Recently, I’ve been hearing from a lot of veterans who are dealing with low testosterone. This may be because there are more veteran influencers talking about it.
While I believe HRT is definitely the right choice for many, I also believe that it should always be regarded as a last resort when it comes to solving a deficiency. This is because injecting bio-identical testosterone into your body can be very much like using a bandaid to fix a potentially greater problem.
If you are experiencing low T, it’s because something, somewhere in your body, is broken. That means that, unless the underlying issue is fixed, you could be headed for a significant health problem.
I am certainly not against the use of HRT, but many HRT doctors never go beyond giving their patients a cookie cutter protocol that does not address the potentially more serious issue. So, whether you are currently using HRT, or if you are thinking about it, here are some things you should try to address the underlying causes.
Why Do So Many Veterans Get Low T?
Low T can happen in any man for a number of reasons. One of the main causes is high levels of chronic inflammation. Inflammation happens when your body produces compounds called inflammatory cytokines.
Their purpose is actually to help you heal, and you need some inflammation to survive, but chronic inflammation can cause a host of issues related to your health ranging from chronic pain to serious conditions such as heart disease or cancer.
Your testicles also don’t do well with inflammation. High levels of inflammation can kill off your Leydig cells, which are responsible for producing testosterone.
In addition to that, inflammation can also disrupt your brain, and it can shut down the production of testosterone precursors, compounds that your brain produces to help your body produce T. Without these precursors, your entire hormonal cascade could shut down.
Veterans are prone to this for several reasons.
First, many veterans are likely to have experienced low level or acute brain trauma due to exposure to explosions or gun shot blasts. Our past guest, Dr. Mark Gordon and Andrew Marr, medically retired Green Beret and friend of the show, have detailed how this can happen even if you never get knocked out. It can happen simply by being in proximity to an explosion or from firing a machine gun.
Second, many veterans make poor nutrition choices. Drinking alcohol, eating junk food, and smoking can all raise your inflammatory levels.
So here are some things you can do now to begin to address these issues:
Fix Your Digestion
Your digestive tract is not just a long tube that runs from your mouth to your butt. It actually houses about 75% of your immune system and is connected directly to your brain in multiple places via the vagus nerve.
That means a couple of things. First, any inflammation in your gut will affect the rest of your body. Second, anything affecting your gut will also heavily affect your brain. As mentioned earlier, this can be extremely destructive to your testosterone production.
Poor digestion and gastric health are some of the most highly neglected and mistreated conditions out there. Many of the common remedies, like antiacids, proton pump inhibitors, fiber supplements, and laxatives can actually make your condition worse.
Stop Taking Antiacids
Indigestion and heart burn is actually more commonly caused by not producing enough stomach acid (1). Taking antiacids will not only exacerbate this issue, it can prevent you from digesting vital nutrients (2).
The lining in your intestines is, in some places, just a single cell thick. If this lining becomes permeable, food particles can cross the barrier. When this happens, your body creates inflammatory cytokines that raise your body’s level of chronic inflammation.
Anything that you cannot digest will cause damage to your intestinal tract, and by decreasing your stomach acid you are increasing the chances that this will happen.
Rather than taking antiacids, try the following:
- Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water 30 minutes prior to eating. This will help to increase the acidity of your stomach to facilitate digestion and it carries the potential added benefit of increasing your insulin sensitivity.
- Take digestive enzymes about 30 minutes prior to each meal to facilitate digestion.
- Chew your food thoroughly, until it’s liquid. It’s free, and it’s so important in facilitating digestion and preventing damage to your digestive system.
Prepare Your Vegetables, Nuts, and Grains Properly
Vegetables are nutrient dense and can actually help your digestion by providing prebiotic fiber. Nevertheless, they can also cause damage if not prepared properly.
To get the most out of your vegetables while mitigating damage, try this:
With leafy greens and broccoli, make sure you cut, dice, or shred them and let them sit for 10 minutes.
When plants are damaged, they release polyphenols to prevent further damage to their tissues. To do this, the plant has to release enzymes that cause cellular breakdown to release those polyphenols. These enzymes help to break down that cellular wall, and this makes them more digestible. This also makes the plant more nutritious because of the extra release of polyphenols.
Additionally, steaming your vegetables can help to soften the vegetable wall to facilitate digestion. I would avoid boiling them, however, as it can leach out many of the nutrients that you’re trying to eat them for in the first place.
If you’re still having issues with vegetables, and find it hard to consume enough of them, you may want to opt for a nutrient dense greens powder like this one.
When it comes to nuts and grains, both are nutrient dense but notoriously difficult to digest. I would opt for bread and cereals made sprouted grains whenever possible. Sprouting breaks down the non-digestible barrier surrounding grains and actually raises the nutrient content.
With nuts, especially larger nuts like brazil nuts, you should soak them for 24 hours, dry them, and then store them in the freezer to avoid mold build up.
Eat Resistant Starch
Your digestive tract is an ecosystem for millions of bacteria, some friendly and some not so friendly.
Resistant starch is a prebiotic food source for friendly bacteria. This allows them to take up more real estate in your intestinal tract. For added benefit, these bacteria release fatty acids, including butyrate, when they feed on resistant starch, and butyrate helps to heal the intestinal lining and reduce gut inflammation
You can get resistant starch from white rice that has been cooked then cooled, potatoes, and bananas. You can also get a resistant starch supplement that you can add to protein shakes.
Eat Fermented Foods and Take Probiotics
Finally, you can also contribute to the population of friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract by eating fermented foods. These include raw sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha.
In addition to doing the above to maintain your digestive health, you should NOT take NSAIDs. They can completely wreck your digestive tract by preventing it from healing and making it more permeable.
If you’re dealing with headaches or other pain, try a natural pain reliever like this instead.
In addition to fixing your digestion, you also need to get sufficient nutrients into your body to fight inflammation. The following will help you to do this.
EPA/DHA Rich Fish Oil
In nature, omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids balance each other. Omega 6 raises inflammatory levels, and omega 3 lowers them. We need both, but we consume omega 6 in much greater abundance because its found in many of the oils we cook with and put into our food. It’s also found, in high levels, in much of the grain we feed cattle and chickens.
This is why it’s so important to supplement with a good epa/dha rich fish oil. The problem is that quality fish oil is expensive. Here is a high quality fish oil that is affordable and highly effective.
Magnesium is responsible for over 300 reactions around the human body, and it helps to facilitate restful sleep.
I recommend taking 400-500mg of magnesium prior to bed. Here is the magnesium supplement that I use. It’s a magnesium carbonate, that when combined with warm water and citric acid (a squeeze of lemon juice) converts to magnesium citrate in your body. It is highly bioavailable, relaxing, and effective.
Most of us don’t get out into the sun enough. Aside from looking pale and pasty, that means that most of us also have vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin D helps to fight inflammation and it’s responsible for hundreds of reactions in the human body.
The problem, however, is that vitamin D supplementation is also known to leach calcium into the bloodstream. This can actually raise inflammatory levels and cause calcification in blood vessels.
The solution is to take vitamin D in conjunction with vitamin K2, which helps to prevent calcification. I recommend taking a vitamin D/K2 combo like this one. One note here, multivitamins do not contain enough of either of these nutrients to be efficacious, so you’ll need to take these as stand alone supplements.
N-acetyle cysteine is a precursor to cellular glutathione in the human body. This compound helps with cellular turnover in the brain, the intestinal tract, and many other places throughout your body.
Supplementing with NAC is known to help to mitigate damage from diet, alcohol consumption, and other inflammation causing insults.
It has been particularly effective in helping veterans experiencing TBI (6). I recommend supplementing with 600-1200 mg of NAC per day. Here is a highly cost effective source.
Zinc has been shown to mitigate the uptake of aromatase, which is the enzyme that can transform testosterone into estrogen (7). Studies have shown that men deficient in zinc have raised their testosterone levels by supplementing with 30mg per day.
Eat Adequate Calories, Sleep, and Manage Stress
Another big reason why men suffer from low T is that they tend to burn the candle at both ends.
Lack of sleep can kill your testosterone like nothing other. You need 8 hours of sleep.
To facilitate adequate sleep, avoid staring at computer and TV screens within 2 hours of bed time. If you need to look at a screen because of work or if you want to watch TV, I recommend getting yourself a pair of blue light blocking glasses. Blue light can trick your brain into behaving as if it is day time, and these glasses can help prevent that light from affecting your brain.
Stress can also be a huge factor in lowering testosterone levels. The thing about stress, however, is that we can’t eliminate it entirely. It needs to be managed.
Here are a few ways that I deal it it.
- I meditate 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night. While it takes some practice, it’s helped me to understand my brain more effectively and it helps to keep me centered.
- I exercise. Staying active and getting your heart rate up is one of the best ways to manage stress.
- I supplement with an adaptogenic herb called ashwagandha. It helps to bring the body’s hormones back into balance and it’s been shown to increase testosterone production by 14% in males (8).
While I am not against T-replacement therapy, I do think that many men are quick to jump the gun on starting it.
It is not a quick or easy solution, and even if you are using it, there are still underlying issues that need to be addressed to fix the problem.
This article has given you ways of potentially addressing those underlying issues.
Also remember, that I am not a doctor. I’m just a guy who writes blogs and records podcasts. You should consult your physician before doing anything.