Testosterone does more for men than rev up their sex drive. It's also an important hormone for cardiovascular health. Learn how to improve testosterone levels naturally.
Intriguing and often misunderstood, testosterone is primarily a male hormone with quite the personality. Associated with all that is stereotypically masculine, such as strength, muscular power, virility, dominance, and even aggression, it stands out as the hormone of sexual desire and motivation in men.
King of hormones
Known as the “king of hormones,” it is certainly the most important of the male hormones, called androgens, that create and support masculinity. Prior to birth, testosterone influences the sex of a baby, and its function peaks at puberty, during which male secondary sex characteristics develop.
Moving beyond the sexual realm in adulthood, this hormone also governs intellect, thought patterns, self-confidence, assertiveness, and drive in men. It is necessary for the health of bones and muscle mass, proper immune function, elevated energy and mood, and several cognitive functions ranging from memory and attention to strategic planning.
Recent research is highlighting this powerful hormone as a significant factor in the health of the heart and blood vessels. Current evidence strongly suggests that testosterone exhibits many cardioprotective actions.
Low levels = cardiovascular disease?
Although the age-related decline of testosterone is well established among many male populations, there appears to be a link between low levels of this hormone and the onset or progression of cardiovascular disease in men. In recent findings, as many as one in four men found to have cardiovascular heart disease (CHD) have low serum levels of testosterone, a condition generally termed hypogonadism.
Testosterone is a male hormone produced from cholesterol and is abundant during adolescence, with levels declining after the age of 30. While the levels drop gradually (about 1 percent per year after age 30), a 2006 American study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows levels in men have been declining steadily over the past two decades. Of even greater significance is the steeper fall of the biologically active fraction of this hormone, which is the free testosterone known to modulate much of this hormone’s biological effects.
What’s the connection?
So how exactly does testosterone exert its numerous effects? Much like a “lock and key,” the hormone binds to receptor sites that exist all over the body. Interestingly, coronary vessels have the most testosterone receptors. And this is where many of the actions related to cardiovascular function are mediated by this hormone.
Coronary artery narrowing
Dilation of the vessels causing relaxation of the arterial wall, and therefore increased blood flow, is one such effect. Again in cases of coronary obstruction, a direct relationship between coronary artery narrowing and reduced testosterone levels has been shown. It should be noted that testosterone converts to estradiol that stimulates nitric oxide—also a potent vasodilator.
Increased arterial thickness
Testosterone deficiency appears to exacerbate risk factors for developing atherosclerosis and insulin resistance. In examining this relationship, an increase in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, as well as rising blood pressure, increased thickness of the arterial wall, and an increase in the production of proinflammatory factors have been reported.
Endothelial damage leads to plaque buildup
Low serum testosterone is associated with high blood pressure in older men, as well as stiffness of the arteries, which subsequently leads to damage inside the blood vessel. This endothelial damage triggers inflammation in the vessels, eventually causing the buildup of plaques that, if unstable, can erupt at any time, resulting in a rather abrupt and unpleasant outcome.
Atherosclerosis is not typically a problem of cholesterol; rather, it is a problem of oxidative stress and inflammation. And so it comes as no surprise that certain inflammatory mediators are actually inhibited by testosterone.
Studies have also demonstrated that when men were treated with testosterone, all of the parameters mentioned above improved, suggesting the importance of this hormone in preserving cardiovascular health in men.
Body composition changes
Testosterone influences body composition in men, which is altered in the presence of low levels, resulting in increased waist circumference, central obesity, and waist-to-hip ratios, as well as a decrease in muscle mass.
Symptoms of low testosterone
So how does one determine if testosterone deficiency is a health concern? The following are among the most prevalent symptoms:
- low energy or strength
- decrease in sexual sensation and performance
- depression and mood changes
- lack of mental clarity and motivation
- sleep disturbances
- decreased axillary, facial, or pubic hair
- weakness, increased fat, and decreased muscle mass
- osteopenia or osteoporosis
Evaluation of total and free testosterone levels is the standard choice for screening for deficiency. This hormone typically demonstrates a circadian rhythm, so serum measurements are taken in the morning, depending on the man’s age. It is important to consult with a knowledgeable health practitioner for appropriate lab work and thorough assessment of other possible underlying conditions.
Testosterone is a multifaceted hormone that extends beyond its sexual attributes and is a broad-spectrum player necessary in several aspects of men’s health. It has been described by men’s health doctors as “jet fuel that keeps a man running” and is vital to a man’s sense of physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
Improving testosterone levels naturally
Natural health strategies can improve testosterone levels and enhance cardiovascular health.
Increase protein intake and healthy fats from foods including
Get more zinc from foods such as
- pumpkin seeds
Crucial for heart health and normal lipid metabolism:
- high quality omega-3 fatty acids
- antioxidants such as vitamin C
Botanicals that have traditionally been used to enhance sexual vitality, balance hormones, and improve circulation include
- Ginkgo biloba
- horny goat weed
- Tribulus terrestris
- Ginseng is widely reputed for its antistress and adaptogenic properties, because stress stimulates cortisol production, which blocks the effects of testosterone.
Of course, lifestyle factors such as adequate sleep and strength training exercises enhance heart health and boost testosterone levels naturally.