Poor Gut Health Will Mess With This Hormone

Photo by Benjamin Lambert

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As a physician and gut health specialist, I’ve written a lot about the hormone fluctuations and disorders that occur in women due to disordered gut health. And what I've noticed over the years is this: Men often get left out of the conversation completely.

But the truth is that for men, hormonal fluctuations are just as inevitable during middle age and beyond as for women. For many guys, none feels more dramatic than the decline in the hormone testosterone.

It's time to include men in the conversation about gut health and hormone balance.

Fatigue, mental fog, lack of motivation, depression, and loss of a sexual appetite are just a few of the symptoms that should send you to the doctor asking to have your testosterone levels checked. As much as they may feel like the consequences of aging, these symptoms aren’t the mandatory repercussions of growing older. They could actually be resulting from low testosterone.

You probably associate testosterone with libido and sex drive, but this sex hormone also monitors bone mass, fat distribution, muscle mass, strength, and the production of red blood cells and sperm. Low testosterone can certainly drain sex drive, but a deficiency can also increase body fat, decrease muscle and bone mass, crash your energy levels, leave you feeling depressed, and impair cognitive function; all things you don’t want to experience when you’re aging.

When it comes to testosterone, it's all about balance.

Photo: Ian Stauffer

As men age, testosterone levels drop 1 to 2 percent every year, and deficiencies affect about 30 percent of men ages 40 to 79 years old. Certain conditions including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension can worsen testosterone deficiency. As with any hormone, the key is balance. Researchers have surprisingly found that when testosterone levels decline in men, so does estrogen, since your body converts some free testosterone to estradiol (the most active form of estrogen in the body, which is produced by both men and women).

As a medical doctor who focuses on gut health, I often see male patients who are overweight, overworked, don’t sleep well, and have gut imbalances—a surefire recipe for low testosterone. These men end up in the vicious cycle of dependence on medications to treat the symptoms, without getting to the root cause.

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This is how poor gut health can lead to low T.

I’ve written a lot about how inflammation affects the body and the best hacks to counter it. Inflammation sets off a chain reaction. In brief: The standard American diet (SAD) leads to obesity through inflammation by affecting your gut flora, reducing the presence of friendly bacteria, resulting in increased intestinal wall permeability (leaky gut syndrome), and allowing bacterial endotoxin (a bacterial cell wall component and potent activator of the immune system) to leak into your body. The trans-mucosal migration of endotoxin directly leads to lower testosterone levels by affecting its production in the testes. Did you get this chain of command? It all comes back to your diet, starting with your gut health.

If that wasn’t enough, environmental toxins and chemical additives also create hormone imbalances by acting as endocrine disrupters. Most of these chemicals behave like estrogen in the body, leading to unwanted side effects like those "man boobs" you never thought you would have. "They are found in the water you drink, the foods you eat (even the organic ones), the pills you take, the air you breathe, and the clothes you wear," says John La Puma, M.D., in Refuel, a book about restoring testosterone levels.

How to boost testosterone naturally.

When I help patients minimize toxins, balance their lifestyle, and clean up their diet, they find a secondary added benefit: Testosterone levels are boosted! A nutrient-dense diet rich in healthy fats (like a ketogenic diet) coupled with intermittent fasting is a great way to lose weight, improve gut health, and optimize testosterone levels. I also recommend drinking filtered water, avoiding hormone disrupters such as bisphenol-A (or BPA), and taking a high-quality probiotic as research shows probiotic supplementation can even help prevent low testosterone in men. In fact, there are a few supplements that have been shown to boost testosterone.

Yet even when some men do everything correctly—eat clean, do intermittent fasting, exercise, sleep, minimize toxin exposure, meditate, and control stress levels—they might still need and feel best with testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Some researchers argue we lack studies supporting its long-term safety, and overall studies are varied, but for many men TRT can help restore testosterone and regain this hormone’s many benefits.

But for most of us, diet and lifestyle go a long way, and they should always be the first steps toward regaining hormone balance.

Want to learn more about nutrition and hormones? Take our Functional Nutrition Program with Kelly LeVeque and other top experts.

Vincent M. Pedre, M.D.
Vincent M. Pedre, M.D.
Dr. Vincent M. Pedre, medical director of Pedre Integrative Health and president of Dr. Pedre...
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Vincent M. Pedre, M.D.
Vincent M. Pedre, M.D.
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