Alcohol and Testosterone: Ethanol & Androgenic Hormones
By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Tue 25 September 2018
Medical Review by Dr. Stefano Pizzo, MD & Dr. Vlad Belghiru, MD
Alcohol is a widely used depressant that we humans most often drink in the form of ethanol. And ethanol – like everyone who has hugged a toilet seat at 4am knows – is toxic for the human body. But just how toxic? How do testosterone and alcohol interact in our bodies? And what kind of effects does it have on the endocrine system?
The magic of alcohol is fairly simple: because it’s a depressant, it slows down various bodily functions, which in turn triggers the feelings of drunkenness.
Alcohol also slows down inhibitions, which is why you might get the feeling of needing to poke everything and everyone around you after 10 shots of tequila…
…Sadly, this mission of having sex with everything that moves can often become impossible, since 10 shots of tequila is enough to dramatically slow down your sexual functions (ie: the battle sword might not rise to the occasion anymore).
This negative effect on the sexual function is mainly caused by a dramatic drop in the male sex hormone: testosterone…
…And here’s why it takes place:
Alcohol and Testosterone Production
Let’s just start by the fact that you do not have to completely give up drinking in order to have naturally high testosterone levels…
…Since few drinks here and there ain’t enough to cause any dramatic reductions in testosterone. When it comes to alcohol and testosterone, it’s the dose that counts.
However, if you’re an alcoholic, and drinking yourself to the point of passing out on several days of the week, then you can be damn sure that your testosterone production has tanked (and you probably know this yourself already because of the negative effects it has on sexual functioning).
Here are the already known mechanisms of action in how alcohol lowers testosterone:
- The metabolism of ethanol lowers the amount of the coenzyme NAD+ (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) inside liver and testes. NAD+ is essential part of the electron donoring process needed in the production of testosterone and various other androgens, hence why it’s believed that alcohol lowers testosterone in a dose-dependent manner.
- Alcohol stimulates the brain to release beta-opioid endorphins, which are the reason why you get really relaxed after few beers. Sadly those endorphins are also notorious for their negative effect on testosterone synthesis.
- Alcohol consumption causes oxidative damage in the testicular leydig cells and various other bodily tissues, which leads to local reduction of testosterone inside the ballsack, and also to the destruction of some testosterone molecules already in circulation, due to the effects of the stress hormone: cortisol.
- Chronically high alcohol consumption can significantly increase estrogen levels. This is due to the fact that it boosts the activity of the aromatase enzyme, which works by converting the male sex hormone: testosterone, into the female sex hormone: estrogen.
And here’s some research:
a) It has been noted in several rodent studies that consumption of alcohol lowers testosterone levels significantly (study, study, study, study). One study in particular is rather alarming, since it showed a 50% reduction in testicle size in rats who were fed a diet with 5% of calories coming from ethanol.
b) Multiple human studies have found that heavy consumption of alcohol reduces testosterone levels (study, study, study, study). It’s also seen that men who suffer from alcoholism have significantly lower testosterone levels, and higher estrogen levels, than men without alcohol problems, even if they have a perfectly functioning livers (study, study, study, study).
c) But how much is too much then? It might come as a relief to some that a low-dose (0.5 g/kg) of alcohol has actually been shown to slightly increase testosterone levels. And a moderate-dose (equivalent to 1,5 glasses of red wine) only lowered testosterone levels by 7%. Even more surprising is that in this study, 1g/kg of alcohol (that’s about half a glass of vodka for most men) taken post-workout, was able to increase testosterone levels by ~100%! Take that study with a grain of salt though, since another one found out that if you work out drunk or in hangover, the testosterone lowering effects of alcohol will significantly increase in duration.
Conclusion on Alcohol and Testosterone
As you can see, increasing testosterone naturally and alcohol consumption don’t go hand in hand, as it negatively impacts a wide variety of systems needed in normal endocrine functions.
However, lower dosages are probably fine, and can even increase testosterone levels slightly (I have no idea why). Moderate dosages are not that bad either (see that 7% reduction above).
It’s probably safe to say that 1-3 drinks are not enough to mess up your testosterone production, but anymore than that and the negative effects will start showing up.