(Written by David Jaynes)
Does drinking alcohol in moderation lower testosterone levels?
If you have an internet connection, you’ve almost certainly read that booze can impact your testosterone production.
And that’s accurate: alcohol intake decreases testosterone. Period.
But that truth isn’t the whole story.
It turns out that, if you pay attention, don’t go crazy, and do a few things to make up for the decrease, you can enjoy the occasional drink without wrecking your testosterone levels.
Here’s how that works:
We’ve seen a lot of research over the past 20 years that shows heavy drinking simply wrecks your testosterone. We’ve seen very little research on how moderate drinking impacts your production of that hormone.
But in 2004, Dr. Sierksma and his team at TNO Nutrition and Food Research in Zeist, The Netherlands, looked at exactly that in middle-aged men and women (source).
The subjects were measured for blood testosterone after three weeks of moderate drinking and again after three weeks of not drinking.
On average, they found men’s testosterone levels dropped by 7% during the weeks of moderate drinking. As I’ll talk about later, that drop is something you can easily make up for with a few lifestyle choices.
That’s useful information, but only if everybody knows what Dr. Sierksma and his people defined as “moderate” drinking. In this case, “moderate” refers to both how often you drink and how drunk you get.
This is the easy one. Drink one or two times per week, maximum, for healthy testosterone production. Think of it like the “cheat day” on your diet. Most of the time, you and alcohol are strangers. But you can get buzzed as an exception.
On your alcohol cheat day, aim for a blood alcohol content between .04 and .06.
That’s the sweet spot anyway — where you’re feeling a little happy, and a lot relaxed, but could legally drive if you had to. (Don’t drive even that drunk, but it’s a good illustration of what this buzz feels like).
That’s easy enough to understand. The trick is to figure out when you get between .04 and .06, and how to stay there.
Here’s the rule of thumb. If you’re an average sized male, you can have two “standard drinks” in your first hour of drinking, then a drink per hour for the duration. That puts you at around 0.05.
A “standard drink” is defined as:
•A can of mid-strength beer (like Budweiser)
•A 10-oz glass of strong beer (5% or so, like most stouts)
•A 3.5-oz glass of wine
•A shot of hard liquor
•A mixed drink with one shot worth of hard liquor in it
Keep in mind that’s for an average-sized male. If you’re smaller, you’ll need to drink less. If you’re larger, you could drink more, but you won’t need to drink more to still be buzzed. In all cases, you’ll need to experiment a little to fine-tune your moderate drinking. But start with the numbers here.
Remember above when I said you shouldn’t go crazy? Here’s why.
Alcohol directly jacks your testosterone production in four different ways:
It damages the leydig cells in your testicles, directly reducing how much testosterone your body produces.
It increases your aromatase, the enzyme which converts testosterone into estrogen.
It gets your brain to produce endorphins. It’s why being drunk feels good, but it also screws up your body’s ability to synthesize testosterone.
It lowers how much nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide you have in your liver and testicles. This coenzyme is an important part the testosterone manufacturing process, and reducing it with ethanol is never a good idea.
The research into the hows and whys of this is extensive, and shows what’s called a dose-dependent relationship between alcohol and the bad things it does to your testosterone. “Dose-dependent” is what it sounds like: the bigger the dose, the greater the impact.
Thus, heavy drinking messes with your testosterone more than moderate drinking. Once you’re drinking more than moderately, you can’t make up for it simply through lifestyle choices.
Speaking of those…
If you keep your drinking at the levels I talked about above, you can maintain healthy testosterone levels…but only if you also do a few things to make up for that 7% drop your drinking causes. The good news here is you have plenty of options when it comes to those things.
I’ve tested a lot of methods over the years. These are my personal favorites:
Even doing one of these things can potentially make up for a night of moderate drinking each week. But don’t fool yourself — doing all of them still won’t counteract the impact of routinely drinking heavily.
You can still enjoy a drink and have good testosterone production. Just know your limits (even if it means experimenting a little to find them), and maintain healthy habits when you’re not drinking.
One last little hack to make your drinking impact your testosterone production as little as possible. What you drink matters. It doesn’t matter as much as how much you drink, or what you do outside of your drinking, but keep the following in mind:
Avoid hoppy beer. The stuff actively stimulates estrogen production. It’s a tragedy, but it’s true.
Wine is okay. It’s the drink of choice for that 7% reduction I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
Hard liquor is also a good choice. It’s impact on testosterone is on par with wine, and one study even found a shot of vodka after a workout might increase T on the short term.
My personal favorite is a vodka and soda on the rocks. The alcohol does the job. The hard liquor has minimal impact on my testosterone. It tastes good. I have it in a tall glass, so it takes me longer to drink.