Episode 14: How To Optimize Testosterone & Estrogen | Huberman Lab

Key Takeaways

  • Testosterone and estrogen fluctuate across the lifespan but there are lifestyle factors and supplements which can impact levels
  • You have to breathe properly to get sleep to avoid apnea states which can adversely impact sex hormone levels
  • Sleep apnea increases carbon dioxide in the body, which decreases testosterone and estrogen
  • Nasal breathing is cosmetically optimal for features of the mouth and jaw, and more importantly dilates sinuses, improves lung capacity, and reduces apnea in sleep
  • Barring swimmers and maximum effort, learn to breathe through the nose when exercising
  • Just getting breathing and bright light exposure on track can optimize sex hormones
  • To optimize sex hormone levels: (1) control apnea; (2) reduce light exposure in the middle of the night and increase bright light to eyes; (3) cold exposure such as ice bath, cold shower, cold water swim
  • Heavyweight training (70-90% max effort) – but not weight training to failure – leads to the best increases in testosterone for the subsequent 24 hour period

Introduction

Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His lab focuses on neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, and brain states such as stress, focus, fear, and optimal performance.

In this this episode of Huberman Lab, Dr. Huberman discusses how testosterone and estrogen impact the body, brain, and behavior after puberty. Dr. Huberman also discusses how exercise and various activities might affect male and female sex hormones, the importance of activating the nervous system, and much more.

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

Pathogenic Versus Salutogenic Models

  • Salutogenesis model: taking on particular behaviors to promote well-being above baseline
  • Mindset and orientation towards feeling good and enhancing health
  • Pathogenesis model: progression of disease and process by which disease and disorder develops
  • We should move away from disease and negativity, emphasizing the importance of understanding why something might benefit our health focusing on positivity instead of fear

Where Do Estrogen And Testosterone Come From?

  • Major sources of estrogen and testosterone: ovaries for estrogen and testes for testosterone (though adrenals can also make testosterone)
  • Adrenals make testosterone but are activated by competition
  • Aromatases: convert testosterone into estrogen – made by body fat and the testes
  • Pre-pubescent females make very low levels of estrogen
  • Estrogen levels fluctuate across the lifespan: during puberty levels of estrogen skyrocket, then plateau, then taper significantly in post-menopausal women
  • Testosterone fluctuations across the lifespan: relatively low pre-puberty, skyrockets in puberty, then drops off at a rate of approximately 1% per year – in general, though there are exceptions
  • DHEA supplementation has been shown to increase testosterone and estrogen production

Relationship Between Competition And Testosterone

  • In non-human animals, males with higher testosterone attract more female mates
  • Testosterone lowers stress and anxiety in some species of males
  • Testosterone selects individuals of a given species to more intensely forage, seek novelty, and desire a mate
  • A competitive environment itself can increase testosterone
  • Increases in testosterone in females also increase libido and mate-seeking behavior
  • Libido in males: testosterone promotes seeking of sex – but estrogen levels are also important in libido – too little estrogen or insufficient levels to match testosterone will drive down libido
  • Libido in females: increases in estrogen promotes receptivity to mating

Sex And Testosterone Levels

  • The impact of sex on testosterone production depends on whether ejaculation takes place
  • Dopamine increases with sexual activity
  • After ejaculation, there’s a release of prolactin which activates a refractory period in which male can’t have sex for a given length of time
  • Sexual behavior itself can increase testosterone
  • Men who watch porn will have modest increases in testosterone
  • Men who have sex have 70% increases in testosterone
  • Ejaculation does not reduce testosterone levels but will increase prolactin
  • Abstinence also increases testosterone
  • Note: sex also increases prolactin in women post-sex
  • Becoming a parent: expectant fathers have a 50% decrease in both free and bound testosterone levels
  • Weight gain in men with pregnant partners is not sympathy – it’s due to reduced testosterone and cortisol plus increased estradiol and prolactin
  • Illness in males markedly reduces testosterone and desire for seeking mates

Pheromones: How Behaviors Modulate Hormones

  • Pheromones: released by one member of a species which impacts other members of that species – opposed to hormones which impact the same person releasing them
  • Pheromones and smells impact hormones and the ability to attach memory to mates  
  • There is a lot of pheromones in urine of animals
  • McClintock effect: when female species are housed together, they have the same cycle or influence each other’s cycles
  • Synchronization of menstrual cycles has been controversial but pheromone studies show a clear effect on the duration and pattern of ovulation
  • Even the presence of male impacts ovulation
  • Bruce effect: a pregnant animal will spontaneously abort or reabsorb embryo if the father is removed and a novel mate is introduced
  • Vandenbergh effect: female puberty can be accelerated by placing a sexually competent male in her presence

Behaviors To Optimize Hormone Levels

  • (1) In both males and females, apnea has a damaging effect on sex hormones
  • Apnea: poor efficiency of breathing and too much carbon dioxide in the body
  • Directionality of effect of the relationship between apnea and sex hormones is unknown – could be that low testosterone or estrogen induces apnea or vice versa
  • Patterns of breathing in sleep can modify hormones in both males and females
  • Deep sleep and REM sleep are important in the normalization of hormones
  • When apnea is reduced or eliminated, cortisol is modified properly and estrogen and testosterone are properly regulated downstream
  • Breathing through the nose: leads to improvements in the cosmetic features of jaw and face, gas exchange of carbon dioxide, and neurotransmitter efficiency  
  • (2) Light can have a direct effect on hormones, libido, fertility
  • Increased sunlight to the eyes increases dopamine in the brain which increases melanocytes and indirectly increases testosterone and estrogen
  • To optimize testosterone and estrogen, get a sufficient amount of bright light exposure (to your eyes, not skin)
  • Avoid light exposure in the middle of the night which hinders dopamine release and downstream testosterone release
  • (3) Temperature (e.g., ice bath, cold shower, cold water swim) can have a positive impact on sex hormones probably by controlling blood flow
  • Ovaries and testes are heavily vascularized – cooling them shuts down neurons that control the entry of blood and hormones into the gonad – when reheated, gonads are stimulated to release more estrogen or testosterone
  • Excessively high heat is bad for sperm production and sperm health

Exercise As Testosterone Modulator

  • Reminder: testosterone is in both males and females
  • Heavyweight training (70-90% max effort) – but not weight training to failure – leads to the best increases in testosterone for 24 hour period
  • The relationship between weight training and testosterone may be due to increases in activity of receptors in the body
  • Order of training: when endurance activity is performed first, it leads to decreased testosterone
  • To optimize testosterone levels, weight train first then cardio or endurance activity
  • If on a split schedule (separating lifting and endurance days) there is no negative effect on testosterone

Optimizing Estrogen During Menopause

  • Menopause: reduction in estrogen as eggs become depleted
  • Concern about exogenously supplementing estrogen when there’s a family history of breast cancer
  • Pro-estrogenic compounds for alleviating menopause symptoms in women: black cohosh (consistent but minor effects), penax ginseng, valeriana officianalis, pueraria mirafireca

Supplementation For Optimal Sex Steroid Hormones

  • Usual suspects: vitamin D, zinc, magnesium
  • Opioids dramatically reduce levels of testosterone and estrogen
  • Non-traditional supplements which increase testosterone: creatine, tongkat ali, stinging nettles, boron, turkesterone
  • Important note about supplementation: cancer takes place in tissues with a high turnover of cells so will thrive on production so be cautious not to overdo it with hormone supplementation
  • HCG: used for Pro fertility, pro testosterone, pro estrogen
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Notes By Maryann

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