Leigh-Anne Wooten MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, LSS BB
The phrase anti-inflammatory has been trending lately as research continues to associate numerous health benefits with anti-inflammatory foods and, conversely, the adverse health effects of consistently eating pro-inflammatory foods. A new area of study? The impact of food on testosterone levels in men.
A recent study published in the Journal of Urology found that eating a pro-inflammatory diet may increase the risk of testosterone deficiency in men.
What exactly did this study show?
Researchers analyzed the eating patterns of over 4000 American men. The diets of these participants were organized into three groups: those who ate a minimal, moderate, or high amount of pro-inflammatory foods. The data showed that total testosterone levels were significantly lower in participants with the highest consumption of pro-inflammatory foods, increasing the odds of the deficiency by 30%. The odds were even higher in obese men, almost a 60% increase. We must note that this is a very new area of study. While there is an evident association in this data, more research needs to be done to say outright that pro-inflammatory foods could be one cause of testosterone deficiency.
Taking a step back… what does testosterone do, and what is inflammation?
Testosterone is a hormone found in both men and women, though women have much lower amounts. While it is most commonly associated with sex drive and fertility, it also plays an essential role in men's and women’s mood, weight, fat distribution, muscle and bone mass, and red blood cell production.
When we talk Inflammation, this can be both good and bad. Sometimes it’s your body’s natural form of defense. When your immune system detects something foreign, like a virus, plant pollen, or chemical, it triggers inflammation, which is necessary so that the body can fight off the invader. In other situations, inflammation continues to persist, even when there is no threat to the body, and that’s when inflammation can be harmful. Many chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and depression, have been associated with chronic inflammation.
Does it sound like we should all be eating an ‘anti-inflammatory’ diet?
Yes and no… The concept of foods causing or preventing inflammation is undoubtedly an intensely studied area of research right now. However, nutrition research is complicated to conduct, making people eat a certain way for years to accurately capture outcomes while properly accounting for genetics and lifestyle.
It’s therefore hard to say with certainty that one particular food will cause inflammation and even more difficult to say that food that caused inflammation, in turn, caused a specific disease; or that anyone's food can prevent it. Not to mention, anti-inflammatory foods can’t overcome sedentary, unhealthy lifestyles or particular genetics.
We can say that the foods being labeled as pro-inflammatory (those that are high in refined carbohydrates, added sugars, saturated fat, and cholesterol and low in unsaturated fat, fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols) are associated with chronic health issues. Why? We’re not 100% certain yet. We can also say that foods labeled as anti-inflammatory have an abundant amount of research to support their positive impacts on health and disease prevention. Is it causing or preventing inflammation specifically? Maybe, maybe not…. Does it matter? I would argue no. Let’s focus on eating a healthy diet.
So, what should we eat?
Foods that are labeled as an anti-inflammatory also happen to the foods we generally tag as healthy: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, plant-based proteins (like beans and nuts), fatty fish, and seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like chia!), and fresh herbs and spices. They are all loaded with nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants that interact in the body to support long-term health. Here are some examples:
While this specific area of research (the impact of food on testosterone) is still young, there are no downsides to eating the foods listed above and a litany of reasons to experiment and add more to your diet.