Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/9/2022
Testosterone is much more than just the hormone that puts hair on your chest. It also plays an important role in your sex drive and reproductive health.
As a man, testosterone is the primary hormone responsible for keeping you, well, male. It plays an essential role in producing your male sex characteristics, keeping you fertile and promoting a healthy sex drive.
Unfortunately, not all men have optimal testosterone production. In fact, research suggests that testosterone levels are declining in many adolescent and adult men.
Luckily, we’re learning more about the effects of testosterone all the time, as well as the factors that play a role in the body’s production of testosterone. This includes certain foods that may be involved in testosterone production.
Below, we’ve explained why it’s important to maintain healthy testosterone, as well as how your diet can have an effect on your testosterone levels.
We’ve also shared other options for treating lifestyle and sexual performance issues caused by low testosterone, such as erectile dysfunction (ED).
As a man, testosterone is involved in almost every aspect of your physical, mental and sexual function.
For example, testosterone plays a critical role in maintaining secondary sex characteristics -- the physical features that make you masculine. These include your voice, hair patterns, bone structure and muscle mass.
Testosterone is also involved in your physical health beyond your physique. For example, the production and size of red blood cells, or hematocrit, is regulated in part by your testosterone levels.
Your testosterone levels also have a major impact on your sexual health. Testosterone has a direct impact on your libido and sexual function, with higher levels of testosterone producing a stronger sex drive.
Put simply, testosterone is critical for both your physical health and your sexual function. If you want to maintain a healthy sex life, or perhaps become a father one day, a healthy testosterone level is critical for achieving these things.
It’s normal for testosterone levels to vary from one person to another. In men, the normal range for testosterone is 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter of blood (nd/dL), or 10 to 35 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L).
If your testosterone level is below this range, or at the lower end of this range, your healthcare provider may diagnose you with low testosterone.
A variety of health issues can cause or contribute to low testosterone. These include:
Pituitary gland issues
Reduced thyroid function
Health issues that affect the hypothalamus
Sleep issues, such as sleep apnea
Testicular diseases (such as testicular cancer, infection or trauma)
Excessive prolactin production
Use of certain types of medication
Testosterone levels can also decline with age. Many men experience a gradual decline in their production of testosterone that begins during their 30s or 40s.
Your diet has a huge impact on your health, including on certain aspects of your body’s ability to produce and use hormones.
Over the years, researchers have discovered that some foods appear to have a direct impact on hormone production. This is because your body uses a variety of nutrients to produce hormones such as testosterone.
Since issues like obesity can affect your testosterone levels, your diet also has an indirect effect on your hormonal health. When you eat a healthy, balanced diet, you’re more likely to be able to maintain a healthy weight that promotes optimal hormonal levels.
In short, the answer is both yes and no. While a balanced diet might not be enough to treat very low testosterone levels on its own, prioritizing the right foods may have a positive effect on your body’s ability to maintain healthy testosterone production.
In addition to keeping you lean, fit and healthy, several well-known foods have been linked to an increase in testosterone production. We’ve listed these foods below and explained how they can affect your hormone levels and potentially contribute to higher testosterone levels.
Olive oil has long been promoted as a heart healthy alternative to conventional sources of fat for cooking, such as butter and lard. Research suggests that it may also have certain benefits when it comes to testosterone production.
In a study published in the journal Natural Product Communications, researchers found that use of extra virgin olive oil was associated with a 17.4 percent increase in testosterone levels in men aged from 23 to 40.
Try cooking with olive oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable oil, or using olive oil as a healthy fat source for sauces and salads.
Read more about olive oil and lemon juice for ED here.
Oysters are a rich source of zinc, a mineral that’s important for many aspects of optimal health, including hormone production.
In fact, oysters contain more zinc than any other food, with a typical serving containing upwards of six times the recommended daily value. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help to improve vascular function and blood flow throughout the body.
Because of their zinc content, oysters are widely regarded as a natural option for stimulating the production of testosterone. While animal studies back this up, there isn’t any research to confirm this finding in humans just yet.
Garlic is well known for its health benefits, which include boosting immunity, fighting against skin fungus, reducing inflammation and improving cardiovascular health.
It’s also linked to improvements in testosterone and male sexual function. In one study, experts found that use of garlic may help to stimulate spermatogenesis (sperm production) and increase testosterone levels.
Garlic is easy to add to food as a cooking ingredient. It’s also available as a dietary supplement for improving cardiovascular function.
Eggs are nutritious foods that offer lots of health benefits, including providing nutrients such as protein, healthy fats and numerous vitamins.
One vitamin that’s found in eggs is vitamin D -- a fat-soluble vitamin that’s normally produced in response to sunlight. Vitamin D functions as a steroid hormone in the body, with some research suggesting that it’s important for optimal male sexual function.
The same research has found that vitamin D levels are associated with higher total testosterone in men.
Like eggs, tuna is an excellent dietary source of vitamin D. In fact, a one-cup can of tuna has a whopping 393 IU of vitamin D -- almost the entire recommended daily amount.
As we mentioned above, vitamin D is linked to several health benefits, including improvements in sexual performance and increased testosterone levels.
In addition to being rich in vitamin D, tuna is also a fantastic source of protein, making it a great addition to your diet if you want to build muscle and lose fat. Just be aware that canned tuna is high in mercury, meaning it’s best when consumed no more than a few times a week.
Pomegranate is a popular fruit that’s long been promoted as part of a healthy diet thanks to its richness in antioxidants.
Although research on pomegranate and hormone levels is limited, one study suggests that it’s an effective natural testosterone booster.
In the study, volunteers were given pomegranate juice to drink over a two week period. By the end of the study, the participants that received the pomegranate juice showed an average 24 percent increase in salivary testosterone levels.
As a fruit, pomegranate is in season from September through November. It’s also easy to find pomegranate juice in most supermarkets throughout the year.
If you have low testosterone levels due to a health condition, your testosterone production may improve by treating the underlying issue.
For example, low testosterone production can develop as a result of sleep apnea, pituitary gland issues or thyroid disorders. Your healthcare provider might test you for these issues if your free or total testosterone levels are lower than normal.
Many medical issues that can cause or contribute to low testosterone levels can be treated with medication and/or changes to your lifestyle.
Low testosterone can be treated with testosterone replacement therapy. This type of treatment involves supplementing your body’s natural testosterone production with artificial testosterone, usually in the form of skin patches, topical gels or injections.
TRT is effective, but it can cause side effects, including an increased risk of heart health issues and enlarged prostate.
If you’re prescribed testosterone, it’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and inform them if you experience any adverse effects.
If you have erectile dysfunction and think that low testosterone could be to blame, you may be able to treat it using medication and/or therapy.
Several medications, known as PDE5 inhibitors, are available to treat ED. These medications work by increasing blood flow to the soft tissue of your penis, making it easier to get and stay hard when you’re sexually aroused.
Popular ED medications include sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®) and avanafil (Stendra®).
We offer several medications for ED online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
If you think your ED is psychological -- for example, it’s caused by sexual performance anxiety -- you may benefit from therapy.
Therapy can help to treat anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and feelings of guilt about sex, all of which are associated with psychological erectile dysfunction.
Our guide to the psychological causes of ED goes into detail about how this form of ED occurs, as well as your options for treating it.
Since testosterone plays such a critical role in your mental, physical and sexual wellbeing, it’s important to take action if your testosterone levels are lower than they should be.
Although the link between diet and testosterone isn’t crystal clear, research does suggest that certain foods -- including those listed above -- can stimulate testosterone production and give your body the building blocks it needs to maintain healthy sex hormone levels.
Interested in learning more about testosterone? Our full guide to increasing testosterone goes into more detail about how you can stimulate testosterone production, from habits and lifestyle changes to vitamins, supplements, medications and more.