Fight the ‘Beer Belly Blues’ with diet and exercise
If you are over a man over the age of 40, whether you like it or not, you have already begun to experience male menopause, or andropause, a drastic decline in your male hormones. I prefer to call it “beer belly blues,” since two of the hallmarks of male menopause are an enlarged waist circumference and a decline in your once jovial mood.This decline actually begins in a man’s thirties, and most men can expect a loss of almost 10 percent each decade thereafter, especially if they don’t take the necessary steps to deal with it.
This drop in hormone levels, primarily the male hormone testosterone, has been well known for more than 60 years by the medical establishment, yet few doctors will admit it exists.
As testosterone levels begin to dwindle, expect a noticeable loss of muscle mass and, in the process, overall metabolism declines, because muscle is one of the primary mechanisms for controlling the body’s ability to burn fat. Belly fat is also a good indicator of estrogen levels in men. Actually, belly fat houses an enzyme called aromatase that is responsible for converting testosterone into estrogen.
Men become so efficient at producing estrogen (estradiol) from testosterone that many become estrogen dominant.[i] In fact, estrogen levels are so closely linked to excess belly fat that a large waste circumference, 100 cm (40 inches) or more, can often be a determining factor of low testosterone and high estrogen levels. It is high estrogen that is often responsible for abdominal obesity, loss of energy, low moods, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, prostate disease, and the dreaded man-boob syndrome.[ii]
When it comes to a man’s ability to produce healthy levels of testosterone, diet is vital. Your mother was really on to something when she told you to eat your veggies so you would grow to be a strong and healthy man. The best vegetables for protecting testosterone levels are the cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage. These foods are rich in indoles, which can lower excess estrogens in your system and stop them from competing with your testosterone.[iii]
Eat fat to maintain testosterone? Really?
Yes. Unfortunately, the majority of aging men are told over and over again to greatly reduce their dietary fat and cholesterol consumption, especially if they want to reduce their risk of heart disease. The research, however, does not support this advice.
In 1990, researchers from South Carolina published results from a survey in the Journal of Nutrition that found absolutely no correlation between blood cholesterol levels and a high saturated fat intake.[iv] And according to a body of research reviewed by Mary Enig, PhD, from the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, saturated fats and cholesterol do not increase heart disease. In fact, cholesterol is actually used as a substance to help repair damage to the arteries.[v]
When one thinks of maintaining optimal testosterone levels, one has no other choice but to understand how important cholesterol is in this equation. Not only is cholesterol a major component of all cell membranes, which is why the body deems it important enough to manufacture nearly 1,000 milligrams every day, it also happens to be the major building block of testosterone as well as other sex hormones.[vi]
Most interesting is that low-fat, low-cholesterol advocates will tell you that cholesterol is bad for the arteries and yet never make a single mention of how important testosterone is to a healthy cardiovascular system. Research presented in the Journal of Coronary Artery Disease, showed that low levels of free testosterone may be the real culprits in the development of premature coronary artery disease.[vii]
The Rotterdam Study, one of the largest population-based studies to date, looked at testosterone levels in relation to cardiac health in 504 men aged 67 to 75. The results: men with the highest levels of free bioavailable testosterone also showed the lowest levels of coronary artery disease.[viii] And since healthy cholesterol levels are so important to healthy testosterone production, does it really make sense for men should to cut out all the fat?
Although a clear link between low-fat diets and lower testosterone levels has been made,[ix],[x],[xi] when it comes to healthy diet it’s generally true that too much of virtually anything is unhealthy, including saturated fat. A diet that contains approximately 30 percent fat seems to be appropriate for maintaining healthy testosterone levels and anything more may actually contribute to a bigger belly.
Researchers from Penn State University confirmed that not only is dietary fat positively linked with testosterone levels, but the effect of dietary fat on testosterone levels depended on the kind of fat consumed. The researchers found that monounsaturated and saturated fats – found in things such as avocados, olive oil and walnuts – were able to raise testosterone levels, but polyunsaturated fats – found in corn oil, nuts, and seeds – were not.[xii],[xiii] Monounsaturated fats are also the ones associated with many of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
What about protein?
Sufficient protein intake has also been shown to support healthy testosterone levels by lowering sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). This is a hormone carrier that binds to testosterone, making it unavailable to exert its effect on the body. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed that elderly men who consumed a diet low in protein had elevated SHBG levels and experienced a decreased in the effects of testosterone.[xiv]
Next: Part 2 – How the right kind of diet and exercise can boost your testosterone