Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 Jun

A Primal Primer: Testosterone

If you’ve been reading recently you know I’ve been on a hormone kick recently. That sexy looking molecule to the right and the hormone du jour: testosterone. Testosterone is the principal anabolic and sex hormone in humans, responsible for sexual desire and function, muscular hypertrophy, densification of bones, and hair growth. Compared to females, males famously produce about ten times the amount of testosterone, but females are far more sensitive to its effects. Though testosterone is largely responsible for those traits and characteristics that are considered “masculine” – physical strength, body hair, dominance, and virility – both sexes require it for proper sexual and physical development. In mammals, males secrete it primarily from the testicles (about 95% of the total amount, in fact) and women secrete it from the ovaries. A modicum is produced in the adrenal glands in both sexes.

Testosterone plays an important role throughout every stage of a person’s life:

Prenatally, testosterone – along with dihydrotestosterone, a more potent anabolic hormone – is partly responsible for the formation of the male genitalia. It helps determine gender identity (with society bringing up the rear later in life, of course) and it spurs development of the prostate and seminal vesicles.

In early infancy, boys’ testosterone levels rise, almost to puberty levels, only to plummet at 4-6 months. We’re still not entirely sure what the rise means and what all that testosterone is doing, but it’s definitely doing something. One theory is that the brain is being “masculinized.”

Immediately prior to puberty, testosterone begins to rise in both boys and girls. Childhood is departing, replaced by budding pubic hair, the beginnings of body odor, growth spurts, oily hair and skin, and that ridiculous peach fuzz above the lips that every eleven year-old male tries to cultivate and claim as facial hair. Bones mature and the arm pits grow hair.


During puberty, testosterone enjoys a massive increase.  Most of you reading this probably recall those awkward, exciting change-filled times: new odors, inconvenient fluctuations in the functionality and appearance of certain organs, strange new outlooks on the opposite sex. Good times. Thanks, testosterone!


In adults, testosterone’s effects on growth and development have largely manifested and maintenance becomes its province. Libido is preserved for both men and women and erection strength and frequency are regulated by testosterone. Muscles resist wasting thanks to T (and even grow larger).

I would be remiss if I failed to mention testosterone’s chief antagonist: cortisol. Cortisol, as you know, is one of the stress, fight-or-flight hormones. It kept us alive and our wits about us under short-term life-or-death situations for much of our evolution. Unfortunately, when cortisol is constantly elevated – as it often is in the sleep-deprived and chronically-stressed – testosterone is muted. Cortisol is catabolic (breaks tissue down), while testosterone is anabolic. Excessive levels of cortisol produce insulin resistance, fat gain, and muscle wasting, while testosterone promotes muscular hypertrophy and lean mass gains. Cortisol contributes to metabolic syndrome, while testosterone helps alleviate it.

Ironically, serum testosterone status seems to predict the cortisol response of people faced with victory or defeat. High T men and women who “lost” released more cortisol, the stress hormone; when they “won,” less cortisol was released. Low T folks’ cortisol changes did not depend on winning or losing. I guess that’s a downside to high T levels, technically, but it’s to be expected. I’m reminded of the Jimmy Cliff classic, “The bigger they come, the harder they fall”.

Low serum concentrations of testosterone are also independently associated with higher mortality rates in men, even when you consider other risk factors and preexisting health conditions.

Testosterone is important in the formation of bones, as I mentioned earlier, but it’s also crucial for the maintenance of bone density, especially in the elderly.

Testosterone aids in protein synthesis, effectively helping rebuild muscle fibers with amino acids. It can preserve existing mass or build upon it, creating more.

So, testosterone is important, and even vital, if you want to build (and keep) strong bones and muscles, maintain a healthy, active sex life, and live long and well into old age – but how do we make sure we’re making enough?

In 1889, a Harvard University professor by the name of Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard injected himself with a “rejuvenating elixir” containing the extract of dog and guinea pig testicle, reporting increased vigor and feelings of well-being. Traditional Chinese herbalists would often prescribe dried tiger’s penis for impotence, and ancient Greek Olympians feasted on goat and lamb testicles to boost stamina and athletic performance. Clearly, even before testosterone was specifically identified, the ancients (and not-so-ancients) knew that the loins were involved in vigor, strength, and stamina.

Their (our) fixation on consumption of genitalia and genitalia extractions to correct deficiencies in strength, vigor, sexual stamina, and general “well-being” sounds intuitive, in a folksy, endearing sort of way. Does it make sense to eat bull testicles to restore one’s manhood and increase available testosterone?

Not really. Testosterone doesn’t pool up in one’s testicles. It’s not a static reservoir waiting in reserve to be disseminated throughout the body. It’s a hormone that the testicles (in men) and ovaries (in women) produce. That mouthful of fluid you got when biting into a roasted sheep’s testicle on your Greek vacation wasn’t pure, liquid testosterone – sorry. In order to get testosterone, you have to produce it (or inject it, but that’s an entirely different post) endogenously. And if you want to manipulate the amount of testosterone you have available, you can do it the same way you manipulate other hormones, like insulin, leptin, growth hormone, and cortisol. You tinker with your diet, your exercise, and your basic daily lifestyle.

Lift Heavy Things

Resistance training is a potent stimulant of testosterone production, so be sure to lift heavy things every now and again. If you want to tinker even further, messing around with rest intervals between sets can stimulate different hormonal responses. In one study, resting 90 seconds between squat and bench press sets boosted post-workout T levels the most, followed by rest periods of 120 seconds. Resting 60 seconds increased growth hormone the most and T the least.


In young men, a short six-second bout of sprinting increased serum total testosterone levels. Levels remained elevated during recovery. Interestingly, testosterone was also correlated with lactate levels in the blood. It would be even more interesting to know if any training that causes lactate levels to rise would also increase testosterone.

Avoid Excessive Cortisol

Since cortisol antagonizes and reduces free testosterone levels, and stress promotes the release of cortisol, avoiding stress becomes crucial for maintaining or boosting T levels. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep, every night (which in and of itself increases testosterone levels). Avoid overtraining, especially in the Chronic Cardio arena, which may affect T levels and reproductive function. And be sure to take time to chill out and relax (read a book, go for a walk, play).

Get Sun, or Take Vitamin D Supplements

Vitamin D, already associated with bone and muscular strength, also positively correlates with testosterone levels in men. Back in February, the vitamin D/T link got a decent amount of media attention.

Eat Clean, Pastured Animal Products

Toxic substances called dioxins have been shown to interfere with the male reproductive system, including production of testosterone. While concentrated sources of dioxins include Agent Orange (which I’m sure you’re already avoiding), we obtain most of our dietary dioxins through conventionally-raised animal products, especially animal fats and dairy (dioxins accumulate in fat). If you’re going to be eating fatty cuts of meat or using dairy, try to go for pastured, grass-fed animals to reduce your exposure and lessen the negative impact on your testosterone levels.

Eat Saturated and Monounsaturated Fat

A low-fat, high-fiber diet reduced serum and free testosterone levels in middle-aged men. T usage wasn’t affected, but T production was reduced. Another look at male athletes found that both saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and cholesterol intakes were positively correlated with resting testosterone levels. PUFA intake was barely associated with increased levels.

Avoid Foods that Regularly Spike Your Blood Glucose Levels

Researchers found that 75 grams of pure glucose – and the resultant spike in blood sugar – was enough to drop testosterone levels by as much as 25% in a random grouping of healthy, prediabetic, and diabetic men. Now keep in mind how rapidly many SAD carb choices (pasta, cereal, bread, etc) convert to glucose upon digestion…

Get Adequate Zinc Intake

A zinc deficiency predicts lowered testosterone in men (eat your shellfish), but heroic supplementary doses of the mineral don’t boost T levels beyond normal in men with adequate dietary intake.

All in all, testosterone is an incredibly important hormone for health, longevity, and vitality – in both men and women. Leading a Primal life, free of excessive stress and peppered with smart, intense workouts, full of healthy animal fats and plenty of vitamin D, should be enough to promote adequate amounts of testosterone coursing through your veins. It may sound a bit redundant at times (advice: live Primal!), but what can you do when a common, uniting thread seems to run through almost every aspect of human health. It almost writes itself.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I think I could use more testrne. and you tell me to eat my shellfish. I thouhgt shellfish are unclean. you know,like in the book of Deut. ? whats the alternatiove if youre kosher?

    desertmike wrote on August 25th, 2012
  2. there are 4 billion women in the world – why waste 1 second argueing with a man hater. Ignore their “egg” and leave them barren and lonely while they “think” they produce all life. There are 3.2 billion women that love men – those are the givers of live (not the 800 milion that hate).

    Terry wrote on September 14th, 2012
  3. Testosterone contributes a large role to our body, for men testosterone helps sperm production, as well as causing puberty! For females it helps female sexual desire and the maintenance of healthy bones and muscles. female produce smaller amounts of testosterone than the male does.

    Karen wrote on September 26th, 2012
  4. Dear Cortisol,

    You decrease Testosterone, and
    Released when the mind tells itself “You are a loser”;
    Released when your status is lower on the pecking chain.

    Yet, I am not a Type A personality, and may be submissive. Does this mean I have to be a jerk and dominate others and ALWAYS WIN in order to satisfy my testosterone levels??

    Hormonally yours,

    chandler wrote on September 29th, 2012
  5. hi

    mary wrote on October 22nd, 2012
  6. I tried this Dr Max Powers Testosterone Booster – my first bottle to see if it works. It was worth to try… I can feel much better than before, my strength increased a lot and my muscle mass too, I also noticed some fat loss but I can’t tell if it is due to this product or because the product is giving me more strength to exercise more. Try it and you are going to remember me. Just take it as it suppose to. Some people don’t see results as described because they start a diet together with it, just keep with your regular life and take it. You will see.

    SamJ wrote on December 3rd, 2012
  7. Great tips Mark, cheers!

    Marcus wrote on December 4th, 2012
  8. I find it hard to believe this article generated this many (idiotic) posts.

    And still no-one pointed out that Jimmy Cliff’s song is “the HARDER they come.”

    duncle wrote on December 5th, 2012
  9. what is the best natural sorce of testosteron. which can increase testosteron lelel in thr human body.

    chetan wrote on December 7th, 2012
  10. There’s a few more bullet point tips to increase testosterone here –

    This article has tonnes of background information about testosterone, but takes a while to get to the point. Was the point meant to be a testosterone primer or a list of ways to increase testosterone?

    Daniel Brady wrote on January 29th, 2013
  11. hi….
    this is the first time I am approaching u.I am a married man but for the last ten years i and my wife is totally stressed.we have a problem of sex.We can not meet at night.due to lack of sexual production.Always feel lazy,do nothing,head ache,body ache and so other problem.This time We have 4 children.I and my wife is 34 year old.Pl suggest a suitable medicine for that we can enjoy our life.I specially involved i a gas problem…….Thanks

    Tasneem Muhammad wrote on February 2nd, 2013
  12. FIRST!

    Andrew wrote on February 13th, 2013
  13. For most of my life I have been very athletic, surfing, weight lifting, racquetball,mountain biking, swimming, etc, etc.I have always looked, felt and acted much younger than my age, even today at 57! People always say I thought you were about 40! Bless them!! LOL!
    But for the last year, I have lost my motivation, my drive and the desire to better myself. It is like someone just through a switch, “ON” to “OFF”. I have also gained about 20lbs, but more importantly to me, I have gained a large percent of body fat and muscle lost at the same time. If I try to lose weight, I get severe bouts of Gout attacks, which I have been told is the release of purines in the fat reserves! I’m screwed!! So, the question is, do those Testosterone Injections from “those” specialized clinics help, AND, are they safe? I am really trying to eat properly and only use “Naturally” fed animal proteins and unprocessed foods. HELP!!!!!!!!!!!! thank you!

    Charles wrote on March 10th, 2013
    • ‘On/Off’ could be Thyroid. See if painting the soft, bottom part of your foot with Iodine helps. If a plate of oysters gives you more energy think Zinc deficiency. As we get older our digestive system gets a bit tired, you might try some Digestive Enzymes for a couple of months. Add some Vit. B. 😀

      chrys wrote on September 23rd, 2013
  14. Great article! As someone who’s currently on TRT I find articles like this invaluable. Unfortunately for me no amount of “heavy lifting” or vitamin D will completely replace what cancer has taken from me.

    J.P.E. wrote on March 26th, 2013
  15. What kind of vitamin D? D3 D2 D or any D vitamin

    H20 wrote on March 31st, 2013
  16. ok good information in general .but I have say these are the lamest comments I have ever read. people get a life and don’t bother to answer me I wont be coming back here to read them

    guilewolf wrote on May 8th, 2013
  17. I’m a big drinker of black tea. Its recently occurred to me that most tea comes from China or the far-east; now one of the most air-borne polluted areas of the world thanks to the huge industrial growth taking place there(esp China). The question I’m asking is how many of these gender-bending Test lowering chemicals are finding their way into the tea I love so much and have been drinking for years now? The rain that falls on these tea fields must surely be heavily polluted? My libido has tailed off quite alarmingly in the last 18 months as well as my ability to maintain a full erection(although I am 44 now!). Am gonna stop the tea right now and see what happens!

    Rob Humphreys wrote on May 22nd, 2013
    • I’m four years older than you and I know that feeling. One of the things that has helped me is to throw out any plastic bottles that contain BPA. I have a water bottle I use everyday and replacing that brought back my morning erections after about 12 days. Doing kegals and strengthening your pelvic floor muscles the proper way has also helped out as well. Be sure to drink plenty of water, I didn’t think that mattered but you have no idea how important that is.

      Nikko wrote on May 22nd, 2013
  18. Wow! Is the Issue here about the Article or about what Women want to have written in a different Article.

    I am sure? If you don’t die before a New Different Article for Women’s Testosterone is written, you will have plenty of time to think about your new ways to change what is!

    Read what is written absorb what you can and be ready for your questions when the time is right.

    Just get on with it

    Jungle Jim wrote on May 25th, 2013
  19. @Dan Where did you read that? I’ve read that vegans don’t get the proper amounts of protein to balance their hormones which results in lower testosterone.

    Nikko wrote on July 6th, 2013
  20. @Dan That is a bummer, your posts are very civilized, not sure they would be doing that.

    Nikko wrote on July 7th, 2013
    • They have. All my replies have to be from a different email address.

      This behavior makes me question the ultimate agenda of the page and lowers my trust in the information given. My original post was simply a correction of the information given here. There’s no reason to delete it without having an ulterior motive.

      I hope you’re still getting these as email notifications.

      Dan wrote on July 8th, 2013
  21. Just happened across this looking for help for my hubby and myself. We will both be 62 this year. And retired. In our younger years we pretty much lived life in the fast lane and seem to paying now. Although our diet and drinking habits were bad we did manage to be pretty physically active. I had a full hysterectomy at 50 and take no hormone replacement. Aside from being overweight I feel great and have no health problems. Hubs has Afib and arrythmia problems and had a hip replaced 2 years ago due to necrosis. I have been reading up on ways to improve our health. Tell me it isn’t too late.

    I have zero confidence in the medical community so “talking to my doctor” is not an option here. I did just have a full physical and they found absolutely nothing wrong with me other than slightly high cholesterol. We would like to ease back into exercise and improve our diet as well.

    I read an article recently about pitutary damage from head injury causing many problems including affecting hormones. Hubs had a bad knock on the head about 15 years ago and thinking back on it thats when his problems started. I think he needs to see an endocrinologist.

    I have read every comment here and it seems that most of you are intelligent. I would appreciate intelligent responses.

    Ruth wrote on July 15th, 2013
    • Ruth, I hope you can still get replies to your comments. I would encourage both of you to change to a primal life. The food is good, gives us more energy and we see our health problems decrease and sometimes disappear all together. Give it 30 days or more and see how it feels and then you’ll know that “we are what we eat” and that’s a good thing when you are strictly eating good food.

      2Rae wrote on January 30th, 2014
  22. i am 22 year old boy and dnt have a moustache also i have enlarged breast. how to treat it?

    Naresh kasula wrote on August 8th, 2013
    • Naresh, have your doctor check hormone levels with a simple blood test. RE:hair -this might be just a separate issue if your family is not very hairy.

      chrys wrote on September 23rd, 2013
  23. hi is this possible to use this testosterone on fat body?
    i mean i m fat and doing exercise regularly can i use this to make my body in shape? or first i have to remove fats from my body?
    is this boost confidence level as well?

    mr. Tonny wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • Tommy, also have your Thyroid and Zinc levels checked (Re. metabolic rate). Whenever changing body shape (i assume you already know) increase Proteins = muscle growth and decrease Carbs. Increase green vegetables = oxygen and vitamins.

      chrys wrote on September 23rd, 2013

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