For the many men diagnosed with testosterone deficiency, losing weight can help increase testosterone levels.
But in a new study, researchers found that certain diets—specifically a low-fat diet—may be associated with a small but significant reduction in testosterone.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Chicago and elsewhere.
Low testosterone is highly prevalent in the United States, as approximately 500,000 men are diagnosed with testosterone deficiency each year.
Testosterone deficiency can lead to problems, including decreased energy and libido, along with physiological alterations, including increased body fat and reduced bone mineral density.
In addition to medications, treatment for low testosterone often includes lifestyle modifications, such as exercise and weight loss.
But the effects of diet on testosterone levels have been unclear. Because testosterone is a steroid hormone derived from cholesterol, changes in fat intake could alter testosterone levels.
The team analyzed data on more than 3,100 men from a nationwide health study (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES).
All participants had available data on diet and serum testosterone level.
Based on a two-day diet history, 14.6% of men met the criteria for a low-fat diet, as defined by the American Heart Association (AHA).
Another 24.4%of men followed a Mediterranean diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but low in animal protein and dairy products.
They found that men who adhered to a fat restrictive diet had lower serum testosterone than men on a nonrestrictive diet.
The average serum testosterone level was 435.5 ng/dL (nanograms per deciliter).
Serum testosterone was lower in men on the two restrictive diets: average 411 ng/dL for those on a low-fat diet and 413 ng/dL for those on the Mediterranean diet.
After adjustment of other factors, the team found the low-fat diet was significantly associated with reduced serum testosterone, although the Mediterranean diet was not.
The team says this study provides evidence that a low-fat diet is associated with lower testosterone levels, compared to an unrestricted diet.
So what diet is best for men with testosterone deficiency? The answer remains unknown, according to the authors.
In overweight or obese men, the health benefits of a low-fat diet likely far exceed the small reduction in serum testosterone.
In contrast, for men who are not overweight, avoiding a low-fat diet “may be a reasonable component” of a multifaceted approach to increase serum testosterone.
The lead author of the study is Jake Fantus, M.D. from the Section of Urology, Department of Surgery
The study is published in the Journal of Urology.
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