What is Testosterone ?
Before we get into what testosterone does, we need to understand what it is.
Testosterone is part of a group of hormones called androgens, or steroid hormones. It is mostly thought of as a male hormone, although women produce it — albeit to a much lesser extent. A majority of testosterone is produced in the sex organs, with a small amount produced in the adrenal glands.
There are actually three different kinds of testosterone floating around your blood: albumin, sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), and free testosterone. Albumin and SHBG are proteins that bind to testosterone, while free testosterone is not protein-bound.
Typically, there are two ways to measure testosterone levels: A total testosterone test, which measures the combined levels of all three types in your blood, or a test that only measures free testosterone.
Functions Of Testosterone
As a man, there are fewer hormones more important than testosterone in your body. Testosterone has a positive effect on many aspects of your health, including:
Losing fat, gaining muscle, and improving body composition
Increasing libido, erection quality, sexual pleasure, and performance
Helping fight off certain diseases such as Alzheimers and heart disease
Improving cognitive function and mood
Fighting off depression
Healthy Testosterone Levels
The range for what is considered a “normal” level of testosterone is actually quite large. For men, normal levels of total testosterone fall between 300 and 1000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl), with normal free testosterone levels falling between 9 and 30 ng/dl.
When it comes to diagnosing low testosterone, a lot of factors come into play. Many people believe testosterone levels naturally decline with age. And there is evidence to back this up.
This chart from a 1996 study shows the average total and free testosterone levels of men ranging between 25 and 100 years of age:
Men’s Hormonal Health
However, when it comes to low T, age doesn’t always play a factor, according to Dr. Robert Kominiarek of the Alpha Male Medical Institute. “What the majority of doctors (those dabbling in hormone therapy) do not understand is that there is always a reason for low testosterone levels and one must investigate by laboratory and intensive history to find the potential cause(s),” he says.
“Most commonly, I find some history of neurologic insult as the cause — a traumatic brain injury with or without loss of consciousness, stroke, surgery, medical imaging with iodinated contrast, medication, illegal drug use, excessive alcohol [consumption], toxin or heavy metal exposure, prior anabolic steroid use, penetrating or blunt trauma, radiation, chemotherapy, [arrhythmia], motorcycle accident, rollercoaster rides, boxing, martial arts, football, and the list goes on.”
RELATED: 3 Surprising Reasons Your Testosterone Is Low (And What You Can Do About It)
It’s also important to note that healthy levels of testosterone vary from person to person. What is fine for one person may be low for someone else. In addition, total testosterone levels may be at an acceptable level, but free testosterone could be low — leading to symptoms of low T. That’s why it’s important to have both your total and free testosterone levels checked.
Some symptoms of low T include:
Lack of energy
Lack of sexual desire or low libido
Decrease in sexual performance
Sadness or depression
Decrease in strength, workout, or sport performance
Decrease in physical endurance
Low testosterone is something I have personally dealt with. While it was nothing compared to what many men have to deal with, my T levels fell below the norm for my age and physical condition. It lasted a number of months.
I experienced many of the symptoms above, including a lack of energy, lack of sexual desire, decrease in libido, and pretty severe depression. However, since taking natural steps to increase my testosterone (which I will talk about later in the article), my symptoms have disappeared and I have more energy and sexual desire than ever.
The Role of Testosterone
Like I briefly mentioned earlier, testosterone helps maintain many different essential functions in the body.
A study conducted by researchers at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science tested the effects of testosterone injections on participants’ ability to lose fat and gain muscle.
They found a correlation between high testosterone levels and low body fat percentage: The more testosterone a participant had, the less body fat he had. This makes sense: Research has shown testosterone may inhibit the creation of fat cells within your body.
This likely has to do with the fact testosterone is also responsible for regulating a number of other hormones that affect fat loss — including insulin and glucose. It also has an impact on your metabolism: When testosterone decreases, so does your body’s ability to regulate these functions, leading to the accumulation of fat mass.
Since I started working on increasing my testosterone levels, I have seen a sharp decrease in my body fat levels. Now, some of this has to do with the fact I was actively trying to lose fat. But the drop was the quickest and sharpest I have ever experienced. I dropped approximately 20 pounds of fat in 10 weeks.
In the same Charles R. Drew University study mentioned above, researchers who tested the impact of testosterone on body fat also looked at its effects on muscle growth.
What they found is that while testosterone does aid in adding lean mass, the results were not statistically significant until T levels exceeded the normal range — meaning that participants did not gain significant amounts of muscle until they were shot up with enough testosterone to match the levels of steroid users.
So it appears that increasing your testosterone levels within the normal range won’t significantly help you build muscle.
Often, men first notice symptoms of low T in the bedroom. A decrease in sexual desire, arousal, or erectile dysfunction is a sign you may be suffering from low T.
This is how I first started noticing my testosterone levels were low. At a certain point, I realized I was lacking the sexual desire and erection quality I should have for someone my age. But since actively taking steps to increase my testosterone levels, I have noticed that not only all of these things have improved, they are the best they have ever been.
Maintaining optimal testosterone levels comes with a host of health benefits that can help your body fight off disease.
“Those with low testosterone seem to have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and [low T levels] are also associated with a higher risk of [death],” says Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, author of The Fat Loss Prescription.
“This happens because of lowered insulin sensitivity from lower T, plus increased atherosclerosis from the reduced insulin sensitivity and unfavorable lipid changes.”
Studies back this up. Men with lower testosterone levels are more at risk for heart disease. In addition, many studies have shown that low testosterone also correlates with an increased risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.
While the evidence on this is far from conclusive, studies seem to show a link between declining testosterone levels and declining cognitive function.
“Higher testosterone levels in midlife have been linked to better preservation of tissue in some parts of the brain. And in older men, higher testosterone levels have been associated with better performance on cognitive tests,” according to Harvard Health.
Anecdotally, I can say that I have definitely noticed an increase in my cognitive function. For the past few months, I have been sharper, a better writer, and more productive than ever.
Whether low testosterone contributes to depression or depression contributes to low testosterone is not clear to scientists, but there does seem to be a direct link between the two.
Research indicates that men suffering from depression also tend to have lower testosterone levels, and that men who are administered testosterone treatments report increases in mood.
I can’t say for sure that working to increase my T levels has helped with my depression because I have been taking a lot of other steps to deal with it as well, but I certainly have noticed I have been in a much better mood consistently.
“One overlooked issue is also decreased bone mineral density, which is usually thought of in post-menopausal women but [can also be seen] in guys with [low T],” says Dr. Nadolsky.
It has been shown testosterone has a direct link with bone density because it helps increase mineralization. Weak bone structure can lead to osteoporosis, especially in older men. It’s also probably no coincidence that men who do suffer from osteoporosis also tend to have lower testosterone levels.
Dealing With Low Testosterone
You now have a better understanding of the importance of maintaining optimal testosterone levels. But thankfully, low T is not a life sentence. There are many treatments and methods available for dealing with low testosterone.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)
There are a number of different testosterone replacement methods available for men with low T, each with their own advantages and drawbacks.
The subcutaneous implant is a form of TRT where a small pellet — no larger than a grain of rice — is implanted under the skin of the abdomen or buttocks. The implant helps raise testosterone levels. The patient only needs to get re-implanted every four to five months. The downside though, according to Dr. Kominiarek, is that this method doesn’t allow for adjustments to the treatment.
He also says there are a number of side effects that don’t make this form of treatment worth it, including supraphysiologic testosterone levels, anxiety, extreme agitation, expulsion of pellets, infection, adrenal exhaustion, scarring, fibrosis, neurological issues, and more.
With this method, a patch is applied to the upper arm or scrotum and provides a steady stream of testosterone to the patient. However, Dr. Kominiarek says the patch almost always leads to skin irritation, and is not a method he recommends.
Gels And Creams
Gels and creams are a popular form of TRT because they are easy to administer and are very effective. Patients can apply them to the arms or shoulders once or twice a day. Testosterone creams also have the added benefit of helping raise HDL levels — the good kind of cholesterol.
Injections via GIPHY
According to Dr. Kominiarek, receiving intramuscular or subcutaneous injections is the most effective and beneficial form of TRT. He says, “The benefits of injection therapy are significant: Ease of administration; low cost; can be done at home; produces reliable blood levels; dosage amounts and dosing regime can easily be adjusted; can mimic natural variability; has a low side effect profile that is predictable; and the list goes on, which makes testosterone delivered by injection — whether subcutaneous or intramuscular — the winner in my book.”
He also says that no matter which mode of therapy you choose, it’s important to be monitored by your doctor because most forms of TRT come with side effects.
According to Dr. Kominiarek, some of the most common side effects of TRT include testicular shrinkage, decrease in HDL (good) cholesterol, increase in red blood cells, breast enlargement, decrease in sperm count, acne, worsening sleep apnea, and swelling.
Increasing Testosterone Naturally
Because of the potential side effects of TRT, many doctors first suggest natural remedies for increasing testosterone levels. Low T can be caused by a number of physiological issues, and thankfully, there are many steps that can be taken to correct these issues and increase T levels without the use of therapy.
Diet is one of the most effective ways to naturally increase testosterone.
Studies have shown that eating a diet rich in saturated and monounsaturated fats can help increase testosterone levels. Fats are essential for a number of physiological processes — and hormone production is one of them.
And because testosterone comes from cholesterol, it makes sense that low HDL cholesterol levels (the good kind) lead to lower levels of testosterone as well.
Here are some examples of the right kinds of foods to include in your diet in order to boost your testosterone levels naturally: Red meat, cheese, eggs, olive and coconut oil, nuts, avocado, and peanut butter. Just make sure keeping track of your calorie intake as well.
However, if you’re suffering from low T, don’t think that dramatically increasing your dietary fat intake is going to skyrocket your testosterone levels. This study found that men who got over 40% of their daily calories from fat had just 13% higher testosterone levels than those who consumed less than 20% of their daily calories from fat.
Another thing to consider is that when you eat a high-fat diet, you typically need to reduce your consumption of carbs. The problem is, carbohydrates also have an impact on testosterone levels. It all has to do with the cortisol hormone. Cortisol and testosterone are inversely linked, meaning that higher levels of cortisol will result in lower testosterone levels and vice versa. A low-carb diet, especially combined with doing regular exercise and maintaining an active lifestyle, is a recipe for increased cortisol production.
Looking at your diet as a whole, it would therefore seem that if you exercise regularly, a higher-carb diet may be more beneficial for you in terms of optimal testosterone production.
Most supplements claiming to raise T levels are complete garbage. In fact, according to Dr. Nadolsky, you should avoid any supplement that specifically claims to raise testosterone — “because they don’t work.”
The only supplements that seem to have a positive impact on testosterone levels are vitamin D3 and omega-3 fish oil. This study showed that supplementing with vitamin D3 can boost testosterone levels. And fish oil can help increase the production of luteinizing hormone, a precursor to testosterone production.
Zinc and magnesium may also help maintain optimal testosterone levels because they suppress the production of estrogen — but there isn’t enough evidence to say for sure.
There is an overwhelming amount of research that supports the idea that doing high-intensity exercise regularly — think resistance training — can greatly increase the amount of testosterone the body produces.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should go to the gym and start pumping out tons of bicep curls. The type of exercise that you do matters. The more muscles stimulated during the movement, the more testosterone gets produced. That means performing exercises like squats, deadlifts, rows, presses, and chin-ups. All of these are compound, multi-joint movements that will stimulate the release of testosterone.
Now, if you want to lose weight, you need to eat less calories than you burn. However, dieting for long periods of time can also affect your testosterone levels.
“I see guys who are dieting too much, all the time, and this can also lower your testosterone — similar to how a woman loses her period when she diets/exercises too much.” says Dr. Nadolsky.
However, this drop in testosterone is only temporary. Levels do return to normal once the caloric deficit is erased. The key is finding a balance between eating in a deficit to lose weight, and occasionally eating around your caloric maintenance to bring T levels back to normal.
Note: an occasional bump in calories can also help with weight loss.
Almost all of your testosterone is produced while you sleep. This is also why men often wake up with erections — otherwise known as “morning wood”. (As an aside, if you don’t wake up with erections, it could be a sign of low T.)
Getting less than five hours of sleep per night can reduce testosterone levels up to 15%. Not only that, but poor sleep increases cortisol levels. And like we’ve already discussed, higher cortisol levels lead to lower testosterone levels.
A few tips for getting better sleep include keeping a regular sleep schedule (going to bed and getting up the same time each day), turning off all electronics an hour before bed, decreasing the amount of light in your room, and supplementing with melatonin.
Stress Management via GIPHY
Stress, depression, and anxiety may be a result of low testosterone levels. But they may also be causing the problem. Either way, it’s important to manage your mental health because stress promotes the release of cortisol. Being chronically stressed will keep your cortisol levels elevated and hinder your testosterone production.
Doing things like meditating, reading, and other activities you enjoy can help manage stress and anxiety. And getting support to deal with depression can help reduce your stress levels and negative feelings.
The Testosterone Takeaway
If you didn’t understand the importance of testosterone before reading this article, I hope you do now. According to Dr. Kominiarek, low testosterone is something that affects one in four men between the ages of 30 to 80, yet it still doesn’t the attention it deserves — both from men and medical professionals. And given the immense effects testosterone has on our health, it’s something that needs to be brought into the spotlight.
Low T is not a life sentence, but it is a condition that does need to be addressed, not only because of its impact on health and the physiological issues it can cause, but for the effect it can have relationships. AskMen features a plethora of articles on the topic of becoming better in bed. And it’s not just to attract readers. When it comes to relationships, sex is important. And testosterone has a big effect on our sexual health.
Taking the necessary steps to ensure optimal testosterone levels will help us men lead longer, healthier lives, but also lead us to develop and maintain stronger, healthier, and more intimate relationships.
—Landmark Elite Team (Note: Cited from askmen.com)