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HomeOnline LibraryArticlesHormone Optimization › Testosterone is great but is Dihydrotestosterone the king of all male androgens?

Testosterone is great but is Dihydrotestosterone the king of all male androgens?

By Mike Mahler

Every man wants to know how to optimize testosterone--and with good reason. But while testosterone may be critical for men's health and well being, it's not the final word in the ideal male hormone profile. In fact in some ways, testosterone's real offer is its ability to convert into to a much stronger male androgen, dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Without adequate DHT men have no body hair at all (which is why companies that make hair removal products for men love DHT) and, more importantly, without adequate DHT the male sexual organs (including the prostate) fail to fully mature. This bad condition is compounded by low sex drive and impaired sexual function.

Given the above, it's not surprisingly that on the anabolic front, low-level DHT compromises size and strength progress. According to The Natural Testosterone Plan, (Stephen Harrod Buhner) ...Weight lifters who take testosterone with 5-alpha reductase blockers have experienced reduced muscle enhancement in their muscle-building programs. Blocking 5-alpha reductase prevents the conversion of testosterone into DHT thereby compromising muscle-building progress.

Buhner, a master herbalist and expert on hormone balancing, isn't the only one emphasizing DHT's qualities. According to Ori Hofmekler, (Maximum Muscle, Minimum Fat ) ...some researchers consider testosterone merely a prohormone because of its relatively weak actions compared to other androgens, in particular DHT. Ori further describes DHT as ...the final word on the male androgen chain and ...the king of all male hormones.

So how much stronger is DHT when compared to testosterone? Some experts say three times stronger and others up to ten times stronger! According to Buhner, DHT shows ten times the androgen receptor uptake of testosterone but significantly, unlike testosterone, DHT isn't converted into estrogen. Even better, DHT actually blocks the aromatase enzyme which converts testosterone into estrogens. Thus, in addition to being stronger than testosterone, DHT is a potent aromatase inhibitor.

Physicians commonly blame DHT as the primary cause of an prostate enlargement but deeper analysis indicates the androgen-to-estrogen balance, along with overall androgen ratios, is the key factor with prostate issues. According to Jonathan Wright, M.D. (Maximize Your Vitality And Potency) the balance of DHT and 4-androstenedione should be 1:1. If DHT is higher and androstenedione lower, it creates a pro-carcinogenic state. However, if DHT and androstenedione levels are both high and at a 1:1 ratio, the pro-carcinogenic properties of high DHT are neutralized by the anti-carcinogenic properties of androstenedione. So if you've had blood work indicating high DHT levels, be sure to have the androstenedione levels measure as well.

In addition to not being a cause of prostate issues, DHT may actually help shrink enlarged prostates. In France, DHT creams are often prescribed to men with enlarged prostates. Therapeutic DHT can improve the androgen-to-estrogen ratio--without the risk of converting to unwanted estrogens. According to Harrod Buhner: Estradiol--but not DHT--has been found to act with SHBG to cause an eightfold increase in intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) in human BPH tissue, which causes increases growth of the prostate. In other words, in cases of enlarged prostate, estrogen is the likely culprit. Here's Ori Hofmekler on the same topic: When estrogen is present in excess in a male, it has been shown to cause feminization of the body and metabolic disorders including the enlargement of the prostate.

Yet men with prostate issues are typically prescribed medications to block DHT and testosterone under the notion that this will adequately address prostate issues. Not only it this ineffective, it's a sure-fire method of turning a man into a eunuch. Men feel their best when testosterone, DHT, androstenedione, and DHEA levels are in the optimal ranges (not too high or too low), thus lowering androgen levels, even if it works to shrink the prostate--which is highly debatable--is guaranteed to make a man feel terrible, not to mention the risk of developing complications, primarily an unnatural tolerance for Sex in the City re-runs and ABBA revivals. In other words: your life as a man will cease! While these are dark times for men, and essential masculinity is no longer celebrated in the current social matriarchy, the essential man displays vitality, drive, intensity, and a fair amount of aggression--which is not the same thing as violence. If you've lost your vitality, you aren't fully alive, and your hormonal profile will mirror the soul's sad state of affairs, which manifests as lowered health and propensity to disease.

In addition to naturally high normal levels of DHT not being the culprit for prostates issues, some clinical trials have revealed that even men who take large does of supplemental DHT do not develop any prostate issues. In his book, Buhner cites several clinical trials showing DHT supplementation doesn't contribute to prostate enlargement. In one clinical trial, subjects applied a topical gel containing 70 milligrams of DHT but follow-up Prostatic-Specific Antigen (PSA) test numbers, a common blood test for prostate disease, did not increase. Furthermore, test subjects actually developed stronger urine streams, a clinical sign of prostate shrinkage.

DHT is also an incredible mood booster and nervine. The brain relies on sex hormones, such as testosterone, DHT and estrogen, for optimal functioning, but of all these hormones, in men DHT reigns supreme. Buhner claims that DHT is more important for brain health than even testosterone, since while testosterone’s neural impact subsides after a few hours, DHT’s neural effect can last up to twenty-four hours.

In short, optimal DHT levels amount to a better sex life, better mood, and better progress with your strength and conditioning program. Further, studies show DHT helps regulate cholesterol levels and improves body composition.

So, what can you do to optimize DHT levels? The first thing is to order a full hormone panel (blood draw or saliva) measuring testosterone (free and total); DHEA; estradiol; estrone; DHT; androstenedione and progesterone. Your goal is to optimize all of the sex hormones, not just your favorite one.

At home, the best strategy for optimizing sex hormones is consuming adequate dietary fat. Dietary fat is critical for sex hormone production and low-fat diets (i.e., fat calories below 25-30%) will cripple your efforts. I get at least 30% of my calories from fat but notice I feel better--and get better workouts--at 40%. Optimal macro-nutrient ratios, however, are highly individual, so play around with your menus to discover what works best for you.

With regard to fat intake, steroid hormones are derived from optimal healty fats intake, so vegans, myself included, need to ensure adequate consumption.  Coconut oil, nuts and seeds, Udo's Oil, Olive oil etc are all good options. 

One important point about herbal supplements, make sure to avoid saw palmetto, which can block the conversion of testosterone into DHT. Given that DHT is more potent than testosterone, this is the last thing you want. Saw palmetto can also reduce androgen receptor uptake of testosterone and DHT, which just makes things worse. Instead, take nettle root, which shows numerous benefits, including unbinding testosterone and DHT from the glycoprotein sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG). In other words,supplementing nettle root can increase free testosterone and free DHT levels, making both readily available for use. Secondly, nettle root helps block the conversion of testosterone into estrogen and third, nettle root is great for prostate issues and has been shows to decrease nighttime urination frequency, improve urination power, and help shrink enlarged prostate tissue. Happily, nettle root is inexpensive and widely available. 

Other important nutrients for a healthy prostate and optimal DHT levels include Zinc, Korean ginseng (look for caps and powder from a six year old root), and Siberian ginseng. One way to raise androstenedione is to supplement DHEA, which can convert into androstenedione, but I prefer (and use myself) magnesium oil, which can naturally increase DHEA levels. The extra DHEA can then spill over into increased androstenedione, which is only one metabolic step away. Magnesium oil is a powerful supplement which can optimize the entire hormone cascade from pregnenelone all the way down to DHT. Siberian Ginseng is also great to ensure the adrenal pathway goes the route of DHEA instead of cortisol.

For increased androgen receptor uptake, I use and sell Beverly Nutrition’s Quadracarn. Quadracarn contains several carnitine analogs, which have been shown to increase androgen receptor uptake.

If you are prone to baldness, tocotrienols are a must. Tocotreienols are a special form of Vitamin E that help with hair growth and slowing down hair loss. Men that are prone to baldness will accelerate hair loss with ramped up DHT levels. If you are not prone to baldness then it will not likely be an issue. I have high DHT levels and my hairline begins in my forehead! (Yes the Eddy Munster looks!) Tocotrienols will help you keep your hair and unlike hair loss drugs will not adversely affect your DHT levels and turn you into a eunic.  That said if I had to choose between being bald with high DHT levels and having a full head of hair with no sex drive, it is no contest. High DHT and high sex drive and function all the way! You can always get hair plugs after all! Fortunately I do not have to make that choice.

If your test results indicate excess estrogens, consider supplementing with Chi-Health's Myomin an herbal blend which helps convert unwanted estrogens into desirable estrogens and lower excessive levels. 

Finally--and most importantly--eat a clean diet balanced in fats, proteins and low-glycemic carbs. Organic food is a high-priority especially if you eat animal protein sources: the fewer toxins you consume in your food, the less likely you are to experience the effects of hormone disrupting substances and the more energy you'll have available for optimal sex hormone production. Loading up on fruits and vegetables provides high-quality nutrients and vitamins as well as systemic cleansing benefits. On a budget? Spend your money on high-quality natural and organic produce and skip the miracle antioxidant and performance supplements.

Optimize DHT, tune up the sex hormone orchestra, and benefit by improved prostate health, accelerated strength and muscle gains, and overall well-being.

Live Life Aggressively!

Mike Mahler

Recommended Reading


The Natural Testosterone Plan For Sexual Health And Energy By Stephen Harrod Buhner

Maximum Muscle Minimum Fat: The Secret Science Behind Physical Transformation By Ori Hofmekler

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