Hormone imbalance in men is one of the most common health problems faced by men today, yet it is often not diagnosed or is simply an undiagnosed side effect of some other health condition.
This article is a short pillar post that will introduce you to the basics of what it takes to stay healthy as a man in modern times and how to maintain hormonal balance. For more detailed information on different concepts and therapies, checkout our other articles using the main navigation bar at the top of this page.
While most men unfortunately end up on our website after they have already contracted some issues with their health such as hormonal imbalances and low testosterone, a lot of the guidelines in this article also serve as preventatives.
Follow the guide and keep track of your body and you are guaranteed to improve your health and hormones, it’s that simple.
We will touch lightly on many concepts in this post, but more in-depth information on them you can find in the rest of our article database.
The 5 Pillars of Health
So, how do we define being healthy? As you might already be aware, here at Anabolic Health we specialize in fixing hormonal imbalances. There are many ways guys can end up with these types of health problems but there is also a very easy roadmap to how you can AVOID these problems as well. We call them The 5 Pillars of Health:
What About Exercise?!
You might be surprised to not find exercise on our list and that’s because if you live a normal active lifestyle, you should naturally be getting the minimum amount you need to remain in good health. It is a complete overexaggeration that you would NEED exercise to stay healthy, this is not the case.
There are plenty of populations around the world that do not exercise at all for the sake of exercising and still remain healthy with great longevity. Yes, it is true, that this won’t build you that amazing muscular physique and you won’t reap those extra benefits that can be had from resistance training, but it sure as hell won’t kill you either!
Live an active lifestyle, move around, do stuff and use your body, but you don’t need to spend your time on a treadmill wasting breath unless you really want to. Do any other creatures on this planet exercise? No, an active lifestyle is enough.
What is even more damaging than a complete lack of physical activity is EXCESS physical activity, and we categorize this as Excess Stress which is one of the Pillars.
Some stress is good to keep the body strong, but excess stress without adequate means for recovery (such as sleep and nutrition) will deteriorate the body overtime and cause rapid aging.
Aging is basically the chronic stressors of life subjected over time, adding up and deteriorating your body more and more. Whatever we can do to limit these stressors is the basis for promoting good health and longevity.
This is why chronic overtraining is so important to avoid. In fact, resistance training for only 10-20 minutes once a week is enough to get an hormonal effect, build muscle & strength and this has been scientifically verified in many studies. We usually recommend the Body by Science protocol for most guys, it’s enough.
Remember that a great physique or high performance as found in elite athletes are not necessarily markers of good health.
It is a well established fact that especially prolonged endurance type training causes chronic stress in the body, and many lifelong endurance athletes die from heart complications from this type of overtraining.
But honestly guys, do you see any other animal on this planet trying to run ultra marathons just for the sake of running? Let’s carry on...
While we have already written a pretty epic article on nutrition for men, let’s touch on some main points to think about in terms of diets, and for more specific information (such as foods etc) check out that article instead.
Nutrition is really not that complicated:
Make sure you get all the building blocks you need (i.e vitamin, minerals and other micronutrients) along with enough energy (calories) according to what your body needs and you're all covered.
There is however, a lot of talk about dietary macros in the world of nutrition. High Carb? Low Carb? High Fat? Low Fat? Too much protein?
My personal experiments here at Anabolic Health as involved everything from veganism to the ketogenic diet, zero carb / meat only diets and high sugar diets.
My conclusions from these experiments?
Macros matter, but for different people, and they can also be hacked according to different needs.
One interesting thing is that during most of my different macro's experiments testosterone levels did not change much. It seems to me that testosterone levels are more correlated to what specific things you are eating and not eating, rather than different macro ratios.
My testosterone levels remained the same on a balanced diet, the ketogenic diet as well as a meat only diet for example. What often changed though was the levels of other hormones such as estradiol as well as the obvious, cholesterol levels.
The exception to this was a low fat vegan diet consisting of minimum sugar, plenty of vegetables, legumes and whole grains. This diet totally destroyed hormonal balance and lowered testosterone for me.
While some people might still do well on this type of diet (women do better than men), I am skeptical to it and hear from plenty of guys that most eventually get reproductive problems when going low fat vegan.
To sum it all up, here's our take on diets:
Veganism & Vegetarian
While vegetarian diets can work as long as they include dairy and/or eggs, veganism is a way too unnatural and nutritionally incomplete way of eating (try logging an easy nutritionary complete vegan diet in Cronometer I dare you).
Historically, there are no vegan populations on earth (for good reason) up until modern times. So there are no long term studies done on them and the health effects of a vegan diet.
There is however plenty of traditional populations who has lived only from animal foods (meat, dairy etc) without problems.
Also, the problem concerning Vitamin B12 is a major one since the nutrient is not easily accessible in a vegan diet without supplementation. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for humans and this should be enough alone to suggest that veganism is not an optimal diet for humans. Here’s directly from the study mentioned:
Not to mention that without modern agriculture (grains etc), vegan diets would be impossible without living in a tropical climate where fruit is available year around.
For example in northern Europe or Canada, only animal foods would be available half the year during winter time.
Thinking rationally about it this way makes it pretty easy to understand why veganism is not a natural diet for humans. Grains are also not recommended to be consumed as they come with many nutritional problems of their own.
The same applies for many types of vegetables that can be problematic for some people, tomatoes being a possible allergen since it belongs to the nightshade family of plants. Another example is cruciferous vegetables that can possibly inhibit thyroid function too much if you're already hypothyroid.
Then there is also the case with lectins in almost all plant foods that can be inflammatory for some people. Sticking to foods such as dairy and fruit is easier since both of them has been created with the intention of being eaten in the first place.
All in all, we NEVER recommend a vegan or vegetarian diet and be careful about what vegetables you choose to eat. Concerning plant foods the best is always to start small and reintroduce them one by one sicne you're then more accurately able to judge how they make you feel.
Low Carb Diets
Low carb diets can be effective for some people to lose weight because they tend to lower cravings and help balance blood sugar ups and downs. The inherit problem with them though is that they tend to decrease metabolism in the long run as well as possibly impair thyroid function. All in all, optimal carbohydrate intake is very individual.
The Ketogenic Diet
The Ketogenic Diet (aka keto) is similar to low carb diets but just more restrictive in carbohydrate intake (below 50g per day in order to produce ketones).
The diet can help boost performance because the nature of ketones as a fuel, the problem is they are extremely restrictive and difficult to adhere to in the long run.
Going keto is possibly good for fixing some medical issues especially related to sugar metabolism and has been shown to increase testosterone and improve body composition.
However, keep in mind that going in and out of ketosis is a stressful process for the body which will skyrocket levels of adrenaline and the stress hormone cortisol for period of time.
Not to mention that balancing fluid and mineral levels such as sodium/potassium/magnesium is very difficult during keto. All in all, we only recommend Ketogenic diets as a short term therapy for specific problems, not the end all be all as some people like to make it.
Sugar & High Carb Diets
The most loved and hated nutrient of all, sugar, is currently being falsely demonized, probably more than it deserves.
Carbohydrates are a very good source of energy for performance and here at Anabolic Health we are very much pro sugar, especially fructose found in fruit and honey.
Both fruit and honey also contain a ton of micronutrients that are necessary for our health so they are both good main sources of carbohydrate.
Starch however, can be very fattening though it’s the optimal carb source for building muscle because it's stronger effect on insulin. A stronger insulin response helps shuttle more nutrients into muscle, but keep in mind it also helps shuttle more into fat storage as well.
We suggest limiting starch to only post workouts (when glycogen stores are already low to minimize fat storage) and only in the form of white rice and potatoes since most cereal grains come with anti-nutrients you do not want to consume regularly.
All in all, if you’re obese it might be easy to overeat on carbohydrates, but there is nothing interstitially evil about them as the low carb community would suggest.
High Protein Diets
While protein in excess won't hurt you, some people might struggle with digesting it when consumed in the form of large amounts of muscle meat.
There is also the case that only consuming muscle meat will give you a very unbalanced amino acid profile that can possibly be inflammatory (lack of glycine).
Consume a varied assortment of animal foods that includes gelatin, dairy, eggs and fish in addition to muscle meat. Ideally also consume the whole animal as done traditionally (organs such as liver is an amazing superfood for men).
At least 100g protein per day is a good number for most people to shoot for and 1g per pound of body weight is probably around the upper limit where more protein does not really increase muscle growth or improve body composition any further (but it does not hurt it either).
High Fat Diets
Maybe the second most demonized nutrient after sugar; fat and cholesterol is getting a lot of hate in media in the last decades.
However, times are changing and it has now been proven that there is nothing unhealthy or wrong about consuming lots of fat in your diet, it’s actually the building block of most of our hormones after all, and crucial for testosterone production.
What you want to stay away from however, is polyunsaturated fats such as derived from vegetable oils which easily go rancid and are inflammatory in the body.
After all, it makes sense that these are not intended to be eaten by humans, how would you possibly go about it without mass industry?
Many people have heard that too much salt is harmful, but did you know too little is even more harmful?
In fact there is little to point towards that excess salt consumption would be damaging in any way. Salt is important for stress reduction by reducing adrenaline and maintaining a strong stress response. The effect can easily be seen in a state of dehydration where salt levels run low and adrenaline run high.
Salt loading in such huge amounts as up to 30g per day is common among elite endurance athlete running marathons and that's for a good reason, it maintains healthy cardiac function during chronic stress. However, this is far more than what is needed by normal people on a daily basis.
While going into all the details and research concerning salt would require an article of its own, we highly recommend you research yourself on the misconceptions about salt consumption and make up your own mind.
Tracking Progress and Avoiding Excess
Remember adequate nutrition does not mean excess nutrition. If you are fat or obese, then you’re either eating the wrong things, or too much of everything.
While we are not proponents of cutting calories too much for weight loss (because it essentially lowers metabolism and thyroid function which is the opposite of what you want), you might want to run a smaller deficit and focus on better food choices to lose that excess weight over a period of time.
If you’re lazy but still want to see results, we highly recommend Avatar Nutrition which is basically a personal nutrition coaching app. It uses AI and the data you enter to figure out your metabolic rate and how much or how little you need to eat to easily gain muscle and lose weight with the least amount of work possible. This is what is also known as Flexible dieting.
Together with Avatar, we recommend using Cronometer and logging everything you eat for a week or two to figure out exactly how much calories you’re getting and what nutrients you’re lacking. This can really be a learning experience that can change the way you look at your diet for the rest of your life.
It is possible to be obese but malnourished, such as for example if you would consume 75% of your daily calories from white rice (madness by the way).
Always aim for consuming the most nutritious foods that you also enjoy. Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals are very important and it’s critical you get everything your body needs from the foods you consume or problems will eventually manifest.
The Simple Recipe for Nutritional Success
So what can we conclude from previously discussed?
That sleep is important is common sense, but still it tends to come in pretty far down on peoples priority lists.
Mostly because in this day and age for example, people are always so busy with work and pursuing careers that little time is left for enjoyment and relaxation, let alone sleep.
The endocrine system is particularly active during the nighttime sleep cycles since this is the time when for example much of a man’s testosterone is produced (another reason why morning erections and sex drive are particularly strong in the morning hours compared to the rest of the day).
Just getting 8 hours of sleep in comparison to 4 hours can make a huge 60% difference in testosterone levels, so every extra hour of rest is important and should be prioritized.
Another reason for the lack of sleep in the modern age is that there are now so many possible disruptors of sleep that we are all victims of them to some degree.
What I am mainly talking about here is blue light emitted from electronics such as TVs and computer/cellphone screens. Ironically these devices tend to be a favorite evening pastime for the majority of people even though they are particularly ill-suited at such a time.
Blue light is actually stressful for the body and inhibits the circadian rhythm, basically dysregulating your body instead of properly preparing it for rest.
You can use electronics before bedtime but only if you invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses which essentially filters out much of the blue light. We highly recommend them since they are much easier to adhere to than the zero electronics before bedtime rule.
This also applies to stuff such office fluorescence lighting which is basically all blue light. Spending 9 hours a day in such an environment is a recipe for disaster, but more on that later.
Overall, here are some general pointers for a good nights sleep:
Adequate Sun / Light Exposure
Guess what the most undiagnosed health condition of the 21st century is?
LIGHT DEFICIENCY. Yes, that’s right, but sunlight is free and available everywhere right so should be easy to fix? Still for the majority of people its not.
When we talk about metabolism together with stress the workings are simple, in order for the body to withstand the stressful situations that it is subjected to, a high degree of energy production (metabolism) is crucial.
The thyroid is the primary driver of energy production, as well as also the stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that can temporary deliver emergency energy (a stress response) with the trade-off of causing damage if prolonged/chronic.
Obviously, the ideal is to have high thyroid energy production (high metabolism) and limit the stress response.
During chronic stress, metabolism and body temperature output is reduced, signaling an emergency energy conserving state which most often involves just powering on further with the help of stress hormones.
Hence, anything that increases metabolism and thyroid function can be seen as beneficial and anything that decreases metabolism can be seen as similar to a chronic stress response (since it makes you less adaptable).
Light deprivation causes a progesterone deficiency, which goes on to influence overall hormonal balance and eventually will lead you towards a state of estrogen dominance (the worst possible state for a man).
This involves high levels of stress hormones as well as high levels of estrogen and prolactin, a sure recipe for everything from sexual dysfunction to chronic fatigue and persistent weight gain.
This issue is mainly caused by dysregulated melatonin production. Melatonin is commonly know as the sleep hormone.
Contrary to popular opinion, melatonin is not a beneficial hormone outside it’s context of a normal sleep cycle. It inhibits progesterone and thyroid function, which essentially lowers metabolism as well as body temperature, the same as a chronic stressor would also do.
All in all, you want to make sure you get at least 1 hour of direct sunlight per day (as long as it doesn't burn you).
If this is a problem then make sure you invest in a bright light device which can serve as a decent replacement occasionally when sun light is not available (such as during the winter if you’re not in a tropical climate).
Also whatever you do, do not supplement with melatonin unless its just temporary to fix a jet lag, it might cause more harm to your metabolism than it is improving your sleep!
A Balanced Circadian Rhythm
Like we just mentioned, a balance between light and dark, stress and rest, is essential for health and hormonal balance.
Hormones work in a pulsating fashion in the body, increasing and decreasing during different times of the day as well as according to needs.
Working late evenings, long into the night can for example keep levels of cortisol running high at times when the rest of the endocrine system would except time for recovery. It will offset and mess up the entire 24 hour balance.
It’s easy to understand these things from a rational perspective too. Humans are creatures evolved from the delicate ecosystem that is planet earth. It is only in the last couple of centuries that technology has come to rise and be able to disrupt much of the natural balance.
Our bodies have not evolved to require any less light or dark than we did 10 000 years ago, yet we get much less then we used to.
If let’s say electricity was never invented, then people’s circadian rhythms would be much different than they are today as the darkness of night is self limiting.
Nobody would stay up when it’s pitch black outside and the limited mobility of fire just makes it a major pain in the ass (imagine clubbing indoors with a giant barn fire in the middle just to keep the party going…)
Levels of cortisol should be the highest in the early morning (to get you out of bed) and level off the further you get into the day. Towards bedtime cortisol levels should be at their lowest levels. This is the natural pattern of a healthy circadian rhythm.
What happens in the case of night owl’s is that the pattern is disregulated since the body is experiencing great difficulty separating night from day (often from excess blue light and not enough sun light for example).
This most often has the effect of making you excessive lazy and tired in the early mornings only to have most of your energy and productivity return to you towards the late afternoon and evening.
At it’s worst the night owl phenomenon will cause you problems with insomnia and testosterone secretion. It’s also easy to tell how well adjusted your rhythm is by the quality of your morning wood.
While there are supplements such as cortisol lowering herbs that can be beneficial in helping to nudge the body's hormonal secretion pattern in the right direction, it is just a band-aid and does not fix the root cause of the problem.
You basically need to address this issue at the core by sticking to a better sleeping schedule and limit disruptive elements.
Minimizing Excess Mental, Physical & Environmental Stress
It is estimated that 60-80% of all doctors visits are stress related which goes to show what a massive component this is in terms of it’s effects on our health.
Nobody are untouched by stress, it is a natural part of life. But what amount is really normal?
Most people need some element of stress to keep them going, there are both good stressors as well as bad ones.
Many would agree that the more though challenges you put yourself through, the stronger you become. This applies both mentally as well as physically.
For example, the heavier the weights you lift the stronger you will eventually grow. The more public speaking you do the less nervous about it you become. These can all be seen as good stressors since they are often not chronic and fuel your personal development.
On a biological level, physical stress and mental stress has similar effects even though through our eyes they can appear very different.
They both affect the fight or flight stress response (nervous system; parasympathetic and sympathetic) in similar ways, increasing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
We already mentioned that chronic overtraining is damaging and defeats the purpose of exercise in the first place. But the situation is the same with mental stressors that can trigger chronic stress, such as a breakup, divorce, death of a loved one, or getting fired.
Being repeatedly injured on a daily basis or stuck in a life situation that you hate is also a chronic stressor that will eventually induce a state of learned helplessness. It is also at this stage when depression usually starts to set in.
Many people have experienced something similar to a stress response or overstimulation from caffeine or nicotine use. It's usually only experienced when your body is not conditioned to their effects (tolerance). Both caffeine and nicotine can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.
Since the body is an amazingly effective system that's always striving for balance, it adapts to the effects from caffeine and nicotine and over time causes down regulation and faster recovery from them.
Basically, they make you more adaptable and resistant to the stress response, as well as cause you to recover faster and essentially reverses learned helplessness.
This is the reason why many find smoking helps for stress reduction and clearly it goes much deeper than just feeding an addiction. Of course as most are aware, both caffeine and nicotine when consumed in excess can still turn into problems of their own.
So, what can be done about stress?
It is common to hear about elite athletes who drive themselves to the brink of destruction in the name of some sport, just to die of an heart attack.
It is not news either about the guy who worked himself to death doing crazy hours of overtime for years on end. All stress builds up overtime and there is no other way to get away from it then by changing your lifestyle and environment.
We already mentioned caffeine and nicotine as maybe somewhat controversial (but still effective) agents for stress adaptation.
There are also a ton of other stuff that can be done such as consume adaptogens (examples: ginseng, rhodiola, maral root), meditate, tai chi, reading etc to help reduce stress.
Also, do not forget to limit physical environmental stressors, they can come in many shapes and forms such as toxic chemicals in our drinking water, phytoestrogens (testosterone reducing) foods such as soy, blue light and more. These are often easier to control than mental stressors though.
Our core principle for effective stress reduction that lasts is LIVE AN ENJOYABLE LIFE.
If you currently aren’t getting what you want from life then man up and do something about it. Life owes you nothing and will give you nothing unless you get off that lazy ass and go after what you want.
Does your girlfriend make your life miserable? Dump her.
Hate your job? Quit.
Financial issues? Stop wasting money and figure out how you can earn and save more instead.
While our 5 Pillars of Health in this post teaches you the basics for how to live a healthy lifestyle, balancing hormones when you already have a problem is an entirely different ballgame.
If you follow the basics it is likely that with time, you will reverse and balance your hormones naturally just by correcting your general lifestyle.
But sometimes it can be good to give the body an extra helping hand, especially if you’re already experiencing hormonal issues such as low testosterone.
Also, if you want to increase performance beyond baseline, then monitoring and tweaking hormones is crucial. This is what we focus on here at Anabolic Health.
Remember that we always strive for hormonal balance and not hormonal excess. "The more testosterone the better” is not a working paradigm!
Testosterone for example, aromatize into estrogen and too much testosterone (such as from anabolic steroid use) will cause excess estrogen levels and this is how problems such as gyno (man boobs) develop.
We want as high normal levels of testosterone as possible without upsetting the overall balance, this is key.
Next up are some short pointers on what to test for when getting hormone labs done:
What Hormones Should You Test for?
Test for the following according to needs:
In addition to the above, it is also important to get a thyroid hormone panel since the thyroid is responsible for metabolism and affects all other hormones as well. In fact increasing thyroid function often increases testosterone.
Test for the following:
General Guidelines for Solving Hormonal Imbalances in Men
The following are our general guidelines if you are suffering from low testosterone, sexual dysfunction, chronic fatigue and overall feel less manly than you should:
- Test free testosterone (calculate with Total T & SHBG) and DHT, they are the most important markers, aim to get these into normal ranges.
- Testicular function can be assessed by testing LH and FSH, especially together with a HCG injection before running labs. Unless these come back very low to non existent after HCG, then you only have secondary hypogonadism and are not a suitable candidate for TRT (look into natural means, there's still hope for your balls!).
- Aim for high metabolism and thyroid function, this can be best assessed by checking morning temperature and pulse, the ideal is close to 98.6f, 75-85bpm. Anything below is sluggish metabolism which will affect your overall hormonal balance.
- Check for estrogen dominance, too much estrogen and/or prolactin (if present, correcting this can often solve low testosterone problems)
- Low progesterone can often be a problem as well if you’re estrogen dominant or under chronic stress (consider supplementing with pregnenolone or progesterone)
- Low levels of SHBG can often indicate some other health condition such as diabetes, consider investigating further if this is the case.
- If DHEA is low, supplement in small amounts (5mg per dose) until within normal range for your age and/or symptoms resolve. Low dosage will make sure it converts mostly into DHT and not estrogen. Can also be combined with a small dose of progesterone/pregnenolone to further prevent estrogen conversion.
- If you suffer from hair loss, gyno or prostate problems, it is likely excess estrogen related and not DHT contrary to what the mainstream might say (i.e. anti-DHT propaganda).
- For frequent insomnia sufferers and other sleep problems, make sure to test cortisol to get an accurate view of your circadian rhythm. You want a curve that goes up in the morning and gets lower and lower towards bedtime.
- Periodically checking IGF-1 levels can be good for anti-aging purposes.
While the above pointers serve as general principles to follow, the subject of hormones are often more complicated than that.
These guidelines should be used to help suggest a direction of treatment for you, but make sure you research your issues more in detail as well as also consult with your doctor.
We have many more articles on these subjects here on our blog, use the navigation bar at the top of the page to explore all our different topics.