These days, a week does not go by without one of my patients it can be a male or a female asking me about testosterone supplementation, often after seeing an ad touting its benefits of improved vitality and sexual performance. In some cases, it's a reasonable choice, while in others, it may be safer to use natural approaches.

While most people think of testosterone as being a male hormone, it is essential to male and female health and in both genders, levels begin to decline with age (as early as age 30 in men and primarily at menopause in women). In both men and women, testosterone helps build muscle and maintain bone density and libido. However, in some very critical areas, the role this hormone plays is unique to each gender. In men, appropriate testosterone levels reduce the risk for heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Too much testosterone can lead to ag. gressive behavior and decreased testicle size, Testosterone's effect on a man's risk for prostate cancer is debated—some studies show that high testosterone levels are associated with an increased risk for prostate cancer, while other research disputes this finding. In women, elevated testosterone levels carry an increased risk for such conditions as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and insulin resistance.

For these reasons, I often prefer to start with safer and time-tested methods, including herbs, nutrition that helps the body manufacture hormones and exercise, rather than initiating hormone supplementation. For example…

  • Zinc helps promote the body's production and utilization of testosterone. Zinc-rich foods include turkey, Swiss chard, oats, soy, lima beans and pumpkin seeds. In supplement form, zinc picolinate is the most readily absorbable. To boost testosterone levels, take no more than 60 mg daily.

Caution: Zinc is added to many supplements and nutritional products, so check your formulas for daily totals. Taking too much zinc may increase total cholesterol, lead to a deficiency of copper and cause other ill effects.

  • Damiana is an herb that holistic doctors often use to boost testosterone production. I typically recommend 20 drops of the tincture twice daily in two ounces of water, taken at least 15 minutes before or after meals.

Caution: Pregnant women should avoid damiana.

  • Vitamins E and B-6. These basic nutrients are required by the liver for appropriate hormone synthesis. I frequently recommend a simple daily dose of 400 international units of vitamin E and 50 mg of vitamin B-6 for my patients who need to improve their testosterone production.
  • Moderate aerobic exercise helps just about everything, including hormone metabolism. Get at least two hours weekly of brisk walking or something more strenuous, if you prefer.

If you are experiencing symptoms of low testosterone, such as low libido, and prefer to take testosterone supplements, get accurate testing first. Testosterone can be tested via blood, urine or saliva. Just be sure your doctor has investigated the lab-not all of them provide reliable test results.

Depression and ED

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is linked to depression and heart disease. ED and cardiovascular disease share many risk factors, including hypertension and diabetes. ED also is one of the earliest manifestations of a forthcoming cardiovascular event. Men with ED, depression or both should talk to their doctors about being screened for possible heart problems.

Pain Relievers Are Linked To Erectile Dysfunction

In a recent study, men who regularly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen, were about 40% more likely to have ED than other men. The reason for the link is unknown.

Caution: If you use an NSAID for heart protection or other benefits, do not stop taking it without first consulting your physician.

Ways to Increase Sperm Count

In a recent finding, men whose anus-to-scrotum (anogenital distance was shorter than the average of about two inches were 73 times more likely to have low sperm counts than men with a longer anus-to-scrotum distance. To increase your sperm count, in addition to consulting with a fertility doctor, avoid stress, quit smoking if you smoke and eat organic food (some pesticides can impact sperm count).

Another Reason for Fertility Problems

Wormlike veins, called varicoceles, are caused by misdirected blood flow from the renal vein. They can slow blood flow and cause overheating in a testicle, which can reduce sperm production. Surgery may be necessary.

Also: Men with varicoceles average 11% lower testosterone levels than men who do not have them. The discomfort of varicoceles sometimes can be reduced with ibuprofen and by wearing an athletic supporter.

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