Signs of low testosterone, or low T, can be varied, ranging from a decreased sex drive, erection issues, trouble concentrating and even depression. With an estimated 10% to 40% of men dealing with low testosterone, many people may seek easy, natural ways to boost testosterone production.
Many foods are purported to help increase testosterone levels, but research supporting these effects is often lacking. This article explains how to recognize the signs of low testosterone, what to do if you suspect you have low T and examines whether eating certain foods can really help boost your levels.
What Is Low Testosterone?
Testosterone is the primary hormone responsible for sex differentiation, sperm creation and fertility in men. Testosterone also plays a role in muscle development and strength, bone density, libido, fat distribution and red blood cell production.
While typically thought of as a male hormone, testosterone is also essential for women. However, the effect of low levels of testosterone in women is not well studied or understood.
“Low testosterone, also known as low T or hypogonadism, is a medical condition in which the body does not produce enough testosterone,” explains Sam Schleiger, a functional medicine registered dietitian based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Men’s testosterone levels naturally decline at a rate of about 1% per year starting at age 30, with a more rapid decrease starting at around age 60. But some men have levels that are low enough to cause symptoms and increase risk of complications like depression, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
While testosterone levels naturally decline with age, “many other conditions can lead to low testosterone, including hormonal disorders, testicular disorders, chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes or kidney disease, certain medications and genetic conditions,” says Schleiger, who also notes that in women, menopause can lower testosterone.
Men may be diagnosed with low testosterone if their total testosterone level falls below 300 nanograms per deciliter on at least two separate occasions and they are experiencing signs or symptoms of low testosterone, according to the American Urological Association.
Symptoms of low testosterone in men include:
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Reduced endurance
- Diminished work and/or physical performance
- Loss of muscle mass
- Increase in belly fat
- Depression or moodiness
- Reduced motivation
- Poor concentration
- Impaired memory
- Reduced sex drive
- Changes in erectile function
Foods That May Help Boost Testosterone
While a number of foods are purported to help boost testosterone levels, much of the research in this area has been conducted on individual micronutrients within foods, not the foods themselves.
In addition to these specific foods, Sina Abhari, M.D., medical director and board-certified reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at CCRM Fertility of Newport Beach, recommends supporting healthy testosterone levels by consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats, and including antioxidant-rich foods like berries, leafy greens, nuts and seeds.
With that in mind, the following foods are rich in nutrients that may help naturally increase testosterone levels.
“Eggs are a good source of vitamin D and cholesterol, both of which are precursors to testosterone production,” says Schleiger. “Some studies have shown a positive correlation between vitamin D levels and testosterone.”
Research suggests increasing vitamin D levels can boost testosterone levels, agrees Dr. Abhari. In a small study in Hormone and Metabolic Research, 54 men with overweight, vitamin D deficiency and lower testosterone levels took either 3,332 International Units of vitamin D or a placebo daily for one year. Those who supplemented with vitamin D had significantly increased testosterone levels, while those who took the placebo had no change in testosterone.
A 2022 review of studies also found that supplementing with vitamin D may increase circulating total testosterone in men.
In one very small study looking at the effects of consuming eggs after exercise, 30 resistance-trained young men consumed either three whole eggs or six egg whites daily for 12 weeks. While consuming either whole eggs or egg whites increased testosterone levels, those who consumed the whole eggs experienced a greater increase in testosterone levels compared to those who consumed the egg whites. It’s interesting to note that the vitamin D in eggs is contained in the yolk—not the whites.
“Fatty fish like tuna, salmon and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been associated with increased testosterone levels and sperm quality in some studies,” notes Schleiger.
In a study looking at the effects of omega-3 supplementation on testosterone levels, men with overweight or obesity who took 860 milligrams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 120 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) daily for 12 weeks experienced increased total testosterone levels compared to those who took a placebo. No changes in testosterone levels were observed in women who took omega-3 supplements.
However, no studies that specifically look at the impact of fatty fish consumption on testosterone levels have been conducted.
“Leafy greens such as spinach and kale are high in magnesium, which may help regulate testosterone levels,” says Schleiger.
A review of studies found that magnesium intake significantly correlates with testosterone levels—higher magnesium intake is associated with higher testosterone levels. And in one study, supplementing with 10 milligrams of magnesium per kilogram of body weight daily for four weeks increased free and total testosterone levels in both sedentary men and athletes.
While no studies specifically examine the effect of eating leafy greens on testosterone levels, one study of the effects of dietary patterns on testosterone levels in Taiwanese men found that dietary patterns with low intake of leafy greens (among other healthy choices like legumes) was associated with lower levels of testosterone.
Pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidants, notes Schleiger, and some studies suggest diets rich in antioxidants may benefit testosterone levels, sperm quality and erectile function.
In one small study looking at the effects of drinking pomegranate juice on salivary testosterone levels, 60 men and women consumed pomegranate juice daily for two weeks. Their salivary testosterone levels increased significantly after one and two weeks of drinking pomegranate juice.
“Shellfish, particularly oysters, contain high levels of zinc, which is essential for testosterone production,” explains Schleiger. “Zinc deficiency has been linked to reduced testosterone levels.”
While zinc is well known for its important role in healthy sperm production and function, it may also increase testosterone levels. A review of studies noted that supplementing with 30 milligrams of chelated zinc per day for one to six months increased total testosterone levels. It further concluded that 220 milligrams of zinc sulfate twice daily for one to four months may safely and effectively raise testosterone levels, too
While oysters provide the highest amount of zinc among all foods, there are no studies specifically on the effects of oysters and other shellfish on testosterone levels.
When Testosterone-Boosting Foods Aren’t Enough
Anyone who is experiencing symptoms of low testosterone, including decreased libido, energy and muscle mass, erectile dysfunction and mood changes, should consult their health care provider, advises Schleiger. These symptoms can have various causes, and experiencing one or more of them doesn’t necessarily mean a person has low testosterone.
Your health care provider can conduct a thorough evaluation, take a detailed medical history and order blood tests to check hormone levels, including testosterone, Schleiger explains. “Based on the results and your specific health needs, your doctor can recommend appropriate treatments, lifestyle changes or further investigations if necessary.”
Likewise, if you’re concerned about your fertility, Dr. Abhari recommends consulting a fertility specialist or reproductive endocrinologist for sperm analysis. “They can provide a thorough evaluation and recommend appropriate treatments or interventions based on your specific situation,” he adds.