Published on September 19, 2016
Allow me to introduce you to my Finnish friend Dr. Olli Sovijärvi, MD, pictured above.
I first mentioned Olli in my article “21 Unfamiliar Nutrition Tricks I Discovered In The Biohackers’ Handbook.”, and then again in “Never Get Sick Again: 13 Underground Immune Boosting Strategies You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.”
So why am I so seemingly obsessed with Olli and his strange nutrition, immunity, and, as you're about to discover, testosterone-boosting tactics?
First, he is a beast of a powerlifter.
Observe him in action in this preview video for the November 18 Biohackers’ Summit in Helsinki, Finland (use 10% discount code BEN).
Second, he is a medical doctor. That's right: he works in his clinic with patients day in and day out and is friggin' steeped in a combination of research and practice. He's not some kid with a neck beard sitting in his mom's basement googling PubMed articles.
Third, he's constantly on my mind because I wake up each morning to texts like this:
So finally, when I got the text above, I told Olli,
“Look man…most people have no clue you can shine laser lights on your balls to increase your testosterone, or that there are ways to reverse the damage cell phones can wreak on your gonads, or that once you drop below 30% carbs your testosterone starts to severely decline if you're an avid exerciser…
…so, can you write an article for me with all these tactics?”
So Olli did just that.
And what you are about to read is the result: 17 of Olli's best known tactics for increasing testosterone – some of them proven and basic strategies and others fringe techniques I've never heard of until now.
Enjoy, leave any questions, comments or feedback below the post, and if you enjoy this stuff, then check out his Biohacker’s Handbook, which dives deep into immunity, sleep, nutrition, exercise, the function of the mind and much more in 530+ pages of the best biohacking tips I’ve ever discovered.
Take it away Olli…
Most Testosterone Advice Sucks
Biohacking testosterone (AKA “T”) has been a hot topic the past few years. Er, decades. Er, centuries. Perhaps technology and social media has just made what men and women have possibly pursued since the dawn of time just a bit more in our faces.
Just look at it: YouTube is full of T-optimizing videos and channels, iTunes has entire podcasts devoted to libido and testosterone, broscience forums are chock full of T advice from around the planet, there are entire T-boosting websites jam-packed with linkbait and ads and…
…don't even get me started on supplement companies, who mostly source cheap herbs from Asia, shove them into a bottle, and produce a very, very sexy website designed to get you to empty your wallet to pop some magical T-boosting pill.
And yeah, you can find plenty of research articles on optimizing T and even a bunch of books and e-books have been released. I have read and studied all of them and beyond. Honestly: I am a consummate geek. I spend my entire day either treating patients or hanging out with my wife or baby, or sending Ben Greenfield strange texts.
And these apparently promising supplements, pills and tricks sound good, but simply don’t work. Yep…they don't work, or they raise your T so miniscule-ingly low that you're basically spending hundreds of your hard-earned dollars on pretty much next-to-nothing when it comes to an actual significant boost. You would be shocked at the amount of bloodwork I see that shows me men and women who are doing everything they read on the internets to boost testosterone with barely a bump in total or free levels of this hormone.
But at the same time, I'll admit that there are some legimiate folks out there producing testosterone enhancing advice. I am very grateful for the amazing work on optimizing testosterone put out by guys behind the Anabolic Men website (especially Ali Kuoppala) from whom I have learned a lot.
Thanks also to Christopher Walker, a neuroscientist who has written a significant amount of information on testosterone, especially training wise (e.g., google “THOR”, “Testosterone I/O”, “Testshock”, etc.).
And I also want to thank a bunch of Finnish medical colleagues and friends who I've spent copious amounts of time with sitting naked in a Finnish sauna, followed by cold plunges into the Baltic sea, followed by intellectually stimulating conversations on all things testosterone (yeah, if you're reading you know who you are).
Still, all these tricks you're about to discover, especially those presented later in the article, are tactics I have had to dig deep from the depths of PubMed and literally spent hours and hours of reading every possible study that could potentially find in terms something new about one of the most important and studied hormones that exists for both men and women.
You could say that I am mildly infatuated with testosterone. My latest T (total) was 32 nmol/l (922 ng/dl). As you can see from the studies cited here, that's high compared to the total T of 300-600 most guys these days have. And I have a newborn baby to prove it that my T is serving me well. Here she is, crawling through our backyard here in Helsinki…
Before we jump into these many-probably-never-heard-of-biohacks on optimizing your T, I want to make sure that you have the basics covered. Yep, the boring basics. Without these, which include things like an adequate fitness training system, nutrition, sleep and stress management, these strategies won’t be near as solid as they could be. You can read more about optimizing sleep, nutrition, stress and exercise from Biohacker’s Handbook (of which head author I am).
Note from Ben: if you read the parenthetical section above, you will know that Olli, because he is Finnish, sometimes talks like Yoda. Don't worry, you'll get used to it).
The Testosterone Basics
Testosterone is basically just an anabolic sex steroid hormone, mainly released in the Leydig cells of the testes in men (95%) and the ovaries and adrenal glands of women. Yes, testosterone is not just a male hormone, and women also produce, but at lower magnitude. Actually, men have roughly about 10 times more testosterone than women. Testosterone is derived from cholesterol, which is also known as “the mother of all steroids” (and why low-cholesterol diets and statins suck for most hormone and steroid optimizing goals).
Testosterone is responsible for men’s sexual characteristics: it stimulates the growth of penis and scrotum, increases growth of body and facial hair (which is otherwise highly genetically regulated…so little body hair doesn’t automatically mean low T, as we can all testify to upon seeing the actor “The Rock”), impacts the ability to put on muscle mass and lose fat and even affects the tone of the voice by strengthening vocal cords. Yep, you read right. If you have a low voice and you're bald, like Bane from Batman, you might actually be genetically equipped to produce more T, which seems quite unfair for all those high-pitched white guys with man-fros.
Testosterone is also an anti-aging hormone, which means that a healthy level of testosterone throughout your life can make you live longer. As a matter of fact, in men aged 30 years and older, testosterone levels steadily fall at a rate of about 1% per year, and no amount of palette painting appears to be able to halt that decline.
OK, for this next brief section…if you are simply drooling from the corners of your mouth to learn how to increase your testosterone, then feel free to skip it. But if you actually want to know how your darling testes (or ovaries for you ladies) actually make T, or want some impressive words to throw around at a cocktail party, then check out how testosterone actually works.
How Testosterone Works
How testosterone works really isn't too complex.
There is a feedback loop from your brain to your testes (or ovaries), and it controls how much testosterone is being released. The physiological regulation of testosterone begins in your hypothalamus, a section of your brain which releases gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH).
That GnRH then stimulates the pituitary gland to release two crucial hormones for male health: follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). In the testes, FSH stimulates spermatogenesis (making new sperm cells) and LH stimulates testosterone production. In turn, testosterone exerts feedback control of the pituitary LH and FSH secretion, meaning if you're not producing enough testosterone, and your feedback loop is working properly, you'll churn out more LH and FSH. And if you're making too much testosterone, you'd downregulate LH and FSH. Once you've made your testosterone, it can be further converted to dihydrotestosterone or estradiol.
Anyways, this produced testosterone enters your blood stream as free testosterone, which is the biologically available form of T. The majority (about 98%) of the produced testosterone is then bound to sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) or albumin (another major protein in the blood). For testosterone to become ”active” you would need a release of it from the carrier protein, and optimal SHGB levels in the blood so that not too much of it is bound to SHBG.
For testosterone to have an anabolic effect in the body it must bind to an androgen receptor (for example, in muscle tissue). Heavy strength training actually activates these androgen receptors, and free, bioavailable testosterone is then able bind to free androgen receptor sites. After that begins a cascade in the cell which eventually enters DNA and initiates protein synthesis and anabolism. Therefore, it is crucial to have a good androgen sensitivity and androgen receptor density (you're about to get a whole bunch of hacks for that).
Testosterone is also a hormone that plays a key role in carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism. That is why it has a major influence on body fat composition and muscle mass, especially in males and to a lesser extent in females. This is also why research has over and over again shown that testosterone deficiency is related to various metabolic health problems such as increased visceral fat mass (also known as “central adiposity”), reduced insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, leading to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and even cardiovascular disease (CVD). Testosterone deficiency has been reported in population studies to be associated with an increase in all-cause mortality (mainly linked to CVD). In the meantime, healthy levels of testosterone also protect from cognitive decline.
So, duh, testosterone is pretty much good. You probably wouldn't be reading if you didn't suspect that.
Alright, enough with the geekery. Let's delve into the first part of my tips – basic lifestyle hacks for high testosterone…
Basic Lifestyle Hacks For High Testosterone
- Sleep enough — often more is better
The majority of the daily testosterone release in men occurs during sleep. Fragmented sleep and obstructive sleep apnea are associated with reduced testosterone levels. A study released on The Journal of the American Medical Association, found out that one week of sleep restriction (5 hours of sleep per night) decreased testosterone production by 10–15%.
Studies have also found out that sleep’s effect on testosterone has an inverted U-shaped curve. Testosterone production increased with increasing sleep duration up to 10 hours after which it decreased.
For my ultimate sleep hacks, check out my Biohacker’s Handbook’s sleep chapter for free here.
- Get rid of extra belly fat and be lean
It is generally noted in research that the higher your body fat percentage, the lower your testosterone. The correlation works especially in the direction of getting leaner, which will instantly raise your T levels. Longitudinal analyses showing no influence of baseline hormone levels on change in anthropometric measures imply that body composition affects hormone levels and not the reverse. Yep, you read right. Being lean gives you high testosterone more than high testosterone makes you lean.
But you don't need to be an emaciated marathoner. Instead, it has been roughly estimated that a male body fat percentage between 8–14% is optimal for testosterone production. Higher fat mass also usually increased aromatase enzyme activity, which converts more testosterone into estrogen. In opposition, too low body fat content can be detrimental for testosterone production.
- Practice strength training and gain some muscle mass
While practicing strength training and gaining muscle often reduces body fat percentage (which leads into higher testosterone), it also has independent effect on elevating testosterone. Having higher muscle mass is positively correlated with higher testosterone. Lifting medium-heavy weights explosively can stimulate short-term and long-term testosterone production. Training progressively by adding more weight nearly every time you train causes your body to adapt to higher and higher testosterone levels via neuromuscular adaptations.
Follow these basic principles when strength training for optimal T production:
- Always lift explosively (with perfect form)
- Lift heavy enough, but not too heavy (to have an optimum force/velocity-curve)
- Use compound lifts to activate large amounts of muscle mass
- Focus on body parts that have high density of androgen receptor sites (chest, shoulders, trapezius)
- Do sprint intervals to maximize force production in minimal time and to activate fast-twitch muscle fibers
- Do as much work on as much muscle tissue as possible in as short amount of time as possible while staying under the negative stress threshold
- If your gym is limited, the muscle up exercise is, in my opinion, the king of testosterone-boosting exercises
- Control your stress levels and meditate
Chronic stress leads eventually into chronically elevated stress hormone (cortisol) levels in the blood. Cortisol is necessary for life, but when excreted too much for too long, it can cause some serious health problems. One of the disadvantages is diminished testosterone secretion, as cortisol and testosterone compete of the same hormonal precursors and raw materials (mainly pregnenolone). For example in military conditions prolonged stress has been shown to significantly lower testosterone secretion.
Implement these potent strategies (some of my favorites) into your life to lower stress – you can click on the links for more research, by the way:
- Meditation (in particular) and relaxation exercises such as deep breathing
- Spending cell-phone free time in the nature and walking
- Eating enough whole-food carbohydrates (especially in the evening and when having an intense period of exercise)
- Adaptogenic herbs (ashwagandha in particular)
- Vitamin C (the more stress the more vitamin C)
- Eat nutrient dense whole foods and get enough (but not too many) calories
Let's start with micronutrients.
Getting enough and optimal amount of micronutrients is crucial for testosterone production. Measuring your micronutrient status is a crucial step on finding out what your exact situation is. The most important micronutrients for testosterone production are zinc, magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, iodine, selenium, vitamin K2, vitamin A, vitamin E, manganese and boron.
Eating a diet rich in nutrients and minerals (read: whole foods) is crucial not just for overall health, but also for optimal T production. Getting a high micronutrient multivitamin supplement on the basis of your personal needs can also be a testosterone saving thing if your diet is lacking something.
Next comes calories.
Your body needs enough calories to produce adequate amounts of testosterone. With constant and prolonged calorie restriction the body begins to adapt into survival mode, which means that for example reproductive system is not of great importance anymore. The body will conserve energy for vital processes and internal organs.
For optimal testosterone production it is wise to eat at maintenance or a slight calorie surplus. But if you are overweight, a minor calorie deficit and losing weight will actually elevate testosterone production (as explained previously). So, the plan is to get lean first and then eat higher calories for optimal testosterone production and maintenance. Losing weight slowly is a good option here: about 15% calorie deficit doesn’t seem to affect testosterone negatively. But it can affect somewhat negatively your thyroid hormone production.
Finally comes macronutrients, AKA “macros”.
And when it comes to macros, nearly everybody, especially in the fitness industry, talks about protein. There are tons of different protein supplements that are supposed to make you lean and fit. Protein has gained a reputation that it is the most important macronutrient when it comes to building muscle and gaining strength. It is certainly true that protein and especially certain amino acids are essential for life and muscle tissues and that chronic protein malnutrition will cause low testosterone levels.
The caveat here is that you don’t actually need as much protein as you have been told. For most, the recommended daily allowance levels (1.0–1.4 g /kg of bodyweight) are enough for optimal testosterone production. For strength training individuals often recommended protein intake is 1.6–1.8 g / kg of bodyweight. Even athletes that practice strength training do not benefit from extra protein intake (over 2.0 g / kg of bodyweight).
For example, Ben Greenfield simply eats 0.5-0.7g protein per pound of body weight on easy exercise days and 0.7-0.8 grams per pound on hard exercise days. Easy enough, eh?
Protein source is also a major factor in testosterone production. A study published in British Journal of Nutrition found out that for example when meat was replaced with soybean protein in healthy men, the testosterone:estradiol ratio decreased significantly. Yes, steak beats edamame, hands down.
For optimal testosterone production it also seems crucial that you don’t eat too much protein and that you eat enough carbohydrates and fat. One study which compared protein and carbohydrate changes and their hormonal effects found out that when the male subjects went 10-days on a high-protein low-carb diet, their total testosterone levels were 21% lower than what they would have been on a high-carbohydrate low-protein diet. The high-protein diet also caused significantly higher cortisol levels. The diets were equal in total calories and fat.
Another study, which compared ratios of protein to carbohydrates to different fats, found out that diets higher in carbohydrates and saturated+monounsaturated fats than protein were related to higher testosterone production in strength training men. Previous studies have also found out that men who consume a diet containing 20% of fat compared with diets containing 40% fat have significantly lower concentrations of testosterone in the blood. Many other studies also show that getting enough fat from diet is crucial for testosterone production. Also, getting enough cholesterol (raw material for steroid hormone production) from your diet is critical to optimal hormonal balance.
For men who exercise and especially those who perform an intensive training micro-cycle, it is crucial to eat enough carbohydrates (CHO) to optimize testosterone production. In one study two groups (30% of CHO vs 60% of CHO) were compared in terms of testosterone-to-cortisol-ratio. The study found out that those who ate 60% of carbohydrates had significantly higher free testosterone to cortisol -ratio than the lower carbohydrate group.
The bottom line is this: for optimal testosterone production you shouldn’t go too low in calories (neither too high), shouldn’t consume too much protein (under 2g/kg) or eat too little carbs and too little saturated and mono-unsaturated fats. For me personally, the optimal ratio for T production seems to be on a 2500 kcal/day slight deficit diet with 98 kg bodyweight looks like this:
- 1.8g protein/ bodyweight (1.8g x 98 = 176.4 grams = 720 kcal)
- 40% of total calorie intake fat (1000 kcal = 111 grams)
- Rest of the daily energy need from carbohydrates ( 780 kcal = 195 grams)
That means also eating quite a bunch of carbohydrates, and yet at under 200g carbs this example would still be among conventional nutrition advisors called a “low carbohydrate diet”.
Finally, for actual food sources, you can read from the Anabolic Men’s site the scientific basis for the most important foods that boost testosterone production. Based on that, here are my top 12 foods that satisfy the criteria above:
- Grass-fed beef & lamb
- Organic potatoes
- Grass-fed butter
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Pastured organic eggs
- Dark berries such as bilberries
- Red onions
- Brazil nuts
- Raw cacao & chocolate
Here are a couple bonus additions that are daily staples for me: Celtic sea salt & high-altitude single-origin water-washed coffee.
I would suggest that you check out Biohacker’s Handbook’s Nutrition chapter for more information on how to optimize your personal diet.
- Drink enough water and hydrate yourself
Getting enough clean, mineral-rich water is not only crucial for life, but also for optimal hormonal balance. For example even mild dehydration (1–2%) can raise cortisol levels and deleteriously effect testosterone production. Especially when sweating a lot and during periods of heavy exercise, the importance of drinking water for testosterone maintenance is increased. The higher the level of the dehydration, the bigger the effects are on raising cortisol (and adrenaline) and lowering testosterone.
On the other hand, drinking too much water will also cause problems, such as diluting the blood and messing up with sodium balance in the body – even leading to hyponatremia (more precisely hypervolemic hyponatremia, or water intoxication) which, when severe, can cause numerous neurological and cardiovascular symptoms. So if you drink a lot of water, I recommend you add sea salt to prevent water retention and electrolyte disturbances.
The easiest way to estimate your hydration status is to analyze the color of your urine and the feeling of thirst. If your urine is diluted and pale in color, you have probably drank too much water. Ben has a pretty comprehensive article on this called “10 Things Your Pee Can Tell You About Your Body”. Also, if you feel a thirsty, you should know that you are already in a state of mild dehydration.
And for Pete's sake, don't drink plastic bottled water if you don't want to jack up your estrogen levels. Stick to good spring water, filtered water, well water or glass bottled water.
- Have regular sex, but don’t ejaculate too often
There hasn’t been any extremely convincing studies on sex frequency and testosterone correlation in young men. However, one big observational study conducted with 1226 older men (aged 70+) found that regular sex helped to diminish the decline in testosterone level that occurs naturally with age. The study says:
”We found a consistent association among older men followed over 2 years between the decline in sexual activity and desire, but not in erectile function, with a decrease in serum T. Although these observational findings cannot determine causality, the small magnitude of the decrease in serum T raises the hypothesis that reduced sexual function may reduce serum T rather than the reverse.”
One small study also found out that men having sex in a sex club had an average increase of 72% of salivary testosterone after sex. I am not endorsing sex club visitations as a staple in your daily routine, but I'm just sayin'. In the meantime, those at the sex club who were just masturbating and watching sexual acts raised T only by 11%.
One sexual performance anecdote, mainly derived from athletes, is that sex the previous day or even many days before competition somehow hinders performance. But this topic has actually been researched and busted as a myth.
For example, one study comparing the maximal effort on cycle ergometer found out that having sex 2 hours before athletic performance slightly diminished recovery capacity, while having sex 10 hours before the event had absolutely no effect on performance or recovery. Another study found out that having sexual intercourse 12 hours prior to maximal treadmill effort didn’t have any negative (nor positive) effects on performance.
On the other hand, in traditional Chinese medicine it is common knowledge that ejaculation can more rapidly deplte Qi (Chi), your life force. This also makes sense, since sperm contains the seeds of life and plenty of minerals too. But this topic has also been researched by scientists.
One study found out that a short-term abstinence of sex (3 weeks) slightly increased testosterone. Another small study (28 healthy men) could actually verify, that an optimal ejaculation frequency for men testosterone-wise is actually 7 days. The study found that on the 7th day of abstinence, there was a significant increase in testosterone production (146%). But too long a period of abstinence (e.g. over 3 months) can actually crash your testosterone production.
So drawing all these studies and anecdotes together, it appears that having sex once a week with a real partner is the best way of elevating your testosterone production.
- Avoid exposure to endocrine disruptors in plastics, food & water
Endocrine disruptors are synthetic chemicals or natural substances that can alter the endocrine system. Ben talked about plenty of these in his latest “How To Detox Your Home” article.
Many of the endocrine disruptors are either directly negatively affecting testosterone production or acting as estrogen mimics (like xenoestrogens). These are mainly found in plastics, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, toys, pesticides, preservatives, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. They have also been linked to many other health problems like cancer, decreased fertility, metabolic syndrome, hypothyroid and diabetes.
So first, avoid these substances, period.
- BPA (Bisphenol A)
- Found in plastics; can lower testosterone levels significantly and cause erectile dysfunction
- BPS (Bisphenol S)
- Marketed as a ”safer” alternative to BPA found in thermal receipts, plastics and household dust.
- Has the same negative endocrine effects as BPA
- Found in plastics and cosmetics
- Men having high phtalates in the urine have lower testosterone levels
- Found especially in sun lotions, moisturizers, shampoos, tooth pastes and in other cosmetics as a preservative
- Function as a xenoestrogen in the body elevating estrogen levels in men (and women)
- Triclosan & triclocarban
- Found in antibacterial dilutants, soaps and hand sanitizers
- Can lower testosterone levels in men by disrupting biosynthesis of testosterone in Leydig cells
- Benzophenones (BP-1, BP-2 & BP-3)
- Found mainly in sunscreens functioning as UV filters
- Can possibly lower testosterone by antagonizing androgen receptors (in English, blocking the receptor sites) and blocking enzymes converting other androgens to testosterone
The number one way to reduce your exposure to these endocrine disruptors is to avoid the use of plastics as well as you can with the following strategies:
- Switch plastic cups to glass or steel cups & bottles (glass would be optimal)
- Store leftover food in glass jars
- Aquire a good tap filter that filters all contaminants and endocrine disrupters (e.g. reverse osmosis & activated charcoal filters)
- Use only organic & natural ingredient cosmetics
- Avoid junk food and prefer organic food
- Minimize the handling time with receipts or use gloves
- Avoid the use of detergents and flame retardants (and other possible endocrine disrupting chemicals)
- Raise your basic aerobic physical activity (but don’t do too much endurance training)
Being physically inactive is quite deleterious to your testosterone production. It has been shown in various studies that sedentary men who engage in regular physical activity instantly raise their testosterone levels and do it quite significantly.
For example a 12-week period of increased physical activity in a group of obese men showed significant increase in testosterone levels independent of accompanied weight loss induced by a mild calorie deficit. This means that a basic low-level physical activity like walking is an independent testosterone boosting factor! On the flipside, too much endurance training has been shown to lower testosterone levels significantly. One interesting fact is that in endurance athletes, low T is an independent factor (possibly impairing testicular function) which is not even related to chronically elevated cortisol levels.
- Increase your androgen receptor density
Besides optimizing testosterone production for optimal actual hormone signaling, you also need to have a good amount of androgen receptors in your body. Below are some the most researched ways to increase your androgen receptor density.
-Intermittent fasting (IF) and longer fasts
The easiest way to prime your androgen receptors for optimal testosterone uptake is intermittent fasting. Simply skipping your breakfast and pushing the first meal of the day as far as you can is a method that works very well. A small study showed that a fast of 12 to 56 hours improved testosterone response up to 180% in lean, but not in obese men.
Another study found out that after 10 day water fast, testosterone showed a downward trend of approximately 15–20%. When re-feeding after the prolonged fast with normal meals, the participants’ testosterone levels went up significantly higher than before the fasting baseline values. One guy even went from around 600 ng/dl to 1600 ng/dl! The explanation for this phenomenon is that fasting primes your body to be more receptive to testosterone, which means higher androgen receptor sensitivity.
Warning: If you are under a chronic stress and have super high cortisol levels all day long, a prolonged 16+ hour fast might not be your thing.
-Coffee (especially when fasting)
-Explosive resistance training
There are basic resistance training principles that you should follow to optimize your androgen receptor density. First, activate large amounts of muscle mass with big compound movements. Second, do every movement as explosively as possible while maintaining a proper form. Third, keep workouts intense and short to avoid excess cortisol release. Fourth, use progressive loading with training (e.g. microloading). Research has shown that men who do resistance training regularly have higher androgen receptor density than untrained men.
Carnitine in is a lipid transporter molecule that moves ingested dietary fat via carnitine-acyl-transferases into mitochondria to be oxidized into energy (beta-oxidation). It will also increase androgen receptor activity in cells by providing energy for the receptors.
A 3-week supplementation with 2 grams L-carnitine L-tartrate (LCLT) per day has been shown to upregulate androgen receptor content after exercise, which promotes better recovery from training. Another 3-week supplementation study showed that LCLT reduced the amount of exercise-induced muscle tissue damage, which also meant that a greater number of receptors would be available for hormonal interactions.
Based on in vitro and animal studies, mucuna pruriens, which contains L-dopa (3–6 %) has a potential of increasing androgen receptor density. I would still be careful with this, because overusing L-dopa may have some side effects such as hypotension, nausea, disorientation and sleepiness. These are more likely if you just use L-dopa medication instead of mucuna pruriens.
Also based on in vitro studies, forskolin, which functions as a cAMP activator and further as a PKA stimulator, can stimulate also the density of androgen receptors. There is also a placebo-controlled human study on forskolin on its effects on recovery and testosterone production. The study has been criticized by many because of the authors’ interest in supplement business and the authors' providing their own forskolin product. Forskolin may also cause hepatic side effects if the dosage is too high for too long.
Here is a conclusion on forskolin drawn together by Suppversity:
”…the almost non-existent human data on the purported testosterone boosting effects, this should be reason enough not to buy more than one bottle for a test-run. After which I highly suggest to do some lab work to see if whatever good or bad you believe you are feeling is an actual boost in T (check T-levels) or hepatic side effects (check ALT, AST & ALP).”
- Use creatine every day
Probably everyone who has trained with weights has heard of creatine. It is literally everywhere: in the gyms, in natural stores, supplement sites and even in normal grocery stores. Creatine monohydrate is not a new supplement, but rather an old one – the earliest studies on creatine and performance come from the early 1990s.
Creatine is already naturally occurring in red meat and in almost all vertebras. It functions in skeletal muscle energy production by increasing the amount of ATP in the cells. The specific energy system it is used in is your “creatine-phosphate” or “phosphagen” system. In your cells, creatine phosphate (CP) donates a phosphate to ADP to produce ATP. Your creatine phosphate system activates in short and intense bursts of exercise (around 5-8 seconds).
The research behind creatine is incredibly massive. There are nearly 100 peer-reviewed human studies showing that it increases strength, muscle mass and power and affects positively on body composition and sports performance. Quite a few studies have also shown that supplementing with just 5 grams of creatine per day increases testosterone and DHT significantly. Especially when beginning with the supplementation the elevation on DHT is especially high. One study showed that creatine also helped to diminish potential harmful effects of short-term overtraining while maintaining higher testosterone levels compared to those who didn’t supplement with creatine.
Longer term usage of creatine has not been shown to have any negative or adverse health effects. An overall trend towards higher testosterone serum levels has been also observed (on average from baseline of 17 nmol/l to 26 nmol/l).
One caveat: there was one review done in 2011 concluded that ”…high-dose (>3-5 g/day) creatine supplementation should not be used by individuals with pre-existing renal disease or those with a potential risk for renal dysfunction (diabetes, hypertension, reduced glomerular filtration rate). A pre-supplementation investigation of kidney function might be considered for reasons of safety, but in normal healthy subjects appears unnecessary.”
More Extreme & Lesser-Known Biohacks For High Testosterone
We have now covered the basics for optimizing testosterone that you really need to know and do first, before you begin to throw in the fancy stuff. Next, I will introduce you methods that have not been really discussed in popular literature and which fall into the category I affectionately refer to as “biohack yourself into a T monster”. These methods are also science-based, but I'll admit that for some of the hacks, convincing human studies are still to be seen.
- Electrical (muscle) stimulation
A study done on rat’s gastrocnemius muscle (calf) found out that electrical stimulation induced a rapid increase in the number of androgen receptors in early parts of the stimulation. This led to an increase in muscle mass by enhancing the muscle sensitivity to androgens.
Another study conducted in humans showed that an electrical stimulation of volunteers’ meridian points (which basically means electro-acupuncture) increased subjects’ concentrations of total testosterone and DHEA-S without affecting LH or FSH (secreted from the pituitary gland).
- Red light or low-lever laser therapy (on your nuts)
Red light, near infrared light (NIR) or low-level laser therapy has been used to treat various conditions from pain and muscle aches to wound healing, skin conditions, osteoarthritis and even depression. These effects are usually local, but near infrared light has also systemic effects via circulation of blood. You might want to read this super comprehensive article on red light and NIR by a Finnish medical student Vladimir Heiskanen. He has been a key source of information for me regarding the healing effects of red light.
The basis for stimulating testosterone production by shooting red light and near-infra red light (yep, especially on your testicles) lies on the mechanism how red (or infrared) wavelengths work inside the cell. The key is that they stimulate ATP production in Leydig cells, thus increasing the energy available for the cells. This means more testosterone production.
There might be also other mechanisms, which are speculated in ”Red Light Man” site:
“Another potential mechanism involves a separate class of photoreceptive proteins, known as ‘opsin proteins’. The human testes are especially abundant with various of these highly specific photoreceptors including OPN3, which are ‘activated’, much like cytochrome, specifically by wavelengths of light. Stimulation of these testicular proteins by red light induces cellular responses that may ultimately lead to increased testosterone production, amongst other things, although research is still in the preliminary stages regarding these proteins and metabolic pathways. These type of photoreceptive proteins are also found in the eyes and also, interestingly, the brain.”
I haven’t found any human studies on the subject, but according to a few studies done on rats, the positive effects on testosterone production are enormous. For example a Korean study found out that low-level laser therapy (LLLT) with wavelength of 670nm (which is in border of visible red light and infra-red light) 30 minutes per day showed significant increase in serum testosterone by fourth day of the treatment without any harmful tissue penetration. A wavelength of 808 nm didn’t have any effect on T production. Another study done with rams didn’t show any positive effects on T production with 808 nm wavelength.
- Overall, red or infrared light from LED source is generally thought to be a safe therapeutic method
- Avoid heating the testicles, since the heat will destroy sperm cells and have a negative effect on the Leydig cells
- Avoid blue light and UV light exposure on testicles (blue light inhibits ATP production in mitochondria)
Want more? Listen to Ben's podcast on photobiomodulation here and then take a look at the red light that Ben is personally using and swears by, the JOOVV. You just turn it on and – you guessed it – squat over it a bit…or stand it against a wall and shine it across thine gonads as you work at, say, a stand-up workstation.
- Do cold showers and swims (and keep your testicles cool)
In the 1820s, a German farmer named Vincenz Priessnitz started touting a new medical treatment called “hydrotherapy,” which used cold water to cure everything from broken bones to erectile dysfunction. He turned his family’s homestead into a sanitarium, and patients flocked to it in the hope that his cold water cure could help them.
The first hydrotherapy facility opened up in the U.S in 1843, right when the sanitarium craze hit America. By the end of the 19th century, over 200 hydrotherapy/sanitarium resorts existed in the United States the most famous being the Battle Creek Sanitarium founded by John Harvey Kellogg.
There is no straight-forward evidence that cold therapy can raise testosterone levels. But the indirect evidence exists. One study conducted in 1988 in Finland investigated serum levels of thyroid and adrenal hormones, testosterone, TSH, LH, GH and prolactin in men after a 2-h stay in a cold room (10 degrees Celsius). There were no significant changes in the serum concentration of adrenalin, T3, T4, testosterone, TSH or LH. The serum level of noradrenaline increased from 4.5 to 6.3 nmol L1 (P < 0.01) and those of Cortisol, GH and prolactin fell by 20, 87 and 48% (all P < 0.01). This means that by lowering cortisol, you would probably have more of the raw material for testosterone production and less stress response.
The indirect research evidence by in vitro (and animal) studies on optimal testicle function gives us information that the ball sack (yes, that's my highly technical term) should be kept cool (under 35 Celsius or 95 Fahrenheit) for optimal testosterone production. Heat exposure on testicles has been shown to reduce testosterone levels in rats. Also, an observational study done on over 6000 men showed that sperm quality and volume were greater in the winter time. This is due to stimulation by FSH and LH secreted from the pituitary gland, which also stimulate testosterone synthesis and secretion.
There are also anecdotes from old school Chinese and Russian powerlifters who iced their balls after training and also before competition. Apparently their goal was to increase performance and testosterone function.
Do these things to improve testicle function:
- Take cold baths and showers
- Wear loose boxers or go ”commando” to keep optimal temperature for testicles and to avoid compression
- Sleep naked or wear just loose pajamas (no undies)
- Sleep in a relatively cold room temperature
- Don’t sit unless it is absolutely necessary
According to a comprehensive research site Examine.com:
”Boron is a dietary mineral that, although it has a daily intake, has not been accepted as an essential vitamin or mineral. It currently does not have a known minimum requirement.”
Boron is found in small amounts in the earth’s soil. It functions as a fortifier in cell walls, in the bone, in reproductive system, as well as in the brain. A boron deficiency (daily intake less than 0.23 mg per day) alters brainwave activity similar to magnesium deficiency by decreasing frontal lobe activity. A deficiency state has been associated with cognitive impairment.
Boron is well absorbed form the intestines, and the best food sources for boron are raisins, dried grapes and peaches, almonds, avocado and dried plums.
One human study showed that boron supplementation (10 mg per day) increased free testosterone (via reduction in SHBG) and DHT levels and decreased estrogen levels. Boron supplementation also seems to lower pro-inflammatory cytokines. One study done on bodybuilders found out that supplementing with 2.5 mg of boron did not have any effect on testosterone levels.
A study done on rats showed that boron accumulates in the testes and thus long-term use will probably produce the best benefits of using boron. The same study also showed, that with toxic boron doses it can actually cause testicular lesions. For humans, the safe dosage is up to 20 mg per day (the tolerable upper limit).
Iodine is an essential mineral, which means it must acquired via diet. Iodine is critical in your brain and central to the active thyroid hormones (T3 and T4). Severe deficiency in iodine can result in reduced cognition or cretinism. The thyroid gland absorbs iodine from the blood to make thyroid hormones. Approximately 15–20 mg of iodine is concentrated in thyroid tissue and hormones. Still, 70% of the body’s iodine is distributed in other tissues such as mammary glands, eyes, salivary glands and testicles.
Iodine is most abundant in seaweed and seaweed based products such as nori wraps. Daily intake of iodine should be at least 75–150 micrograms per day, and for adults, an upper intake level is 3000 micrograms.
Lack of iodine in the body (especially in the thyroid gland) can cause various health problems. The most common one is hypothyroidism. Men with primary hypothyroidism have subnormal responses to luteinizing hormone (and GnRH) and their free testosterone concentrations are also reduced.
It has been noticed in rats that by increasing iodine supplementation the mean weight of the testes also increased quite a bit. However, the epididymal sperm counts went down a bit.
One possible explanation for the higher occurrence of hypothyroidism and hypogonadism in men today when compared to say like 30 years ago, is an increase of environmental toxic halogens like fluorine, chlorine and bromine. When concentrated enough in the body, they will replace iodine’s locations inside the cells (especially in thyroid cells and Leydig’s cells).
So it is critical to have enough iodine in your system to also optimize testosterone production. Some people have even taken this further by painting their testicles with Lugol’s iodine (which is highly concentrated potassium iodine). Yes, you heard me right: you can put iodine on your testicles.
The iodine protocol that doubles your testosteronel also includes adding supporting minerals such as selenium, magnesium, vitamin C, oral iodine, co-factors for ATP (B2 and B3 vitamins) and salt. The anecdote by hundreds of testimonials here is that many people did significantly elevate their testosterone production with possible straight stimulation of the Leydig cells by iodine, which would have then lead into removal of other halogens. The hypothesis for this therapy seems legit, but unfortunately there hasn’t been done any clinical nor animal studies.
A word of caution: Do not take excess iodine and do not over do this (it will cause pain in the scrotum area because of the sensitivity of the skin). This is a potentially dangerous biohack, so be careful. As a medical doctor, I wouldn’t recommend this to my patients right away.
- Pulsed electromagnetic fields
The electromagnetic fields emitted from various sources (e.g. mobile phones, microwave ovens, wi-fi’s etc.) have been reported to have causative effects on biological systems such as inflammation, radiation and hyperthermia. All of these can disrupt the seminiferous tubules and reduce the Leydig cell population and testosterone concentration (studies done in rats).
Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF therapy) has been used successfully to treat various health conditions ranging from bone healing and pain relief to balancing the neuroendocrine system (including hormone production and melatonin levels).
There exists a very recent study conducted on male Wister rats, which showed that PEMF therapy helped rats to bounce back from microwave radiation in terms of testosterone production and to combat oxidative stress. In fact, rats’ testosterone levels went a bit higher than before the microwave radiation exposure after they were treated with PEMF for 60 days.
What's this mean for you? Many folks keep their mobile phones in their pockets quite close to testicles or ovaries. It is actually a fact that mobile phones emit microwaves that are harmful to normal tissues when kept very close to the skin. A number of studies have shown relationships between mobile telephone use and reduced sperm count and sperm quality. The negative effects are highly likely to extend also on reducing testosterone levels in men.
So the takeway is this: if you know that you are being exposed to external microwaves and wi-fi’s and cell phones, the use of a small PEMF device (locally on or near your testes) or a more general device for whole body PEMF treatment, is likely to revive testosterone levels.
Ben Greenfield back here.
What do you think?
Did you enjoy Olli's article? Do you plan on shining laser lights on your balls, using PEMF, painting your gonads with iodine or using any of Olli's other fringe tactics described above?
Do you have questions or your own testosterone-boosting tips and tricks and experiences to add?
Simply leave them in the comments section below.
And if you want to come hang out with Olli and I at the November 18 Biohackers’ Summit in Helsinki, Finland, you can click here and use 10% discount code BEN to get in. Or if Finland is too far away for you, then just get Olli's extremely comprehensive, well researched biohacking book here. And thanks for reading.