Why testosterone levels are dropping at “alarming” rates

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00:00 Introduction

00:31 1. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals

02:23 2. Sociocultural reasons

05:43 3. Lifestyle reasons

07:11 Conclusion


Current generations have lower testosterone levels in their twenties and thirties than previous generations used to have in their fifties. Researchers concluded that: it is alarming that changes of this magnitude can be detected over such a relatively short time. Why are testosterone levels decreasing so fast across generations? Is this why so many people have difficulty building muscle? And what can we do about this? The first reason that’s often mentioned is endocrine-disrupting chemicals: plastics, pesticides, all the chemical stuff that is in personal care products, your toothpaste, all of the stuff that you use on your face, on your body.

These days, there is a lot more exposure to chemicals and indeed there is evidence supporting that many of these chemicals have negative effects on our hormonal balance. However, most of the evidence is in animals and in vitro research. There is no hard data that especially the average exposure that we get through just living our daily lives has significant negative effects over time in humans. So there is cause for concern here. We see that there are associative studies, people that are exposed to more of these chemicals. They tend to have lower levels, but there is no hard data showing that when we expose people to a chemical like this, their testosterone levels actually decrease. So it’s hard to say if it’s just overall lifestyle variables or maybe it’s pollution or some other factor. Overall, the data on this are not very clear and certainly don’t point towards any major effects that explain all of the decrease in testosterone levels that we see across generations.

I think the research on endocrine disrupting chemicals can be summed up pretty well by the following quote from researchers. It has been demonstrated under laboratory conditions that they can exert detrimental effects on the male reproductive system. However, human exposure data are scarce and do not uniformly support toxicity of these substances at environmental concentrations. Despite substantial research efforts, the final answer to the problem of endocrine disrupting chemicals is not yet in sight. Basically, they are saying there is cause for concern, but we don’t have hard evidence that the average chemical exposure we get from living in our current society is enough to substantially lower our testosterone levels. The second often mentioned reason is a socio cultural. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently said that we are raising a generation of wimps. and there are a lot of people saying that the feminization of society is hurting testosterone levels.

So the idea is that because we are promoting a less traditionally male society or we are no longer rewarding traditionally male behavior, that this kind of negative effects on testosterone levels. And there is indeed research supporting that things that we associate with masculine behavior can result in increases in testosterone levels. Cultural and sociocultural settings impact our testosterone levels. It’s not all biology. So depending on how you are treated, how you interact with people, these things can influence your testosterone level. However, when we look at specific studies, we can see that most of these influences are not influenced by things like gender roles and our interpretation of the facts. But they are more deeper biological or evolutionary behaviors. For example, we see that having your status challenged depending on where you are in the status hierarchy, can change your testosterone levels. And we typically see that in people higher up the hierarchy.

For example, they can experience an increase in testosterone levels when they are challenged, whereas people lower on the hierarchy may experience a decrease. And such effects of power dynamics exist in men and women, and they are independent of how we interpret the situation and whether it’s portrayed as a masculine or a female way of wielding power. However, the idea that our current society is becoming increasingly effeminate is actually not necessarily true. Depending on what type of behaviors we look at, a lot of behaviors and more common ways of living in our current society are actually traditionally more masculine. For example, there is an increasing emphasis in current society, especially in younger generations, on more short term mating strategies. Basically hookup culture. and there is a lower number of people that have children.

And also there are fewer children per family. These short term mating strategies typically reward higher testosterone levels. It’s known, for example, that nurturing behaviors typically reduce testosterone levels, whereas mate seeking behaviors typically increase testosterone levels. So hookup culture and not having children in men should result in higher testosterone levels rather than lower testosterone levels. More importantly, perhaps, is that most of these changes that we see in research of socio cultural effects on testosterone levels are very transient. They are short term. When you your status is challenged, you may experience an increase or decrease in testosterone levels when you were taking care of a baby, your testosterone levels may decrease. But then when you go to work and you are the alpha male big boss, maybe you experience an increase in testosterone levels. So all of these effects are very short term and they don’t necessarily influence our long term resting levels. So it’s questionable if these sociocultural elements, if they’re even quantifiable in the first place, really exert strong negative influences across multiple generations on our resting testosterone levels.

The third category of reasons for the decline in testosterone levels across generations is, in my view, by far the most important one. It’s lifestyle. All of these things about chemicals, feminization of society, they are very speculative. However, we have good hard data showing that higher body fat levels in particular decreased testosterone levels. Decreased sleep hours, increased mineral deficiencies and higher body fat levels are in fact in multiple studies enough to completely explain the decrease in testosterone levels. There is no more significant decrease in testosterone levels across generations when we control for lifestyle variables, meaning that this decrease that we’re experiencing is entirely under our own control. It is the result of our lifestyle. Unhealthier lifestyles resulting in higher body fat levels, more obesity. Those are the primary reasons why we see lower testosterone levels. So it’s not the case that we are doomed to have lower levels of muscle mass and less masculine behavior because of the chemicals in our water and stuff. Yes, these things might play a role. More research is needed to elucidate those, but we have hard data showing that the vast majority of the decrease that we are seeing in testosterone levels in people now versus former generations is caused by our current lifestyle. So if we fix our lifestyle, we promote healthier ways of living. We also undo the decreases in testosterone levels that we’re currently seeing. So don’t worry about your testosterone levels if you are already a healthy, fit person.

If you’re doing strength training, you have a decent diet, you’re sleeping enough. These are the big things that you can really do to improve your testosterone levels, manage your stress levels. It’s really the basic things that you should be doing anyway. And most of these most of these videos, these tutorials or books have been written about how to increase your testosterone levels. None of that stuff really matters when you’ve taken care of the basics. There are also no supplements. There is no magic trick to boost your testosterone levels other than injecting it, basically. So if you want naturally high testosterone levels, the key for that is simply to adopt a healthy lifestyle, have a healthy body fat level, go to the gym, have a good diet, get all your nutrient deficiency in order, and in particular, the minerals, magnesium, zinc, boron. Boron You typically get if your diet is just good. You eat a lot of vegetables. If you’ve taken care of all of these basic things, you do blood work, your levels are in the normal range. You’re not symptomatic. Then your testosterone levels are most likely fine For most individuals watching this video. For my typical audience, I expect that most people have normal testosterone levels.

They don’t have to worry about this decrease in testosterone levels across generations from pesticides and all that stuff that we can’t necessarily do that much about. And it’s very unlikely that this influences our maximum muscular potential. Our natty maxes probably have not decreased over the last 50 years.

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About the author

Menno Henselmans

Formerly a business consultant, I've traded my company car to follow my passion in strength training. I'm now an online physique coach, scientist and international public speaker with the mission to help serious trainees master their physique.

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