If You're Worried About Low T, Read This Before Pouring That Next Drink
- Alcohol can hinder testosterone production by impacting the reproductive system in several ways.
- Binge drinking and chronic alcohol misuse can also lower sperm production and function.
- Alcohol misuse can also make testosterone replacement therapy ineffective.
Few rituals in life are as simple and satisfying as cracking open a cold one at the end of a long day. But if you’re trying to keep your testosterone levels at their peak, make sure not to overindulge. Because while alcohol isn’t a total testosterone killer, too much of it can quickly make it one. How does alcohol lower testosterone? It all has to do with your hormones, says urologist Joshua Calvert, M.D. And if your goal is to try and increase your testosterone levels, drinking too much can throw a wrench in your plans.
Does Alcohol Affect Testosterone?
The short answer: Yes. Frequent alcohol intake can impact your testosterone levels.
Alcohol interferes with three components of the reproductive system which play a role in testosterone production: the testes, the anterior pituitary gland, and the hypothalamus.
In science-speak, the process works like this: The hypothalamus (a part of the brain that controls your hormones) releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which signals the anterior pituitary gland to release luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)—two hormones that tell your testes to produce testosterone and sperm.
Chronic alcohol misuse can jam all of these systems. Regularly knocking back too many shots of whiskey or glasses of merlot can interfere with hormone production in the hypothalamus. It can also directly impact the anterior pituitary gland’s ability to release LH and FSH, and damage the Leydig cells in your testes. Talk about a triple threat.
These issues tend to happen more as a result of alcohol abuse. Having a beer or two a night doesn’t seem to carry the same risks for your T levels.
“Alcohol consumption in moderation is super important,” says Calvert. “I’m not going to pretend as a health professional that I don’t drink. As a guy, I try to keep my consumption below the recommended guidelines of 2 drinks per day.”
According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, men should drink 2 or less drinks per day. One drink equates to:
- 12 oz. of beer
- 8 oz. malt liquor
- 5 oz. wine
- 1.5 oz. distilled spirits
The negative effects of alcohol can occur as soon as halfway through happy hour.
Short Term Effects of Alcohol on Testosterone
The negative impacts on your reproductive system can happen as soon as halfway through happy hour. “Drinking alcohol has a swift response on testosterone production,” says Jonathan Valdez, RDN, owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “You don’t have to be drinking for a very long time to see negative impacts.”
One study (1) found that after a bout of excessive drinking, testosterone levels can plummet within 30 minutes, and cascade from there. In the study, healthy men drank a pint of whiskey per day for 30 days. Their T levels began to drop by the third day, and by the end of the month their testosterone levels were similar to men with chronic alcoholism.
Interestingly, some small studies show a small increase in circulating testosterone after drinking alcohol, but Calvert cautions against thinking a martini can raise testosterone levels. This small increase in T is short-lived, and definitely small enough that you wouldn’t notice any effects from it, says Calvert.
What Are The Long Terms Effects of Alcohol on Testosterone?
It’s probably not shocking, but the longer you misuse booze, the greater the impact. “Heavy alcohol use can suppress (2) your brain and testicular function and lower testosterone over time, as well as sperm counts,” says Calvert.
Heavy alcohol consumption can also lead to increases in belly fat, higher estrogen levels (yes, men have and need estrogen), and impact hormones and other enzymes in the body—all of which can impact T levels, says Calvert. Here’s how:
Alcohol causes weight gain
Too much booze can turn your six pack into a keg. Alcohol is an energy-dense, yet nutritionally poor food source with an energy content of 7.1 kilocalories per gram. Translation: overconsuming it can quickly add on pounds.
Heavy drinking has been linked to increased waist circumference and increased fat mass—especially belly fat. And excess body fat is associated (3) with low testosterone levels.
Alcohol causes cortisol levels to rise
Drinking too much, too often can cause levels of cortisol, the stress hormone to rise. One theory: “The stress caused by alcohol (specifically its impact on the brain’s communication pathways, which can change mood and behavior) may cause cortisol levels to increase after consumption,” says Valdez. And research shows that high levels of cortisol may inhibit testosterone production.
Alcohol reduces NAD+
Alcohol significantly reduces (4) your body’s production of coenzyme NAD+ (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide). NAD+ is found in every cell in your body necessary for the production of testosterone. Therefore, drinking can lead to liver damage and decreased testosterone production and metabolism. “This can lead to fatty liver disease, and further weaken someone’s natural ability to metabolize alcohol, so it’s just a bad negative feedback loop,” says Calvert.
The good news: Lower testosterone levels may rise again if you stop drinking. “The older you are the longer this will take,” says Calvert. “But assuming that permanent damage has not been done to your liver, and testicles, you should expect recovery within roughly 6 months.”
Alcohol Also Impacts Sperm
If male fertility is important to you, you should cut back on your alcohol consumption. Studies (5) show that alcohol negatively affects semen volume, sperm concentration, and total sperm count.
“Alcohol suppresses all the hormones your body needs for good testicular health,” says Calvert. And when these hormones are decreased, there is a direct effect on testosterone production. “I say it to my patients all of the time: ‘Your testicles only have 3 jobs: to make testosterone, make sperm, and look good in a Speedo. Alcohol impairs your ability to do all 3.’”
The bottom line: if you and your partner are looking to conceive, your drinking habits could have a real negative impact.
How Does Alcohol Impact TRT?
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is often prescribed for men have clinically low levels of testosterone (below 300 nd/dL) and who are experiencing symptoms (a full list of signs of low testosterone can be found here). If you are on TRT you should be extremely vigilant of your alcohol consumption.
“Men (on TRT) should limit their alcohol consumption for numerous health reasons,” says Calvert. “While there are no studies that suggest that alcohol and TRT don’t mix, men with chronic liver disease, which is associated with testosterone deficiency, should certainly avoid alcohol while on TRT to not worsen their liver function.”
The Bottom Line
Drinking too much alcohol can hinder testosterone production, reduce sperm health, and affect the impact of testosterone replacement therapy. To avoid this impact, consume one or fewer drinks per day.