Men's Health, Women's Health | March 29, 2018 | Author: Naturopath
Testosterone is known as an anabolic hormone, and it's not just for men. This potent hormone is found in varying amounts in all bodies.
But it's not just about the amount of testosterone in the blood that matters! For testosterone to exert any effect on the body, it must first bind to an androgen receptor inside a cell.
#1. Testosterone attaches to an androgen receptor and causes a moderate androgenic effect on the cell.
#2. An enzyme called 5-a-reductase converts testosterone into DHT, an androgen hormone that is 10x more powerful than testosterone. DHT then attaches to the androgen receptor and causes a huge androgenic effect on the cell.
#3. An enzyme called aromatase converts testosterone into oestrogen, which then attaches to a different receptor and exerts oestrogen effects on the cell – kind of the opposite of androgen effects.
No matter how high the circulating testosterone levels are, if the body's androgen receptors are sleeping on the job, then #3 will always happen! This results in a relative androgen insufficiency – a much higher level of oestrogenic activity than androgenic activity in the body.
There might be plenty of testosterone in the blood but without active receptors, the symptoms of an androgen insufficiency may still occur:
There's good news! You can take care of your androgen receptors and even encourage your body to create more of them!
The sensitivity and number of androgen receptors can be affected by nutrition, exercise and healthy habits – as well as pollutants, poor health, and the wrong food choices.
Intermittent fasting is growing in popularity as a diet strategy that is (relatively) easy for most people to maintain. The instructions for the “16/8 fast” are easy: eat during 8 hours in a 24 hour period, and “fast” for the remaining 16 hours. For example, if you begin breakfast at 8am, you should finish dinner at 4pm. It doesn't matter which hours you choose; eating between 12pm and 8pm appears to be just as effective  – good news for people who skip breakfast!
This style of eating gives the body plenty of time digest, metabolise and reset during the fasting hours. It has been shown to lower inflammation, reduce cardiovascular risk factors, and boost the sensitivity of androgen receptors . A 2016 study on healthy men showed that eight weeks of the 16/8 diet decreased the amount of circulating testosterone and increased the sensitivity of androgen receptors . This came with added benefits of lower fat mass, maintained muscle mass and strength, suggesting that circulating testosterone was being used more efficiently and exerting a stronger androgenic effect.
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Vitamin D has been reclassified as a steroid hormone and a vitamin because it works directly with the endocrine system. It has its own receptors throughout the body and they are often in close proximity to androgen receptors – a hint that they may be linked! A deficiency in vitamin D is associated with a stunting of testosterone's effects on androgen receptors, and a decline in testosterone levels . It's possible that short bouts of UVB radiation from sun exposure could help boost androgen receptors for 24 hours – it's still unknown whether this is because of the raditation itself, or an increase in vitamin D production .
If you are suffering from symptoms of an androgen insufficiency, get your vitamin D levels checked and speak to a nutritionist about your ideal supplemental dosage.
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Of all types of exercise, research suggests that resistance training is the most likely to boost the number of active androgen receptors in the body .
While sprinting and other aerobic exercises can also cause an upswing in testosterone's effects on the body, doing short bouts of lifting heavy weights appears to be the most potent of all.
Quick exercises that take a lot of exertion stimulate a release of testosterone, along with an increase in androgen receptor synthesis and function.
Endurance activities run the risk of boosting cortisol – a stress hormone that blocks the activity of androgens. While any exercise is better than none, opt for heavy resistance training if you want to supercharge your androgen receptors!
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Carnitine is an amino acid that is essential for burning fat into cellular energy. Without carnitine, fatty acids are unable to cross the membrane of the mitochondria where they are used for ATP synthesis. Recent research has shown it has a host of roles outside of the mitochondria, including boosting androgen receptors and their sensitivity. Studies have shown that taking 2g of an L-carnitine supplement can boost androgen receptors within 3 weeks, and may promote recovery from exercise .
NOTE: Be sure to supplement with a fat-soluble antioxidant like alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) when taking a carnitine supplement. The increase of energy production caused by L-carnitine will also case an increase of free radicals being released from the mitochondria –- a natural result of ATP production. ALA can quench the free radicals so they don't go on to cause oxidative stress in the body.
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There are some food compounds and environmental contaminants that have been shown to block the activity and sensitivity of androgen receptors:
Quercetin, genistein and lycopene are often used as complimentary therapies in cases of prostate cancer, where androgen receptors are too sensitive! But if you're suffering from an androgen insufficiency, try avoiding these nutrients in high doses, always eat organic, and stay away from plastic!
 Moro, T., et al. (2016) Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. J Transl Med., 14, 290. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5064803/
 Mitchell, C. J., et al. (2013) Muscular and Systemic Correlates of Resistance Training-Induced Muscle Hypertrophy. PLoS ONE, 8:10, e78636. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3793973/
 Mitchell, D. L., et al. (2014) Acute exposure to ultraviolet-B radiation modulates sex steroid hormones and receptor expression in the skin and may contribute to the sex-bias of melanoma in a fish model. Pigment Cell Melanoma Res., 27:3, 408 – 417. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4343261/
 Wang, N., et al. (2015) Vitamin D is associated with testosterone and hypogonadism in Chinese men: Results from a cross-sectional SPECT-China study. Reprod Biol Endocrinol., 13, 74. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4504177/
 Kreaemer, W. J., et al. (2006) Androgenic responses to resistance exercise: effects of feeding and L-carnitine. Med Sci Sports Exerc., 38:7, 1288 – 1296. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16826026
 Marconnia, D., et al. (2017) Food components and contaminants as (anti)androgenic molecules. Genes Nutr., 12, 6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5312591/