Testosterone, the hormone that truly does put hair on your chest (sometimes), is critical to male health. However, as men age, their bodies naturally decrease their testosterone production, leading to distressing health outcomes.
Additionally, some men suffer certain conditions or take medications which can also lower their levels of this vital hormone.
Just how much testosterone do men need?
What levels do physicians and researchers consider healthy?
And, perhaps more importantly, what can men suffering from low testosterone levels do to remedy the condition and get to feeling back to themselves?
Symptoms of Low Testosterone
Low testosterone, or low-T is diagnosed via blood test and normal levels range from 270 to 1070 ng/Dl. Testosterone levels peak between the ages of 20-25, after which levels of the hormone drop off at rates of up to one percent per year.
When men reach age 60 or older, they may experience a phenomenon medical professional call andropause, or male menopause. The first step in treating low-T is recognizing the signs such a deficiency exists. When men suffer from low-T, they often develop one or more of the following symptoms:
1. FatigueMen with lower-than-normal testosterone levels often find the first symptom they experience is a lack of energy. Testosterone helps the body regulate metabolism, and when levels of the hormone drop below normal, men start feeling sluggish.
2. Difficulty getting or maintaining an erectionMen with low-T often find the condition impacts their sex life, and this symptom can drive them to make a doctor appointment. Men in committed relationships benefit from sharing information on the effects of low testosterone with their partner. Sometimes, romantic partners misinterpret low-T as a lack of desire.
3. High blood pressureTestosterone helps regulate blood pressure, which makes low levels dangerous for men at risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Carrying too much weight and smoking cigarettes further increase these risks. Whether the low-T leads to the weight gain or whether it occurs as a result, men often find the extra pounds frustrating.
4. Decreased muscle massTestosterone helps men build those bulging biceps gym rats sport, and low levels of the hormone makes it harder to get pumped up.
5. Increased risk of certain cancersMen with low-T sometimes experience higher-than-normal levels of female hormones. This can increase their risk of contracting certain cancers such as breast cancer (yes, it affects men, too).
Risk Factors for Low-T
Age plays a major role in the development of low-T, but other medical and behavioral factors can impact testosterone levels as well. Men undergoing treatment for prostate cancer via radiation, chemotherapy or both often experience lowered testosterone levels.
And although most people associate the word "steroid" with increased testosterone, men prescribed certain corticosteroids may experience lowered levels as well. Behavioral factors impacting a man's testosterone levels include carrying too much weight.
Some men who are overweight or obese can increase their testosterone levels naturally by shedding the excess pounds. Excessive alcohol consumption can likewise lower testosterone levels. Perhaps ironically, men who have higher-than-normal levels of testosterone may indulge in boozing more often than those with normal levels.
Cigarette smoking may or may not have an impact on a man's testosterone levels as conflicting scientific evidence exists. Occasionally, illness in or injury to the testicles can cause low-T. Depending on the cause, treating the underlying condition often returns the hormone to normal levels.
Treatment Options for Low-T
If a man suspects he suffers low-T, he benefits from a trip to the doctor to confirm the diagnosis. But once he does so, what are his treatment options? And if low testosterone levels are unhealthy, does it benefit men to have higher-than-normal levels of the hormone?
Natural treatments for low-T do include exercising and lifting weights. Weightlifting increases muscle mass, and practicing certain techniques can increase both strength and testosterone levels quickly.
Certain supplements and herbs such as Virectin can increase testosterone levels naturally. Fenugreek, for example, has enjoyed long use among herbalists for treating the condition. 81 percent of participants of a study on the herb reported an increase in libido after taking it. Ginger likewise may prove beneficial in raising testosterone levels and improving sperm health.
The most common medical treatment for low-T involves replacing the hormone, although the risks and benefits of such therapy remain unclear. Testosterone supplements take the form of transdermal patches and gels or injections and implants.
Men who choose hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for the purpose of fathering children benefit most from injections given throughout the year by their physician. While transdermal patches also increase levels of the hormone, only injections are proven to improve sperm count as well.
Benefits of HRT include an improved sex drive, higher levels of muscle and bone mass and a reduced risk of developing osteoporosis. Men who suffer from certain cardiovascular diseases or prostate cancer can worsen the severity of their condition through HRT. Men considering such therapy do well to consult with their physicians to make sure an underlying condition does not contraindicate hormone replacement.
Is HRT the same as taking anabolic steroids? In reality, it is quite different. HRT administered by a doctor restores testosterone levels to normal, whereas the type of steroids getting athletes in trouble raises levels far above the normal range.
Which leads back to the question — if low levels of testosterone decrease a number of health outlooks in men, do those with higher-than-normal levels improve their health more? Unfortunately, the answer remains no. Too much testosterone, usually due to the use of illicit steroids, can harm vital organs such as the heart and the liver. Steroid abuse also is associated with personality changes including severe delusions and excessive aggressiveness, sometimes landing users in trouble with law enforcement.
The best resource men have for evaluating the health risks of low-T as well as possible treatment options is their own physician. Routine monitoring can ensure that hormone levels remain within the normal range, and any adverse effects of such treatment can be remedied quickly.
Moving Forward with Health and Hope
Fortunately, men with lowered testosterone levels have treatment options available to them. By consulting with a trained medical professional, they can determine the best protocol to follow. Growing older doesn't need to mean losing muscle mass and sex drive.