The right treatment approach can help you feel well again
Testosterone is a critical hormone in the body. “In men, it’s thought to regulate sex drive (libido), bone mass, fat distribution, muscle mass and strength, and the production of red blood cells and sperm,” says the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Furthermore, testosterone is responsible for the deep voice in men, facial hair, improves mood, and aids in cognition. It's mainly produced by the testicles, but small amounts are made in the adrenal glands as well.
If you're worried about low testosterone (also known as “hypogonadism,” or more commonly “low-T”) know that it's natural for levels to decrease with age. Testosterone levels tend to reach their peak in early adulthood and start dropping when men are in their 40s by about one to two percent each year. Additionally, the Urology Care Foundation reports the following statistics:
It’s normal for a man's testosterone levels to decrease with age.
3 out of 10 men will experience low levels of testosterone in their 70s and 80s.
2 out of 10 men will have low levels of testosterone over age 60.
Some men encounter low testosterone levels earlier in life due to circumstances like a chronic illness, trauma, stress, and more.
When testosterone levels are low, an individual may exhibit a whole range of issues. To be diagnosed with low-T, Harvard Health Publishing specifies that in many instances, “men need to have both low levels of testosterone in their blood (levels less than 300 ng/dl),” and they need to display several symptoms.
Since low testosterone can affect many aspects of a man’s well-being, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms.
The fatigue associated with low testosterone may be extreme, and the decreased energy levels may linger despite adequate rest. In fact, some health experts believe there may be a connection between a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome in men and low testosterone.
Depression and Mood Changes
A 2012 study found a correlation between low levels of testosterone and depression in aging men. The study also noted a connection between the hormone and increased feelings of anxiety, irritability, mood swings, nervousness, and an overall lessened sense of well-being. But more research is needed to determine just how low-T causes or contributes to depression or other aspects of mental health.
Loss of Muscle Mass and Increased Body Fat
Testosterone helps build muscle and lose fat, and low levels of the hormone can contribute to a loss of muscle mass and the accumulation of body fat, particularly in the belly. But according to an intensive review on testosterone, even when muscle mass is impacted, low-T may not affect muscle strength or function.
Erectile Dysfunction and Low Libido
Sufficient levels of testosterone are required for erections. During arousal, testosterone helps to stimulate the production of nitric oxide (NO)—a molecule that, through a series of chemical reactions, relaxes smooth muscles, dilates blood vessels, and allows for blood flow to the penis. Low-T is just one of the many reasons erectile dysfunction may occur.
Additionally, a man’s sex drive will likely decline with age. But because testosterone is a primary male sex hormone, a significant or sudden loss of libido might be a sign that it’s time to get your testosterone levels evaluated by a doctor.
If you’re struggling with disordered sleep like insomnia, frequent nighttime awakenings, or something else, a 2014 study showed that low testosterone may have an impact on the overall quality of your nightly slumber.
The catch? The connection between testosterone and sleep seems to be a two-way street. In contrast, the study showed that a lack of sleep can also reduce your levels of testosterone.
Testosterone can affect bone health, so decreasing levels can lead to osteoporosis in men. Therefore, maintaining optimal levels of the hormone may be essential to maintaining bone density in aging men.
Since testosterone aids the body in the ability to make red blood cells, an inadequate number of it could result in anemia—a condition where you lack the necessary amount of red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body. Plus, anemia can result in fatigue and weakness.
However, the good news is that low-T can be addressed in a few different ways. For example, Harvard Health Publishing states, “Even if your levels are low and you have symptoms, therapy is not always the first course of action. If your doctor can identify the source for declining levels—for instance, weight gain or certain medication—he or she may first address that problem.”
Undoubtedly, the effects of low testosterone can affect your day-to-day life. And although you can't control the natural decrease, there are things you can do to alleviate symptoms.
As mentioned earlier, medications or chronic health conditions may affect testosterone levels, so treatment may involve a combination of lifestyle changes, medical interventions, or testosterone replacement. If your healthcare provider feels testosterone replacement therapy is right for you, there are several ways to administer the hormone, including patches, gels, oral tablets, injections, and pellets implanted under the skin.
Before beginning treatment, it’s important to discuss any risk factors that make you ineligible with your doctor. Risk factors can include a history of prostate cancer, elevated prostate markers, cardiac issues, or other conditions.