Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and an anabolic steroid. In men, testosterone plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues such as the testis and prostate, as well as promoting secondary sexual characteristics such as increased muscle and bone mass, and the growth of body hair. In addition, testosterone is essential for health and well-being, and for the prevention of osteoporosis. Insufficient levels of testosterone in men may lead to abnormalities including frailty and bone loss.
Testosterone is part of a group of hormones called androgens, or steroid hormones. It is mostly thought of as a male hormone, although women produce it – albeit to a much lesser extent. A majority of testosterone is produced in the sex organs, with a small amount produced in the adrenal glands. There are actually three different kinds of testosterone in your blood: albumin, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), and free testosterone. Albumin and SHBG are proteins that bind to testosterone, while free testosterone is not protein-bound. In humans and most other vertebrates, testosterone is secreted primarily by the testicles of males and, to a lesser extent, the ovaries of females. Small amounts are also secreted by the adrenal glands. On average, in adult males, levels of testosterone are about 7–8 times as great as in adult females. As the metabolic consumption of testosterone in males is greater, the daily production is about 20 times greater in men. Females are also more sensitive to the hormone.
In general, androgens such as testosterone promote protein synthesis and thus growth of tissues with androgen receptors. Testosterone can be described as having virilising and anabolic effects (though these categorical descriptions are somewhat arbitrary, as there is a great deal of mutual overlap between them). Anabolic effects include growth of muscle mass and strength, increased bone density and strength, and stimulation of linear growth and bone maturation. Androgenic effects include maturation of the sex organs, particularly the penis and the formation of the scrotum in the fetus, and after birth (usually at puberty) a deepening of the voice, growth of facial hair (such as the beard) and axillary (underarm) hair. Many of these fall into the category of male secondary sex characteristics. Testosterone effects can also be classified by the age of usual occurrence. For postnatal effects in both males and females, these are mostly dependent on the levels and duration of circulating free testosterone.
As a man, there are fewer hormones more important than testosterone in your body. Testosterone has a positive effect on many aspects of your health, including:
- Losing fat, gaining muscle, and improving body composition
- Increasing libido, erection quality, sexual pleasure, and performance
- Helping fight off certain diseases such as Alzheimers and heart disease
- Improving cognitive function and mood
- Fighting off depression
- Strengthening bones
The range for what is considered a “normal” level of testosterone is actually quite large. For men, normal levels of total testosterone fall between 300 and 1000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl), with normal free testosterone levels falling between 9 and 30 ng/dl. When it comes to diagnosing low testosterone, a lot of factors come into play. Many people believe testosterone levels naturally decline with age. And there is evidence to back this up.However, when it comes to low T, age doesn't always play a factor, according to Dr. Robert Kominiarek of the Alpha Male Medical Institute. “What the majority of doctors (those dabbling in hormone therapy) do not understand is that there is always a reason for low testosterone levels and one must investigate by laboratory and intensive history to find the potential cause(s),” he says.
“Most commonly, I find some history of neurologic insult as the cause – a traumatic brain injury with or without loss of consciousness, stroke, surgery, medical imaging with iodinated contrast, medication, illegal drug use, excessive alcohol [consumption], toxin or heavy metal exposure, prior anabolic steroid use, penetrating or blunt trauma, radiation, chemotherapy, [arrhythmia], motorcycle accident, rollercoaster rides, boxing, martial arts, football, and the list goes on.”
Testosterone does not appear to increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. In people who have undergone testosterone deprivation therapy, testosterone increases beyond the castrate level have been shown to increase the rate of spread of an existing prostate cancer. Conflicting results have been obtained concerning the importance of testosterone in maintaining cardiovascular health. Nevertheless, maintaining normal testosterone levels in elderly men has been shown to improve many parameters that are thought to reduce cardiovascular disease risk, such as increased lean body mass, decreased visceral fat mass, decreased total cholesterol, and glycemic control.
High androgen levels are associated with menstrual cycle irregularities in both clinical populations and healthy women.
It’s also important to note that healthy levels of testosterone vary from person to person. What is fine for one person may be low for someone else. In addition, total testosterone levels may be at an acceptable level, but free testosterone could be low – leading to symptoms of low T. That’s why it’s important to have both your total and free testosterone levels checked.
Some symptoms of Low Testosterone include:
- Lack of energy
- Lack of sexual desire or low libido
- Decrease in sexual performance
- Erectile dysfunction
- Sadness or depression
- Decrease in strength, workout, or sport performance
- Decrease in physical endurance
Aging-induced testosterone decline is associated with the overactivity of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase, which converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This process simultaneously decreases the amount of testosterone in men, putting them at risk for prostate enlargement, androgenic alopecia (hair loss) and cancer. Unfortunately, widespread chemical exposure is also causing this decline to occur in men as early as childhood, and is completely impacting their biology. Recently, for instance, both statin drugs and the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide were found to interfere with the testicle’s ability to produce testosterone.
The escalating amount of chemicals being released into the environment can no longer be ignored, as these toxins are disrupting animal and human endocrine system. What’s even more alarming is that many of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have “gender-bending” qualities. EDCs are everywhere. They lurk inside your house, leaching from human products such as personal hygiene products, chemical cleansers, or contraceptive drugs. They also end up in your food and drinking water, causing you to unknowingly ingest them. Here’s one proof: in a number of British rivers, 50 percent of male fish were found to produce eggs in their testes. According to EurekAlert,3 EDCs have been entering rivers and other waterways through sewage systems for years, altering the biology of male fish. It was also found that fish species affected by EDCs had 76 percent reduction in their reproductive function.
A blood test may not be enough to determine your levels, because testosterone levels can fluctuate during the day. Once you determine that you do have low levels, there are a number of options to take. There are synthetic and bioidentical testosterone products out on the market, but I advise using bioidentical hormones like DHEA. DHEA is a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands. This substance is the most abundant precursor hormone in the human body. It is crucial for the creation of vital hormones, including testosterone and other sex hormones. The natural production of DHEA is also age-dependent. Prior to puberty, the body produces very little DHEA. Production of this prohormone peaks during your late 20’s or early 30’s. With age, DHEA production begins to decline. The adrenal glands also manufacture the stress hormone cortisol, which is in direct competition with DHEA for production because they use the same hormonal substrate known as pregnenolone. Chronic stress basically causes excessive cortisol levels and impairs DHEA production, which is why stress is another factor for low testosterone levels. It is important not to use any DHEA product without the supervision of a professional. Find a qualified health care provider who will monitor your hormone levels and determine if you require supplementation. Rather than using an oral hormone supplementation, I recommend trans-mucosal (vagina or rectum) application. Skin application may not be wise, as it makes it difficult to measure the dosage you receive. This may cause you to end up receiving more than what your body requires.
There are two nutrients that have been found to be beneficial to testicular health and testosterone production.
Zinc is an important mineral in testosterone production and Yet, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that about 45 percent of adults over 60 have low zinc levels due to insufficient intake. Regardless of supplementation, 20 to 25 percent of older adults still had inadequate levels. It was found that supplementing with zinc for as little as six weeks has been shown to improve testosterone in men with low levels. On the other hand, restricting zinc dietary sources yielded to a drop in the production of the male hormone. Excellent sources of zinc include:
Protein-rich foods like meats and fish,
Raw milk and raw cheese,
Fermented foods like yogurt and kefir.
You may also take a zinc supplement to raise your levels. Just stick to a dosage of less than 40 milligrams a day. Overdosing on zinc may cause nausea or inhibit the absorption of essential minerals in your body, like copper.
Vitamin D deficiency is a growing epidemic in the US, and is profoundly affecting men’s health. The cholesterol-derived steroid hormone vitamin D is crucial for men’s health. It plays a role in the development of the sperm cell nucleus, and helps maintain semen quality and sperm count. Vitamin D can also increase your testosterone level, helping improve your libido. Have your vitamin D levels tested using a 25(OH)D or a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test. The optimal level of vitamin D is around 50 to 70 ng/ml for adults. There are three effective sources of vitamin D:
Healthy sun exposure,
Vitamin D3 supplementation.
Low Testosterone is not a life sentence, but it is a condition that does need to be addressed, not only because of its impact on health and the physiological issues it can cause, but for the effect it can have on your relationships.
Low testosterone is something that affects one in four men between the ages of 30 to 80, yet it still doesn't the attention it deserves – both from men and medical professionals. And given the immense effects testosterone has on our health, it’s something that needs to be brought into the spotlight.
Back to the top of the page