We all know drinking a few too many can damage our health in a number of ways. And the health of your hormones is no exception.
Consuming too much alcohol can have both short and long term effects on your body’s hormones, including your testosterone levels.
As the primary male sex hormone, T is what gives us guys masculine features, a deepened voice and our libidos. As well as playing a huge part in muscle and bone growth – as well as sperm development.
When your testosterone levels drop, there are several things you may start to notice, including:
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- A loss of muscle mass
Also Read: 5 Testosterone Killing Foods To Avoid
Keep reading to find out how alcohol can affect your crucial T levels.
Alcohol and testosterone
When it comes to testosterone production, there are three primary glands that are needed. These are called the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary gland and the testes.
But how do each of these work together to produce testosterone? Well, the hypothalamus releases a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), acting on your anterior pituitary gland. This in turn released luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
As a response to LH and FSH, your testes then synthesize testosterone. But of course, you’re wondering, how does alcohol affect testosterone?
Well, alcohol can disrupt the production of testosterone by causing interference with these three glands.
How alcohol has long-term effects on testosterone
While the odd drink here and there won’t do too much when it comes to your testosterone levels, drinking heavily long-term can lead to poor testicular function.
In terms of how much is too much, of course, even smaller amounts of alcohol may affect your erectile function in the short term. However, heavy drinking is typically considered more than 15 drinks per week.
If you drink alcohol excessively, you are more likely to experience the following:
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Low T levels
- Low sex drive
According to studies, acute alcohol misuse can lead to long-term testicular damage. This damage is also known to cause harm to the testicular germ cell, which is crucial for sperm development. If alcohol misuse continues, the same study has shown that severe cell damage can also lead to the death of these crucial cells.
As well as some serious long-term damage we’d all rather avoid, alcohol may also interfere with the release of LH, FSH and GnRH.
While moderate alcohol consumption (no more than one drink in a single day) doesn’t appear to have long-term effects on T levels, it may be best to limit alcohol in your diet for reasons beyond your testosterone.
Alcohol and testosterone: Short term effects
As we touched upon earlier, long-term alcohol consumption has a huge impact on your testosterone production. But how does alcohol affect your T levels in the short term?
Shockingly, research has shown that your testosterone levels can drop in as little as 30 minutes after drinking alcohol.
One study revealed the effects of alcohol on testosterone after giving a pint of whiskey each day to 30 healthy men. The results were compared to men with chronic alcoholism, revealing that the healthy men showed a drop in T levels by the third day. By the end of the study, their testosterone levels were similar to those of men with alcoholism.
We’re sorry to bring it up, but if you’ve ever experienced whiskey dick after a few drinks, you will have learned first hand what alcohol can do to your erections.
Alcohol and sex don’t always go together. Whiskey dick may be temporary – leaving you with the inability to get hard – but it sure can dent your sexual performance.
In moderate amounts, alcohol is known for giving us that confidence to get to the bedroom – but it may not help you when you get there.
The effect of alcohol on your sperm
Sure, you want to be able to get it up in the first place, but alcohol can also impair the function of Sertoli cells in your testes. These are needed for sperm maturation, so if you’re trying for a baby, you might want to cut right back.
The development of sperm is called spermatogenesis, with your testosterone and FSH playing their part, too. When these hormones are disrupted, it can lead to spermatogenic arrest, developing sperm production and later resulting in low sperm count.
Scary stuff, right? In fact, studies have found that 50% of heavy drinkers had spermatogenic arrest, compared to 20% of men without alcoholism. The size of your gonads may also be affected – Yep, they also found that heavy drinkers had smaller testes too.
While there are plenty of studies showing the negative impact of alcohol on semen volume and sperm morphology (take this 2017 study for example!), moderate alcohol consumption was found to have little effect. So the odd drink won’t damage your semen quality, but if you take it too far, you could start to have some issues in the bedroom.
We all know that during pregnancy, women shouldn’t consume alcohol, right? Although you’re not carrying the baby, research suggests that men who drink heavily before fertilization may put their future baby at risk.
What are the signs of low testosterone?
Although alcohol can have a massive impact on your T levels, the signs of low testosterone can start to show as we age.
In fact, many men in their 20s and 30s experience some of the symptoms of low testosterone.
Here are some symptoms of low testosterone in adult men:
- Low sex drive
- Feeling lethargic
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Loss of muscle mass
- Loss of body/facial hair
- Development in the chest area (man boobs)
- Poor concentration
- Loss of bone mass
- Hot flashes
Will cutting back on alcohol return my testosterone levels to normal?
If you decide to kick alcohol to the curb, it can definitely help to reverse some of the damage it may have done – especially to your testes.
However, this may depend on how long you have been drinking heavily. In some cases, recovery can take a matter of months or years. In others, damage may be permanent.
One study on mice found that damage caused by alcohol on the male reproductive tract was somewhat reversible after 10 weeks of no alcohol. While not all studies on animals translate to the human equivalent, the results of this study showed there is potential for partial recovery at least.
There is definitely more room for research on human participants to identify how the human reproductive system can repair itself.
So, how can you keep your system on top form? Following a healthy diet can help to keep your entire body running smoothly – not just your testosterone production. Avoid fatty junk foods and adopting a balanced diet, alongside regular exercise and sleep keep your hormone levels at optimal levels.
How alcohol can affect brain health
Ethanol has both short and long term effects on your brain.
In the short term, your brain cells will stop communicating as effectively as they normally would. This can lead to several potentially dangerous effects, such as memory loss or amnesia after excessive alcohol consumption (also called a blackout).
If you consistently consume too much alcohol this may result in permanent damage to your brain. Studies have shown that it increases the risk of dementia and Korsakoff syndrome.
On a positive note though, several studies, have indicated that moderate drinking (1-6 drinks per week) may reduce risks of dementia.
One of the biggest health issues related to alcohol abuse is depression, and the two are closely associated with each other.
Alcohol and depression are often seen as a two-way street, although studies report that alcohol abuse is more frequently the cause of ill mental health than the other way around.
Although alcohol may give you a temporary mood booster (that happy tipsy feeling) it may have a long-term negative effect on your mental health.
Your liver works to process and neutralize some of the toxic substances you eat and drink. One such toxic substance is alcohol.
Alcohol abuse can lead to alcoholic liver diseases (ALDs) such as alcoholic fatty liver, which happens when too much fat piles up in the cells in your liver.
This, in turn, has been linked to diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The effects of alcohol on metabolism are incredibly complex, and researchers aren’t fully sure about what exactly causes what in a lot of cases.
However, the main effect of alcohol on your metabolism is related to the fatty liver I mentioned above, as it can cause damage to your liver and how it stores and processes (metabolizes) carbs and fat.
You see, alcohol is a primary source of fuel. This means that once consumed, your body will instantly try and metabolize the ethanol, putting other metabolic processes on hold.
Due to the alcohol interfering with your body’s metabolism, excess fat can build up, which can lead to weight gain.
However, this is only one of the ways in which alcohol affects your metabolism. Another way is indirect, by the effect of alcohol on your testosterone levels. So let’s look at alcohol and testosterone next.
Also Read: Does Testosterone Cause Hair Loss?
So, how does alcohol lower testosterone?
Excessive alcohol use can indeed cause low testosterone levels by inhibiting testosterone production.
The main way in which it does this is by damaging the Leydig cells in your testes, which are the cells responsible for the production and secretion of testosterone.
Other ways in which your T levels may be affected are:
- An enzyme called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) supports both alcohol metabolism and the synthesis of testosterone. When you drink, this enzyme will focus on metabolizing alcohol instead of synthesizing testosterone.
- Drinking releases endorphins (it’s why people tend to be happier when they’re drunk). Unfortunately, these endorphins also inhibit the synthesis of testosterone.
- Cortisol, the stress hormone, can increase due to drinking. This hormone in turn blocks testosterone synthesis.
You see, another way in which alcohol causes low testosterone is by increasing the conversion of testosterone into estrogen.
So for men, this works as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it causes low testosterone, while on the other hand, it increases your estrogen levels.
If you look closer at the actual effects of your alcoholic beverages on your testosterone levels, you wonder why so many people even drink.
But then again, the symptoms described above do tend to follow from serious alcohol abuse (and not just a drink every now and then). As long as you moderate your drinking habits, your testosterone levels probably won’t be heavily damaged.
But if you do feel like you start noticing some low T side effects, it might be time to limit your drinking a bit more next time.