Having low testosterone isn’t something most men talk about. It certainly isn’t the topic of most adult conversations, despite the fact that 4 to 5 million men experience this issue. While testosterone in men begins to decline after age 30, younger men, teenagers, children, and even babies can suffer the symptoms of low testosterone.
What is testosterone? How can you know if your body isn’t making enough? What causes low testosterone and are there treatments available to help with this condition?
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is a natural bodily hormone most commonly associated with the male gender, although women’s bodies also make the chemical. In men, testosterone is produced primarily by the testicles, and in women, their ovaries produce a small amount of the hormone. Testosterone affects the function of a woman’s ovaries and bone strength, and there is some evidence that it even affects the female libido.
Most people call testosterone the “sex hormone,” and it definitely plays a role in a man’s sex drive. Overall, testosterone is most commonly associated with male characteristics such as strength, sperm production, and even facial hair, but the hormone also affects the growth of bones and whether you’ll lose the hair on your head as you age.
Testosterone production starts to ramp up when men hit puberty and declines after age 30. During puberty, testosterone is responsible for:
- Development of the testes and penis
- Growth of facial, armpit, chest, and pubic hair
- Growth of muscles and strength
- Increase in height and growth of bones
- Libido and sperm production
- Voice deepening
Testosterone is a complex hormone. In fact, testosterone affects the body in ways we don’t yet understand, and it’s possible that important functions of this hormone have not yet been discovered yet.
What Are the Signs I Don’t Have Enough Testosterone?
Normal testosterone levels stay between 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). In men, if their testosterone falls below this threshold, several symptoms can occur:
- A drop in desire to have sex (libido)
- Balding or a loss of body hair
- Changes in mood
- Erectile dysfunction
- Fatigue and low energy
- Hot flashes
- Low blood count and increased risk of anemia
- Increasing body fat, including enlarged breast tissue
- Loss of bone and muscle mass
- Low semen production
- Memory loss and cognitive decline
- Smaller testicle size
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, your doctor can conduct a blood test to determine if you have low testosterone.
Why Would My Testosterone Decrease?
Men naturally decrease testosterone production as they age. Typically, there is a testosterone drop of 1-2% for each birthday you experience. This is normal. However, a condition known as hypogonadism can happen at any age where the testicles don’t produce enough testosterone.
There are two types of hypogonadism: primary and secondary.
- In primary hypogonadism, the testes fail to make enough testosterone due to an inherited physical condition or due to damage to the testicles. For example, undescended testicles or a condition called Klinefelter’s syndrome are inherited genetic issues that affect testosterone production. Cancer treatment, such as radiation, can affect testosterone production as can a mumps infection.
- Secondary hypogonadism damages the pituitary gland or hypothalamus, two glands that control hormone production. Medications and obesity can fall into this category, along with inflammatory diseases like tuberculosis or even HIV/AIDS, all of which can disrupt the production of testosterone and cause secondary hypogonadism.
How Can I Increase My Testosterone Levels?
The first step toward increasing testosterone is to see your doctor. The doctor may suggest lifestyle changes as a first step toward increasing hormone production. For example, increasing exercise while consuming a nutrient-dense diet can boost the body’s natural systems and overall health. Eating foods rich in vitamin D and zinc may help the body produce more male hormones. This could include beans, egg yolks, low-fat milk, oysters, shellfish, and tuna.
Doctors also recommend getting enough sleep. Studies show that a lack of sleep can reduce testosterone in young men. Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep every night, but very few people fulfill this requirement. Even too much sugar in the diet can lead to decreased testosterone blood levels by as much as 25 percent.
However, if you’re diagnosed with low testosterone, changing your diet, exercise, and sleep patterns are likely only a first step and won’t cure the problem. Your doctor may prescribe testosterone hormone replacements in the form of pills, skin patches, topical gels, or even injections. This can alleviate the symptoms you’re experiencing and even have some health benefits. For example, if you have low bone density, known as osteoporosis, testosterone replacement can increase your bone strength and reduce your risks of fractures.
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) does have side effects, so this treatment must be monitored closely by your doctor. Acne, an enlarged prostate, breast enlargement, and even a decreased sperm count can all occur during TRT.
Can You Have Too Much Testosterone?
It’s common to write off-road rage or men otherwise behaving badly as a sign of increased testosterone production. However, there are no studies that link male behavior to increased testosterone production. It simply isn’t a common occurrence for men to have too much naturally-produced testosterone hormone.
Testosterone is produced when the brain signals the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain, to make more of this hormone. Then the pituitary sends a signal to the testes to produce more testosterone. It’s a feedback loop that regulates chemical production. If testosterone is too high, the feedback loop slows down.
Problems can occur, however, if men are using anabolic steroids or supplementing their body’s natural production with more testosterone. This usually happens when men are seeking greater muscle mass or better athletic performance. If the body has too much testosterone, the side effects can be severe, including:
- High blood pressure and cholesterol
- Increased risk of blood clots
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Liver disease
- Mood swings
The right levels of testosterone play an important role in your health, no matter your gender. Checking your testosterone level is as simple as having a blood test from your doctor.