It’s not news that consuming alcohol is bad for your body. But when we think about how alcohol damages the body, we primarily focus on alcohol’s impact on the brain and liver.
Here’s something you might not have known.
Drinking alcohol in excess, whether for one day or a lifetime, changes your hormone balance, including testosterone.
Testosterone is a sex hormone that gives men key features like muscle mass and facial hair. Low levels of it can lead to erectile dysfunction and infertility.
So what exactly does alcohol do to your testosterone levels?
Let’s dive in!
Does Alcohol Lower Testosterone Levels?
Drinking alcohol lowers testosterone levels, and the drop is faster than you might think. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found the numbers start to change as fast as 30 minutes after you take a drink. That is true whether you drink casually or are someone who drinks alcohol every day.
The study authors gave healthy men whiskey every day for 30 days. It took just one month for their testosterone levels to reach that of a chronic alcoholic.
Why Does Alcohol Lower Testosterone Levels?
The hormone system is like a series of circuits. One hormone triggers the production of another or turns it off.
Testosterone is made via what doctors call the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. It involves three critical endocrine glands:
Alcohol interferes with all three glands that produce testosterone. The hypothalamus releases a hormone that triggers the anterior pituitary gland to release two more. These two reach the testes in men and trigger the production of testosterone.
The effect on this axis might occur due to the enzymes the body uses to break the alcohol down. However, it is unclear if this is the only thing impacting lower testosterone production.
Effects of Lower Testosterone in Men
Men who drink alcohol, short or long-term, are likely to experience the following:
- Low libido
- Erectile dysfunction
Long-term alcohol use has more long-lasting effects, though. For example, men who drink 15 or more times a week may have damage to the Leydig cells of the testes. These are the cells responsible for testosterone production.
Over time, that may impact sperm health and affect fertility. You may find that you have the following:
- A low sperm count
- Loss of arm and pubic hair
- Shrinking testicles
- Hot flashes
- Mood changes
- Poor concentration
- Weight gain
- Lower muscle mass
- Poor endurance
- Enlarged breast tissue, known as gynecomastia
Not every man reacts the same way to alcohol or low testosterone levels. Some men may only experience a few symptoms.
Most of the long-term effects of drinking and lower testosterone levels in men are reversible once you quit. Drinking can put you at risk for irreversible health problems, though, such as:
- Depressed immune function
- Alcohol-related inflammation
- Increased risk of certain cancers
- Lower brain mass
- Cardiovascular disease
- Liver disease
- Lower bone mass and increased risk of fractures
Long-term drinking takes a toll on the body beyond just changing testosterone levels, which is why you may want to consider rethinking your relationship with alcohol.
Interested in learning more about alcohol’s effect on your brain and body? I highly recommend this podcast episode by Andrew Huberman. It’s a long one, but you’ll learn a lot:
Does Alcohol Affect Testosterone Levels In Women?
Alcohol does affect the HPG axis in women, but it leads to an increase in testosterone instead of a decrease. A woman’s menstrual cycle is under the control of the HPG axis so drinking can disrupt it. It may also increase estrogen levels and lower the production of progesterone. In this way, alcohol consumption can cause similar fertility problems in women.
Will Testosterone Increase After I Quit Drinking?
Researchers have found that sex hormone levels in men due improve once alcohol consumption stops. The answer is somewhat complicated, though. It may depend on several factors, such as:
- How much you drank, and for how long
- Your age
- Your overall health as drinking is not the only thing that affects testosterone levels.
- If you smoke
A 2006 study published by Oxford University Press found that some men saw an improvement by day 10 of their recovery. However, almost all the men in the study had significant improvement by day 40.
However, the news might differ for men with liver damage related to drinking, like cirrhosis. Men with cirrhosis can have as much as a 90 percent drop in testosterone levels due to the disease.
So, for men who do not see a rise in their testosterone levels by day 40, it might be necessary to look for another cause. If you have long-term damage affecting testosterone levels, replacement therapy treatments are worth considering.
Speak with your doctor about options.
How to Improve Your Testosterone Levels After Drinking
The best way to avoid the drop in testosterone is not to drink.
Drinking long-term may affect your liver health and make low testosterone levels permanent without replacement therapy. If you are in recovery, you can improve your testosterone levels faster by eating right, exercising, avoiding alcohol, and not smoking.
Need some support to quit drinking? Try these resources:
- 11 Unexpected Benefits of Quitting Drinking
- What To Expect In The First 30 Days of Sobriety
- Why Some People Feel Depressed After Quitting Drinking
- Why Quitting Drinking (Even Temporarily) Is Good For You
- 5 Books To Help Jumpstart Your Sobriety
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