Testosterone is one of the most famous hormones ever. It has become synonymous with big muscular bodybuilders. When men over forty visit their physicians because they can’t get it up anymore, they receive one common diagnosis- low testosterone and wellness . Everybody seems to believe that a lack of this hormone makes you less of a man.
Alike any popular subject, there are many misconceptions regarding testosterone. For starters, it is not a magic drug that can turn you into a bulging He-man overnight. Instead, healthy testosterone has much to do with a disciplined lifestyle.
Here’s a science-based overview of testosterone to help you understand this important hormone better.
What is Testosterone?
Testosterone is the hormone that gives men their male characteristics. The hormone plays a crucial role in the development of the male body right from the womb.
However, that doesn’t mean the hormone is exclusive to men only. Both the male and female body experiences the developmental effects of testosterone at varying degrees.
Our muscles, bones, fat and hair distribution, voice, and mood are all subject to this hormone’s effects. In other words, testosterone has a significant role in how we look and feel.
Group-wise, it’s an androgen. Chemically testosterone is a steroid. It’s probably the most famous steroid ever.
Ask a random person what comes to their mind when they hear ‘steroids’. Presumably, their answer will be bodybuilding drugs or anabolic steroids. And those are synthetic versions of testosterone.
What Are The Healthy Testosterone Levels?
The healthy range of testosterone in the human body varies widely. First, there is the question of gender. Then there’s the consideration of age and lifestyle.
In males, the level ranges from 300-1000 nanograms per deciliter. Usually, young and fit men naturally maintain a level of 500-600 ng/dl of testosterone in their blood. Doctors will diagnose someone with testosterone deficiency if their levels are below
These levels keep falling as people get older. Usually, men aged 19-20 years have the highest levels of testosterone. The hormone’s levels gradually start falling (1% a year) once you turn 30.
However, lifestyle is a crucial factor. Many older men (above 45 years of age) can retain the testosterone levels of their younger days if they practice good habits.
Women don’t need the hormone as much as men do. This is why a level of 15-70 ng/dl is a healthy testosterone level for women. If the levels fall below this range, a women’s muscle and bone health is likely to suffer.
Symptoms Of Low Testosterone and wellness
How do you know you have low testosterone? Well, it will become quite obvious. You will feel tired and unmotivated all the time. There will be various degrees of physical weakness present. Here are the common symptoms of low testosterone-
- Lack of physical strength due to decline in muscle and bone quality.
- Erectile dysfunction and reduced sexual desire.
- You are depressed, feeling down, and always in a bad mood.
- Your thighs and hips are getting fat (in males).
- Male infertility.
The Life Cycle of Testosterone
Testosterone is primarily produced in the testes. The cells that produce the hormone are Leydig cells. In females, the theca cells of the ovary secrete minor amounts of testosterone. However, the production process begins in the brain.
Hypothalamic Pituitary Testicular Axis
There is a region in the brain called the hypothalamus. It is trusted to manage a variety of body functions. One of them is stimulating sex hormone secretion.
To do this, the hypothalamus sends a signal to the pituitary gland via GnRH hormones. The pituitary glands, in response, release two substances- luteinizing and follicle-stimulating hormones. These two directly act on the testes.
This hormonal harmony between your balls and brain is known as the Hypothalamic Pituitary Testicular axis. It’s particularly important to understand. Especially if you plan on using anabolic steroids to build muscle.
When longtime anabolic steroid users come out of their cycles, they often encounter low testosterone levels. Some of them become permanent sufferers of hypogonadism. It’s the condition where your testes lose the ability to produce testosterone naturally. This happens because steroid abuse destroys the sensitive HPT axis.
Leydig cells are specially designed to synthesize various androgens. Among them, Testosterone is the most significant one.
These testes cells have receptors for luteinizing hormones. It also responds to the effects of FSH. The pituitary hormones trigger a simultaneous series of biochemical reactions when they come in contact with the Leydig cells. The chemical reactions convert circulating cholesterol into testosterone in the Leydig cell.
Here’s something interesting. The cholesterol that helps the testosterone synthesis process, is LDL. or Low-density Lipoprotein. These are the ‘bad cholesterol’ in the body. Levels of which should always be low. However, if LDL becomes too low, for instance in overuse of atorvastatin, it can affect your testosterone levels 2 .
The Fate of Testosterone
After synthesizing, the Leydig cells release the hormone into the bloodstream. The testosterone then travels to the organs which have receptors for it. Our bones, muscles, skin, fat cells, regions of the brain, testes, and men’s prostate gland have such receptors. The hormone binds to them and exerts its effect.
In the blood, free testosterone converts to its various intermediate forms. The most potent of them is DHT. Or, Dihydrotestosterone. It is mostly responsible for developing secondary sexual characteristics in males. For instance, in descendants of testes and the formation of the external genitalia.
Some of the testosterone also converts into estrogen. It happens due to a process called aromatization. Other derivatives include estradiol, androstenedione, androsterone, etc.
The liver breaks down the excess testosterone into water-friendly metabolites. Which are then excreted through urine and feces.
The hormone has a short half-life of only 10-100 minutes. This means, the body rapidly clears the hormone out once it has entered the blood. Therefore, bodybuilders, who target high levels of free testosterone, have to inject themselves frequently. And that’s how, many of them end up abusing the drug. (3)
What Does Testosterone Do For The Body?
The major role of testosterone is establishing the male sexual identity. Other than that, in both genders, the hormone is crucial for maintaining the body’s aesthetics and strength. If your test levels are down, you will feel down.
Here’s a quick look at the role of Testosterone in the human body-
- Formation of the male reproductive system
- An important driver of libido
- Essential for healthy erections and subsequently sexual life
- Development of muscle mass
- Increases bone density
- Determines the distribution of fat
- Influences mental well being
In both men and women, testosterone plays a major role in libido. Testosterone increases our desire for sex through various physiological factors. Some of them are yet to be understood. Many experts believe that testosterone induces more sexual thoughts in both genders. (4,5,6)
The formation of the genital organs in an adult male is reliant on testosterone. It plays an important role, alongside other hormones, in the enlargement of the penis.
Also, the hormone stimulates growth in corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum. These are chambers of erectile tissue in the penis. During an erection, these chambers fill up with blood. (9)
Testosterone also signals nitric oxide synthesis. Nitric oxide dilates the blood vessels of the penis and increases blood flow. Thus, helps in maintaining the timing, duration, and strength of the erection. (10,11)
In older men, testosterone levels are often lower than in their younger days. Which is why many of them suffer from sexual dysfunction. TRT, in presence of a proper lifestyle, can help the situation, if these men are otherwise healthy.
Remember that, a heart condition, diabetes, or obesity are more potent reasons for erectile dysfunction than low testosterone.
Developing Muscle Mass
Testosterone plays an important role in muscular development in all sexes. It promotes the synthesis of muscle proteins. Thus, increasing mass and leading to the greater repair of damaged muscles. This translates to more physical strength and virility. Plus, it helps fast recovery of the microtears in the muscle after exercise.
There are various mechanisms by which the hormone promotes muscle growth. For the most part, testosterone affects the transcription genes that control protein synthesis in muscle.
Growth hormone is a major factor in muscle development. And its production and effects are also positively related to testosterone.
In addition to synthesis, testosterone also prevents the breakdown of muscle. It does so by promoting insulin-like-growth-factor-1 and blocking cortisol. (12, 13, 14)
Increase Bone Density
The quality of our bones relies much on healthy testosterone levels. During puberty and throughout life, this hormone plays an important role to maintain the density of our bones. There are multiple ways by which testosterone does this.
Firstly, testosterone promotes bone mineralization. Which means it helps with the retention of calcium in our bones.
Secondly, testosterone actively helps in bone formation. There are cells in our bones called osteoblasts. These cells have testosterone receptors. When the hormone binds with them, osteoblasts differentiate and create new bone tissue.
At the same time, testosterone reduces the percentage of bone resorption. Alike osteoblasts, there is another type of cell in the bone known as osteoclasts. They are responsible for the resorption of bone. When testosterone binds to them, it inhibits their activity.
This is the reason why older men with weak bones benefit from testosterone replacement therapy.
Testosterone has a role in determining where our body stores its fat. Men tend to store more fat in their abdominal area. Meanwhile, in women fat accumulates more in the thighs, breasts, and hip region. This difference in fat distribution between the sexes has much to do with testosterone.
When you have low testosterone the body starts holding onto more fat. Men with low testosterone start storing fat in their thighs and hips. This can give rise to various metabolic disorders like diabetes and heart disease.
Also, increased muscle mass raises your metabolic rate and helps to burn fat. Since testosterone increases lean body mass, some might say it plays an indirect role in fat burning. However, that doesn’t mean testosterone therapy should be used for fat loss goals. A proper diet and exercise routine is how you get rid of excess body fat.
Effects on Mood
Testosterone is linked to our mental well-being. Researchers have observed on several occasions that low levels of the hormone causes depression, mood swings, irritability, and anxiety in both sexes.
Experts believe testosterone interacts with neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. These are the chemicals that promote feelings of happiness and relaxation. Memory and spatial abilities also have direct links with testosterone levels. Healthy levels of the hormone make you confident and assertive.
What Are The Reasons For Testosterone Deficiency?
Testosterone levels naturally decline as we age. So, it is natural to experience low levels of the hormone as you get older. However, certain factors can bring down your T-levels way before age. Let’s have a look.
As men get older their Leydig cells start producing lesser amounts of testosterone. However, age-related testosterone decline is a gradual process. So it’s not like, you would suddenly wake up one day to find yourself suffering from low T-levels. With a little exercise and lifestyle modification any man can retain healthy levels of the hormone even in old age.
One of the major causes of premature drops in testosterone levels is smoking. The nicotine in cigarette smoke has hazardous effects on the Leydig cells of the testes. The effects of nicotine destroy these cells and reduce their ability to produce androgens. This is also one of the reasons why smoking is linked to male infertility.
Heavy drinkers have unhealthy body fat distribution and low testosterone. Alcohol affects the testicular cells. Plus, it impairs the liver from properly metabolizing the hormone. Drinking also alters the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis. The combined effects of all these reduce T-levels in drinkers. (20,21)
Excess body fat
Too much fat can reduce the amount of testosterone in males. A portion of our body fat converts to estrogen. This happens due to the action of the enzyme aromatase. So, increased body fat would mean an increase in estrogen levels. And elevated estrogen levels suppress the production of testosterone.
If you are suffering from diabetes you are likely to experience low testosterone levels. In diabetes, there is insulin resistance which suppresses the hormone’s production. Also, diabetes causes generalized inflammation in the body. This puts the testes under stress and causes damage to the specialized cells.
In addition to the reasons above, people suffering from continuous mental stress and sleep deprivation experience low levels of the hormone. If someone has liver disease or pituitary gland disorders, they are likely to suffer from testosterone deficiency.
You need healthy testosterone levels to live a good life. And to achieve that you must lead a balanced lifestyle. Feel free to ask for advice if you think you are suffering from low T-levels.
You can tell us your complaints in the comments section anonymously and we will get to you with customized feedback. In our next posts, we shall tell you how you can increase your testosterone levels naturally.