Globally the number of men with lifestyle-related conditions such as diabetes and obesity is rising. These health issues can lead to other co-morbidities such as sleep apnea and low testosterone. Many of the lifestyle diseases are caused by unhealthy eating patterns, a sedentary lifestyle and poor health decisions such as the use of tobacco. Conditions such as type 2 diabetes can be easily tackled through consistent lifestyle management and compliance to medical management. Such corrective measures will not only help manage the conditionbut also help manage co-morbidities that accompany it.
“The chances of having low testosterone levels has found to be linked to obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure,” says Dr Yassir Jasim, Urology Specialist at the Canadian Specialist Hospital in Dubai. “A balanced diet is crucial. Low testosterone is much more common in older men as compared to younger ones. In younger males the reduction in levels can be caused by several diseases (type 2 diabetes, chronic liver/kidney disease, COPD, pituitary tumours, radio/chemotherapy), trauma or steroid use. The signs men should be on the lookout for include loss of enthusiasm, lack of energy, abdominal weight gain and a depressed mood.”
In 2010, researchers at the University of Buffalo found that 40 per cent of participants in a study of 2,100 obese men had lower-than-normal testosterone levels, a figure that climbed to 50 per cent among subjects with diabetes. A 2013 study published by the Clinical Endocrinology Journal found that sugar intake may cause a man’s testosterone level to drop by up to 25 per cent. In April, scientists at Tulane University found that low testosterone increases the risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes.
“Morbid obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, unmanaged sleep apnea, chronic systemic illnesses and malnutrition are some of the current lifestyle-related causes of low testosterone,” says Dr Kirnesh Pandey, an obesity, diabetes and thyroid specialist practicing at Bombay Hospital in Indore, and medical advisor to Healthmode.org, a Mumbai-based social enterprise focused on the prevention and management of chronic lifestyle diseases that has been consulted by UAE residents. “All of these have risen dramatically over the past two to three decades, largely driven by preventable lifestyle choices or lack of strong public health practices in relation to environment.”
The WHO has repeatedly warned about the obesity and diabetes epidemics. The UN authority estimates the number of people with diabetes rose from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014, and that obesity has almost tripled worldwide since 1975. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight, of which over 650 million were obese. Air pollution and obesity both significantly raise the risk of sleep apnea, where breathing stops briefly during sleep. The disorder affects about a billion people worldwide.
“The growing incidence of low testosterone in recent times is therefore hardly surprising,” Dr Pandey says. “Low testosterone by itself has not grown as much in prevalence as its rise as a co-morbid condition or as a result of other conditions. Many of these conditions are preventable and manageable to a great degree by following healthy lifestyles or seeking treatment as early as possible when first diagnosed.”
While there isn’t much evidence to suggest food or supplements can increase a person’s testosterone levels, eating correctly could help you lose weight and improve diabetes. “In isolated cases of low testosterone, there is no evidence that it can be fixed through a better diet — though a balanced diet may prevent it in cases where there is no genetic predisposition or other contributing factors,” Dr Pandey explains.
So someone with low testosterone levels but none of the associated conditions may not be advised to make many dietary changes, but because low testosterone is associated with obesity and diabetes, patients with these conditions can benefit from weight loss through exercise and calorie restriction. Losing 10 per cent of your body weight has been shown to slow the progress of diabetes, for example. Sleep apnea may also improve with weight loss, while calorie-deficit balanced diets, supplemented by adequate micronutrients, exercise, adequate sleep and lowered stress can certainly combat obesity.
“Low testosterone is to be seen as a barometer of overall ill health than a disease in isolation in such cases,” Dr Pandey says. From a diet perspective, that involves a balanced approach that is high in nutrients and balanced in terms of proteins, low-glycaemic carbohydrates such as vegetables and good fats including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids — while avoiding all junk food, sweetened food or beverages. All these can go a long way in preventing or correcting low testosterone when it’s a result of underlying conditions such as morbid obesity, diabetes and sleep apnea.
Don’t ignore exercise. Most blogs or websites says regular workouts boost testosterone levels and offer other benefits such as increased energy, improved mood and mental clarity. Dr Jasim agrees, but cautions: “It is true that regular exercise is beneficial to patients with low testosterone, but heavy lifting is not advisable,” he says.