Alcohol is the enemy of testosterone.
But only in large doses.
The answer is simple: yes, it does.
It’s unfortunate, but it’s true, and it’s not just alcohol itself that decreases testosterone levels—other ingredients also play a role.
Before you get too worried, I want to stress that moderate alcohol consumption is unlikely to destroy your testosterone levels and is only associated with a slight decrease in testosterone (for this article, moderate consumption is defined as about 2-3 beers a day).
In fact, light and moderate alcohol consumption both seem to have a variety of health benefits, including reduced heart failure risk, reduced heart attack risk, reduced stroke risk, reduced dementia risk, reduced diabetes risk… you get the picture. A little bit of alcohol each week is probably fine—just don’t overdo it.
Exactly how alcohol lowers testosterone is a bit strange—and it takes place on several levels.
How Does Alcohol Lower Testosterone?
So, how does alcohol lower testosterone?
The answer varies depending on the type of alcohol you drink—and it also varies greatly between the sexes.
Beer, for instance, often contains two chemicals that can increase estrogen (and therefore decrease testosterone): phytoestrogen and prolactin. These chemicals are found in hops and in barley, two very common ingredients in many beers.
Wine also contains phytoestrogen (a chemical contained in many plants), and even some liquors (like bourbon) contain these chemicals.
These chemicals can increase a man’s natural levels of estrogen, reducing his testosterone levels.
The added calories from too many beers also causes men to gain weight—and fat has a nasty tendency to produce even more estrogen.
But it doesn’t end there. For men, ethanol alcohol is a testicular toxin, and we’ve known for decades that, in large doses, it reduces testosterone function, sperm count, fertility, and can even damage the testes.
In fact, alcoholic men often suffer infertility and abnormally low testosterone.
Women actually have the opposite problem—excessive alcohol consumption often leads to increased testosterone levels, sometimes even resulting in the loss of female sexual characteristics.
Starting to get the picture? Too much alcohol plays havoc with your body’s ability to produce hormones correctly, no matter your sex.
But what about alcohol use in moderation? Does alcohol lower testosterone if used sparingly?
Moderate Alcohol Consumption Is Probably Good for You
Now for the good news—moderate alcohol consumption is probably ok.
In a study on moderate alcohol use, researchers found that drinking the equivalent of 2-3 beers a day resulted in very slight testosterone decreases for men (and no decreases for women).
And there’s even more good news: the same study was focused not so much on testosterone as on another hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (more commonly known as DHEA-S). They found that this same level of drinking increased DHEA-S, possibly resulting in a protective effect on the heart.
While those results are far from conclusive, they certainly point in the right direction.
So, if you drink, how much should you drink, and how often?
For many people, 2-3 beers a day wouldn’t be considered “moderate.” Instead, 2-3 beers a week might be more realistic. If you’re only drinking a few beers or glasses of wine a week (say, just drinking on the weekends), you have little to worry about.
Even 2-3 drinks a day seems to be acceptable—it’s binge drinking (5 or more drinks in a short period) that’s the real problem.
So, does alcohol lower testosterone? It sure does—but if you control your use, you don’t have anything to worry about.
To learn more about how alcohol affects testosterone levels, read my article about beer and testosterone.
—Augie Galindo, PA-C