J.D. Moyer

sci-fi author, beat maker, self-experimenter

Modulating Testosterone Levels (for Men)

An article in yesterday’s New York Times claims that becoming a father reduces a man’s testosterone levels.  Is it true, and should dads be concerned?

Yes, and in most cases, no.

It’s been known for a long time that both long-term relationships and fatherhood are associated with lower testosterone (T) in human males, but the study cited by the New York Times is the first to show that the relationship is causal; becoming a father actually lowers T levels.  Furthermore, the more active and involved the dad (playing, cuddling, changing diapers, etc.), the greater the drop in T.

This sounds bad.  Most dads don’t want to trade off manliness for fatherhood.  Is that what the study implicates?

Let’s take a brief look at the psychological and physical effects of both low and high T levels in men.  High T levels are associated with:

  • competitiveness
  • sense of well-being
  • sociability & confidence
  • higher sperm production
  • higher sex drive, possibly higher promiscuity
  • physical strength, faster muscle gain in response to resistance training
  • increased bone density
  • feelings of aggression
  • higher risk of enlarged prostate
  • higher risk of acne
  • suppressed immunity

When T levels drop too low, bad things happen.  Low T levels in men are associated with:

  • social anxiety
  • depression
  • irritability
  • lower sex drive, longer refractory period
  • low sperm count
  • higher body fat
  • higher risk of cardiovascular disease
  • fatigue, low energy
  • brain fog, higher risk of dementia

It looks bad!  Men definitely don’t want their T to drop too low.  Does this mean fatherhood should be avoided at all costs?

I don’t think so.  Depending on his physiology, a moderate drop in testosterone might even improve a guy’s quality of life.  I became a dad in 2008, and I think I probably have lower T levels now than I did pre-fatherhood.  Subjectively, here’s how I would describe how the change feels:

  • more patient with children (though this has also been a learning process … it didn’t necessarily “come naturally”)
  • less desire to have sex with women other than my wife
  • happier with domestic life, less desire to stay out late, don’t feel as “antsy” if I stay at home
  • less road rage
  • more considerate of others (I think, not completely sure)

I haven’t noticed any negative changes in muscle composition, response to weight training, frequency or quality of sex.  In short, I’m probably experiencing the evolutionary adaptive benefits of the “lower T dad,” which include increased relationship stability, being mellow enough to deal with kids, and not going crazy even though I need to stick around the house more.

I had fairly high T levels pre-fatherhood; in my mid-thirties my total T levels were tested around 800 ng/dl.  While this may have something to do with why I haven’t experienced any negative effects of relatively lower testosterone (as a result of becoming a dad), I also observe a number of  nutritional and lifestyle factors that may help keep my T levels in the “good zone.”

Sure it’s pretty, just don’t put it in lotion and rub it on your skin. It might give you tits.

Avoid Anti-Androgens

The modern world is a hormonal minefield for men.  Here are just a few of the common substances that can muck up your hormones, reducing T levels and/or raising or mimicking estrogen:

Avoiding contact with these substances is step #1 for male hormonal health.  BPA is especially pervasive — especially in the plastic linings of canned tomatoes and soups.


Don’t Completely Shut Down 5-Alpha-Reductase

The 5-alpha reductases (5α-R) are enzymes that convert testosterone (T) into the more active hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT).  There are many botanicals that inhibit 5α-R, and to some extent that’s a good thing.  Too much DHT leads to male pattern balding and prostate enlargement.  However, shutting down 5α-R completely leaves too little circulating DHT, and that can lead to low sex drive and poor sexual performance.

Unfortunately, many “male health” vitamin supplements contain strong 5α-R inhibitors, like saw palmetto, as a matter of course.  For older men suffering from enlarged prostate, this might be a good thing.  For younger men, inhibiting 5α-R might protect their hairline, but could also lead to problems in bed.

5-alpha reductase inhibitors include:

  • finasteride (prescribed for hair loss)
  • saw palmetto
  • pygeum
  • Reishi mushroom
  • resveratrol
  • azelaic acid
  • high doses of medium chain fatty acids (coconut and palm oils)
  • too much zinc, especially when combined with B6
  • too much vitamin D (vitamin A may mitigate) (can’t find reference)
  • high doses of biotin
  • high doses of GLA (evening primrose oil)

Having the right T to DHT ratio is important.  A high T to DHT ratio (less 5α-R activity) may protect against enlarged prostate and male pattern baldness, but may increase the risk of aggressive prostate cancer, as well as cause sexual problems.

I think the safe route is to ingest some food-based 5α-R inhibitors, like red wine and coconut oil, in order to keep some of your hair and protect against prostate enlargement, but to avoid strong herbal or pharmaceutical 5α-R inhibitors and high doses of nutritional supplements unless medically needed.

For men who need to take saw palmetto to avoid getting up multiple times in the night to piss, consider cycling on/off.  Mechanical measures may also provide some relief; the prostate contains acini which can become clogged, and in some cases a few hundred strong contractions of the pc-sphincter muscles, and/or direct massage of the prostate (!) might improve prostate health and lessen the need for 5α-R inhibition.

Delicious zinc bomb.

Diet & Testosterone

Zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin D are probably the most important nutrients for maintaining healthy testosterone levels.

Zinc is a tricky one — too much supplemental zinc can decrease levels of other minerals (like copper and manganese), as well as as inhibit 5α-R.  Acute zinc overdose results in nausea and digestive upsets, while chronic zinc overdose suppresses immunity and causes fatigue.  Dietary and/or supplemental zinc can increase T levels in zinc-deficient men, but it’s not a case of “more is better.”  Luckily, oysters are very high in zinc, and anyone who eats them regularly is unlikely to be zinc deficient.  Beef and pumpkin seeds also have appreciable amounts.  Men who rely on supplemental zinc should take a chelated form (like zinc picolinate) and probably limit ingestion to 20mg every other day unless a known deficiency exists.

Phytic acid, on the other hand, binds with zinc (as well as with iron, magnesium, and calcium) and decreases absorption.  Phytic acid is especially high in wheat, oats, and soybeans.  One reason a paleo diet is oft-reported to be good for hormonal health may be the reduced phytic acid content and increased mineral absorption.  Calcium also reduces zinc absorption, so consider eating high calcium and high zinc foods at different meals.

Vitamin D can increase testosterone levels in men, as can vitamin A.  These vitamins are important to keep in balance, along with vitamin K2, as I discuss in this post.  I think moderate supplementation of non-synthetic pre-formed vitamin A is sensible for most men, especially if they are also supplementing with D3.  Nordic Naturals cod-liver oil is a good source — many less expensive brands contain high doses of synthetic vitamin A and it’s possible to get too much.

Low-fat diets are bad for T-levels, as is polyunsaturated fat intake (fats from vegetable and seed oils).  Saturated fats (butter, meat) and monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado), boost T-levels.

High alcohol intake will make T plummet (in men).

A starvation and/or zero-carb diet will also adversely affect T-levels.  If resources are scarce, reproduction becomes a lower physiological priority.  For fat loss, the slow and steady approach is better.

Exercise & Testosterone

Lifting heavy things can give T levels a temporary boost.  Exercises that recruit more and bigger muscle groups (like squats, pullups, and bardips), will positively affect hormone levels (T, GH, IGF-1) more than exercises that isolate muscle groups (like curls).

Do factors like the number of repetitions, weight lifted, and rest interval matter, in terms of boosting T?  Rest interval matters very little, and the number of repetitions and amount of weight lifted may not matter much either (in terms of boosting T).

Most importantly, testosterone drops to baseline within 20 minutes or so, and over-training of any kind will lower T-levels and suppress immunity.

Bottom line — exercise is extremely important for health (including sexual health — via improving vascular response), but nutritional and lifestyle factors (like getting a good night’s sleep) are more important than weight lifting for maintaining healthy T levels.  You may be better off going to bed than hitting the gym for a late-night workout.


Quality and Quantity of Sex, T is Only Part of the Picture

Extremely high T levels will widen the subjective lens of “who is sexually attractive.”  “Spread the seed wide and far” is the evolutionary signal that high testosterone sends to the brain.  For men, falling in love actually lowers T levels, as a kind of focusing, “one partner is enough” effect.

While high T levels may make you want to screw anything that moves, cardiovascular health is more important for mutually satisfying sexual experiences.  You need enough T to want to have sex and to become sexually aroused, but you need a responsive vascular system to experience powerful, long-lasting erections.  How do you maintain (or regain) a responsive vascular system?

  • don’t smoke
  • don’t drink too much
  • do some strenuous physical activity every day
  • maintain or regain insulin sensitivity (if you have a spare tire, stop eating grains and sugars for the most part)
  • get enough dietary and/or supplemental Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin C

This is what an armbar looks like.

Behavior & Testosterone Levels

Testosterone influences behavior, but behavior also influences testosterone.  Watching mixed martial arts, attending sporting events, going out with the guys, sparring, and fighting all increase T levels in men.  And if you stand up to someone who is trying to dominate you, your physiology will respond.

Each guy has to feel this out for himself — how do you want to be in the world, at different times in your life?  Sometimes you want to be “on-fire,” willing to take more risks, extremely confident, more selfish, and “playing the field” sexually.  Evolution has decided that a different state of mind is more conducive to fatherhood; steadier, gentler, more risk-averse, more empathetic, more monogamous.  This is advantageous in most cases, but dads shouldn’t let their testosterone levels drop the point where they start experiencing any of the negative effects listed above.

This is something women in long-term relationships with men need to understand; either consciously or unconsciously, men modulate their own testosterone levels with certain behaviors.  They do this in order to feel comfortable in their own skin.

Sometimes this may mean staying home and spending more time with the kids, in order to mellow out and take the edge off.  At other times, to raise T, it may mean watching men put other men in headlocks or arm-bars (or doing it themselves).  Another approach is driving fast cars and/or chasing beautiful women.  Mid-life crisis, anyone?  There are easier ways …

The Big Guns

I’ve experimented with a number of different supplements, including supplements that raise testosterone.  I’ve never been able to gain much muscle weight (maybe genetics, or maybe because I’m not willing to work out extremely hard or eat massive amounts of protein).  One supplement, LJ100 (an extract of tongkat ali, an Indonesian plant) didn’t help me gain muscle weight (possibly because I couldn’t tolerate the recommended dose), but it did help me understand what a strong spike in testosterone feels like.

In short, small doses were nice, resulting in very high sex drive, improved mood and confidence, and more physical energy.

Larger doses (like what was recommended on the side of bottle) made me feel too aggressive, and sexually attracted to too many women (to the point where I felt psychologically compelled to ogle every even-slightly attractive woman within my field of vision, like it was my job or something).

Tongkat ali seems to work by stimulating the testes to produce more testosterone.  It may also have anti-cancer benefits as well.  If you try it, just make sure to buy it from a reputable source, as some sources of tongkat ali have been found to be contaminated with mercury.

If a man is experiencing negative effects from low T, should he consider taking synthetic testosterone?  There are risks, like enlarged prostate and testicular shrinkage.  But these risks need to be weighed against the health risks of chronic low testosterone, which are significant (increased body fat, lower bone density, depression, etc.).  In most cases, diet and lifestyle choices, and herbal supplements (if needed) can sufficiently increase T.  But if those don’t work, synthetic T is an option.

Testosterone’s Bad Reputation

Testosterone is a misunderstood hormone.  Unfortunately, it’s more associated with violence and sexual carousing than it is with a sense of well-being, confidence, bone density, and male fertility.  Maintaining adequate T levels is an important part of male health, both physical and psychological.

An important point to note is that raising testosterone levels in a man who is not enculturated or otherwise inclined to be violent will not make him violent.  It may make him feel like hitting someone (or something) more, but high testosterone does not mean loss of control or decision-making abilities.

Guys, I hope this post has given you some additional tools to help modulate your own testosterone levels.  Good health to you!


B-Vitamins, Mood, and Methylation — It’s Complicated


Reaction to Tim Ferriss’s Talk on Accelerated Learning (and Thoughts on his Rapid Rise to Fame)


  1. Well done. Would enjoy a talk about all of this.

  2. Ray

    How did you feel after you stopped taking Tongkat ali? I’m wondering if your T level returned to previous or lowers levels. Any other side effects?

    • Just a return to baseline … no rebound effect that I noticed. I didn’t notice any side effects, but I mostly stuck with a lower dosage, every other day or less frequently. One person I know felt edgy/anxious when they took it. Ray Sahelian (who also sells the stuff) has noticed insomnia, increased body temperature, increased heart rate, and road rage at higher dosages.


  3. Nathan Koch

    What about DHEA supplements? Any experience or studying?

    • I’ve tried DHEA as a potential anti-aging supplement, and decided it’s too strong for me even in small doses. If I took DHEA for a couple days and then stopped I noticed I would be in a bad mood for the next day or two.

      I think a better approach is just to eat more cholesterol (a DHEA precursor) from high quality foods (like grass-fed beef or organic eggs, preferably pastured). Check out Chris Masterjohn’s work on dietary cholesterol and health. A good place to start:


  4. As someone who was assigned female at birth and takes medically presribed testosterone (since I don’t produce my own) this article was an interesting read for me. One can learn A LOT about this topic from the transgender community (many have switched from having estrogen as the dominant hormone to testosterone or vice versa). Volumes more than what is available in this article. Just hop over to youtube and search “ftm testosterone.”

  5. Ted

    I have recently tried Maca. I got it from a guy named Dr. Wong, which still cracks me up. Anyway, I think I have an average libido for a 43 year old guy who has been married for 15 years (wife still very hot), and has 3 young boys in the house. I started it because it was recommended by Jason Ferruggia, whose workout I was doing.

    As far as results go, my libido didn’t change much but I was probably more assertive in situations where I would have normally let things go. At one point, I found myself chasing some guys down the street at night because they were ringing my doorbell at 9:00PM on Saturday. When I initially answered the door, they ran off, and I went tearing after them in my socks. I don’t think I would have done that off Maca. I just finished the bottle and am curious to see if I mellow out. The confounding variable here is that I was about 1 month in to my Paleo experience, so my energy levels were(and are) stellar. Maybe I was just jonesin’ for a little late evening sprint so I could make Mark Sisson proud.

    • Good story … enhanced T levels can get you in trouble. I’ve tried maca too and I like the way it feels, kind of an overall tonic/energy booster/mood-lifter. I’ve purchased it here before in powder form.


      It has an interesting flavor, strong but not too bitter, not bad mixed with yogurt. Power of the Inca!

  6. Good afternoon,

    It should be noted that heavy metals accumulated throughout your life (and sometimes from your mother – through the placenta) also wreck havoc on your hormones.

    The silver lining here is that the most efficient ways to detox heavy metals will also take care of the plastics and other estrogenic compounds in your system – although it does take multiple detox cycles over many years if you actually intend to “clean house”.

  7. Edit: For those interested, I’m talking about Glutathione-S-Reductase potentiators.

  8. Edit: Search for haritaki, among others.

  9. KristaBiotropics

    You mention that if you are thinking of trying out tongkat ali, just make sure to buy it from a reputable source. Great advice. I know the market has been flooded with some bad products lately. If you are interested, take a look at Physta. It’s a patented form of tongkat ali that was developed between the Malaysian government and MIT. There’s some good research at http://www.tongkataliblog.com. You can find Physta products at any GNC or VitaminShoppe.

    • Vin

      Hi JD. What brand of tongkat did you use/find effective?

  10. tepi666

    damn really good article! i actually had years low sex drive and low t symptoms due to taking zinc supplements daily. once i quit zinc completely and started to take low doses of magnesium daily might T-levels rose quicky

  11. yes, a lot of internet Tongkat Ali product has a lot of -ve comments.
    Why does it occur? Do you think that a lot of PURE tongkat Ali in the market are ready for sell? I do not agree with that.
    How can we get those PURE or REAL Tongkat Ali?….!

    It must be – WILD Tongkat Ali!

    I think you know where is it got so much Wild Tongkat Ali : Malaysia!

    Again: Wild Tongkat Ali , Not Plantation….

  12. Mark

    What do you think about taking Small doses of GLA, like 40-50 mg GLA per day? I am doing this for acne. I had a serum fatty acid test and the levels were at the bottom of the range, even after having taken spirulina for 3 months prior. I have seen the high doses of GLA actually only inhibited DHT locally, and didn’t affect serum levels, I don’t know if that is true in all cases though.
    I get a little OCD about it in regards to libido though.
    My skin has certainly gotten healthier looking over the past few months though.

    • I often take 1000mg evening primrose oil along with fish oil, as part of my anti-asthma regimen. The combination seems particularly effective in terms of preventing inflammation. 1000mg evening primrose oil probably contains about 80mg GLA (source: http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21587).

      In terms of libido I haven’t noticed any negative effect from evening primrose oil (I don’t think it’s a very strong 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor — it probably does lower DHT a little bit, but not nearly as much as a resveratrol or saw palmetto supplement would).

      However I *have* noticed an improvement in sexual response from evening primrose oil. I assume this is because GLA converts to prostaglandin E1 (as long as adequate magnesium, pyridoxine, zinc, niacin and ascorbic acid are present, source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6350579). Prostaglandin E1 is a potent vasodilator (and thus good for erections).

      • Mark

        This is great– I have had asthma most of my life and since taking GLA it has diminished. I actually got a serum fatty acid lab and found I was deficient: http://www.questdiagnostics.com/testcenter/BUOrderInfo.action?tc=11254X&labCode=SJC
        Thanks for the comment, I have experienced the same thing. Very interesting on the response to prolactin. My mood is better when I take some GLA. Don’t get teary eyed, which was happening more and more frequently.
        Thought you might find this interesting: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3032012
        Also in regards to acne, there is a recent study that I will post when I find, but it was helping acne markedly (360 mg GLA over 3 months) but did not reduce *serum* sex hormones, such as DHT and IGF-1.

      • Mark

        Out of curiousity have you noticed any positive or negative effect of GLA on your sleep? I know that prostaglandin D2 is important for sleep. Although the EPA may be a confounding variable.

  13. vin

    Bump the question; is there a particular brand (or two) of tongkat that works reliably for you JD? The different brands I’ve tried seem to be a little hit or miss.

    • I have not ordered any in awhile but in the past I have ordered from herbal-powers.com. Effects as described in the post are from using this brand.

  14. Omar

    Awesome informative article. What’s your take on supplemental creatine? I just purchased a bucket of protein (Carnivor), which I haven’t consumed yet. It contains 2.5 grams of creatine per serving. I’ve read in other articles that creatine can cause men to produce more dht which can of course lead to male pattern baldness. I’ve been experiencing some minor hair loss but it can also be due to my great amount of stress and malnutrition lately. I feel like I can also relate to what you mentioned about men falling in love with their significant others and lowering t levels, ever since then my sexual performance has not been the same and at times I feel quite depressed. Any who what’s your take on the creatine? I’m a 25 yr old male 6ft and weigh 150, I’m trying to start lifting but I do not want to alter my t levels in any negative way.

  15. Ryno Botha

    Hi JD, i realy enjoy all the posts i have read so far. Hope you dont mind me calling you JD…..
    I am a 47 year old, male. I realize that my grain and sugar days are over for good, decided that yesterday !! As a kid been obese, not heavy but had a lot of gut. this really played havoc with my self image right up to adulthood. Now as artisan busy at work i look a bit better but i yearn for flat stomach.Thanks for sheding light on my problem. Please advise me on vasectomy issues. Had it done a 15 years ago. What should i be looking out for ? is there anything that could bring me a bit more sex drive ?
    Thank you very much.

    • Congrats on the major health decision! Sex drive in most cases is going to be closely linked with T-levels, so anything that boosts T is probably good, including:
      – plenty of sleep and relaxation
      – plenty of dietary cholesterol (egg yolks), zinc (oysters), and vitamin A (cod liver oil — see links below)
      – no more than one drink a day, and avoid anti-androgens (soy, lavender, tea tree oil) and 5ar inhibitors (multivitamins, saw palmetto, see complete list above)
      – experiment with tongkat ali and/or maca root

      I think vascular health is just as important (for both sex drive and sexual response, ie hard erections). My short list for vascular health is:
      – donate blood to get rid of excess iron in the body, limit iron intake (see link below)
      – daily exercise (aerobic and/or strength and/or stretching)
      – direct sun exposure on skin (but don’t burn), see post on heart health below and watch the Richard Weller video
      – consume some dietary nitrates (beet root, celery)
      – plenty of dietary magnesium and potassium
      – good diet in general with plenty of protein, vegetables, good fats, etc.

      In regards to vasectomy issues in particular I don’t have specific advice (no personal experience and I’m not a doctor), but the above should be helpful for all guys (and would probably increase sex drive in women too). Hope it helps and good health to you!

      Post on blood donation:

      Post on heart health/sun exposure:

      Two sources of high quality cod liver oil without synthetic vitamin A:

  16. John

    Thanks for the article. I had a mouthwash and toothpaste that contained tea tree oil. Will be interested to note any differences.

  17. Hey J.D.,

    Just found your site and love it!

    By the way I had a question about your statement here:

    “I’ve never been able to gain much muscle weight (maybe genetics, or maybe because I’m not willing to work out extremely hard or eat massive amounts of protein).”

    Did you ever try eating around 3000 calories a day? I know its hard on a primal diet avoiding sugar and bread but i know usually people who don’t gain muscle lifting usually don’t eat enough or don’t stimulate often enough (lift often enough)?

    So I’m asking could you give some exact numbers on your calories and protein gram intake as well as your workout schedule when you were trying to gain muscle.

    I’m really interested in this subject since Its a ongoing challenge to gain weight and still get the weight from healthy foods.



  18. Joe

    So as a married 32yo male with low T levels and hair thinning at the crown – I’m confused what I should do. My energy sucks, I do weight lift a couple times a week, and my libido and mood is down down down. Noticed my muscle gain is less than a couple years ago though I’m stilla quite fit and a mesomorph.

    Should I stop biotin (and risk further hair loss) and vit D, or keep D and add vit A? Should I try more zinc? Magnesium seems to help. Eat quite healthy, lots of grass fed beef, eggs, organic butter etc. And I do drink coffee but only a couple a day.

    Wondering if I should take a supplement like tongkat but it seems like a short-term fix.

    • Hey Joe thanks for your comment and question. I would start with the basics:

      1) Increase sleep and sleep quality (see my post on reducing artificial light in the evening for one good way to do that).

      2) Take a break from all B-vitamin supplements for awhile, including biotin. Large doses can reduce T to DHT conversion, which can reduce sex drive. For hair regrowth please see:

      3) Probably ok to continue magnesium and D in moderate doses (2000-4000 IU/day for D, depending on your weight), but yes it’s good to balance with A and K2. For more details please see:

      4) Make sure you get adequate dietary zinc and selenium, though I would avoid supplementation because too much can once again block T to DHT conversion. Oysters are a great source of zinc. Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium.

      5) Address chronic stress, if it exists. Acute stress is fine, but long-term stress like a job you hate or communication breakdown in a relationship can take its toll physically.

      6) Get some sun on skin to boost nitric oxide and increase sexual response and physical energy (and reduce cardio risk):

      7) Take a break from alcohol or cut way back, and avoid anti-androgens (soy, lavender, tea tree oil).

      If you’ve tried all that and you don’t notice a significant improvement, then I would recommend a checkup. And possibly experimenting with T-boosting supplements if you get the OK from your MD.

      Good luck and good health to you!

      • Joe

        Thanks, 1-7 are covered except for 4. I’ll be getting my blood work soon. I just add that I do have alpha thalassemia trait (minor) so that does affect recovery (after resistance/HIIT training) and stunts any significantly rapid mass gaining. I’ve experimented with l-arginine to increase circulation and libido but again, it’s dose dependent.

        Like you said, I think chronic stress is the other main issue – career and financial related – as I’m pursuing a career in entertainment which is very tumultuous, and auditions/work opportunities are few and far between.

        So I think my issues are multi-factorial and hard to pinpoint to know what focus on.

  19. Fenrir67

    High protein diet is not good for both testosterone and dht.

  20. DS

    Dear J.D moyer,

    Can you please provide references for:

    1) too much zinc, especially when combined with B6 = 5-alpha reductase inhibitor
    2) too much vitamin D = 5-alpha reductase inhibitor

    Thank you for any help you can give on the matter,
    Kindest Regards,

    • There is a reference for zinc in the 5AR wikipedia article (linked in the post) but I can’t find where I read about vitamin D as a 5AR inhibitor. I will cross it out for now.

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