The Science of How to Optimize Testosterone & Estrogen

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Summary Notes


In this episode of the Huberman Lab podcast, Dr. Andrew Huberman delves into the science of hormones, particularly focusing on estrogen and testosterone optimization. He discusses the critical roles these hormones play in our bodies, influencing mood, behavior, and overall well-being. Huberman highlights the profound impact of lifestyle factors such as light exposure, sleep, exercise, and diet on hormone levels. He also touches on the effects of parenthood on hormonal changes and explores the concept of salutogenesis—a health-oriented approach emphasizing behaviors that promote well-being above baseline. With a nod to practical tools, Huberman provides insights into how specific types of exercise and certain supplements can influence hormone ratios, catering to individual life goals. He cautions on the importance of understanding the nuances of hormone modulation, given their powerful biological effects and potential links to cancer. The episode offers a comprehensive look at hormone optimization, blending basic biology with actionable strategies for harnessing the power of these crucial chemicals.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Huberman Lab Podcast

  • Andrew Huberman is a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine.
  • The podcast's aim is to provide zero-cost consumer information about science and science-related tools.
  • Andrew Huberman acknowledges a facial injury due to a cooking accident but reassures it's not serious.

"I'm Andrew Huberman, and I'm a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine. This podcast is separate from my teaching and research roles at Stanford."

The speaker introduces himself and clarifies the podcast's purpose and independence from his academic roles.

  • Four Sigmatic is a wellness company that produces mushroom coffee.
  • The coffee contains lion's mane mushroom and Chaga mushroom.
  • Lion's mane has anti-anxiety and mood-elevating effects, while Chaga promotes nerve growth factor.
  • Huberman personally uses the product and stocks it in his lab.

"It has Chaga mushroom. Chaga mushroom has been shown to increase growth factors that impact the nervous system, like nerve growth factor."

The speaker endorses Four Sigmatic's mushroom coffee, highlighting the beneficial effects of its ingredients on the nervous system.

  • Blinkist is an app that condenses nonfiction books into 15-minute summaries.
  • Huberman uses Blinkist to review key takeaways from books he has read.
  • The app has a variety of books, including those on science, and offers a special discount to podcast listeners.

"With Blinkist, it allows me to go back to those books and get all the essential items, some of which I might have missed in the course of listening to or reading the full-length version."

The speaker explains how Blinkist helps him revisit and absorb the key points from books he has read or listened to.

  • Theragun is a handheld percussive therapy device for muscle tension relief.
  • Huberman was introduced to Theragun on a dive expedition and now uses it daily.
  • The device is compared to a professional massage in terms of cost and utility.
  • A special offer and a 30-day money-back guarantee are mentioned for podcast listeners.

"It really gets down into the meat of the muscle if you want, or you can use it more superficially if you like."

The speaker describes the effectiveness of Theragun in providing deep muscle relief and its versatility in use.

Hormones and Their Impact

  • Hormones affect mood, behavior, optimism, pessimism, and physiological functions.
  • They are influenced by our feelings, actions, and thoughts.
  • The podcast episode will focus on hormone optimization, particularly estrogen and testosterone.

"The amazing thing about hormones is that hormones impact all those things, but all those things, how we feel and what we do and what we think also can impact our hormones."

The quote emphasizes the bidirectional relationship between hormones and our psychological and physical states.

Concept of Salutogenesis

  • Salutogenesis is the approach to health and well-being through positive behaviors and mindset.
  • It contrasts with pathogenesis, which focuses on disease prevention.
  • Salutogenesis involves doing things to enhance energy, endocrine function, and metabolic function.
  • The mindset effect discussed in previous episodes highlights the importance of understanding the positive impacts of health behaviors.

"Salutogenesis is something I learned about from one of my Stanford medicine colleagues, which is a different orientation toward health and well-being."

The speaker introduces salutogenesis as a proactive and positive approach to health, distinct from the traditional disease-avoidance model.

Hormone Optimization: Estrogen and Testosterone

  • Estrogen and testosterone are sex steroids present in everyone, with their ratios determining effects.
  • Hormone optimization involves adjusting these ratios to align with life goals.
  • Sex steroids influence well-being, optimism, anxiety, reproduction, and sexual behavior.
  • The discussion will cover behavioral, supplemental, and prescription methods to optimize hormone levels.

"The ratio of estrogen and testosterone in every individual has profound influence on feelings of well-being, feelings of optimism, feelings of anxiety or lack of anxiety, on reproduction, on sexual behavior independent of reproduction."

The quote highlights the significant impact that the balance of estrogen and testosterone has on various aspects of human experience.

Sources of Sex Steroid Hormones

  • Major sources of estrogen are ovaries, and testosterone comes from testes, with adrenals also producing testosterone.
  • Aromatases convert testosterone into estrogen, and are produced by body fat and testes.
  • Estrogen and testosterone levels vary within individuals over their lifespan.
  • Hormone levels should be assessed with a medical doctor, preferably an endocrinologist.

"There are a lot of different glands in the body that produce hormones... But when we're talking about the sex steroid hormones, estrogen and testosterone, the major sources are ovaries for estrogen and the testes for testosterone, although the adrenals can also make testosterone."

The speaker explains the primary biological sources of estrogen and testosterone, and the role of aromatases in hormone conversion.

Impact of Competition on Androgens

  • Competition is a powerful influence on sex steroid hormones, which in turn affect competitive behaviors.
  • Testosterone reduces anxiety, promotes novelty seeking, and increases competitive drive.
  • The amygdala's role in threat detection is modulated by testosterone, affecting stress thresholds.
  • Increases in testosterone lead to more reproductive behaviors and willingness to compete in both males and females.
  • Competition can increase testosterone levels, mediated by dopamine, which also promotes testosterone release.

"Competitive environments themselves can increase testosterone. Now, some people have come to the conclusion that if you win, your testosterone goes up, and if you lose, your testosterone goes down."

The quote highlights the relationship between competitive environments and testosterone levels, emphasizing that competition itself, regardless of winning or losing, can boost testosterone.

Sex, Testosterone, and Reproductive Behavior

  • Testosterone in females leads to increased seeking of sex and competitive behaviors.
  • Estrogen in females promotes receptivity to mating, while in males, it's essential for libido.
  • The balance of estrogen and testosterone is crucial for sexual behavior in both sexes.
  • Sexual activity increases testosterone, but the relationship is nuanced, with ejaculation not necessarily reducing testosterone levels.
  • Abstinence can significantly increase testosterone levels.
  • Prolactin is released after sex, influencing the refractory period and promoting calmness and pair bonding.

"Testosterone is driving the seeking of sex, and estrogen is promoting the actual act of sex from females, so-called receptivity, consensual receptivity."

The quote distinguishes the roles of testosterone and estrogen in driving the seeking and engagement in sexual activity, respectively.

Hormonal Changes in Expecting Fathers

  • Expecting fathers experience a significant decrease in testosterone and an increase in estradiol.
  • Prolactin levels rise, leading to body fat accumulation and a decrease in stress hormones.
  • These hormonal changes prepare parents for the demands of childcare.
  • The duration of these changes is related to the amount of contact with the baby.

"Expecting fathers have an almost 50% decrease in testosterone levels, both free and bound testosterone as well."

The quote details the hormonal shifts that occur in men who are expecting children, highlighting a substantial decrease in testosterone.

Parenting and Hormonal Changes

  • Father's availability to offspring can impact his hormone levels.
  • Testosterone levels are influenced by parenting behaviors.
  • Peaks in testosterone encourage seeking sex, while reductions promote parenting behavior.
  • Prolactin increases and cortisol decreases are associated with parenting behavior.

"Peaks in testosterone in males and females cause individuals to seek sex, not promote parenting. Whereas reductions in testosterone, increases in prolactin and decreases in cortisol move individuals of both sexes toward parenting behavior and less toward reproductive behavior."

  • The quote explains the hormonal changes that influence reproductive versus parenting behavior, highlighting the role of testosterone, prolactin, and cortisol.

Illness and Hormonal Effects

  • Illness reduces testosterone and the desire for sex in both sexes.
  • Inflammatory cytokines released during illness, such as Il-6, can suppress sex hormone levels and desire for sex.
  • Il-6 interacts with hormone receptors, affecting their function.
  • Modulating Il-6 levels is crucial for maintaining sex hormone function.

"Inflammatory cytokines like Il-6 are bad for sex steroid hormones."

  • The quote summarizes the negative impact of inflammatory cytokines on sex hormones, emphasizing the importance of keeping Il-6 levels low.

Behavioral Practices and Hormone Modulation

  • Behaviors can change hormone levels, such as testosterone and estradiol.
  • The mechanisms involve sensory inputs like smell and possibly pheromones.
  • Understanding how behaviors affect hormones is essential for modulation strategies.

"It's kind of strange that just the mere act of being a parent or parenting can change testosterone levels so dramatically, or estradiol levels so dramatically."

  • The quote reflects on the surprising influence of parenting behaviors on significant hormonal changes.

Pheromones and Hormonal Influence

  • Pheromones are chemicals released by one member of a species that impact others.
  • Animal pheromone effects are well established, while human effects are controversial.
  • Pheromone effects in animals include the Lee-Boot, Whitten, Bruce, and Vandenbergh effects.
  • Human pheromone effects are suggested by studies on menstrual cycle modulation and mate recognition.

"Now, pheromone effects are absolutely well established in lots of animal species, but they are very controversial in humans today."

  • The quote distinguishes the acceptance of pheromone effects in animals from the controversy surrounding their effects in humans.

Apnea and Hormone Levels

  • Apnea, particularly sleep apnea, negatively impacts hormone levels.
  • Hormone reductions may be related to breathing patterns and carbon dioxide buildup.
  • Proper breathing during sleep is crucial for hormone optimization.
  • Estrogen and testosterone levels can be improved by reducing apnea and optimizing breathing.

"If there's a consistent literature in this whole story about aging and reductions in hormones and general health and reductions in hormones, it's apnea."

  • The quote highlights the consistent findings in literature about the adverse effects of apnea on hormone levels and general health.

Breathing Practices for Hormonal Health

  • Nasal breathing has multiple benefits, including hormonal balance.
  • Mouth breathing can lead to negative cosmetic and health effects.
  • Nasal breathing during exercise and sleep promotes better oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, improving sleep and hormone levels.
  • Techniques like mouth taping and nasal passage dilation can help improve nasal breathing and hormone optimization.

"Being a nasal breather and avoiding being a mouth breather can actually positively impact hormones, and in particular, the hormones testosterone and estrogen."

  • The quote explains the positive impact of nasal breathing on hormone levels, particularly testosterone and estrogen.

Light Exposure and Hormone Regulation

  • Viewing bright light within the first hour of waking affects sleep, wakefulness, and hormone levels.
  • Light exposure influences dopamine, which is linked to sex steroid hormones.
  • Seasonal changes in light exposure affect breeding patterns and hormone levels in animals, with implications for human mood and behavior.

"Your light viewing behavior can actually have a direct effect on hormone levels and fertility."

  • The quote emphasizes the direct impact of light exposure on hormone levels and fertility, highlighting the importance of light viewing behavior for hormonal health.

Impact of Light on Hormones

  • Dopamine levels in the brain are increased by light exposure, which in turn affects melanocytes and melanin production, impacting skin and hair pigmentation.
  • Dopamine also influences testosterone and estrogen levels, which are connected to reproductive behavior, well-being, social interactions, and anxiety reduction.
  • To optimize testosterone and estrogen, correct light viewing behavior is necessary, not just for sleep but also for dopamine levels.
  • Bright light exposure early in the day, without sunglasses, is essential for proper cortisol timing and hormone production.
  • Avoiding bright light at night is crucial as it suppresses dopamine and, consequently, testosterone and estrogen levels.
  • Supplements and diet to optimize hormones should only be considered after addressing light viewing and breathing behaviors.

"Increased dopamine levels in animals and humans increases the amount of these melanocytes and the activity of these melanin producing cells which give pigmentation to the skin and hair and indirectly increase the amount of testosterone and estrogen."

  • Dopamine not only affects skin and hair pigmentation but also indirectly boosts testosterone and estrogen production.

"If you want to optimize testosterone and estrogen, you need to get your light viewing behavior correct."

  • Correct light viewing behavior is a key factor in regulating testosterone and estrogen levels.

"It's about getting sufficient amount of light in your eyes so you have sufficient levels of dopamine."

  • Adequate light exposure is necessary to maintain sufficient dopamine levels for hormone regulation.

"The simple protocols for that I've reviewed before, but it means getting anywhere from two to ten minutes of bright light exposure in your eyes early in the day."

  • A protocol for optimal hormone levels includes 2-10 minutes of bright light exposure in the eyes early in the day.

"If you're viewing bright light in the middle of the night, you are suppressing dopamine release. If you're suppressing dopamine release, you are suppressing testosterone levels."

  • Nighttime bright light exposure suppresses dopamine and consequently testosterone levels.

Light Viewing for Different Genders

  • Bright light viewing has different hormonal effects based on one's chromosomal or gonadal background.
  • For individuals with ovaries, bright light early in the day promotes estrogen production and subtle increases in testosterone.
  • For individuals with testes or those supplementing with testosterone, bright light viewing increases both hormones while maintaining their ratio.
  • The goal is to optimize the ratios of hormones already present, not to increase the "wrong" hormone.

"If you're somebody who naturally has ovaries and has higher levels of estrogen than testosterone, then viewing bright light early in the day because of dopamine's effects are, is going to promote more estrogen and subtle increases in testosterone."

  • Bright light viewing early in the day can lead to increased estrogen production in individuals with ovaries.

"If you're somebody who starts off with more testosterone and lower estrogen, so somebody presumably who has testes... bright light viewing is going to increase testosterone and estrogen in parallel, but you're still going to maintain the ratio of testosterone to estrogen."

  • Bright light viewing increases both testosterone and estrogen in individuals with testes, maintaining their natural hormone ratio.

Influence of Temperature on Hormones

  • Temperature and day length are linked to hormone levels due to the evolutionary correlation between environmental factors and biological systems.
  • In summer, longer days and warmer temperatures lead to increased estrogen and testosterone production in humans.
  • There's a recent trend in using cold exposure to stimulate testosterone, including methods like ice baths and specialized cooling underwear.
  • The rebound effect of vasodilation after cooling is believed to increase blood flow and hormone infusion into the gonads.
  • The neural system plays a role in controlling blood vessel constriction and dilation, which affects hormone levels.
  • Excessive heat can negatively impact sperm health and may influence hormone production.

"In the winter months, testosterone and estrogen tend to be lower in many animals and in humans."

  • Testosterone and estrogen levels are generally lower during winter due to shorter days and cooler temperatures.

"There's a lot of interest in using cold as a way to stimulate testosterone."

  • Cold exposure is used as a method to potentially stimulate testosterone production.

"What happens is there's a rebound in vasodilation after cooling."

  • The rebound increase in blood flow following cold exposure may lead to increased hormone levels.

"The best way to shut down neurons is to cool them."

  • Cooling neurons can lead to vasoconstriction, which may temporarily reduce hormone infusion into the gonads, followed by a rebound effect that increases hormone levels.

Exercise and Hormone Modulation

  • Weight training and endurance activities can significantly impact testosterone levels in both males and females.
  • Heavy weight training, but not to failure, leads to the greatest increases in testosterone for about one to two days.
  • Endurance exercise performed before weight training can decrease testosterone levels during the weight training session.
  • High-intensity interval training increases testosterone, while endurance exercise beyond 75 minutes may decrease it due to cortisol.
  • The neural system's engagement during weight-bearing exercises is key to understanding how movements trigger hormonal changes.

"Heavy weight training, but not weight training to failure, where completion of a repetition is impossible, leads to the greatest increases in testosterone."

  • Heavy weight training without reaching failure is most effective at increasing testosterone levels.

"If you want to optimize testosterone levels, it seems to be the case that weight training first and doing cardio type endurance activity afterward is the right order of business."

  • To optimize testosterone, weight training should be done before endurance activities in the same workout session.

Estrogen Optimization and Menopause

  • Menopause is marked by a significant reduction in estrogen, leading to various symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings.
  • Hormone therapy with supplemental estrogen is a common treatment for menopause, but it may have side effects and risks, especially with a history of breast cancer.
  • Certain compounds, like black cohosh and Panax ginseng, have been studied for their effects on estrogen levels and menopause symptoms, showing modest benefits.

"Menopause is characterized by a variety of symptoms, and it's multifaceted, probably deserves an entire episode on its own."

  • Menopause involves a complex set of symptoms that significantly impact estrogen levels and overall well-being.

"There's a concern always about supplementing estrogen when there's a breast cancer background in the family or there's concern about breast cancer for any reason."

  • Estrogen supplementation during menopause must be considered carefully, especially with a family history of breast cancer.

"Black cohosh can have a modest effect in improving menopause symptoms."

  • Black cohosh has been shown to have a minor but significant effect on reducing menopause-related symptoms.

Puraria Mirifica and Menopause

  • Puraria Mirifica is a compound found to be potent in reducing menopause symptoms.
  • Comparable to estrogen replacement therapy according to four studies.
  • Studies are well-controlled and involve a wide subject pool.
  • Also known as Kwow kur kau in various countries.
  • Hormone-related compounds should be approached with caution due to breast cancer risks.
  • Estrogen and testosterone significantly influence mental and physical states.

"And there are four studies on this compound that show in every case it to be very potent, in fact comparable to estrogen therapy, estrogen replacement therapy, in reducing the symptoms of menopause."

The quote highlights the effectiveness of Puraria Mirifica in alleviating menopause symptoms, comparing it to conventional estrogen replacement therapy.

Role of Specific Compounds in Hormone Optimization

  • Certain nutrients are effective in promoting testosterone and estrogen production.
  • Key nutrients include vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium.
  • A paper by Wrzosek et al., 2020, in Endocrinology and Metabolism Review discusses the negative impacts of deficiencies in these nutrients on sex steroid hormones.
  • Dosage recommendations for these nutrients are context and individual-dependent.
  • provides dosage ranges supported by studies.
  • Regular blood work is advised to monitor androgen and vitamin D levels.

"It's very clear that certain collections of nutrients are useful for promoting testosterone and estrogen production in their proper ratios."

The quote summarizes the importance of certain nutrients in maintaining the balance of sex steroid hormones.

Negative Effects of Opioids on Hormones

  • Opioids dramatically reduce testosterone and estrogen levels.
  • Disruption occurs mainly by affecting receptors on gonadotropin-releasing hormone neurons within the hypothalamus.
  • Opioid use is linked to various endocrine syndromes, including gynecomastia in males and ovary disruptions in females.
  • Literature extensively documents the negative impact of opioids on sex steroid hormones.

"The opioids dramatically reduce levels of testosterone and estrogen. And they do that mainly by disrupting the receptors on gonadotropin releasing hormone neurons."

This quote emphasizes the significant negative effects of opioids on testosterone and estrogen levels through disruption of hormonal signaling in the brain.

Supplements to Increase Testosterone and Estrogen

  • Creatine has evidence supporting its role in increasing dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
  • The molecule testosterone exists in both free and bound forms, with binding globulins like SHBG and albumin playing important roles.
  • Supplements like Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia Jack) may increase free testosterone.
  • Boron is suggested to free up more testosterone.
  • The role of carrier proteins and the blood-brain barrier in hormone transport is complex.
  • Adjusting free testosterone levels should be done with a thorough understanding of hormone transport mechanisms.

"Creatine can increase DHT, which means that if you take creatine and you're very DHT susceptible, then you might experience some hair loss."

The quote indicates that creatine supplementation can lead to increased levels of DHT, which might result in hair loss in susceptible individuals.

Hormones and Fertility

  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is used to increase fertility and testosterone or estrogen levels.
  • Initially derived from pregnant women's urine, now synthetically made.
  • Supplements like Fadogia agrestis are believed to increase luteinizing hormone and subsequently testosterone or estrogen.
  • The importance of blood work and understanding negative feedback mechanisms in hormone regulation is highlighted.

"The prescription version of increasing luteinizing hormone is something called hCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, which has been synthesized and is now available as a prescription drug."

This quote explains the medical use of hCG as a synthesized prescription drug to increase fertility-related hormones.

Cautions with Hormone Modulation

  • Modulating hormones can affect tissues prone to cancer due to high cell turnover.
  • Androgen and estrogen-sensitive cancers are a concern when altering hormone levels.
  • It's crucial to be cautious and informed when considering hormonal supplements or changes.

"So you have to be careful anytime you're modulating hormones, especially androgens and estrogens."

The quote serves as a cautionary reminder of the risks involved in modulating hormones, particularly regarding cancer susceptibility.

Supplements and Molecules Affecting Hormones

  • The supplement industry offers various products to adjust hormone levels, with varying degrees of scientific support.
  • Bulbine natalensis has support for increasing testosterone but also potential liver toxicity.
  • Supplements should be chosen with an understanding of their potential effects and evidence of efficacy.
  • The difference between supporting normal hormone production and increasing levels is emphasized.

"The list of supplements and molecules that can adjust estrogen and testosterone is vast."

This quote highlights the extensive range of supplements available for altering hormone levels, implying the need for careful selection and consideration.

Understanding Hormones and Supplementation

  • The podcast covers basic science, supplementation, behaviors, and their interactions with hormones.
  • Behavioral practices can set the foundation for healthy hormone output and overall health.
  • Audience engagement through questions and suggestions for future content is encouraged.
  • The importance of science-based information and careful application of tools for hormone optimization is stressed.

"I hope you'll come away from this with a deeper mechanistic understanding of how the brain and body are interacting to control the output and the ways in which these incredible things that we call sex steroid hormones work and influence us."

The quote encapsulates the podcast's goal of providing a deeper understanding of the complex interactions between the brain, body, and hormones.

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