Testosterone Supplements vs. Exogenous Testosterone
Natural Testosterone Supplements
What is Testosterone?
Testosterone is the principal male sex hormone that plays a number of roles in the body including: “regulating sex drive (libido), bone mass, fat distribution, muscle mass and strength, and the production of red blood cells and sperm” (Wein, Harrison Understanding How Testosterone Affects Men).
The majority of testosterone is produced in the Testes of men. Testosterone is also produced in much smaller quantities in the ovaries of women. When referring to testosterone it is typically categorized into three parts:
Total or serum testosterone levels refers to the total amount of testosterone in your system. In our bodies at any given time, about 98% of testosterone is bound to a protein known as Sex-Hormone Binding Globulin or SHBG for short. Any testosterone molecule that is bound to SHBG is biologically inactive and must be separated from the SHBG in order to enter the cell.
The normal range for “healthy” serum testosterone levels is between 250- 1,300 ng/dL (nanogram per deciliter)
Free or plasma testosterone is the portion of testosterone in your body that is not bound to a protein.
The normal range for free testosterone is ~ 2 - 20ng/dL
Another protein called albumin, which serves as a kind of transporter protein for many hormones also binds to testosterone. But unlike SHBG testosterone that is bound to albumin can still enter the cell and is therefore still biologically active.
What about DHT?
We cannot talk about Testosterone without mentioning its big brother hormone dihydrotestosterone or more commonly referred to as DHT.
Like testosterone, DHT is also an androgenic hormone and acts in a very similar way to testosterone in the body. DHT is found in much smaller quantities in the body (~14-77ng/DL) and typically exhibits a larger response in the body compared to testosterone.
Unlike testosterone, DHT is also unable to be converted into estrogen, but we’ll get to that later.
The Endocrine System
The endocrine system is the body’s method of sending and receiving chemical signals or hormones throughout the body. There are a number of organs or glands within the endocrine system each of which produces one or more hormones. These glands release their respective hormones into the bloodstream from which they are distributed throughout the body.
The endocrine system is like the body's postal service. It’s capable of picking up and delivering packages throughout the town. It is rather slow, but able to produce more long-term changes in the body and communicate much more information compared to the nervous system. The nervous system would be more analogous to phone lines, (ironically both use electricity to create signals) a rapid form of communication that usually results in a fast, but short-lived response.
It’s important to note that there can be large amounts of hormones that are just floating in our blood, or “lost by the postal service”, which are not active in the body. In order for a hormone to induce its effect it must be absorbed by a cell or in our analogy, delivered to your house.
Negative Feedback Loops
It’s also important to understand that the endocrine system operates in feedback loops.
Feedback loops are essential in the body in order to maintain homeostasis. If you’ve ever entered a cold room and gotten the chills and your hair spikes up, this is your body's method of increasing its internal body temperature by producing and conserving heat. The same occurs when you enter a hot room and begin to sweat in order to prevent your body from overheating.
These are both examples of negative feedback loops, in which the body works to counteract the stimulus to return its baseline, in this case body temperature of ~98 degrees. Negative feedback loops are significantly more common than positive feedback loops because they are aimed at returning to the body’s “norm” aka homeostasis.
Positive Feedback Loops
Positive feedback loops do occur in the body, but are much more rare because they promote a continual increase away from the norm (homeostasis). One of the most well known examples of a positive feedback loop occurs during childbirth. As the child pushes against the cervix, nerves in the area promote the release of oxytocin in order to contract the uterus, pushing the baby out.
This stimulus and then release of oxytocin occurs repeatedly until the baby is finally delivered from the womb. As you can see in a positive feedback loop the stimulus warrants an increased response by, until acted upon by an outside event. While in a negative feedback loop, the stimulus warrants a negative response in which the stimulus is counteracted.
Advanced Related Topics Regarding the Endocrine System
Testosterone Production Pathway
The process of Testosterone production begins in the brain with the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a region of the brain and is largely responsible for controlling the release of hormones throughout the body. The hypothalamus produces “neurohormones” which signal to other glands/organs within the endocrine system to release their respective hormones.
In reference to testosterone production, the hypothalamus will release Gonado-tropin-releasing hormone or GnRH. GnRH stimulates the production of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) by the pituitary gland. LH stimulates the gonads (testes and ovaries) to produce testosterone by converting cholesterol into testosterone, while FSH is responsible for regulating sperm production. If testosterone levels become too high, then the hypothalamus will decrease and eventually stop the production of GnRH, lowering the production of LH & FSH in the body and thereby stopping the production of testosterone. This is an example of a negative feedback loop.
Once testosterone is produced and released into the bloodstream by the testes it is often bound to one of two proteins, sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG) or albumin. Only unbound or free testosterone and albumin-bound testosterone are bioactive. Meaning they are capable of entering into the cell, although it is more difficult for albumin-bound testosterone molecules to enter the cell than free testosterone molecules.
SHBG on the other hand inhibits testosterone from entering the cell and renders it biologically inactive. The testosterone molecule must be released from SHBG in order to become biologically active again. This is very important, as no matter how high our “testosterone levels” are, if our SHBG levels are equally as high, the testosterone will not be able to exert its intended effect, rendering it basically useless.
Testosterone and Stress Hormones
There are a number of stress hormones that are produced in the body and compete with testosterone in its production pathway. Including: estrogen, cortisol, and aldosterone.
These hormones are not “bad”, but are all stressful to the body. Cortisol and aldosterone specifically are catabolic, meaning they are responsible for the breakdown of molecules in the body. In contrast to testosterone and DHT which are anabolic hormones, meaning the building of larger molecules.
The more these stress hormones are produced, the less is cholesterol available for testosterone production. Additionally, these stress hormones typically exert a negative effect on testosterone production, down regulating its production.
Again, I would like to note that these stress hormones are all necessary and play a number of important roles in the body, but when in excess they will exert a negative effect on testosterone production.
Aromatization of Testosterone
It is also important to recognize that testosterone can be converted into estrogen. This occurs when the aromatase enzyme binds to a testosterone molecule and converts the molecule into estrogen. This is one of the body’s negative feedback loops designed to prevent excess testosterone levels.
As I mentioned before, I like to view DHT like testosterone’s older brother. DHT has very similar effects to testosterone, but with a few added bonuses:
DHT cannot be converted into estrogen in the body
DHT has a higher affinity to the androgen receptors than testosterone, meaning it's more likely to be “absorbed” by your cells, and it stays bound to the androgen receptors for up to 5 times longer than testosterone
DHT is significantly more potent than testosterone
In today’s society the go-to method for boosting testosterone levels has been through introducing testosterone replacement therapy or illegal steroids into the body via direct injections, gels/patches, or pills. While this definitely works to boost your testosterone levels this is not the end of the story…
As we know, the endocrine system is made up of a number of feedback loops designed to keep the body in balance. When we inject large amounts of exogenous (created from outside the body) testosterone into the body, the body begins to increase the production of the aromatase enzyme to remove this excess testosterone by converting it into estrogen.
This will lead to both increased estrogen levels and down regulated testosterone production. When foreign testosterone is introduced to the body, consistently over time, the body’s natural production of testosterone can shut down. This eventually forces your body to rely on this exogenous testosterone.
Natural Testosterone Boosting in Your Life
There are actually a number of ways in which we can naturally increase our testosterone levels, almost all of which have to do with improving our general health. Here are a few:
Sleeping 7+ Hours per Night
Testosterone Boosting Supplements
Lower Physiological Stress Levels
Lower Mental Stress Levels
Avoid Toxins that Impact the Endocrine System
Lose Excess Body Fat
Natural Testosterone Boosting Supplements
Supplements in general have gotten a bad reputation over the years and probably for good reason. Many of the supplements in the past have contained dangerous chemicals that caused more harm than good or used a number of mystical “herbs” that didn’t actually do squat. But not all supplements are created equal. Any good supplement should be primarily targeted at eliminating any micronutrient deficiencies present in the body.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that we consume in our diet which our body uses to produce various biological compounds including many hormones. If we do not consume these micronutrients at the rate equal to which our body uses them, over time we will become deficient in them, meaning our body will no longer be able to produce these compounds. Micronutrient deficiencies are very prevalent in today’s society and likely play a large role in the average decline of testosterone levels.
In general, it’s best to consume these micronutrients through your diet because your body will absorb better than through supplementation. But supplements offer a convenient and effective way to correct these deficiencies. Without further ado here is a list of some of the vital micronutrients required for testosterone production:
Higher concentrations of Vitamin A in the testes has been correlated with higher testosterone levels and decreased estrogen production
Due to its high antioxidant concentration Vitamin C has been shown to be very effective at preserving testosterone levels and protecting the testes from the effects of excess stress
D3 has been positively correlated with increases in both total, bioactive and free testosterone levels by up to 25%.
Vitamin E deficiencies can result in significant decreases in the production of LH and FSH (the testosterone signaling hormones) which can result in decreased testosterone levels over time.
Vitamin B deficiencies have been associated with increased estrogen and prolactin levels (a precursor to estrogen) and lower testosterone levels.
Zinc plays an important role in the process of aromatization of testosterone and zinc deficiency has been correlated significantly increased estrogen production. By correcting a zinc deficiency you will decrease the amount of testosterone aromatized into estrogen, and thereby also boost your testosterone levels and decrease your estrogen levels. Make sure that you also balance you zinc supplementation with copper, as each of these minerals can deplete the other. A 10:1 zinc to copper ratio is ideal.
Magnesium has been shown to significantly boost testosterone levels in magnesium deficient men.
Manganese supplementation has been shown to increase the amount of GnRH released, stimulating boosting testosterone levels down the line.
While not considered an essential micronutrient by the NIH, boron has been shown to significantly increase testosterone production and increase free testosterone levels by lowering SHBG. Boron is found in much lower quantities in our food compared to our ancestors due to the degradation of soil in modern farming practices. Boron may be one of the most underrated and effective supplements for boosting your testosterone levels.
Ashwagandha (KSM-66 Ashwaghanda in particular) Has been shown to be very effective at reducing cortisol and estrogen levels while increasing testosterone levels and sperm health parameters.
Phosphatidylserine has been shown to be very effective at reducing cortisol levels, while increasing cognitive function and may even have a slight effect on boosting testosterone levels.
Coleus Forskohlii has been shown to boost Testosterone production and may help to increase fat loss & muscle gain.
Glycine is a very anti-inflammatory amino acid and has also been shown to upregulate GnRH synthesis in the body.
Betaine HCl and/or Choline
Both betaine and choline are estrogen methylators. Meaning they are able to donate a methyl group to an estrogen molecule which helps to process and remove estrogen from the body.
A Final Piece of Advice
When it comes to the herbal forms of supplementation always be somewhat of a skeptic.
Make sure the supplements are well-researched and actually accomplish their intended effect without side effects. Our go-to recommendation as far as testosterone boosting supplements goes is UMZU’s Testro-X - a great option if you are looking for a well-researched, convenient and natural way to increase your body’s testosterone production.
So... what's the next step?
In this guide we discussed how testosterone is created and how you can naturally stimulate healthy levels of testosterone without defaulting to artificial sources.
For supplementation, we have several solutions that can help you get started.
First and foremost, we recommend Testro-X as it was specifically formulated to correct the most common nutrient deficiencies exhibited in men with low testosterone.
Second, to reduce stress levels we recommend Cortigon to promote a healthy testosterone:cortisol ratio.
Finally, to methylate estrogen naturally, consider our Betaine HCl supplement.