What I Learned From Taking Testosterone For A Decade
By: Dave Asprey
February 19, 2016
There are a ton of short articles telling you to eat some kind of new superfood to boost your testosterone, but there is a surprising shortage of real talk about how normal people (men and women) really change their lives by gaining control of their testosterone levels. Here is my story, and some real info for both men and women.
I used bioidentical testosterone replacement therapy for almost a decade because I had a medical need for it, then stopped it a few years ago to make sure that it was not a confounding factor during the development of The Bulletproof Diet. I verified that I had found a way to raise my natural production with biohacking.
I’ve been very public with my use of smart drugs like modafinil and anti-aging hormones like testosterone for years, and have talked about them with national TV reporters many times, but I’ve never written about the experience as a whole until now.
Here is what I learned about bioidentical testosterone. This post can absolutely change your life, and probably help you avoid some pitfalls. Like shrunken balls. (I am not an expert in the synthetic anabolic testosterone drugs used by bodybuilders – they carry lots of risks but pack a big punch if you want to get swole. Bulletproof is all about having massive clean energy, looking good, and living a very long time…so anabolic steroids aren’t on my roadmap.)
Balanced testosterone: good for your whole body
Testosterone does a lot more than you’d think, whether we’re talking about male or female biology. It’s the hormone that helps you burn fat, build muscle , and increase your sex drive , and its power doesn’t stop there. Keeping your testosterone levels in a normal range can make you happier, too , and testosterone can even improve your cardiovascular health and decrease your risk of mortality (from all causes!), according to a study of 83,000 older men who underwent testosterone replacement therapy .
In my late 20’s, I visited an anti-aging doctor who was one of the pioneers of what we now call functional medicine. I got a full hormone test. Shockingly, my testosterone was lower than my mother’s. No wonder I felt crappy and was overweight. My other sex hormones were out of whack too, especially my estrogen levels. They were high because the little testosterone I did make my body converted into estrogen. I went on a mix of topical replacement testosterone cream, plus small doses of pharmaceuticals like clomid and arimidex in order to keep my other sex hormones functioning properly.
The doctor regularly measured my levels to be sure they were within the normal range for a male my age. In other words, I wasn’t taking ‘roids to get big; I was getting control of hormones that were not functioning well. This is how you should look at testosterone therapy – it is a gentle nudge to help you be in normal ranges, not a big push to get you huuu-yge. If you’re like me, you want “normal ranges” of a 27-year-old, not of a 60-year-old. It’s my plan to keep my testosterone where it is now (around 700) no matter what it takes. Right now, the Bulletproof Diet and the other biohacks I’ve written about do that! I’m 43.
The TLDR version of the rest of my story is that within days I found more zest for life than I’d had in a long time. I felt better and got sick less. I woke up with a kickstand again. That said, there were some significant side effects too, which you can read about below.
I’m telling you all of this because no matter who you are, keeping your testosterone levels balanced is more important now than ever before. Modern living has not been kind to our hormones. In American men, serum testosterone levels have declined by about 1% each year for the past 30 years , and you can make a few educated guesses about why. Hormone-disrupting chemicals are more prevalent than ever before, physical activity is less and less common, veganism is popular (I was a raw vegan for a while), and many doctors insist on pushing a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet for health (by the way, the concept of a low-fat diet began in the mid-70s, shortly before the nationwide testosterone decline. It could be a coincidence, but I doubt it).
Here are the 7 most powerful ways I know to increase your testosterone, both medically and naturally. Many of these recommendations are for you too, ladies – men may have more testosterone, but it’s plenty important for women. Read on to learn more.
- Consider testosterone replacement therapy (TRT)
- Eat plenty of fat and cholesterol
- Avoid sugar and excess carbs
- Work out…and rest afterward
- Get your supplements in order
- Change your deodorant
- Power pose
1) Consider testosterone replacement therapy (TRT)
This is one of the most controversial recommendations I make, but it shouldn’t be. It’s no different than using thyroid medication. If your levels are low, and the other techniques here don’t work, use TRT. You will like your life again. If your levels are low, bioidentical testosterone will make you live longer and better, provided you use it right.
There is no compelling legal, moral, or ethical argument against keeping your hormones wherever you want them, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise does not have your best interests at heart. That said, you can screw yourself up with self-medication; we have medical schools for a reason.
If you have low testosterone, your functional medicine or anti-aging physician will help you diagnose it. There are several different hormones your physician should measure, but the most important two are your free testosterone and estrogen levels, because converting too much testosterone to estrogen is a problem that’s different from not making enough testosterone in the first place. In my case, I wasn’t making very much testosterone, and what I was making my body converted to estrogen way too effectively.
You can also order your own labs online from companies like WellnessFX, but unless you’re using diet and inflammation control to raise your T, you’ll want to work with a doctor to treat it.
If you do have a sex hormone imbalance, and fixing your food and stress the way I recommend in The Bulletproof Diet doesn’t work, you have a few options for correcting it.
When I first started TRT, my physician prescribed a cream that you rub into your skin. The cream version of TRT is not too convenient, because if someone touches you while you have the cream on, the testosterone can rub off on him/her. This can be really bad around kids or pregnant women. If you’re sleeping next to someone, the cream can get on the sheets and transfer over that way, too. The cream can be annoying, but it works. There’s also a gel version called AndroGel; I skipped it because it doesn’t absorb as well as the cream does.
The best place to put the cream or gel is on the scrotum (or perineum for women, but a different dose for sure!). However, no one likes greasy balls. The next best place is the armpits, so like many men on TRT I shaved my armpits and put the cream there. Greasy armpit hair = no bueno.
There is a dirty little secret about testosterone cream that almost no one knows, and I’m going to share it here. Please don’t abuse it. If you take a vanishingly small dose of testosterone cream and apply it to your labia and the vulva (or your partner’s), you will witness a form of vasodilation rarely seen no matter how good you are in bed. It has a profound local effect and will produce a night you won’t forget for years.
You are still messing with hormones, and you don’t want to do this all the time, but on an occasional basis, it is unlikely to be harmful, and very likely to blow your mind. (REMEMBER: THIS IS A DRUG. DO NOT DO THIS WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS NOT CONSENTED. That would be evil.)
In the last few years, a lot of men and women have switched over to a pellet that goes under your skin. This is probably the best way to take testosterone now. The pellet is life-changing for both men and women (the dose for women is much lower than it is for men). Women, you won’t get bulky and grow a beard when you take testosterone to achieve normal levels, but you will probably lean out a little without losing your curves, and your energy and sex drive will be amazing. Female bodybuilders who experience weird scary side effects are taking anabolic steroids.
Sublingual, non-bioidentical testosterone
Some anti-aging physicians also use sublingual ( taken under the tongue) forms of non-bioidentical testosterone like oxandrolone. I took oxandrolone with a physician’s guidance for about two weeks, and I got pimples and hair loss. I quit and was bummed that it didn’t generate enough impact to write a blog post about it. I have continued to recommend bioidentical testosterone since.
Before TRT, I recommend trying the natural testosterone-balancing methods I outline in the rest of this post. (If you decide to do TRT, work with a doctor, use bioidentical testosterone, and keep your levels right where they should be. Taking too much is dangerous, and I do not advocate TRT without a qualified physician’s guidance.
Be sure you cycle testosterone, too. After taking it for a couple years, I forgot to cycle, and I suffered gonadal hypotrophy – my balls shrank. Don’t let this happen to you!
I’m all good now, by the way. I talked with a doctor about it and we decided to use a short course of HcG (another hormone) to correct the problem. Fortunately, the boys are full-size and happy again.
2) Eat plenty of fat and cholesterol
Like you would on the Bulletproof Diet.
Here’s how your body makes testosterone:
Cholesterol –> pregnenolone –> androstenedione –> testosterone
Testosterone begins with cholesterol. In fact, every single sex hormone you make you synthesize from cholesterol – that’s one reason a “heart healthy” low-fat, low-cholesterol diet limits your performance. Fat and cholesterol don’t make you fat. They give your body the building blocks to create abundant testosterone and other sex hormones, which actually makes you lose weight and build muscle, especially if your current testosterone levels are low .
You may find this hard to believe, but some common breakfast foods like Kellogg’s corn flakes and Graham crackers were invented 100 years ago to lower male libido. Kellogg and Graham believed that male sexual desire was the root of society’s problems, so they set out to make bland foods that would take away libido (this is absolutely true; look it up). That low fat, grain-based thing absolutely works wonders for lowering testosterone.
There are two keys to incorporating fat in your diet: getting enough fat, and getting the right kinds of it. A study from 1984 (done, no doubt, with Big Brother watching) looked at 30 healthy men who switched from eating 40% fat (much of it saturated) to 25% fat (much of it unsaturated), with more protein and carbs to make up the difference in calories. After 6 weeks, their average serum testosterone, free testosterone, and 4-androstenedione (an important hormone for testosterone synthesis) all dropped significantly . I think getting 40% of your calories from fat is too little – I recommend 50-70% of calories from fat, or even more in some cases.
The other component of that study is that the subjects ate much less saturated fat. Saturated fats are common in meat, butter, and coconut products, and they’re crucial for your body to function. Saturated fats keep the integrity of your cell membranes, and if you limit carbs and/or do Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting, saturated fats become a phenomenal source of energy for your brain.
Great sources of fat include grass-fed beef and lamb, butter from grass-fed animals, pastured egg yolks, coconut oil, Brain Octane oil, raw nuts, avocados, and wild-caught fatty fish (sockeye salmon is my favorite). You can check out a full list of Bulletproof-approved fats here.
3) Avoid sugar and excess carbs
Sugar is to testosterone what kryptonite is to Superman. Eliminating sugar is probably the single most powerful way to increase your performance, in part because sugar absolutely devastates your testosterone levels (but all carbs do not, especially under heavy training.) In one study of 74 men, a 75g dose of sugar – about the equivalent of a bottle of soda – decreased serum testosterone by 25% in under an hour, and levels stayed low for at least 2 hours . On top of that, 15% of the men who started with normal testosterone dipped into the hypogonadal range after they ate sugar – that’s the range in which doctors diagnose men’s testes and women’s ovaries as failing. When you do eat carbs, stick to Bulletproof ones like sweet potatoes and squash. My recommendations for types of carbs and how often to eat them are here.
You can still enjoy sweet flavors on the Bulletproof Diet, including desserts, but use birch syrup (xylitol from trees) or erythritol or stevia, not artificial sweeteners.
4) Work out hard and fast…and rest afterward
Exercise is the original testosterone booster, and it’s one of the most powerful full-body hacks around. Men see a sharp increase in both testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) after lifting weights, and the boost is greater with shorter rest time between sets (1 minute rest outperforms 3 minutes rest) . With the shorter rest time, women also get a large boost in HGH.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is another great option, especially if you’re short on time or don’t want to spend an hour in the gym for every workout. HIIT pushes you to your edge in minutes by using super intense exercise punctuated by brief rest. A full workout can take fewer than 20 minutes and leave you spent.
Rest and recovery is just as important as exercise, if not more so. Every time you do an intense workout, give yourself a minimum of 2 days to recuperate afterward, if not more. And don’t mix exercise with sleep hacking. If you’re exercising, get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Your body uses it to rebuild, and you can throw your hormones out of whack if you don’t rest up properly. Here’s a more in-depth guide to Bulletproof weight training, complete with sample workouts.
5) Get your supplements in order
Vitamin D and zinc are both essential to testosterone production. A year-long study looked at the vitamin D and testosterone levels of 2299 men. It found that men with vitamin D levels above 30 nmol/L had more testosterone and lower levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG binds to hormones so your cells can’t use them, and if you have too much of it, your testosterone levels drop . Men with vitamin D deficiency had lower testosterone and higher SHBG levels.
The other interesting thing about the study: men’s testosterone levels were lowest in March (at the end of winter) and highest in August (at the end of summer). Sunlight affects your vitamin D production, so you have seasonal dips and peaks. Get a blood test to check your levels, and if you’re low, take a high-quality vitamin D3 supplement. If you’re going to take D3, take vitamin K2 and vitamin A with it. The three work in sync, so you want them all to be balanced. Here are my dosage recommendations.
Take a look at your zinc levels while you’re getting your vitamin D checked. Zinc deficiency can also cause low testosterone. If you’re low on zinc, try eating more grass-fed red meat, and maybe a few oysters now and then. You can also take a zinc supplement – the dose will depend on how deficient you are, if you’re deficient at all.
6) Change your deodorant
Yes, seriously. Many deodorants, lotions, shampoos, conditioners, shaving creams, and other grooming products contain hormone disruptors. Check the labels on your toiletries for:
- Phthalate. In addition to being a nightmare to pronounce, phthalates mimic estrogen and accumulates in your fat cells .
- Parabens. Check for methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben – all four are estrogenic , and they’re all common preservatives in bath products.
If you’re using products that contain phthalates or parabens, ditch them in favor of natural options. It’s especially important to use a good deodorant, because the pores in your armpits absorb chemicals easily.
And never, ever use antiperspirant deodorant. When you stop yourself from sweating, you’re blocking your body’s natural detoxing system. Plus, most antiperspirants use aluminum to stop your sweat. Aluminum has possible links to dementia, especially Alzheimer’s . It’s also what causes yellow underarm stains.
7) Power pose
Professional-athlete-turned-biohacker Maximilian Gotzler gave a speech about boosting testosterone at the 2015 Bulletproof Conference. He started by leading the room through the Haka, a Maori war dance that New Zealand’s pro rugby team has made popular. The Pasadena Conference Center trembled as over 100 people shouted and stomped in unison. It was awesome.
It also had a purpose. It turns out posing in powerful stances causes your testosterone to increase within 20 minutes [13,14]. In those two studies, power posing for just a few minutes also dropped cortisol and boosted confidence. It’s a great way to start your day, or to give yourself an edge before a job interview or a big presentation. They don’t call it “warrior pose” for nothing!
Hacking your testosterone influences everything from body composition to energy levels to mood. It’s easy to eat more butter; it’s hard to visit a doctor and get tested, but that’s what I recommend: know your levels. If you’re 25, you’ll know what your target is when you’re 35. By the time you’ve noticed symptoms of low testosterone, it’s too late to get your “normal” measurements!
So enjoy this information, get some data, and try some upgrades! Have a great week and thanks for reading. And watch out for “the boys” if you have them. 🙂