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Declining levels of testosterone in the aging male is known to cause such maladies as: fatigue, depression, low libido, sexual dysfunction, decreased muscle mass, heart disease, mental decline, loss of endurance and weight gain. This realization has created quite a market for natural products that claim to increase testosterone levels. While most of these products are fairly safe and may well indeed increase total testosterone, they only address part of the problem.

Medically recognized testosterone deficiency (total testosterone level <241ng/dL) is usually treated with prescription testosterone replacement. If you do not fall below this “magic number” your physician is likely to tell you that your total testosterone, or total T, is “normal”. “Normal” is a very subjective term. The “normal” range given on a blood test for testosterone is based on statistics. This range has very little to do with your personal optimum level of testosterone.

While the laboratory testing range for “normal” total T is quite broad (241-1100ng/dL), the optimal level is somewhere between 500-827ng/dL. There isn’t any magic number for optimum level as everyone is unique. Some men will feel fine at 500ng/dL, while others may require higher levels. If you fall into the “sub-optimal” T category, a natural testosterone enhancer may be of benefit to you, provided this is your only problem. Keep in mind that higher is not always better when it comes to total T.

The measurement of total testosterone takes into account all testosterone in the body. Most of this is bound by a protein called Sex Hormone Binding Globulin or SHBG. It is the unbound or free testosterone that is most biologically active. All the health benefits attributed to having optimal testosterone levels are realized due to the 2-3% which remains free.

As we age, our bodies produce more SHBG, lowering free testosterone levels. Thus, a man with high SHBG will have low free T and all the symptoms of low testosterone, despite a normal total T level. In this case, supplementation to raise testosterone levels in an attempt to alleviate symptoms of low T, would prove to be ineffective.
Normally, excess SHBG is eliminated from the body via the liver. Keeping one’s liver in good shape is a good step toward avoiding excess levels of SHBG. Alcohol, certain prescription drugs, a high fat diet and environmental toxins are known to disrupt normal liver function and should be avoided.

Another problem for the aging male body is rising estrogen levels. The most potent natural estrogen in the human body is estradiol. As men age they produce higher levels of an enzyme called aromatase. Aromatase is an enzyme produced within fatty tissue that converts testosterone into estradiol. If you’re carrying some extra weight around the middle, chances are your estradiol level is less than optimal. High levels of estrogen trick the body into thinking that T levels are higher than they actually are. This causes a natural down regulation of testosterone which further contributes to low T symptoms.

Additionally, higher estrogen causes an increased production of SHBG.
A laboratory test will tell you that “normal” estradiol for a man is <54pg/mL. A more optimal goal to strive for is 15-30pg/mL, as men do need some estradiol. If one has high aromatase activity, supplementation to increase total T would only lead to the production of more estradiol.

When discussing estrogen we must not ignore substances such as phyto- and xenoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are natural plant estrogens that we obtain through our diet. Soy is a great example of a phytoestrogen containing food. The use of phytoestrogens by men is controversial. I’ve seen research both pro and con. I feel when used in moderation phytoestrogens can have beneficial effects on mens’ health. The personal response to phytoestrogens varies greatly, so they are not for everyone.
Xenoestrogens are dangerous biotoxins that can have devastating effects on both men and women. These potent endocrine disruptors cause reproductive disorders, cancer, endometriosis and infertility. My guess is that there is a host of other maladies yet to be discovered.

Due to biochemical individuality, balancing the levels and ratios of testosterone, free T, SHBG and estradiol can be tricky. Most natural formulas sold for this purpose are “shotgun remedies”. They throw a lot of ingredients at a problem hoping for the desired result. The problem with this method is that it’s a one size fits all proposition. I prefer to use individual substances that are adjusted based on laboratory results. In my opinion this is the only approach to take. Otherwise, you may be just throwing yourself further out of balance.

The promises made in advertisements for these shotgun remedies can be quite tempting. Who needs to go to the doctor and have lab tests when you can just take some miracle supplement? If you feel that testosterone levels are an issue for you, seek the advice of someone experienced in natural hormone balancing. It may take a little more effort at first, but in the long run it’s safer and you’ll have better results.

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