Dihydrotestosterone: 20 Ways to Increase DHT and 5-a Reductase Levels Naturally
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) optimization is a controversially controversial topic among men. Some say that it’s a “bad hormone” that causes hair loss and prostate enlargement, while others praise it for being the ultimate male hormone, since it’s significantly more potent than its little brother; testosterone.
In fact, DHT has 2-3 times higher affinity to the androgen receptors and it’s known to be bound and active in the receptor sites for five times longer than testosterone. Dihydrotestosterone also has much higher androgenic activity than testosterone, whereas testosterone on the other hand has significantly higher anabolic (muscle building) activity than that of DHT.
While it’s known that overly high DHT levels – in combination with too high estrogen and the male-pattern baldness gene – are associated with scalp hair loss, it’s also known that in men with no MPB-gene, DHT levels at the top of the reference ranges are not associated with any rate of increased hair-loss (this study of 316 men actually showed that high DHT was associated with 35% LOWER risk of developing baldness).
Another claimed side-effect of high DHT hormone levels is prostate enlargement (BPH), and while some studies have linked high dihydrotestosterone levels to that condition, it must also be noted that many have not found any correlation between DHT and prostate enlargement markers (even 10-fold increases in DHT were noted to have no significant effect on prostate size in this study).
Bottom line on side-effects: If you are having prostate issues and are going bald, its likely that you possess the genotype for those conditions, and that overly high DHT levels can in some (but not all) cases aggravate them. The gene explanation also makes sense, if you look at the studies which often show extreme variances between the effects of androgens on hair loss and prostate enlargement. Take this study for example where DHT was identified as a compound that had an important role in the development and progression of prostate enlargement, and compare it to this one where men rubbing 70mg/day of DHT-gel to their scrotum for 3 months showed no signs of prostate enlargement (no increases in prostate volume or PSA levels).
One factor that has always confused me about these claimed side-effects is that hair-loss and prostate problems become increasingly more common as men get older, whereas androgens are known to go down as men age. If DHT is the only culprit, why don’t all men in their 20’s have prostate problems?
If those side-effects above are possible, why would anyone purposefully want to increase the DHT hormone?;
- Dihydrotestosterone is necessary for the growth of body hair and linear beard growth
- Unlike testosterone, DHT cannot be converted into estrogen by the aromatase enzyme
- Exogenous DHT administration is known for its mood, energy, and confidence boosting effects in men
- By increasing cAMP levels in tissue, dihydrotestosterone stimulates lipolysis (fat burn) and thyroid function
- Although DHT is not highly anabolic it still promotes muscle gains by increasing nervous system and muscle strength
- Dihydrotestosterone and testosterone are responsible of ALL masculine body and facial characteristics (wide jaw, broad shoulders…)
- Increased DHT levels are strongly linked to higher brain GABA-levels, promoting that calm “alpha male” relaxation in any situation
- DHT (being the main androgen in male sexual organs) is even more potent than testosterone at promoting libido and erection quality
Condensed version? DHT makes you look, act, and feel like a damn man, even more so than testosterone.
Before we get in to ways to boost dihydrotestosterone levels, here’s how the hormone is made:
- Your body produces three different types of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase (type I, II, and III).
- Those enzymes then convert – varying on the type – testosterone into DHT inside the penis, testicles, skin, nervous system, and many organs such as liver, kidneys, and brain (this conversion normally occurs to 5% of the testosterone produced).
- One weaker adrenal androgen – androstenedione – can also be directly converted to DHT by 5-a enzymes, this conversion however is more notable in women than men (yes women have some low amounts of DHT too).
Now that the rambles have been done, here’s finally your 20 ways to boost DHT levels naturally;
1. Drop the Fat Pounds
It has already been established in this website that being fat just doesn’t cut it for testosterone production (and a bunch for other good things in life).
You need to be at a reasonable point of lean to have your body pump out a good amount of testosterone on a daily basis, and also to make sure that the extra adipose tissue won’t convert most of that T into estrogen by increased aromatase activity.
Since ~5% of the testosterone you produce converts to DHT by the actions of 5-a enzyme, it would make sense to get to around 8-14% fat percentage in order to maximize that T production, which would also lead to higher turnover to DHT, since you would simply have more to convert from.
But it doesn’t end there. Increased body fatness will also break DHT down to a weaker metabolite; 3α-diol, which is again, why you don’t want to be fat. Fatness suppresses T and DHT, and promotes estrogen production, and that’s a no-no for men.
Bottom line: Get to the “sweet spot” of 8-14% body fat, which maximizes testosterone production, reduces testosterone turnover to estrogen, and reduces DHT turnover to 3α-diol. Mind you I didn’t even have to mention the plethora of other benefits that come when you’re lean, such as: better looking body, improved insulin sensitivity, better cardiovascular health…
2. Boost that Testosterone
Like said few times above already, ~5% of your testosterone will turn over to DHT thanks to the 5-alpha enzyme.
Therefore logically, as your testosterone production gets higher, so does your DHT production.
Good example of this are studies of men undergoing testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), these guys are administered exogenous testosterone and as a result their serum T levels as well as DHT levels increase (study, study, study).
Simply provide your body more of the “raw material” – which in this case is testosterone – and the 5-a enzymes will do the rest to convert a chunk of that to dihydrotestosterone. Simple. Effective.
This works with natural testosterone optimization, as well as synthetic alternatives (TRT). For the latter, a novel way to increase the turnover rate would be using the testosterone gel to the area of the scrotum (a method that’s proven to increase the turn over %).
3. Start Lifting
Weight lifting is one of the best ways to naturally stimulate hormone production.
I have written about the effects that resistance training has on testosterone levels before on here, here, here, and here. This boost in testosterone alone is enough to improve DHT levels by increased turnover rate…
…But resistance exercise works also on skeletal muscle tissue to increase the basal DHT levels in rodents, and tissue levels of 5-alpha reductase and DHT in humans. So a mix of good things happen inside of your muscles when you lift.
All this while you’re getting stronger, more ripped, and healthier. Therefore resistance training is a no-brainer and every man interested in their hormonal health should practice some regularly.
NOTE : My great friend Chris Walker recently released his new book, THOR, which is a training protocol specifically designed to maximize the testosterone and DHT response and long-term hormonal adaptations of training, this goes for maximizing testosterone, DHT, and androgen receptor activity.
4. Sprint Fast
HIIT exercise or basically any type of exercise where you do quick explosive spurts is really good for testosterone, DHT, and growth hormone.
I have previously talked about HIIT training and its effect on testosterone levels here, and as you might guess the effect is as positive as it gets. Now again as ~5% of testosterone converts to DHT, this boost in testosterone alone should positively impact dihydrotestosterone levels.
Looking specifically at studies where the researchers have examined the effect of quick bouts of exercise on DHT levels, we can see that in young men DHT goes through the roof acutely after sprinting. And in another study it was noted that all anabolic/androgenic hormones skyrocket with sprints, but it has to be an all-out spurt to actually stimulate DHT production.
Here’s a good video example of a perfect DHT hormone boosting exercise, hill sprints (courtesy of FitbyGreen):
NOTE : In THOR the bulk of “cardio” is sprinting or walking, simply because they’re so good for hormonal output. You can click here to read more about the training program.
5. Intermittent Hypoxia
Few months ago when I accidentally stumbled upon some studies about training in a low-oxygen state, aka hypoxia.
Hypoxia happens when there’s a deficiency of oxygen reaching the tissues of the body…
…One example of this would be training in high altitudes, where there is naturally lower amounts of oxygen in the air. Another example would be simply holding the breath for a while or breathing into a bag, both of these are good ways to enter short-term hypoxia.
Then there’s also those goofy “altitude masks“, they probably work, but seriously who the hell wants to walk around looking like Bane in a gym?
Why hypoxia? What has this low-oxygen stuff have to do with DHT hormone?
It has been studied in animals that intermittent hypoxia (short-term low-oxygen exposure) stimulates testosterone production by upregulating cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) and testicular enzymes. It has been also shown that hypoxia activates androgen receptors in human tissue (study, study). Lastly, low-oxygen states have been shown to increase the turnover rate from testosterone to DHT in skin and hair follicles and promote growth hormone release by increasing CO2 levels of the blood.
How would one get to short-term hypoxia? That’s a good question, and honestly it’s kind of hard to answer. You could do bag breathing, or go train in a mountain like many professional athletes do. Or you could do “breath-stop” sets in the gym, where you would very slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth during movements, making your body deprived of oxygen for a short duration.
6. More Calories, More Dihydrotestosterone
Everyone knows that your body needs energy (calories) to maintain many of its functions. And over long-term if you suppress the intake of calories, your body will begin to slow down and shut some of the mechanisms not vital for survival.
One of these mechanisms that first takes a hit is the reproductive system, and with that, testosterone production and DHT production.
An extreme example of this can be seen from this case study following a contest preparation for natural bodybuilding competition, the ruthless low-calorie diet accompanied by huge amounts of working out resulted in near castrate level hormones.
Another study – likely more closer to normal conditions – had a group of men eating a calorie deficit (1350–2415 kcal/day) for 7-years and compared their hormones to men who ate at caloric maintenance/surplus (2145-3537 kcal/day). As to be expected, the long-term restriction of calories had caused the calorie restriction groups testosterone level to be 31% lower than the normal caloric intake guys had (the researchers didn’t test for DHT, but if T drops by that much its likely that DHT also took a hit).
The only study I found directly examining DHT levels and caloric intake was conducted on rodents, in it the researchers found out that caloric restriction was associated with significant drops in dihydrotestosterone levels.
Bottom line: If you need to lose weight, follow this guide and go on a caloric deficit until you reach 8-14% bodyfat, then return to normal maintenance calories to keep that T and DHT high. If you’re already lean, then my good man, make sure that you eat enough to support your hormones.
7. Up the Carbs
Here’s some not so good news for the low-carb folk; carbohydrates are important for both healthy testosterone and healthy DHT production.
It has been shown in many studies that diets higher in carbohydrates, result in more favorable free-testosterone to cortisol (fTC) ratio, more total testosterone, and higher 5-alpha reductase activity.
For example, this study from Anderson et al. found that when caloric intake and fat intake are kept identical, a diet where the carbohydrate to protein ratio was kept at 2:1 showed 36% higher free-testosterone levels along with significantly reduced cortisol, when compared to a diet where the ratio was switched to 1:2. A study by Volek et al. saw similar results, eat twice as much calories from carbs as you do from protein and you will be at a “sweet spot” to increase free testosterone and lower cortisol secretion.
One previously done study from Anderson et al. examined the effects of carbohydrate on DHT, and found out that on a high-carb diet 5-alpha activity and dihydrotestosterone levels will be significantly higher than those seen on diets with lower amounts of carbs.
Bottom line: A scientifically sound amount of carbs for optimal T, C, and DHT production would be to eat 2 times as much carbs as you eat protein. So 2:1 ratio, which is why you can often see me recommending ~50% calories from carbs, ~20% from protein, and ~30% from dietary fat.
8. Protein in Moderation
I know this statement always freaks out the neurotic bodybuilders who believe that protein is the be-all end-all macronutrient, but protein really is the LEAST important of the three main macronutrients when it comes to testosterone and DHT optimization.
Sure you want to get some amounts of protein because it’s vitally important for maintaining and increasing the rate of protein synthesis and muscular health, while its also known that chronic protein malnutrition leads to lowered testosterone levels and thus also lower DHT. So yes do get moderate amounts of protein…
…But again, not too much. If you paid any attention to the studies in the above subheading, you can see how it’s obvious from the studies of Anderson et al. and Volek et al. that high protein intake is able to suppress testosterone, 5-alpha enzymes, and DHT levels.
So like said above, try to aim for carb to protein ratio of 2:1 for optimal DHT production
NOTE: It’s worth noting that soy isolate has been found to lower dihydrotestosterone production (study, study), so if you’re not a vegan/vegetarian, consider getting the bulk of your protein from animal sources, preferably red meat.
9. Fat is Your DHT Raising Friend
This is not a surprise, since the “backbone” of every steroid hormone is a 17-carbon fat molecule called “gonane”.
So I should just pound all kinds of fats to naturally boost DHT then, right?
Not exactly. The types of fats that are most commonly associated with higher testosterone and dihydrotestosterone levels are the saturated fatty-acids (SFA) and monounsaturated fatty-acids (MUFA). When it comes to polyunsaturated fatty-acids (PUFA) the effect is often the complete opposite, a reduction of androgens.
When it comes to DHT, there are some in-vitro studies available on the effect of different types of fats, allow me to quote my older article;
Bottom line: Since ~20% of your calories should come from protein and ~40-50% from carbs, the remaining ~30-40% shall be reserved for fats. The bulk of your fats should come from eggs, butter, animal organs, and red meat, with moderate amounts of coconut oil, olive oil, and avocados. Also for higher DHT consider minimizing the usage of all PUFAs (mostly vegetable oils), these harm your testosterone, DHT, and also thyroid.
10. The Caffeine Fix
There have been few human studies where caffeine taken before a workout has resulted in 12-21% higher testosterone levels, which is great since coffee is freaking awesome.
This small increase in testosterone should alone slightly increase the turnover amount to dihydrotestosterone, but that’s not all caffeine is capable of…
…In a rodent study, it was noted that a single caffeine administration (undisclosed amount) was able to increase 5-alpha reductase activity by ~30% via an unknown mechanism.
Another rodent study used human equivalents of 2-4mg/kg caffeine and noted up to 57% higher DHT levels.
NOTE: One possible mechanism behind caffeine’s ability to boost T, DHT and 5-alpha enzyme activity is its stimulatory effect on cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which theoretically should result in improved messaging between cells and hormones, but it could also be something else, all I know is that I’ll be sure to drink my coffee 😉
11. Organic Foods May Boost DHT
Organic foods might not look different, and frankly their nutrition profile isn’t that much better than that of many conventional foods, but when eating organic it shouldn’t be about what more you will be getting, but instead what you aren’t getting.
To clarify, I’m talking about pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. The chemicals generously sprayed on conventional – and in some cases organic – foods.
The problem with these chemicals is that many of them have been identified as antiandrogens, aka. compounds that block androgen production and receptor activity.
Bottom line: I’m not going to be the woo’ster who fear-mongers everyone into neurotic avoidance of everything conventional, but it’s a fact that many man-made chemicals used to preserve and protect foods are also endocrine disruptors.
12. Use Sorghum Flour, Syrup, Etc
Sorghum (S.Bicolor) is a gluten-free grain native to Africa.
It’s not very common in Europe and United States, but you can still find products like whole sorghum poppies, sorghum flour, and sorghum syrup from various online retailers. What I’ve personally tried are sorghum pancakes, popping popsorghum, and making a tincture from the grain with vodka. The ways to use this grain are endless.
The only supplement I’ve found with actual sorghum extract, is the Tri-Sugar Shield from Life Extension (affiliate link).
This might be a long shot, since there’s only one study available about the subject, but a study examining the effect of alcohol extracts of multiple grains on 5-α reductase activity, found that the ethanol infused brans of rice and safflower had very high potency to inhibit 5-α reductase activity, whereas sorghum increased the activity of the 5-a enzyme by 54%.
Bottom line: The high amounts of Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA) in rice and safflower bran were likely the main cause behind reduced 5-alpha activity (remember that GLA is the most potent PUFA for 5-alpha inhibition). Sorghum on the other hand lacks GLA and apparently has something in it which is able to promote 5-alpha activity. Still remember that these studies were done on crude alcohol extracts of the brans of these grains, so eating white (branless) rice probably doesn’t have a similar DHT blocking effect, but safflower oil likely has.
13. Be Cautious with 5-alpha Inhibitors
This section of the article might be the most important for some readers.
Depending on your diet and lifestyle, you could be absolutely hammering your DHT levels with natural stuff like foods, herbs, and mushrooms, as well as things like prescription drugs.
Heck, some “T-booster” supplements are actually loaded with compounds that inhibit the 5-a enzymes, so no wonder why they can raise testosterone levels if less will be converted to DHT.
Below I will list you some foods, herbs, and prescription drugs that are known for their DHT blocking effect. Now I don’t want you to become neurotic with avoiding all that stuff because so many natural compounds can slightly inhibit 5-α, but if your goal is to boost DHT naturally, then it may be wise not to swim in the stuff below.
14. Opiates, Really?
This isn’t something I necessarily recommend, but just a mere interesting fact.
As you might already know, long- and short-term use of opiate painkillers like morphine, codeine, and oxycodone have been linked to lowered testosterone levels in human males.
Previously I thought that this was due to direct suppression of T production, but then Mika from Anax shared some studies about opiates actually increasing 5-alpha reductase and the conversion from T to DHT (study, study).
At first this might sound like a cool idea to try, but at the same time, opiates can also increase aromatase activity, cause addiction, and mess up with the gut flora.
Bottom line: Opiates are a no-no for me but if I ever am in such excruciating pain that I need them, at least – admist all the side-effects – I know that my DHT might go up, haha 😀
15. Nicotine for Extra DHT
Dihydrotestosterone is eventually metabolized down into less effective form called 3a-diol, which is then eventually followed by glucuronidation and clearance via the kidneys and urination.
As explained in the beginning of this list, this DHT breakdown is significantly increased in fat people, since the adipose tissue (fat mass) increases the rate of dihydrotestosterone reduction to 3a-diol.
Aside from being lean, there’s one surprising compound that can inhibit this breakdown and leave more active DHT to the body; nicotine.
It was seen in an in-vitro study that nicotine and a breakdown product of nicotine called cotine were able to suppress the enzymes that metabolize DHT into 3a-diol, thus causing DHT accumulation in tissues. This might also explain why smokers are often found to have higher levels of DHT than non-smokers.
Bottom line: No, I’m not recommending anyone to start smoking cigarettes, but something like nicotine gum could be a way to increase dihydrotestosterone levels.
If you’ve been actively hitting the gym, changes are that you already use creatine.
It’s somewhat of a “staple” supplement in the bodybuilding, powerlifting, etc circles due to its massive amount of scientific literature promoting creatine as a supplement that ACTUALLY works to increase strength and lean mass.
More impressively, creatine has been shown to increase testosterone levels in many studies, and it does so even at rest, without even needing the exercise induced T stimulation to actually be effective.
When it comes to dihydrotestosterone levels, a study of 20 college-aged rugby players showed that a 7-day loading phase – followed by a 14-day maintenance supplementation – led to 56% higher DHT levels during the first seven days, and 40% elevation for the following fourteen days.
When buying creatine, do remember that the plain and cheap basic monohydrate (affiliate link), has been found to be just as effective as the more expensive forms of the compound.
17. Butea Superba
Butea Superba (Red Kwao Krua) comes from Thailand and is widely used as a pro-erectile herb. It’s also known for its androgenic effects in research animals and possibly also in humans.
The animal studies on Butea have shown that the herb comes with a dose-dependent reduction of testosterone, however these effects are accompanied with increased androgenic effects (higher hepatic liver enzymes, increased spleen weight), suggesting that the decrease of T might be caused by increased turnover to DHT (study, study).
I’ve personally used few bottles of Barlowe’s Butea Superba Extract (affiliate link) and it seems to have some minor androgenic benefits.
One case study of a Thai male who reportedly took Red Kwao for “few weeks” and after that complained of a side-effect; too high sex drive, was noted of having unnaturally high DHT levels of 1512 pg/mL (reference ranges being 250-990 pg/mL). The medical professionals eventually tracked this down to the Butea Superba supplement and recommended him to stop supplementation immediately. The study reports that 1-week after the cessation of B. Superba the subjects DHT levels – as well as his libido – had returned to normal.
The effects of the above study might be caused by illegal “spiking” of the supplement with some steroids (after all this was in Thailand), but then again there was this comment here some time ago:
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid, a naturally occurring serine present in almost all of the cells of our bodies.
Its main function is to deliver bodily signals between cells and hormones, but it can also reduce oxidative stress,improve the testosterone to cortisol ratio, promote DHT turnover, and even improve cognitive functions.
Due to many studies linking PS with improved brain processing abilites (study, study, study), the compound has received a qualified health claim from the FDA stating: “consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive dysfunction in the elderly”
When it comes to hormones and performance, few studies have shown that PS supplementation can reduce exercise induced oxidative stress in the body (study, study, study) and even increase testosterone levels while simultaneously suppressing cortisol during exercise, therefore increasing the T:C ratio by up to 180% (study, study).
Forskolin (Coleus Forskohlii extract) is often hyped up as a fat burner in the Dr. Oz show. Unfortunately this only makes the herb seem like a steaming pile of bullshit, since you know, Oz is one hell of a woo-peddler.
Anyway, don’t throw your axe to the well just yet. Scientists actually use forskolin as a positive control for testosterone inside test-tubes, due to its well-known stimulatory effect on cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). In fact, up to 200% increases in testosterone have been seen in test-tubes with forskolin, and increases of 33% in a human study.
As you might remember from the coffee-subheading above increased cAMP has been theorized to be the reason why caffeine increases 5-alpha levels, and since forskolin is much more potent at boosting cAMP, one could easily think that its also potent at increasing DHT.
Some in-vitro research suggests that when cells are incubated with forskolin, 5-a activity increases, but so far there’s no in-vivo human studies showing what happens to DHT when human subjects consume oral forskolin supplements. At this point I would say that it’s plausible that forskolin could be a potent DHT booster.
Since forskolin has variety of benefits for thyroid health, testosterone optimization, and possibly DHT, I would recommend the standardized Forskolin Extract from Cardiovascular Research LTD (affiliate link).
When talking about vitamins and minerals most people are sure to mention such popular ones like magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, calcium…
…But what about boron? A trace mineral with not that big of a popularity, but perhaps the most impressive results in terms of testosterone and DHT in scientific studies.
Yes that’s right, a dirt-poor trace mineral has been shown to induce some significant improvements in your androgens. A study from Naghii et al. showed that 10mg/day of boron for a week, was able to increase free testosterone levels by 28%, reduce estrogen levels by 39% and boost DHT by 10%.
Another study from Mjilkovich et al. showed similar results with 12mg/day boron for 2-months, free-T increased by 29% and the adrenal androgen DHEA shot up by 56%, unfortunately DHT or 5-alpha levels weren’t examined in this study.
Boron is relatively cheap and if it works as well as in the studies above, then why not take some as supplement (affiliate link).
There you go my friend. 20 effective ways to stimulate DHT production with lifestyle changes, exercise, nutrition, and certain DHT boosting supplements.
If your goal is to become a hulk of a man, or just increase your beard growth rate, or maybe get that calm “alpha male” coolness that comes with elevated DHT, then this list might be of great help.
Ashwagandha Root Extract (Organic KSM - 66), Magnesium, Zinc, Boron, Forskolin Extract, Inositol, Glycine, L-Theanine, Black Pepper Extract