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The Health Effects of Low Testosterone

US News & World Report - Health logo US News & World Report - Health 9/12/2019 S. Adam Ramin, M.D.
Athlete preparing for crossfire workout © (Getty Images) Athlete preparing for crossfire workout

When most people hear of low testosterone, it often concerns a low sex drive or lack of energy. While a dip in testosterone levels can cause these effects, they aren't the only concerning symptoms, and none of them should be ignored. So before you turn to that "low T" supplement you saw in a magazine ad or on a late-night TV commercial, it's crucial to have a conversation with your doctor first. Getting to the bottom of and treating low testosterone levels is a meaningful conversation to have with an experienced medical professional.

Testosterone is the essential male sex hormone that's responsible for the regulation of bone and muscle mass, fat distribution, red blood cell production and fertility in men. Women also produce testosterone, though typically in smaller amounts.

Testosterone is vital for:

  • Building muscle mass.
  • Preventing loss of bone density.
  • Promoting cardiovascular health.
  • Boosting sexual desire.
  • Maintaining psychological health.

Individuals with low testosterone can suffer from:

  • Muscle atrophy.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Heart attacks.
  • Loss of sexual desire.
  • Depression.
  • Decreased energy levels and fatigue.

As men age, it can be typical for their testosterone levels to drop. This drop does not necessarily indicate there's a problem, especially if the man is not experiencing any related symptoms.

However, when a dip in testosterone levels does result in symptoms, these can range from physical to psychological health concerns. Both men and women can suffer from low testosterone levels. These symptoms usually present as loss of libido, sexual dysfunction, depression and low energy. The rise in low T levels seen in doctor's offices today may be attributable to our modern lifestyles. Lack of regular sleep, increased psychological stress, lack of exercise, sedentary habits and diets that lead to increased belly fat can all contribute to lower of testosterone levels.

Physical manifestations of low testosterone may include fatigue, weight gain, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Specifically, in the case of testosterone's effects on cardiovascular health, research indicates that men with extremely deficient testosterone levels or those with levels significantly higher than the normal range (men who are aggressively taking testosterone supplements) are both at risk for heart attack and stroke. In other words, a too-low or too-high testosterone level is not favorable, and studies have shown that mid-range levels are cardio-protective, meaning they can help guard the heart from potential damage.

So what should you do if you're concerned about your testosterone levels? First, it's essential to visit your doctor and have an honest conversation about how you're feeling. He or she can ask specific questions and run tests designed to determine whether there is an underlying cause for the low testosterone that might benefit from treatment. For example, obesity causes the conversion of the body's naturally-produced testosterone to the female hormone estrogen. In this case, the effects on testosterone levels can be reversed by a concerted effort at weight loss and increased exercise.

Other good ways to naturally boost testosterone levels include:

  • Exercise.
  • Sleep health.
  • Improved mood.
  • Stress reduction.
  • Diet.

Exercise. Regular exercise will increase demand for muscle bulk. This in turn will increase demand for tighter regulation of release of LHRH, or leutenizing hormone-releasing rormone) by the brain, leading to increased testosterone production.

Sleep health. Testosterone is released in the body in a cyclical manner, with higher levels naturally occurring within the first few hours of waking up from sleep. Sleeping at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning, with at least six to eight hours of sleep, leads to better regulation of this circadian rhythm, resulting in higher and more consistent testosterone levels.

Improved mood and stress reduction. Stress hormones and a negative outlook toward life generally may cause release of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These can in turn inhibit production of testosterone.

Diet. The precursor molecule to testosterone in our bodies is actually cholesterol. Healthy sources of cholesterol in our foods will provide the precursor for production of testosterone, without placing the body at higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Egg yolks, avocados and fish are excellent, non-processed sources of cholesterol in our diet. Please note that ingestion of saturated fats can lead to conversion of the fat molecules into cholesterol in our bodies by the liver. While it's recommended to reduce intake of saturated fats and triglycerides in our diets, in most people a healthy portion of foods that are primary sources of cholesterol (not derived from fats) is needed in our diet.

In most instances, low testosterone levels are a common part of the aging process in which the testicles are not producing as much testosterone as before. In this case, one may consider treatment. Treatment is usually advisable if the low testosterone levels are causing symptoms, as previously mentioned, or if the levels are so low that the individual is at risk of physiologic complications such as cardiovascular disease or osteoporosis.

Treatment for testosterone usually involves replacement of testosterone, which can be done by:

  • Daily application of testosterone gel.
  • Weekly or bimonthly injection of testosterone.
  • Injection of long-lasting testosterone every 10 weeks.
  • Implanting long-lasting testosterone pellets.

Another way to treat low testosterone is to take an oral supplement called DHEA. And in some instances, doctors may recommend using a medication that inhibits the natural conversion of testosterone to estrogen in the body, thereby increasing the natural testosterone levels. However, no matter the treatment type, a conversation with your doctor should always be the first step. The good news is that restoring normal testosterone levels is typically achievable and has helped many men feel better in no time.

Copyright 2019 U.S. News & World Report

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