It’s common knowledge that taking anabolic steroids can be a shortcut to bigger, more defined muscles. But there can be a dark side that’s hidden from view. Often, those big inflated muscles come at the cost of testicles that have deflated and shrivelled like raisins! This is known as testicular atrophy. So if you’ve suffered from it as a result of anabolic steroids use, you’re not alone. In a study of 500 steroids users “nearly two-thirds of users were reporting testicular atrophy”(1) Luckily, there are some natural and highly effective ways to reverse the damage and bring your testicles back to their full, natural state. First of all, let’s take a look at what causes the problem in the first place…
How Steroids Cause Testicular Atrophy
“Androgenic-anabolic steroids (AAS) are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone” (2) This means that users of steroids are introducing an external source of the hormone testosterone into their bodies. Like most systems in the body, the hormonal system operates on a negative feedback loop. What does that mean? Think about it like this: Let’s say your water heater at home is set to maintain a constant temperature of 85 degrees C. Sometimes the temperature of the water in the heater will drop below 85 degrees C, and the thermostat will turn on the heater. Once the thermostat detects the water is at the correct temperature it switches the heater off again. This is a “negative feedback loop” – once we obtain the necessary result the process stops. But what if you were to introduce an external source of heat? If you were to continuously pour boiling water into the water heater, the temperature would never drop enough for the thermostat to kick in. The heater would never need to turn on… The same thing happens in your body.
Down-regulating testosterone production
Prompted by your brain, your body produces the hormones follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). “Bloodstream release LH where it travels to the male testes and triggers the production of testosterone from cholesterol. If this process continues until the testosterone level becomes too high, the pituitary gland slows the release of LH so production slows down” (3) When you introduce a source of testosterone from outside the body, your pituitary gland (just like the thermostat in the water heater) never detects the levels of testosterone to be low enough to release any more LH into the bloodstream. No LH = testicles will no longer produce testosterone. Just like any other body part, when not using testicles they will eventually begin to atrophy and shrink.
Reduced sperm production
First of all, the testicles begin to atrophy, this negatively affects the amount of sperm that they can produce. One study found that ” percentages of motile and normally formed sperm were significantly reduced in bodybuilders (who were taking AAS) compared with normal volunteers.”(5) Also, lower levels of sperm production and can lead to a decrease in your fertility. So, that means that while you might be getting stronger in the gym – your little swimmers are getting slower and weaker!
Atrophy of the Leydig cells
These cells are the ones that produce testosterone within the testicles once they detect the presence of LH. The problem is; steroids hormones can be toxic to these cells and even “promote cell death” (6) Having fewer Leydig cells available to create testosterone can make it even harder to recover natural levels once the use of steroids is discontinued.
How to reverse testicular atrophy
If your boys have become mere, shrivelled shadows of their former selves, fear not! By increasing your testosterone and sperm levels naturally, you will start to bring your body back into a state of balance (known as homeostasis) and kick start your testicular function again. This will return your testicles to their natural, fully inflated, state.
Expose your testicles to sunlight
Although this is a powerful method to increase your testosterone levels naturally and reverse your testicular atrophy, I recommend using it with caution. It’s probably still a good idea to cover up when your Mother-in-Law pops over for lunch! Exposing your skin to direct sunlight is a well-documented way to increase your vitamin D levels and “most people meet at least some of their vitamin D needs through exposure to sunlight”(6) Increased levels of vitamin D have been noted to have positive effects on your energy levels, immune function and inflammation reduction. But that’s not all! Studies have shown “positive associations between vitamin D and testosterone” (7) Although exposing any part of your body to the sunlight will give you a boost, some research claims that directly exposing your testicles can be even more effective. In his book, “Sunlight Can Save Your Life”, Dr Zane states: “Male sex hormones are also elevated by sunlight. So when the chest or back is exposed to sunlight, the male hormones may increase by 120%. Also the genital area is exposed, the hormones increase by 200%.”(8) So, the next time you can find a bit of privacy outside, take the opportunity to “let it all hang out” and get some direct sunshine where you need it most.
Supplement with High Vitamin Butter – Cod Liver Oil
The news that cod liver oil and high vitamin butter are potent sources of healthy fatsand fat-soluble vitamins will probably come as no surprise. What might come as more of a shock is how effective they can be at boosting your testosterone. Let’s look at these two supplements one at a time: Vitamin Rich Butter contains high levels of vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin. This vitamin is an important piece of the puzzle that allows your testicles to “maintain steady levels of testosterone”.(9) The problem is that vitamin K isn’t abundant in the modern diet. The richest sources are usually found in organ meats like liver and kidney. Not most people’s favorite cuts of meat! Supplementing can be a far easier (and less nauseating!) way to increase your intake. Cod Liver Oil is best known for being a rich source of healthy Omega 3 fats. These fats are necessary to balance out the more inflammatory Omega 6 fats more commonly found in the modern diet. One of the effects of this improved balance is an increase in testosterone levels. A study that tested the difference between eating bread made with Omega 3 and 6 fats found that “there was a significant increase in testosterone” in the Omega 3 group. (10) Taking these powerful supplements together provides a double whammy of nutrients to kick start your testosterone production.
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Supplement With Pine Pollen
This supplement is derived from the Scots Pine. This species from North America was traditionally used for Christmas Trees. These days it’s more commonly used to deliver the gift of increased testosterone and sperm levels! This supplement contains vitamin D and is rich in naturally occurring androstenedione (11) Androstenedione is a “precursor” to testosterone. This means it’s a hormone that the body uses to produce testosterone. Increasing the levels in your bloodstream supports your body in increasing your testosterone production without activating the negative feedback loop mechanism. This is because you aren’t introducing testosterone from outside the body, just giving your body the ingredients it needs to produce more testosterone itself. The benefit? A boost in testosterone levels without the risk of causing testicular atrophy.
With so many positive benefits, you should seriously consider increasing your intake of garlic. As a result remember to brush your teeth afterwards! Used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory, anti viral and antibacterial properties, this pungent vegetable gives you serious bang for your buck. In animal studies, the fact that dietary intake of garlic increasing will significantly increase “testosterone contents in the testes” (12) Therefore the benefits don’t end there! Garlic is a rich source of Selenium. Selenium is so effective at increasing sperm motility that a study into its effects concluded, “we advocate its use for male infertility treatment”(13). So the next time you’re cooking a meal, drop in a few extra cloves for good luck.
Because it’s a “superfood”, drinking pomegranate juice is a popular (and delicious!) trend. Studies have shown that pomegranate has been effective in reducing arthritis and cancer, as if that wasn’t good enough, it could help to increase your sperm quality and testosterone too! (14) Because eating pomegranate increases your levels of natural antioxidants. How does this help? Well, there are high levels of unsaturated fats in the sperm cells and the cells that are used to create testosterone. Oxidization of these fats can damage the cells, rendering them ineffective. By protecting your cells from this process, you are allowing them to operate at full capacity.
Ice Your Testicles
Ever wondered why your testicles are hanging in their own special pouch on the outside of your body? Not only Anyone who’s played a contact sport has probably had cause to lament this “design flaw” on at least one occasion! But there’s actually a very good reason for it. You need to maintain testicles to be at a slightly lower temperature than the rest of your body for optimal function. This is why, after a hot shower or in the warm weather, your balls seem to “hang low”. Your body is trying to force them away from the heat of the rest of your body to maintain the lower temperature. Before the invention of anabolic steroids, the dominating Soviet powerlifters used to ice their testicles after every training session. Why? Because they noticed that when they did, their recovery was better. More recovery is one of the side effects of higher testosterone levels. And it turns out, this is exactly what was happening. A study on over 6000 semen samples over a period of three years showed that sperm volume, quality and mobility was significantly higher in the cold Winter months than in the Summer. (15) The hormones which cause increases in sperm volume – LH and FSH (16)- are the same hormones that signal your testicles to increase testosterone production. Because of that, next time you’re taking a shower or a bath; consider turning the temperature down to give yourself a powerful hormonal boost.
The use of AAS and resulting testicular atrophy can hurt your ability to naturally produce testosterone and sperm, even after you have stopped using them. Using these carefully chosen techniques can give you the tools you need to supercharge your recovery, re-inflate your balls and have you operating at full capacity again.
8 – Sunlight Could Save Your Life, by Dr. Zane R. Kime (1980)