When you think of testosterone, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? A sense of masculinity in an overly assertive or aggressive way, right?
Well, to put it bluntly, testosterone’s only involvement in such behaviour is a myth. There is more to testosterone than its reputation would suggest.
Men, as well as women, need the proper amount of testosterone to develop and function normally. In fact, in men, testosterone receptors are found in virtually every body tissue. Therefore, levels of testosterone affect the functions of almost every organ system.
What is testosterone and why is it important?
Testosterone is produced by the testes in men, and in much smaller quantities by the ovaries in women. It can also be made by the adrenal glands, the organs that are on top of each kidney, in both men and women.
Testosterone is one of several androgens (male sex hormones), meaning that it stimulates the development of physical characteristics specific to adult males.
In men, testosterone is thought to play a number of important roles, such as:
- The development of the penis and testes
- Increase in height during puberty
- The deepening of the voice during puberty
- The growth of body and pubic hair during puberty
- Sperm production
- Regulate sex drive (libido)
- Bone growth and strength
- Fat distribution
- Muscle mass size and strength
- Production of red blood cells
- Production of sperm
- Making new red blood cells
- Regulate the secretion of Luteinising Hormone (LH) and Follicule Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
How is testosterone produced/controlled?
In the body, testosterone is synthesised from cholesterol. However, having high cholesterol levels does not mean testosterone levels will be high. It is the hypothalamus and pituitary gland that control how much testosterone the testes produce and secrete. Firstly, the hypothalamus sends signals to the pituitary gland to release gonadotropic substances (FSH and LH). LH then signals the testes to produce testosterone. If too much testosterone is produced, the hypothalamus alerts the pituitary gland to make less of LH, which in turn tells the testes to decrease testosterone production levels.
What are the major effects of testosterone (high/low)
→ Too much testosterone
Having an excess of naturally-occurring testosterone is unlikely to happen among adult men. It is important to note that blood levels of testosterone will vary over time and even throughout a 24-hour period.
Most of what we know about abnormally high testosterone levels in men come from those who use anabolic steroids, testosterone or related hormones to increase muscle mass and sports/athletic performance.
Some issues associated with abnormally high testosterone levels in men include:
- Low sperm count
- Heart muscle damage
- Increased risk of heart issues
- Prostate enlargement and difficulty urinating
- Liver issues
- Fluid retention
- Weight gain due to increased appetite
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Increased muscle mass
- Increased risk of blood clots
- Mood swings, irritability, delusions, impaired judgement
How can you address high testosterone levels?
Among a few options that have testosterone-lowering properties, think of Mint!
Most well known for its powerful stomach-soothing properties, some research suggests that mint could cause a dip in testosterone levels. In particular, spearmint and peppermint have been shown to directly affect testosterone. Therefore, having some peppermint supplements, or even consistently drinking some peppermint tea could help reduce high testosterone levels.
→ Too little testosterone
As men age, testosterone levels drop gradually and naturally; about 2% each year. The pituitary gland sends fewer signals to the testes, and as a result, the testes produce less testosterone. To note that over 1/3 of men over the age of 45 may have reduced levels of testosterone.
Other than ageing, reduced testosterone levels can be due to:
- A defect in the testicles such as severe injury, radiation and chemotherapy
- Problems in the pituitary gland caused by continuous stress, high prolactin levels, and in extreme cases, tumours
- Excess aromatase (protein secreted by abdominal fat)
Some symptoms associated with testosterone deficiency include:
- Loss of facial and body hair
- Loss of muscle mass
- Loss of muscle tone and inability to consistently build muscles
- Increased abdominal fat
- Disruption of the body’s blood sugar metabolism
- Low libido / low sperm count / infertility
- Inadequate erections and poor sexual performance
- Increased breast size
- Hot flashes
- Decreased stamina / fatigue
- Increased urge to urinate
- Mood disturbances like irritability and depression
- Poor concentration
- Memory loss
- Sleep difficulties
- Early onset of osteoporosis (in cases of chronic deficiency)
- Heart disease (in cases of chronic deficiency)
→ Heavy training impact on testosterone
Short resistance exercise has been shown to acutely increase total testosterone concentrations in most studies in men. These elevations have been attributed to the stimulation of the testes by the induced elevated LH post-training.
However, glucocorticoids (such as cortisol) are released from the adrenals in response to the stress of exercise. Over time and with constant long-lasting and heavy resistance exercise (overreaching), this continuous release of cortisol may not work in favour of improving testosterone levels.
Therefore, short resistance training exercises, particularly of 30-45 mins of low to moderate intensity with the corresponding resting periods may be the most natural way of acutely increasing total testosterone.
There are different forms of testosterone in the blood that may be measured to help diagnose and/or prevent certain health problems. Most of the testosterone is attached to proteins. The proteins prevent the bodily tissues from using the testosterone right away, which helps control the amount of "active" testosterone in the body. Testosterone that's not attached to proteins is called free testosterone, and it’s the free testosterone that acts on the tissues.
If you are struggling with, or are concerned with any of the symptoms mentioned above it may be worth checking your testosterone levels.
Omnos offers 2 tests that measure testosterone:
- Total testosterone levels in the blood
- Free testosterone levels in the blood
- Testosterone/Cortisol ratio – This ratio has historically been used to assess acute stress, recovery from exercise and general tolerance to exercise. As many conditions can impact these hormones, the ratio is only used as a correlative marker and taken in context with symptoms
A Hormones test through the urine (DUTCH test) in which we measure:
- Testosterone levels in the urine
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