Foods that increase testosterone:
cruciferous vegetables

Did you know that there are foods that increase testosterone? It's true. In this article, we'll explain how you can use this information to boost your T levels with broccoli and bok choy, of all things.

The yin and yang of testosterone
First we need some facts. All men and women have some estrogen. For men, your estrogen levels work against your testosterone levels in various ways. By decreasing one, you effectively increase the other. Diets rich in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and bok choy are known to reduce the effects of estrogen in your system. This article explains how these vegetables exert their anti-estrogenic effects, and indirectly become foods that increase testosterone.

Foods that increase testosterone: key players
While crucifers are loaded with healthy chemicals, scientists have honed in on one compound as the key component that makes them foods that increase testosterone. This compound is called indole-3-carbinol, or I3C. In a good example of a way that cooking vegetables actually increases nutritional content, I3C is enzymatically released from the parent compound gluccobrassicin during chopping and cooking (1).

Once I3C is in the body, it gets chewed up by the liver. And now these foods that increase tesosterone start working their magic. I3C gets converted to a number of different compounds, the most prominent of which is called DIM, or di-indolyl-methane. In the process of munching on I3C, the liver up-regulates a pair of enzymes called CYP1A1 and CYP1A2. This process is at the heart of the controversy over whether to supplement with I3C or DIM. In fact, both compounds influence the liver in the same way (2).

Foods that increase testosterone: How it works
Once I3C and DIM have tickled the liver into juicing up those enzymes, we can turn our attention to the opposite side of the coin--estrogen. Estrogen gets produced in your body whether you are a man or a woman. And your liver processes estrogen as it is being produced. But the liver has choices about how to go to work on this molecule. Depending on which enzymes are present, you get different estrogen metabolites. And not all estrogen metabolites are created equal.

The two players here are 16-hydroxy estrogen (16-OH-E) and 2-hydroxy estrogen (2-OH-E). The first, 16-OH-E, acts quite a bit like estrogen, so nothing much happens here. But the second, 2-OH-E, partially blocks the effects of estrogen on the system (3). And this estrogen block is how broccoli acts as one of the foods that increase testosterone.

Let me run through the logic here. First, you cook your broccoli or bok choy (my favorite), stirring up the active compound, I3C. Second, the I3C finds it's way into your liver, where it elevates the levels of two enzymes in the CYP family. Third, those same enzymes start to shift your estrogen pool in the direction of 2-OH-E. Fourth, the 2-hydroxy-estrogen blocks the effects of estrogen in your system, thus lowering your effective estrogen load. A good little workout for your brain.

Let's summarize:
Cruciferous vegetable-containing foods increase testosterone levels because they help to reduce the effective load of estrogen on your system. If you look at this study of sexual behavior in bulls, you'll see that testosterone to estrogen ratios are critical for determining behavior. Crucifers have all kinds of positive things going for them, so I highly recommened including them in your diet. But if you just can't be brought to eat your broccoli, it is also reasonably safe to supplement with I3C, which we discuss in another article.

What's the important take-home lesson here? Increasing testosterone is not necessarily about just pumping up. It's also about working with the other side-- estrogen. Take a look at this next article in the series on how to avoid shooting your testosterone levels in the foot...

Foods that increase testosterone, and what to avoid

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1. Holst, B., Williamson, G. "A critical review of the bioavailability of glucosinates and related compounds" Nat Prod Reports 21 (2004) 425-47.
2. Jellinck, PH, Forkert, PG, Riddick, DS, et al. "Ah receptor binding properties of indole carbinols and induction of hepatic estradiol hydroxylation." Bichem Pharmacol. 45 (1993) 1129-36.
3. Schneider, J, Huh, MM, Bradlow, HL, Fishman, J. "Antiestrogen action of 2-hydroxyestone on MCF-7 human breast cancer cells." J Biol. Chem. 1984 259(8), 4840-5.
Taioli, E, Bradlow, HL, Garbers, SV, et al. "Role of estradiol metabolism and CYP1A1 polymorphisms in breast cancer risk." Cancer Detect Prev. 1999 23(3) 232-7.
4. Henney, SR, Killian, GJ, Deaver, DR. "Libido, hormone concentrations in blood plasma and semen characteristics in Holstein bulls." J Anim Sci. 68 (1990) 2784-92.