Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Does alcohol lower testosterone? Does it increase estrogen?

High estrogen?  Or a cardiophobe?
Get drunk, lift weights

Remember when you were 21 years old (maybe you still are), and you could drink a 12 pack of beer and still wake up the next morning and crush the weights in the gym?  Those were the good days, right?  Now it's not so easy...or at least as you get older you really feel like you cannot recover from a night out of drinking as quickly.  This often effects your gym performance, that is if you even make it to the gym.  The same holds true for you females.

Research has previously studied the effects of alcohol on testosterone levels.  It's been fairly inconclusive, or perhaps suggests alcohol (short term consumption) does not negatively influence testosterone levels.  Martin Berkhan, the popular trainer has previously done a great review on the effects of alcohol and testosterone (The truth about alcohol, fat loss and muscle growth).  More recently, and the purpose of this post, was to provide a small update on the effects of alcohol in young, old, men, and women.

A study published in February of this year wanted to determine the effects of alcohol on testosterone, serum IGF-1, GH, estradiol, and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) (1).  They used four groups:

  1. 12 young men between the ages of 21 and 25
  2. 12 young females between the ages of 21 and 25
  3. 12 older men between the ages of 55 and 65
  4. 12 older females between the ages of 55 and 65

Each group was involved in two study sessions, one placebo, and one alcohol infusion (intravenous).  Each session was separated by at least a week.  They gave each subject a saline plus alcohol infusion until they reached a target blood alcohol concentration (this took 15 minutes, and is an extremely fast way to get drunk).  They then maintained the blood alcohol concentrations for 165 minutes.  Blood samples were taken prior to the infusion and at 180 minutes.

So what happened?  Here were the results:

As you can see in the tables above, testosterone levels were significantly lowered by alcohol.  However in reality these decreases seem relatively negligible unless sustained over  a long period of time.  Interestingly estradiol decreased significantly in both male groups.  This somewhat flies in the face of those who believe drinking alcohol increases estrogen.  At least in an acute scenario (which let's face it bodybuilders are not getting drunk every night).  The changes in IGF-1 are relatively small and insignificant.  The changes in GH might at first seem alarming, however we know that there are GH pulses throughout the day, and the baseline measurements may have been near a peak.  Even the study authors notate this issue with measuring GH in an acute manner.  

Does drinking decrease testosterone?

Well the answer is yes, but in general just as Martin Berkhan noted the effects are negligible.  This study is also a bit flawed in that alcohol (ethanol) was administered intravenously, where perhaps something like beer consumption would result in a different picture.  Additionally serum measurements were only taken about 3 hours into the alcohol consumption period.  A better look would be measurements hourly from the onset through the next 24 hours.  From a more realistic standpoint drinking excessively will likely result in a decreased workout the next day (being hungover under a barbell can be a bitch).   But even then some existing research suggests it will not be all that detrimental to your performance.  In the end, the current research suggests a night of drinking or two isn't going to derail your efforts in the gym to any great degree.  


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