One of the worst things that could happen to a young boy in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries – at least from my perspective – was to be gifted with a beautiful, opera-worthy voice. That's because back then, the impulse was to preserve that youthful voice in all its soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto glory.
So snip-snip, off came the balls.
This would prevent puberty-related thickening of the larynx so the boy would continue to sing like a nightingale for the rest of his sexless life. These castrati, as they were called, also developed an easily identified body type – their arms and legs grew long, as did their ribs.
The same lack of testosterone that prevented their voices from changing also influenced their skeletal structure.
What happens in intact males is that some of the testosterone produced by the testes aromatizes (converts through enzyme action) into estrogen, and estrogen is what causes the epiphyses (the ends of the bones) to harden and lock in skeleton size. Without testosterone and subsequent production of estrogen, bones grow longer than they would have otherwise.
This characteristic barrel chest of the castrati gave their lungs plenty of room to expand, which resulted in superhuman lung capacity and breath control, all the better to blow back the powdered wigs of the orchestra and audience with their powerful girlish voices.
You'll be glad to know, though, that this castration business gradually became rare, finally being totally banned in 1903.
The reason I bring this practice up today is the realization that a good number of today's youth (and a good number of older men, too) are turning themselves into a kind of castrati by chemically castrating themselves. How? By drinking conventional energy drinks.
Here's the deal – multiple studies have shown that ingesting a lot of sugar causes testosterone levels to drop. According to one often-cited study on the subject, taking in 75 grams of sugar can cause a 25% drop in testosterone levels for up to two hours.
That same study, 66 men who had normal circulating testosterone levels torpedoed their T levels right into hypogonadal range (tested clinically low in testosterone) right after drinking a sugary test drink.
You know what else has approximately 75 grams of sugar in it (more or less, depending on the flavor)? One of the top energy drinks on the market, one that I won't name, but that's named for a type of musician that hammers out guitar rhythms on stage in front of screaming fans – you know, a star. One that rocks.
While the aforementioned drink is probably tops among testosterone killers, almost all the other top-selling energy drinks have upwards of 50 grams of sugar, which equates to around 13 teaspoons of sugar. For the sake of comparison, a 12-ounce Coke has a little less than 10 teaspoons of sugar.
Now, the problem with sugary energy drinks isn't so much that some poor accountant whose sleep balance sheet is in arrears occasionally gulps one down. Instead, the danger resides with the people who live off these things, slamming down sugary energy drink after energy drink throughout the day and night, and their numbers are legion.
If their testosterone production had a face, it would look like old-time heavyweight boxer Jersey Joe Walcott's after it intersected with Rocky Marciano's fist.
Ironically, many of the ads for these products show people doing high-energy, high testosterone things like participating in extreme sports or donning wings and flying around the heavens. Sure, caffeine and tons of sugar will do that, but at a heavy price.
Why these companies put so much sugar in these things is a mystery... ah, who am I kidding? It's not a mystery at all. Sugar, especially when combined with caffeine, will give you a tremendous energy boost, but it's pathetically short-lived.
The huge bolus of sugar will cause the pancreas to shift into high gear and positively inundate your bloodstream with insulin. Once that surge of insulin has mopped up the sugar from that energy drink – along with any glucose you had floating around from any meals you were digesting – you crash. Down will come baby, shriveled balls and all.
So then you have to have another sugary energy drink to bring you back up. And then another when the high from that one fades. Up and down, up and down, all the while your testosterone production suffers. If this type of sugary energy drink abuse is your norm, you're hormonally similar to the castrati I described earlier.
An Effective Alternative
Look, if you're into energy drinks, do yourself a favor and drink sugar-free ones that, in addition to caffeine, employ some energy boosters that are more sophisticated than plain sugar. Think Spike® Hardcore Energy.
You'll get a better boost of energy, and it won't be followed by an insulin crash or an assault on your testosterone levels.
- Lisa M. Caronia, et al, "Abrupt decrease in serum testosterone levels after an oral glucose load in men: implications for screening hypogonadism," Clinical Endocrinology, 2013 Feb; 78(2):291-6.