Maintaining Testosterone Levels Naturally
As with other hormones, including cortisol, we know quite clearly that maintaining optimal levels of testosterone—not too high and not too low—is the approach associated with the most dramatic long-term health benefits. In the context of the SENSE lifestyle Program, keeping cortisol "low" and testosterone "high" really means maintaining optimal values in the face of stress and aging (both of which raise cortisol and lower testosterone).
It is important to keep in mind that one of the most central concepts in the science of endocrinology (the study of hormones) is that hormones tend to work in concert with one another to control metabolism. This means that changing two hormones, each by a little bit, is likely to have a better overall effect on a given outcome (such as weight loss) than changing a single hormone by a large amount. In the case of the SENSE program, the last five years have shown us that a small change in cortisol (5 percent reduction) plus a small change in testosterone (5 percent increase) delivers a much more profound change (loss of body fat, increase in energy and mood) than does a large change in cortisol (20 percent reduction) by itself. In our most recent iteration of the SENSE program, the average reduction in the cortisol/testosterone ratio was 15 percent—and participants could not believe how good they felt or how easy it was to drop the fat. (The entire SENSE lifestyle Program is outlined in Chapter 9.)
In addition, changing multiple hormones by small amounts is also much less likely to lead to side effects and other problems associated with "single-focused" approaches to weight loss. By controlling stress and using supplements to maintain normal cortisol/testosterone levels, we have much better compliance and success rates than programs such as low-carb diets or those relying on stimulant-based herbs. Better results with fewer side effects—I think you would agree that is not a bad approach.
Chapter 8 covers a number of dietary supplements that can help to maintain normal testosterone levels, but there are several other simple techniques that can also help, including getting enough sleep (Chapters 7 and 9), staying physically active, maintaining adequate hydration, and learning to perceive stressful events in the proper context.
In terms of physical activity, we know that virtually all forms of exercise help to elevate testosterone levels in both men and women; endurance exercise works almost as well as lifting weights for maintaining testosterone in most moderate exercisers. Researchers at the University of Texas have shown that not only does inactivity lead to a rapid loss of muscle mass, but when accompanied by high levels of stress and cortisol, muscle loss is accelerated. The good news about exercise is that while it is boosting testosterone, it is also reducing cortisol, via the "destressing" effect of a workout. But the best news of all is that you'll be pleasantly surprised by how little exercise is needed to activate these positive hormonal effects (covered in Chapter 9).
Avoiding dehydration is another way to keep your hormones balanced. Researchers from the University of Connecticut's Human Performance Laboratory demonstrated that cortisol levels were increased by dehydration. In addition, C:T ratio was significantly higher (i.e., elevated C and reduced T), creating a biochemical state that interferes with the balance between anabolism and catabolism, which in this case shiftsing the body toward fat gain and muscle loss.
Finally, stress researchers from around the world have shown that how we perceive and cope with a given stressor can determine our hormonal response to that stressor. For example, Italian researchers have found that health effects of daily stressful encounters are related to how the stress is perceived. This means you can be exposed to stress, and deal with it appropriately, resulting in only a temporary, healthy rise in cortisol levels. However, if the stress is dealt with inappropriately (for example, if you mentally "revisit" the event over and over), your cortisol levels rise and testosterone levels fall. Likewise, psychology researchers in Spain have shown that when men or women cope with any sort of social "competition," we assess it in such a way that it activates a "psychobiological coping response." The important thing here is that both the significance of the competition and your perception of the amount of control you have over the outcome will influence your biochemical stress response to the situation. More important than winning or losing is the coping pattern you display, thus determining your hormonal changes. Psychologists at the University of Miami use cognitive-behavioral stress management (CBSM) to reduce perceived stress in stressful or competitive situations. Participating in CBSM activities causes cortisol levels to drop and anabolic hormones (like testosterone and DHEA) to rise—effects that typically translate into an improvement in both mood and in immune function.
It is probably quite apparent to you by now that it is the balance between hormones and enzymes that represents the "metabolic sweet spot" you're shooting for. In a perfect world, we would easily manageintain the relatively high cortisol and low testosterone levels of our youth, and pesky fat-storing enzymes like HSD would be adequately controlled with liberal and frequent infusions of hot fudge sundaes. Alas, the very process of living and aging (gracefully or not) leads us inexorably toward elevated cortisol, suppressed testosterone, and overactive HSD—all of which combine to make us rounder and softer and more tired and less happy.
Now that you're completely depressed about how different elements of your body's biochemistry gang up to destroy your figure, it's time to throw you off the cliff by outlining the relationship between stress (and the resulting hormone/enzyme changes) and your risk for most modern diseases. This topic is outlined in Chapter 6, but please don't despair, because Chapters 7 through 9 are where we get into the good news: that you can do something to maintain optimal levels of cortisol, testosterone, and HSD—even in the face of a too-stressful existence.