foods that are known to boost testosterone levels.
- Low testosterone has a variety of potential causes.
- Certain foods like garlic and oysters can boost testosterone levels.
- Avoid other foods that lower testosterone levels.
What Causes Low Testosterone?
Medical professionals divide the causes of low testosterone (also known as hypogonadism) into two categories:
- Primary hypogonadism resulting from a testicular disorder.
- Secondary hypogonadism resulting from disorders of the pituitary (1) or hypothalamus (2) glands in the brain.
Causes of primary hypogonadism
When low testosterone levels can be traced to a testicular problem this is called primary hypogonadism. There are two kinds of primary hypogonadism, congenital (meaning present from birth) and acquired (resulting from trauma, illness or medication, etc…).
Congenital causes of primary hypogonadism include:
- Cryptorchidism (3) or testicles that did not descend to their proper place in the scrotum.
- Underdeveloped Leydig cells (4).
- Klinefelter’s syndrome (5) where a male is born with an extra X chromosome.
- Anorchia (6), or the absence of testicles (rare).
Acquired causes of primary hypogonadism include:
- Injury to the testicles.
- Removal of the testicles due to cancer.
- Inflammation of one or both testicles due to orchitis (7).
- Radiation or chemotherapy.
- Use of anabolic steroids (8).
- Causes of secondary hypogonadism
Any condition that affects the functioning of the hypothalamus (9) or pituitary (10) glands in the brain can potentially disrupt testosterone production resulting in low testosterone levels. If the hypothalamus fails to notify the pituitary that more testosterone is needed the pituitary gland will not send enough luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to the testicles and testosterone production will slow or cease.
Congenital causes of secondary hypogonadism include:
- Isolated hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (11).
- Prader-Willi syndrome (12). A rare genetic condition that affects the hypothalamus.
- Kallmann syndrome (13). An equally rare genetic condition that undermines production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone that signals the pituitary to release LH and FSH.
Acquired causes of secondary hypogonadism include:
- Head trauma such as concussion that negatively affects the hypothalamus and pituitary thereby disrupting testosterone production (14).
- Alcoholism can also negatively affect the hypothalamus and pituitary glands (15).
- Obesity is well-known to cause a drop in testosterone levels (16).
- Inadequate sleep caused by sleep apnea can disrupt testosterone production (17).
- Those who develop Type 2 diabetes are twice as likely as non-diabetics to experience low testosterone levels (18).
- Various cancer and other medications can interfere with testosterone production.
- Men with Cushing’s disease are likely to experience low testosterone (19).
If you are experiencing low testosterone levels you have a couple of choices regarding treatment. You can undergo Testosterone Replacement Therapy, although that is not without its downside (20), or you can raise your testosterone levels naturally by altering your diet.
12 Foods That Boost Testosterone Levels
Below are 12 foods that have been proven to raise testosterone levels in men.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone. Research indicates there is an inverse relationship between cortisol levels and testosterone levels. The higher the amount of cortisol in the blood the lower testosterone levels tend to be (21).
Garlic is rich in a compound called allicin (22). Allicin is known to reduce cortisol levels. Therefore, by eating garlic you may be able to reduce the amount of cortisol in your blood which, in turn, may allow testosterone levels to rise back toward normal.
Both egg yolks and egg whites provide a host of compounds that aid in the production of testosterone (23), including protein, vitamin D and cholesterol (testosterone is a by-product of cholesterol).
Eggs are also an excellent choice for those who want to up their testosterone levels through weight training, as the protein and non-protein compounds in the eggs, including choline, and phospholipids will help build muscle mass (24) while simultaneously raising testosterone levels.
Ginger has been a staple of traditional medicine for thousands of years. Traditional Chinese healers would regularly prescribe ginger consumption to men experiencing ED or other aspects of male infertility. Now science suggests that traditional practitioners may have been on to something.
A recent systematic review of ginger-related research concluded that ginger consumption can indeed raise testosterone levels (25). The mechanisms by which ginger performs this feat include raising the amount of cholesterol available to the testicles (testosterone is produced from cholesterol by Leydig cells in the testicles) and reducing oxidative stress.
Oysters are naturally rich in zinc, which research strongly suggests can increase levels of serum testosterone (26). This may have more than a little to do with oysters’ reputation for being an aphrodisiac.
In addition, oysters contain plentiful amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which promote healthy blood flow and may play a part in preventing various circulatory conditions, including ED which often manifests in men with heart disease or clogged blood vessels.
While the reputation of oysters for enhancing libido and sexual function is well known, what is not so well known is that pomegranates enjoy a similar reputation. The mechanism by which pomegranate juice increases testosterone levels is not fully understood but research indicates the effect is very real.
A study published in 2012 concluded that daily intake of pomegranate juice increased levels of testosterone detected in the saliva of study participants by almost 25% (27). The effect was equally pronounced for men and women.
Thanks to a certain cartoon character most kids in the second half of the 20th century grew up associating spinach with manly strength. Turns out Popeye may have been on to something as spinach is naturally rich in vitamin B6, which has been shown to boost testosterone levels (28).
Spinach is also an excellent source of magnesium which, besides boosting testosterone levels (29) also plays a key role in regulating muscle function, stabilizing blood glucose levels and enhancing bone health.
Avocados are an excellent source of healthy fat and include several nutrients known to boost testosterone levels including boron and magnesium. Boron provides the added benefit of preventing testosterone degradation, making it easier for your body to hold on to the testosterone it has.
As we discussed above, magnesium is a multipurpose nutrient that plays a key role in numerous fundamental biochemical processes. Studies indicate that getting more magnesium in a diet can increase testosterone levels in both active and sedentary men (30).
8: Extra-virgin olive oil
Olive oil consumption has long been championed as a way to reduce the risk of heart disease and perhaps some types of cancer. But research published in 2013 points to its potential to boost testosterone levels as well (31).
The study in question was carried out on 60 healthy males aged 23 to 40. They consumed a fixed amount of butter that contained olive oil for a period of 3 weeks. Testosterone levels were measured at both the beginning and conclusion of the test period. Analysis showed testosterone levels had increased significantly in all participants.
Onions have long been thought to provide healthy heart benefits and to even aid in weight loss. In 2019, however, a thorough review of research papers published over more than 50 years concluded there is also convincing evidence that eating onions can boost testosterone levels (32).
Onions, it seems, perform this benefit by increasing the amount of luteinizing hormone (LH), which sends signals to the testicles to produce testosterone. In addition, onions also provide robust antioxidant benefits and mitigate insulin resistance, both of which have a beneficial effect on testosterone levels.
A 2019 study published by the NIH concluded that salmon oil can have a positive effect on semen production and testosterone levels (33). While the study itself was conducted using salmon oil it is reasonable to assume a similar benefit is available from consuming salmon steaks and the like.
The likely reason why salmon is able to boost testosterone levels has to do with the high levels of magnesium in salmon which, as we discussed above, has a beneficial effect on testosterone production.
11: Fish oil
People take supplemental fish oil for a variety of reasons: to reduce blood pressure, to keep their arteries clear of plaque and to reduce the likelihood of a stroke or heart attack. Recent research also indicates that fish oil is capable of boosting testosterone levels (34).
Fish oil is typically made from tuna, herring, trout, mackerel and sardines and is one of the most popular dietary supplements on the market. However, you don’t have to take fish oil supplements to enjoy the benefits. Simply include more of the above-mentioned types of fish in your diet.
Bananas provide an array of health benefits, but perhaps one of the most unexpected is their apparent ability to help maintain healthy testosterone levels (35). Bananas contain a compound called bromelain. Bromelain, as it turns out, has the ability to maintain testosterone levels and help repair muscle tissue damaged by aggressive workouts.
Bananas are also rich in fiber, potassium and antioxidants and are believed to help stabilize blood glucose levels, aid in digestion and aid in weight loss. In addition, the manganese in bananas provides a wealth of antioxidant and metabolic benefits (36).
Foods To Avoid To Maintain Proper Testosterone Levels
Any of the above-listed foods should help you in your quest to recover from low testosterone. But there are always two sides to the dietary coin, and in this case, there are definitely some foods you should avoid if you want to maintain adequate testosterone levels.
Highly processed foods tend to have low nutritional value and be high in things like calories, salt, sugar and trans-fats. Studies conducted on animals strongly suggest that trans-fats (also referred to as hydrogenated fats) lower the amount of testosterone and have a negative effect on reproductive function in general (37).
But that is not the only reason to avoid processed foods such as fast food. All the sugar and empty calories are also known to be contributing factors to obesity and ultimately, Type 2 diabetes. And both of those conditions will have a negative effect on testosterone levels.
This will no doubt come as a surprise to some but soy-based products such as soy milk and tofu can reduce testosterone levels.
Soy is often touted as an alternative source of protein for those who would prefer not to eat meat. But while it is true that soy can be a reliable source of protein (38) research also indicates it can reduce serum testosterone levels (39).
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, soy is known to lower cholesterol levels. And while we’ve been told again and again that is a good thing, testosterone is a by-product of cholesterol, so lowering cholesterol levels could potentially have a negative effect on testosterone production.
In addition, soy is rich in phytoestrogens and phytoestrogens can have a markedly negative effect on testosterone production (40).
Nuts are considered an essential component of a healthy diet. They are rich in many important nutrients and are also a good source of fiber, selenium and magnesium.
Unfortunately, research indicates that walnuts and almonds can reduce the levels of free testosterone in the body (41) by increasing levels of sex hormone-binding globulin. Nuts also tend to be high in polyunsaturated fats which have also been clinically linked to low testosterone (42).
Low testosterone is a significant problem affecting millions of men. That’s the bad news. The good news is that some simple dietary changes can help a man with low testosterone restore normal testosterone levels.
Just as important as eating foods that promote testosterone production is avoiding foods that undermine testosterone production, with processed foods and soy-based products being chief among those you may want to avoid.