Alcohol and Testosterone in Males and Females
Alcohol is one of the most commonly abused substances worldwide. Overall, about 7.4% of Americans have an alcohol use disorder. The problem may be even worse in Florida, where 15% of adults reported binge drinking in 2014 and 16.6% of high school students reported binge drinking in 2013.
Although many people think of testosterone as a male hormone, it is important for both male and female physiology. In men, it is responsible for libido, sperm production and bone and muscle mass. In women, testosterone plays a role in reproductive health and bone mass. Drinking is known to impact testosterone levels in both men and women. Given the high prevalence of drinking in America, many people may be at risk for testosterone-related problems.
Alcohol and Male Testosterone
Drinking affects testosterone by influencing a circuit in the body called the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. Chemicals in this axis control the production of both testosterone and sperm. Drinking throws off this hormonal cycle, leading to lower testosterone levels. In turn, the body’s ability to make sperm decreases, which also negatively affects fertility.
Doctors think this occurs due to factors like alcohol byproducts, enzymes that the body uses to break down alcohol and similar chemical reactions.
Some men will not have symptoms of low testosterone, while other men will be symptomatic. Symptoms can include:
- Low sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Ejaculation problems
- Decreased hair on the body and face
- Decreased bone density and muscle mass
- Increased body fat
Alcohol and Female Testosterone
Drinking affects a woman’s HPG axis in similar ways. However, testosterone levels in women may increase after drinking, possibly causing changes in female sex characteristics like fat distribution and body hair.
The female menstrual cycle is also controlled by the HPG axis, which adds to the complexity of hormonal disruption from drinking. Drinking can increase estrogen levels and decrease progesterone levels, leading to fertility problems and menstrual irregularities.
Different Types of Alcohol and Testosterone
Little research has been conducted into different types of alcohol and how they impact testosterone. Many people think that beer may lower testosterone levels more than other types of alcohol due to the plant-based estrogens in hops. However, there is little evidence that beer has a greater impact on testosterone than other forms of alcohol.
Plant-based estrogens are found in a variety of common foods, such as wheat and potatoes. However, these foods do not have a known link to low testosterone. One older study showed that both beer and wine decreased testosterone levels. The only difference was in the timing of the lower testosterone levels and the blood alcohol levels at which the effects occurred.