Testosterone - it’s something we usually link to all things that make for a ‘macho’ man. Thick beards, high sex drives and big muscles.
Whilst this isn’t necessarily wrong, there’s a lot more to testosterone than meets the eye.
So, what is testosterone?
One of the body’s sex hormones, testosterone is found in both men and women. However, men have much higher levels of testosterone than women, and it’s responsible for a lot of changes in a man’s body throughout his life.
Testosterone production increases during puberty, causing both physical and emotional changes, before decreasing at a rate of around 1% a year after the age of 30.
Decreasing testosterone levels is part of the natural part of ageing, meaning low testosterone levels can be quite common in older men. However, sometimes younger men can experience low testosterone levels, even before they are 30.
This can cause a number of serious side effects, like infertility, and often requires treatment in the form of testosterone supplementation.
Six effects testosterone has on your body
A lot of men’s health relies on having a healthy level of testosterone. The hormone is needed to regulate a range of bodily functions, behaviours, physical build and emotions, including:
- Muscle mass and body fat
- Sex drive
- Heart health
- Hair growth
Muscle mass and body fat
Testosterone plays a key role in a process within the body that facilitates muscle growth.
It does this in two ways: by binding itself to the surface of muscle cells and enhancing the signals that results in growth, and by increasing levels of ‘growth hormone’ in the body. Growth hormone is a response to exercise, and vital in building muscle.
Testosterone doesn’t just increase muscle mass either, it is also linked to our levels of body fat. Lower levels of testosterone make it easier for the body to store fat, and can impact other metabolic functions that stop our body from being able to digest and store food effectively.
There’s a cycle between sexual activity, testosterone levels and interest in sex. The more sexually active a man is, the higher his testosterone levels are, and the more likely he is to have a higher sex drive.muscle mass
Aggressive, dominant behaviour is usually a sign of very high levels of testosterone, but there’s much more to the hormone and its effect on our mood than that.
Whilst high testosterone levels have been linked to competitiveness and increased self-esteem, there’s also a risk that low testosterone can impact your mental health.
In men with hypogonadism - a condition can means the body isn’t producing enough testosterone - taking testosterone replacement therapy was found to have antidepressant like side effects, such as boosted mood and improved energy levels.
Testosterone increases our body’s red blood cell production. This means that more oxygen can be carried to our muscles and organs, helping the body perform as best as it can.
Whilst low testosterone levels has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes, results can be varied.
Hair growth is stimulated by testosterone, so both hair growth and loss across the body and face can be linked to hormone levels.
As well as causing low libido and other sexual problems, like sperm production. By reducing the motility of sperm, low testosterone can impact fertility by making it hard to conceive.
Whilst it’s not clear if testosterone levels are a primary cause of erectile dysfunction, some studies have suggested that there is a clear link between the two issues.
Low testosterone symptoms - what are they in men?
As you can see, testosterone might be considered as a ‘male sex hormone’, but it affects us in so many more ways. Symptoms of low testosterone include:
- Weight gain - Due to its fat burning role in the body, low testosterone can mean that body fat increases as fat burns less efficiently, causing weight gain.
- Low self-confidence - Low testosterone has been linked to a loss in confidence, a lack of motivation and lack of energy.
- Reduced sexual performance - As well as lowering libido and self-confidence, both of which can impact sexual performance, low testosterone levels can in some instances cause erectile dysfunction.
- Hair loss - From reduced facial hair to male pattern baldness, losing your hair could be a sign of low testosterone.
- Low mood - Research suggests that testosterone deficiencies can lead to depression, as well as causing a lack of motivation and increased irritability. Testosterone treatment has, in men with low levels, been found to improve their overall wellbeing.
When you see a doctor about your symptoms, they will need to carry out a blood test in order to diagnose you with low testosterone.
Can you have too much testosterone?
Having too much testosterone can happen in some men, particularly is testosterone supplements are being overused.
Dr Simon Latham said: "High testosterone levels (>36nmol/L - 'nanomoles per litre' is how testosterone is measured) in men are linked with possible changes in libido or increased risk of anxiety, prostate cancer, prolonged erection, developing smaller testicles and acne amongst many other effects. I would not recommend taking testosterone supplements without a doctor’s advice."
Testosterone boosters - what works?
A lot of people ask the question ‘how to increase testosterone’ - and there are many different answers.
From prescribed testosterone supplements, to ways you can naturally boost testosterone levels, some tactics include:
Taking testosterone pills, patches or gels
These should be taken as prescribed supplements to treat low testosterone levels. Testosterone therapy isn’t usually required for men over the age of 65, and shouldn’t be prescribed to people with prostate cancer, kidney, heart or liver complications. Always speak to a GP before for advice on whether this is a suitable option for you.
Reducing your alcohol intake
Drinking alcohol can kill testosterone, some studies have shown.
Decrease your levels of body fat
Reducing your amount of body fat has been found to work effectively when it comes to naturally increasing your testosterone levels. Fat tissue plays a part in converting testosterone to oestrogen (the main female sex hormone), meaning testosterone levels drop.
A lot of health problems can be attributed to stress, and testosterone deficiencies are no different. When our cortisol - the hormone related to stress - levels peak, our testosterone levels drop. One study showed that stress had an impact of testosterone, libido and your ability to perform sexually.
Try our guide to mindfulness to help your mind get the rest it needs.