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Does Alcohol Affect Testosterone? (Understanding the Science)

Alcohol is a beloved drink by many, and consuming it in moderation can enhance some people’s social experiences. Drinking too much alcohol, however, can have negative effects on the body. Drinking too much one time or drinking excessively over an extended period of time can cause damage to your overall health.

The Effects of Alcohol on the Body

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol can cause damage to your brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system as well as put you at increased risk for developing certain cancers. There are many specific health conditions alcohol can cause.

  • Physical and functional changes to the brain
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Steatosis (fatty liver)
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer

Alcohol and Testosterone

chemical testosterone

An additional impact that alcohol has on the male body is the reduction of testosterone. The liver, which is responsible for processing alcohol, is also responsible for producing testosterone. The more alcohol the liver has to filter, the less testosterone it can produce.

Studies have found that chronic consumption of large amounts of alcohol interrupts proper communication between the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system, which leads to a disruption of hormonal balances. In males, this means that less testosterone is produced than normal. Such hormonal disturbances have behavioral and physiological impacts, such as mood and memory disorders.

A strong association has been made through many studies between chronic, as well as acute, alcohol consumption and lowered testosterone levels, leading to negative effects on male reproductive functions. A recent study of alcoholic and nonalcoholic men found that the men who chronically consumed alcohol had increased levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and estrogen, while their testosterone and progesterone levels were significantly decreased.

Why Is Testosterone Important?

Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in males, though it also occurs in small amounts in females. It regulates many important functions in men, so it is important to have enough of the hormone in your body. For grown men past puberty, testosterone helps to regulate the following:

  • Bone density
  • Fat distribution
  • Production of red blood cells
  • Muscle mass and strengths
  • Facial and body hair
  • Sperm production
  • Sex drive

Men who experience low testosterone levels can experience problems in any of the above areas. Some drop in testosterone levels is a normal side effect of aging.

Experts agree that testosterone levels peak around age 30 and slowly decline from there. Some studies have found that after the age of 45, testosterone levels decrease at a rate of about 1 percent per year.

There are additional side effects of low testosterone.

  • Low energy
  • Depressed mood
  • Low sex drive
  • Low sperm count
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Decreased bone strength

While some decline in testosterone levels is normal, testosterone production can be affected by lifestyle factors. How much you exercise, what your diet looks like, and how much alcohol you consume all impact testosterone levels.

male arm

Can Changes in Testosterone Levels Be Reversed?

If you are concerned about a change in your testosterone levels, the good news is that low testosterone levels can be treated. A drop in testosterone levels is a natural sign of aging, explains an article published by Harvard Medical School, but certain conditions, such as alcoholism, can speed of the rate of decline.

Testosterone therapy is one option that can be used to increase low levels of testosterone to help men feel more alert and energetic, but it is not a simple and straightforward solution. General health has a big impact on testosterone levels, so lifestyle factors must be addressed as well.

The following factors influence testosterone levels:

  • Being overweight
  • Having diabetes
  • Thyroid problems
  • Certain medications, such as steroids
  • Alcoholism
  • Stress
  • Injury or infection

For some people, making healthy adjustments to address any of the issues listed above can be enough to get testosterone levels back to normal by supporting the body to function properly once again. Following a series of diagnostic tests, if your doctor thinks your testosterone levels cannot be improved by lifestyle alone, they may recommend testosterone therapy.

The long-term safety of testosterone therapy is not well understood yet, so it is only recommended to go on this treatment regime if you test for low testosterone levels and you are experiencing negative symptoms. Some people may have low testosterone but not experience any negative side effects, so therapy would not be warranted.

Even if you have low testosterone and are experiencing symptoms, your doctor will likely try to address causes of the low levels first, such as by quitting drinking, exercising more, and eating a healthier diet.

After a thorough review of your symptoms and treatment options, if testosterone therapy appears to be the best treatment option, there are a variety of ways that the therapy is administered. Testosterone delivery methods, as described by the Harvard Medical School, include:

  • Skin patch. A patch is reapplied every 24 hours that slowly releases small amounts of testosterone into your skin.
  • Testosterone gels are applied daily over your upper arms, shoulders, or thigh.
  • Mouth tablet. Tablets are placed on your gums or inner check twice a day to allow testosterone to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Replaced every three to six months, pellets that slowly release testosterone are implanted under the skin near the hips or buttocks.
  • Formulations of testosterone are injected every 7 to 14 days.

You should feel an improvement of symptoms through any of the above methods within four to six weeks. It may take longer — three to six months — to experience improvements in certain symptoms, such as muscle mass.

research

What the Science Says

In general, the wide body of scientific research on the impact of alcohol on testosterone levels supports the conclusion that alcohol can lower testosterone levels in males. One recent study on rats, however, found evidence that certain levels of alcohol consumption can at least temporarily increase testosterone levels.

Thirty minutes after being administered alcohol, the rats demonstrated a fourfold increase in testosterone. Such sudden changes in hormone levels could explain why some people experience increased aggression and libido while under the influence of alcohol.

This study has yet to be conducted safely in humans, but it does hint at a possible explanation for why some people respond differently to alcohol than others. Researchers working on this study are surprised by their findings but also intrigued by the additional questions the findings raise about how males and females are impacted by alcohol and what factors, such as intoxication levels and personal characteristics, influence how people react to alcohol.

How Much Alcohol Can You Drink Without Impacting Testosterone Levels?

It is widely accepted that chronic consumption of high levels of alcohol, particularly what is exhibited by someone with an alcohol use disorder, is what leads to a drop in testosterone levels. That being said, each person’s body functions slightly differently and responds to alcohol differently. Changes in testosterone levels have been observed following acute or moderate alcohol consumption.

If you are concerned about how alcohol is affecting your testosterone levels, speak with your doctor about having your levels tested and simple steps that can be made to improve them. 

SOURCES

Alcohol’s Effects on Testosterone. (October 2018). Verywell Mind.

Alcohol’s Effects on the Body. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Testosterone: Everything You Need to Know About the Hormone and Your Health. (June 2018). Everyday Health.

Treating Low Testosterone Levels. (December 2017). Harvard Health Publishing.

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