Imagine the ideal man – well-built, macho, energetic and confident, right? Now, imagine a less ideal man – poorly built, less confident, and by all means a shade of the first. While it is easy to tell the physical difference between men, differentiating what goes on inside them may be harder. However, one internal difference that you can easily point to between both men is their testosterone levels – one has higher testosterone levels than the other, but which one is it?
Here, we look at testosterone, its benefits and its physical and mental effects. Keep reading.
Testosterone is the male sex hormone produced by the testicles. Testosterone in men determines their appearance, sexual development and functions. It is responsible for stimulating the production of sperm and determines men’s sex drive.
Besides its sexual-related functions, testosterone is responsible for muscle building and bone mass. During puberty, male testosterone levels are usually at their peak, allowing teenage boys to develop male characteristics such as increased muscle mass and strength, facial hair, deeper voice, etc. However, testosterone levels start to decrease as a person grows older. Thus, older men tend to have lower blood testosterone levels. According to the American Urological Association, about 2 out of 10 men older than 60 years have low testosterone.
Although testosterone is the primary sex hormone in males, it is also present in females, albeit at far lower concentrations. Testosterone in women is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, fat cells and skin.
Testosterone in females is responsible for some physical properties and contributes to female sex drive. Similar to males, females experience peak testosterone levels in puberty, which contributes to breast development and deepening voice. This level gradually decreases over time; however, unlike men, reduced testosterone levels in females do not connote significantly bad outcomes. In contrast, excessive testosterone production results in female masculinization, causing women to develop male secondary sexual characteristics.
Testosterone performs numerous functions in males and females. When finely regulated, testosterone performs more than sexual functions in the body. Some relevant effects of testosterone include;
Testosterone supports red blood cell formation in the bone marrow and enhances the efficient circulation of blood. Many cardiovascular problems may be linked to low testosterone levels; thus, it is evident that testosterone keeps the heat healthy, allowing it to pump efficiently to supply muscles and organs with the oxygen needed for optimum performance.
Testosterone plays a role in fat regulation by helping to redistribute adipose fat. But conversely, testosterone supports muscle growth, and bodybuilders often use its supplement to increase muscle mass and strength. The synergistic effect of reducing fat and increasing muscle mass makes testosterone the ideal hormone for muscle building.
Testosterone also supports the formation of strong and healthy bones. It increases bone density, allowing the bones to support the larger muscle mass above. In addition, testosterone helps prevent the breakdown o bone cells as reduced testosterone levels are associated with osteoporosis.
A higher level of testosterone in the body reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, there is a strong correlation between the level of testosterone and memory. Testosterone helps increase thinking abilities and spatial reasoning and enhances the speed of processing information.
High testosterone level is linked to an increased response to sexual arousal and activity. Therefore, people with high testosterone do have better libido. This explains why older men have reduced libido as their testosterone level reduces as they age. Testosterone helps to improve one’s sexual life and performance.
There is a link between testosterone and bodybuilding. Testosterone in the body works directly to help stimulate muscle growth; this explains why many bodybuilders use anabolic steroids for muscle building.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances similar to the male sex hormone testosterone. Testosterone works to activate and increase muscle fiber precursor cells or satellite cells in the body. Once these cells are activated, they work in two ways. They either fuse to form new muscle fibers, a process called hyperplasia, or they fuse into the existing muscle fibers to make them bigger, called hypertrophy. Testosterone acts as an anti-catabolic and anabolic steroid, which is important for building and maintaining muscle mass and promoting a faster recovery time.
During bodybuilding exercises, testosterone helps to increase strength and power by increasing muscle size. Testosterone also increases the level of Erythropoietin (EPO) in the body to increase endurance. EPO is responsible for stimulating red blood cell production in the body. When red blood cells are stimulated, more oxygen is available within the blood and the working muscles, helping to boost endurance levels. Overall, testosterone helps to boost athletic performance. A higher testosterone level in athletes is linked to better performance and better results.
Testosterone levels decrease naturally with age, such that older adults are likely to have very low levels of testosterone. However, in some cases, young adults may experience testosterone deficiency, which is defined as low than normal testosterone levels. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a normal range of testosterone in young men should be between 300 to 1,000 ng/dL. In persons with testosterone deficiency, serum testosterone concentration falls below this value.
Both men and women experience low testosterone. Although women rarely experience any significant effects of low testosterone, testosterone supplementation has been prescribed to remedy low libido in women.
A range of symptoms present when the testosterone levels drop below the normal. Although these symptoms are mild, they may often be more pronounced, affecting a person’s confidence in the process.
As explained above, testosterone levels decrease with age and after menopause in women. However, there are extreme cases where a young male can have low testosterone due to several reasons
Some people are born with medical conditions that can cause Testosterone Deficiency (TD). These conditions include:
- Noonan syndrome: a genetic disorder that prevents normal development in various parts of the body
- Klinefelter syndrome: a genetic condition that affects testicular growth in males
- Ambiguous genitalia (a condition where the sex organs develop in ways that are not typical-looking)
Low testosterone can also be a result of conditions like:
- Damage to testicles by accident
- Testicular cancer leading to testicular removal
- Chemotherapy or radiation
- Pituitary gland disease leading to hormone deficiency
- Infections like tuberculosis
- Autoimmune diseases (a condition where the body makes antibodies that attack its cells)
- Metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and belly fat)
- Use of medications like antidepressants, corticosteroids, opiates and narcotics
In females, low testosterone levels may be a result of;
- adrenal gland insufficiency
- surgical removal of the ovaries
- oral estrogen therapy
Low testosterone presents many signs and symptoms. While some are specific, others are less-specific
Specific symptoms of low testosterone are those that are directly linked to testosterone deficiency. These symptoms are:
- Reduced sex drive (low libido)
- Reduced erectile function
- Loss of body hair
- Less beard growth
- Loss of lean muscle mass
- Symptoms of depression
Non-specific symptoms of low testosterone are the symptoms that are not directly linked to testosterone deficiency. These symptoms are:
- Lower energy level, endurance and physical strength
- Poor memory
- Reduced attention span
Certain measures can help increase testosterone levels. These include;
As much as increased testosterone helps enhance exercise efficiency, exercising and other physical activities help to increase testosterone levels. Higher testosterone is observed in people who exercise or bodybuild. Conversely, these high levels help them become more efficient in their routines.
Testosterone is a hormone and, as such, requires nutrients for its formation. Proteins are the major building block of hormones. As such, increasing protein intake can help boost the production of testosterone. However, taking proteins alone is not efficient. Therefore, protein intake must be balanced by increased calorie intake through carbohydrate and fatty acid consumption. These high-calorie sources help [prevent protein utilization for energy production and enhance exercise efficiency to cause increased testosterone.
Increased stress levels are associated with cortisol production. Increased cortisol levels result in reduced levels of testosterone. Thus, long-term exposure to stress and persistently high circulating cortisol will cause low testosterone. Eliminating stress thus helps to increase testosterone. You can eliminate stress by getting more rest, getting better quality sleep, using adaptogens etc.
There are several supplements that act internally through different pathways to boost testosterone levels. Some of the most potent testosterone boosting supplements are vitamin D3, Zinc supplement and DHEA. Other supplements to boost testosterone include calcium, vitamin A, C and E. You can also try natural supplements like ashwagandha, ginger extract and fenugreek.
When a modifiable medical condition causes testosterone deficiency, the best solution is to identify and treat such a condition.
Sleep is another important way of boosting testosterone levels in the body. Sleeping for 5 hours per night can reduce testosterone in the body by 15%; however, 7-10 hours of sleep per night can help boost your testosterone level in the long run.
Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men and is also present in women. This hormone is responsible for many sexual characteristics in males and also supports libido in women. Testosterone is important for enhancing athletic performance and promotes muscle formation and strength in bodybuilders. Low testosterone occurs when testosterone levels drop below the daily limit. It may be caused by medical conditions but is more common in old age. Remedy for low testosterone includes reducing stress, getting adequate nutrition and using testosterone boosting supplements.