Testosterone is a hormone. All animals have testosterone. It's most commonly associated with men, but women have testosterone, too, typically in smaller amounts. When levels of testosterone in men are low, it affects their health and well-being. Symptoms of low testosterone vary, but typically include feeling less-than-you-best.
It is present at birth, but it increases during puberty. It’s the hormone most often associated with sex drive and for men, it plays an important role in sperm production. Additionally, testosterone plays a role in fat storage, muscle mass, red blood cell production, bone density, and mood.
Men with low testosterone might be diagnosed with a condition known as low-T. Low-T produces a variety of symptoms, including:
Testosterone levels decrease with age. This is a gradual decrease and men shouldn’t assume it’s natural or normal to not feel their best because of low testosterone. If you suspect your testosterone levels are low at any age, speak to your doctor. Testosterone replacement therapy is often a solution to problems with low testosterone, but everyone is different. Your treatment for low testosterone depends on the cause of the issue.
There are also health conditions or diseases that cause a decrease in testosterone. These include:
Chemotherapy and radiation also negatively impact testosterone levels.
Women experience low testosterone, too. Symptoms of insufficient testosterone levels in women include:
Removal of the ovaries and diseases of the adrenal, hypothalamus, and pituitary glands case decreased testosterone in women.
Testosterone plays an important role in health. It is most commonly associated with the sex drive, but it also affects fat storage, muscle mass, red blood cell production, bone density, and mental health. Too much or too little testosterone affects both physical and mental health.
In general, men and women with sufficient testosterone levels feel healthy and have a lot of vitality. As testosterone levels decrease, even when it comes to normal reduction with age, they’ll feel weaker and less vibrant. Low testosterone plays a role in a man’s sexual health and development and his fertility.
It is possible to supplement testosterone levels when needed, so you should speak to your doctor if you believe low testosterone is affecting your well-being. Making healthy choices that include nutritious food and exercise also helps you feel better. These things might not boost testosterone levels, but they help you feel your best overall.
Feeling less than your best affects all aspects of your life. Testosterone triggers a variety of side effects and these side effects often lead to worsened feelings. For example, if your testosterone is low, you’ll experience fatigue, decreased energy, and decreased sex drive. This affects your self-esteem, which also causes you to feel less than your best. Low testosterone becomes a cycle of feeling unbalanced and unhealthy.
Testosterone therapy helps many people alleviate the problem, but it’s important to understand the cause of the issue. You should also take into consideration the side effects associated with testosterone therapy.
The most common cause of low testosterone is age. The older men get the less testosterone their body produces.
However, men of any age can experience issues that negatively impact their testosterone levels. The two most common include hypogonadism and secondary hypogonadism.
Underactive testes that manufacture insufficient levels of testosterone cause primary male hypogonadism. This affects growth and overall health. It is usually hereditary but might occur due to illness or injury.
Damage to the testicles linked to low testosterone include:
Injury to the hypothalamus or pituitary gland causes secondary hypogonadism. These are the parts of the brain responsible for testosterone production. Diseases that trigger secondary hypogonadism include:
Additionally, aging, obesity, medication, and stress also play a role in testosterone production.
In some cases, a combination of several factors causes low testosterone. Someone could have a condition and age exacerbates the problem. You and your doctor can discuss the various issues linked to low testosterone production and determine the best course of action. Testosterone therapy is the most commonly recommended treatment for problems with low testosterone.
In many cases, lifestyle changes are enough to resolve issues with low testosterone.
However, if this isn’t the case, testosterone therapy is an option. Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) is most often given to adolescent males with hypogonadism. The treatment for low testosterone triggers normal development and ensures that sufficient testosterone levels needed for growth and well-being are reached.
Despite the effectiveness of TRT, it does trigger side effects, including:
Working with a doctor experienced with testosterone and hormone issues reduces the risk of side effects. Many of these side effects are available when TRT treatment is carefully formulated.
There are conflicting studies that claim TRT increases a man’s risk of prostate cancer and cardiac issues. Research is ongoing.
Testosterone supplementation is given to men with low testosterone levels. It is also used to treat hypogonadism, but there isn’t as much data available to show that supplementation is as effective as TRT.
In addition to men with hypogonadism, older men with decreasing levels of testosterone use supplementation to improve their physical health, cognitive function, and mood issues related to low T.
Unfortunately, there is some evidence that supplementing testosterone has a few severe side effects. One found that men over 65 increased their risk of heart health problems when using supplemental testosterone gel.
A separate study showed men under 65 who had an existing risk of heart problems increased that risk when using testosterone supplements. The same study showed men without heart problems triggered a risk when using supplements. Risks tend to be greater when someone is using testosterone supplements to deal with the usual effects of aging, as opposed to using it to treat hypogonadism.
Other side effects of testosterone supplementation include:
If you’re concerned about testosterone levels, the best thing to do is speak to your doctor or other health and wellness professionals. You can discuss your signs and symptoms of low testosterone, undergo testing, and process your personal data to determine the best approach. They’ll check your testosterone level so you’ll know whether an imbalance is a problem.
In some cases, testosterone replacement therapy is the answer, but this isn’t the case for everyone. It all depends on the signs and symptoms of low testosterone you’re experiencing. You and your doctor can discuss your options.
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“Testosterone Therapy: Potential Benefits and Risks as You Age.” Mayo Clinic, 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/sexual-health/in-depth/testosterone-therapy/art-20045728.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Testosterone — What It Does and Doesn’t Do - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health, 29 Aug. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/drugs-and-medications/testosterone--what-it-does-and-doesnt-do.