“Testosterone has a magical hold on humans,” noted Brad Anawalt, Professor and Vice Chair of Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a male reproductive endocrinologist, when asked about men’s declining testosterone levels and the ensuing panic that’s taken place amongst men and society at large.
“It is one of these hormones that everybody loves to talk about. There are a couple of them — testosterone followed by the thyroid and followed perhaps by estrogen — those are the three that everybody likes to see as either the root of all evil or the fantasy. So, there are many men that come in and think that testosterone is the cure.”
After discussions with a group of men’s health and hormone specialists, it’s become clear that a slew of men’s health problems can be attributed to or result in low testosterone, making it a reliable harbinger for overall vitality, or lack thereof, but it’s not a fix-all.
It’s positioned as this ultimate herald for men’s health, but there’s a lot more at play. Having “High-T” or “Low-T” matters if it’s affecting how a guy feels each day, but there’s no correlation between a hormone level and a man’s masculinity. There’s much more at play, and taking a pill from a rhino-adorned bottle entitled “Testo-Booster” is unlikely to grant the spark lost to age, adulthood or a bad breakup. It is, however, okay to want to feel better, and there are many ways to do that.
What Are Testosterone Supplements?
According to Anawalt, there are three kinds of testosterone supplements available.
“There are so-called ‘natural supplements’ that are not testosterone but they purportedly increase testosterone naturally. Fenugreek is one of them, something called Ashwagandha is another one, these are not testosterone derivatives and actually, they have been studied and the most accurate interpretation of the studies is that they do not have significant effects on testosterone,”
“The other testosterone supplements that are purchased without a prescription are actually supplements that purport to have hormones in them. Like DHEA and Andro, and these compounds, if they’re pure, and they’re the precursors to testosterone, if you take massive quantities you can increase testosterone because your body will convert it to testosterone but in really large quantities. You actually also convert to estrogen and many men will convert larger levels of estrogen than testosterone, so I would discourage that,” said Dr. Anawalt.
He went on to note “the third category is stuff called testo-power or testo-booster and we don’t even know what’s in there. Sometimes they have testosterone in them and or they have modified testosterone, so anabolic steroids.”
“Again, because it’s unregulated, I’d discourage that.”
Not only are these supplements not regulated and potentially dangerous, but according to Dr. Anawalt, there’s a natural decline in testosterone as men age, and also a vast range of “normal” testosterone levels for younger, healthy men that doesn’t need to be optimized.
Some men have diagnosable disorders that lower their testosterone blood concentration levels and require lifelong treatment. Others don’t fall into this category but would benefit from a reliable boost to reach a “normal” range. That boost, most of the time, can come from simple lifestyle changes.
Testosterone Levels Naturally Decline With Age
Testosterone levels can be quantified with a blood test at a doctor’s office. There are also at-home medical test kits one can use to get a rough estimate of where they’re at. Most medical professionals agree that a “normal” T level is somewhere between 300 and 1,000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL).
Around 40% of men over the age of 45 will test below that range, and some may require supplement therapy. Dr. Anawalt explained that there are two major declines that happen throughout a man’s life, one after age 35 and another after age 65.
“So it’s 35, gradual decline and then an inflection point, or greater decrease, around 65-70.”
For men of all ages who don’t have a disease causing low testosterone levels, like hypogonadism, the treatment Dr. Anawalt recommends is largely the same.
“It’s really a great opportunity when we get young guys, guys in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s — and they’re worried about a lab result and they’re worried about their health and we can reassure them that they don’t have a disease. But just like your car, you need to do some maintenance here and you’ve got a lot of control over this without medications,” said Dr. Anawalt.
He went on to connect the two, “Testosterone should not be used as a general therapy for men over age 65 who have low testosterone. That’s not the first step. The first step is actually similar to younger men. Which is to address weight and overall health and lifestyle changes.”
Signs of Low Testosterone
“Testosterone deficiency is a combination of having low levels of testosterone in the blood with associated symptoms,” said Dr. Darshan Patel, Assistant Professor of Urology at UC San Diego Health.
He noted that “Many of the symptoms attributed to testosterone deficiency can be non-specific, but are broadly categorized as physical, cognitive and sexual signs and symptoms.”
Dr. Patel noted the following physical, cognitive and sexual signs that may point to low testosterone levels in men:
- Reduced energy
- Reduced endurance
- Reduced lean muscle mass
- Depressed mood
- Reduced sex drive
Although the symptoms above are notable, the only way to conclusively diagnose low testosterone is with a blood test at a doctor’s office.
Do Testosterone Supplements Work?
Testosterone supplements is a catch-all category for any supplement you consume that’ll boost your testosterone levels beyond what your body is already naturally producing. Though the science is thin on over-the-counter supplements that claim to boost testosterone, Dr. Patel noted there are some OTC supplements that “with regular exercise can support a healthy, balanced diet for men with testosterone deficiency.”
He also noted, however, that using OTC supplements alone to treat testosterone deficiency is less effective, and that “Unfortunately, most OTC testosterone supplements make claims that are unsubstantiated. Nearly 90% of OTC testosterone supplements claim to ‘boost T’, 50% claim to ‘improve libido’ and 50% claim to ‘make you feel stronger.”
“Only a fraction of the various components of advertised OTC testosterone supplements have actually been tested in human studies and among those that have been, less than 25% of participants have reported an improvement in testosterone deficiency,” said Dr. Patel.
He also noted that some testosterone supplements can contain ingredients that are unsafe when mixed with other prescription medications. “For example, some OTC testosterone supplements containing Tribulus terrestris have been shown to contain steroidal glycoalkaloids that are toxic to animals and humans and cause severe liver and heart damage.”
“Always look at the nutritional label on the product. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has established tolerable upper limit (UL) to prevent side effects from excessive intake of vitamins and minerals. Often OTC supplements contain very high levels of certain ingredients that are above the UL. It is always best to inform your doctor prior to starting an OTC testosterone supplement,” said Dr. Patel.
If you’re looking for trustworthy brands, Dr. Patel highlighted the following ones for their independent lab testing and certifications as well as solid manufacturing practices.
- NOW Foods
Based on this advice, here are the OTC testosterone supplements SPY recommends.
Nature Made Multivitamin For Him
Nature Made is one of the brands Dr. Patel recommended for the safety and efficacy of their supplements, and this men’s multivitamin is formulated to support men’s overall health and wellbeing. It contains 25 essential vitamins and minerals for men, as well as antioxidants and vitamin C for immune support.
Androsurge Estrogen Blocker for Men
This supplement from the Jacked Factory Store limits men’s bodies production of estrogen, with a scientifically-dosed, non-proprietary blend that contains ingredients like grape seed extract and diindolylmethane. It’s formulated to help you build back muscle, increase strength and boost overall energy levels.
Roman Testosterone Supplements
Roman is one of the best telemedicine companies for men, and their testosterone supplement contains zinc, vitamin D3, ashwagandha and other vitamins for supporting overall health. It may or may not boost actual testosterone levels, but may be a worthwhile addition to a healthy routine for the right candidate.
Alpha JYM Testosterone Support
This testosterone booster from JYM is a fully-loaded testosterone optimizer that contains ingredients for supporting and maximizing testosterone levels including fenugreek, ashwagandha and eurycoma. The ingredient list is comprehensive and transparent, so it’s totally clear going into the body, and there’s no need to cycle in and out of taking it as it’s designed to be taken every day.