An interview with Dr. Harry Fisch for The Testosterone Project.
by Susie Arnett
“It is time to get back in the game.”
“Recapture your youth and vitality.”
“Time to man up.”
I found these quotes on the homepage of a website for a testosterone clinic. Popping up all over the country like mushrooms after a rain, testosterone clinics are promising to solve a myriad of men’s problems. It makes me feel bad for men. They are now facing the types of marketing onslaughts that women have been dealing with for decades. Targeting a man’s primary insecurities—of not being “man” enough—these “hormone factories” are going for the jugular and it’s working. The number of testosterone prescriptions that have been written in the US in the last decade has more than tripled. Their primary position is simple and makes sense: if there isn’t enough of something, add more.
But if your T levels are low, is putting more testosterone into the body the answer?
As part of my research, I’d found some men trying to biohack their T levels by eating various diets instead of adding more testosterone via hormone replacement therapy. This made me curious about the relationship between testosterone levels and food. I spoke with Dr. Harry Fisch, author of Size Matters, The Male Biological Clock, and The New Naked, to get his thoughts. As a leading expert in men’s health, he specializes in fertility and testosterone issues.
He was very clear about the relationship between a big belly and low T and that what a man eats is primarily involved in his T levels. He described a process where testosterone gets converted into estrogen in belly fat so the size of the belly is a big indicator of T levels. You’ve heard of “moobs”, or man boobs? This is an advanced stage of this process. Also, another key factor as men age is that their testosterone/estrogen ratios start to shift with estrogen levels increasing over time. This is the “feminization” of a man on a physical level.
When testosterone gets converted into estrogen and there’s too much of it in a man, he—along with his erection—will soften and his body will become curvy in all the wrong places. Think Homer Simpson. And for a man, this is much more than just vanity. When T levels get out of whack, emotional and cognitive symptoms can emerge like depression, irritability and a lack of focus and get up and go.
I found this information really heartening because when something like a lack of erections or desire occurs in a relationship, it’s so easy and common to jump to conclusions about what that means. In a marriage, if the husband doesn’t feel like it, it’s easy to believe it means that there is a lack of desire or love. Although that may be true in some cases, it can also be the physiology that is broken, not the psychology. This feels like such a load off on an emotional and relationship level. Still, it needs to be addressed.
In our very understandable desire to fix the problem quickly, taking a pill or shot sounds like a great short-cut but to Dr. Fisch, the answer is not so simple. Because the reason is often more complicated than simply the body not making enough, adding more doesn’t address the source of the problem. While you may feel great for a short amount of time, it can ultimately make the situation worse.
I wondered why nobody else had mentioned this approach.
For some men, testosterone supplementation may be the right answer and only a doctor can know for sure but regardless, what we put in our mouths is hugely important both for maintaining good health and also for repairing problems. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine.” If you’re not putting the right fuel in the gas tank, the car won’t run well. Although we’d never dream of putting sugar water in our cars, many of us are doing this on a daily basis to our bodies. When it comes to testosterone levels, food matters, not only because of how the foods themselves impact the body but also because of how they affect sleep (when the body makes testosterone) and stress, which also have a big impact on testosterone production by robbing the body of the building blocks it needs to make testosterone.
In a culture that offers all types of unhealthy temptations, what can men do to have healthy bodies—and testosterone levels—so they can be the men they were born to be and that we as a culture need them to be? Dr. Fisch keeps it really simple. When he talks to a patient who is complaining about low T-type symptoms, he always begins with his two primary questions—is there excessive weight and how are you sleeping. He doesn’t prescribe diets but he recommends staying away from carbs like bread, pizza, pasta, cookies and cake. Also, he prescribes some exercise but it doesn’t have to be a lot. “Get a pedometer and make sure you’re walking 10,000 steps every day. That’s all you need. You don’t even need a scale, just get a tape measure and measure your belly regularly.”
To learn more about other factors that can affect your testosterone levels, check out The Testosterone Project.
BIO: Dr. Harry Fisch is a board certified urologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Medical College of Cornell University. He is one of the nation’s leaders in the diagnosis and treatment of Men’s health issues as well as sexuality and fertility problems in couples. Internationally renowned, he has pioneered microsurgical techniques for disorders associated with male infertility such as vasectomy reversal and varicocele repair. He has been named to the “Best Doctors in America” and “New York Magazine Top Doctor” the past 9 years. He regularly appears on the Dr. Oz show as a medical expert on Men’s Health. www.harryfisch.com
The Testosterone Project, created by Susie Arnett, explores the evolution (or devolution) of masculinity in modern society through a series of interviews with leading thinkers on the topic of men and men’s health. Susie Arnett is a writer and producer and has produced programming for HBO, Fox, Lifetime and MTV. For more information, contact Susie Arnett at [email protected]. www.lightfieldmedia.us