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Cholesterol: Bigger Muscles and More Testosterone

Cholesterol is in fact essential for your daily health.

Cholesterol is not the heart-disease-promoting evil hormone that we have been told by medical professionals. Epidemiological data suggest that dietary cholesterol has little to do with your blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is not only essential for your health, but it’s also an anabolic hormone that can help you pack on muscle. In fact, when men are placed on low-fat diets, there is a noticeable decrease in testosterone. As early as 1979, researchers reported that when men consumed isocaloric diets (i.e., diets containing the same amount of calories) that were low-fat and from vegetarian sources (~25 percent kcals from fat), it resulted in significant decreases in plasma testosterone compared to men receiving moderate-fat diets (~40 percent kcals from fat).

Low Fat Diets Suppress Testosterone

Men have been misled into following low-fat/high-fiber diets for cardiovascular health, not realizing that low-fat and high-fiber foods cause reductions in testosterone. For example, reducing dietary fat from a moderate-fat diet (greater than 30 percent calories from fat and low fiber less than 20 g/day) to a low-fat diet (less than 15 percent calories from fat and 25-30g fat per day) significantly reduced total and free testosterone levels, as well as adrenal androgens (androstenedione and DHEA). Here are a couple of other studies suggesting that low-fat diets are not conducive for testosterone levels.

– A 2007 study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine highlights the importance of having adequate protein and fat in your diet and its effects on testosterone production. In the study, men completed 21 weeks of resistance exercise, and were assigned to two groups: one group received nutritional counseling (instructing clients to eat healthier monounsaturated fats) plus strength training, and the other group was assigned to strength training alone, with no nutritional help (meaning they worked out but ate whatever they wanted). At the end of 21 weeks, the average intake of energy (total calories), protein, and fat determined the participants’ testosterone levels during the training period. Changes in protein content of diet correlated with the changes in the acute post-exercise concentrations of total and free testosterone after training in the counseling group. The degree of muscle mass increased in direct proportion to the level of increase of testosterone.

– Additionally, researchers from Penn State University conducted a similar study in which they compared the dietary intake of fat and testosterone of 12 men, with at least one year of weight training. The researchers found significant correlations between testosterone levels and total fat and testosterone. This means that low-fat diets were associated with higher testosterone levels and higher fat diets were correlated with higher testosterone levels.

Cholesterol Increases Protein Synthesis

Another interesting fact about cholesterol is that it has been found to increase protein synthesis. It has been previously shown that high cholesterol intake resulted in greater lean mass gains in elderly men and women after 12 weeks of resistance training. A 2011 study found that those people that consumed a high cholesterol diet (~800 mg/d) vs. low cholesterol diet (< 200 mg/d) had better gains in lean muscle mass. The high cholesterol group had a nearly three times greater protein synthesis rates 22 hours after intense resistance exercise than the low cholesterol group. The researchers suggested that cholesterol may affect the anabolic response to resistance exercise possibly through its effect on membrane stability, inflammatory response, and lipid signaling.

Best Fats for Raising Testosterone

Just like proteins have different biological effects on the body as far as digestion, (slow-casein and fast-whey), different types of fats regulate testosterone levels as well. Saturated fats and monounsaturated fats have been shown to increase testosterone, whereas polyunsaturated fats seem to lower testosterone levels.

Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two types: omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated. Omega-6 can be found in vegetable, corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut, and sesame oils. Polyunsaturated omega-3 can be found in fish, flaxseed, canola, and walnut oils, as well as green leafy vegetables. For many years, people thought that saturated fats were the most important for raising testosterone, but it turns out they were only partly right. Researchers compared the effects of several types of fats on blood pressure, testosterone, and cardiovascular parameters. The consumption of the combination oil (mono and saturated fats) was the only group that led to significant increases in testosterone, in conjunction with improved markers of cardiovascular disease, which is a reduction in total and LDL cholesterol, and a decrease in blood pressure).

Many researchers have suspected that saturated fats increase testosterone, but based on the current study, a combination oil resulted in greater testosterone than a high saturated-fat diet. Coconut oil is a fat consisting of about 90 percent saturated fat. The oil contains predominantly medium-chain triglycerides, with roughly 92 percent saturated fatty acids, 6 percent monounsaturated fatty acids, and 2 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids. Interestingly, the blend that contained the higher ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats resulted in the greatest increase in testosterone than coconut, which is high in saturated fat to monounsaturated fats. This work is in conjunction with studies that have found mono and saturated fats are associated with higher testosterone, yet the study suggests that a higher consumption of olive oil, in combination with some saturated fats, led to greater increases than just saturated fats by themselves. It seems that the optimal testosterone-producing diet should have the highest percentage of fats from olive oil (rich in oleic acid), followed by red meat or steak (palmitic acid is a dominant saturated fatty acid in red meat), with a small daily serving a fish oil caps (rich in polyunsaturated fats). Additionally, rats that are fed diets rich in monounsaturated fats had greater 17-beta-dehydrogenase activity (a key enzyme in the testosterone synthesis pathway in the male rat) and plasma androgen concentrations compared to rats fed diets rich in polyunsaturated fats.

Polyunsaturated Fats Are Not Good for Raising Testosterone

Polyunsaturated fats seem to have an adverse impact on testosterone levels. For example, men had a 15 percent reduction in serum testosterone concentrations along with a decrease in androstenedione levels (a precursor to testosterone) when subjects were switched from a diet rich in saturated fats to a diet high in polyunsaturated fats. Total dietary fat, saturated fats, and monounsaturated fats have been found to increase resting testosterone concentrations in men, whereas diets that are high in polyunsaturated fat are shown to be inversely correlated with T levels. It’s interesting that the use of polyunsaturated fat levels has increased substantially in the American diet. A recent study has reported that testosterone levels are dropping in men. This decline in testosterone during the last 20 years is not related to healthy aging. Could this drop in testosterone be due to the increase in polyunsaturated fats consumption?

The Fat Threshold

Does this mean you should be eating a bucket of KFC chicken and hamburgers all day long? Absolutely not. It seems that there may be a threshold in which consuming an excess of fats does not lead to further increases in testosterone. For example, healthy young men were assigned to a high-fat diet. Subjects were consuming approximately 37 percent fat intake at the start of the study and switched to a diet consisting of 67 percent fat. Interestingly, despite an increase in fat intake, there were no increases in testosterone responses. The author hypothesized that there may be a threshold in which further increase in fat does not increase testosterone. Another possible reason for no changes in testosterone was the high-fat diet in the study was rich in n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish oil and low in cholesterol. As mentioned previously, diets rich in polyunsaturated fats are not conducive to raising testosterone levels. Although saturated fats do raise testosterone, a much safer approach is the famed Mediterranean Diet, which has been shown in several studies to be pro-testosterone. Mediterranean diets emphasize monounsaturated fats (from extra virgin olive oil), some polyunsaturated fats (from nuts), moderate red wine consumption, and lots of fruits, whole grains, and vegetables. I suspect that the optimal testosterone-producing diet consists of fats coming from monounsaturated fats (olive oil) and some saturated fats (occasional steak and red meat). If your main objective is testosterone, you may want to try increasing your saturated fats while decreasing polyunsaturated fats and fiber, as an experiment and see if it helps.

Trans Fats = Testosterone Killer

Trans-fatty acids are formed when liquid vegetable fats are hardened through a process of partial hydrogenation. These trans-fatty acids are partially hydrogenated fats that remain solid at room temperature and are more resistant to oxidation and spoilage. Not surprisingly, such partially hydrogenated oils and hence trans-fatty acids are found in shortenings, some margarines, industrial cooking oils and are commonly found in processed foods such as fast foods, French fries, donuts, cookies, and pastries. Trans-fatty acids have been shown to lead to a high LDL, low HDL cholesterol profile, and have been shown to increase cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Some studies have shown that trans fats can produce an LDL/HDL cholesterol profile that is even less favorable than for saturated fats. Besides being detrimental to your heart, hydrogenated fats or trans fats can decrease testosterone. For example, male rats fed a diet of hydrogenated fats had a significantly higher incidence of abnormal sperm and lower concentration of testosterone compared to other fats.

A diet rich in monounsaturated fats (olive oil), moderate amounts of saturated fats (lean steak, lean red meat), and small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids seems to be the healthiest combination of fats for increasing testosterone. Fiber is healthy and is needed for optimal health; however, high intakes of fiber can reduce testosterone by raising SHBG and binding total testosterone, resulting in less free testosterone.

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