Testosterone is the hormone that fuels men’s engines. Produced in the testes, gonads and adrenal glands, testosterone drives puberty and overall men’s health throughout their lives by playing a key role in the male’s reproduction system including the testes and prostate, as well promoting increased muscle and bone mass, and the growth of body hair.
Testosterone production rises with approaching puberty, peaking in the mid-20s, and gradually decreasing after age 30 by about 1% each year. Normal T levels – determined by bloodwork– measure between 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl). Optimally, the approximate amount of testosterone in a 25-year-old – about 750 ng/dl – is ideal for good health. So why then do nearly 40% of men aged 45 and older (that’s 14 million American men) suffer from Low T, and how does that affect a man’s health?
There are many reasons why men can have Low T, hypogonadism. Age is a natural factor in declining T levels. Men experience a condition called andropause as they age, similar to women’s menopause. Diseases and their treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation to treat cancer, can cause T depletion. Diabetes, injuries to the testicles, kidney or liver disease, as well as obesity, hormonal imbalance disorders, HIV/AIDS, or pituitary disorders can all drain hormone levels. Certain medications such as steroids may also impact your T level. Additionally, there are lifestyle factors that impact your T level; these include stress, too much alcohol, chronic opioid use, and too many hormones in the food you eat.
If your doctor finds you do have Low T, which translates to less than 300 ng/dl, you may notice the following effects.
Decreased sex drive
Sex drive doesn’t have to diminish as we age, but for many the urge does start to taper over time. However significant drops that affect libido are considered abnormal and could be indicative of Low T.
Decreased strength and muscle mass
Testosterone plays a significant role in strengthening bones and muscle mass. Abundant testosterone causes an anabolic, or muscle-building action, and helps the body produce proteins that form the building blocks of lean mass and bone. When testosterone levels drop, the body turns catabolic, breaking down tissue faster than it can build. This can lead to lowered bone density, weakness, muscle atrophy, osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Erectile dysfunction (ED)
Testosterone aids erections by triggering the production of nitric oxide in the brain. The lower the T levels, the more difficult it is to achieve an erection; plus, Low T can cause fewer spontaneous erections.
Even after a good night’s sleep, those with Low T can feel fatigued. This can result in depression, lack of focus, impact on your job performance, as well as decreased energy and motivation.
Testosterone is vital for hair production. While losing hair as we age is normal, significant loss of hair throughout the body may signify T levels are dipping below normal.
Lower sperm quantity and quality
For couples finding it hard to get pregnant, Low T may be the cause. Low T lowers sperm count and plays a significant role in semen production by decreasing the amount of semen during ejaculation.
Shrunken penis size
Without ample testosterone, the tissues in the penis, scrotum and testicles can atrophy or shrivel. The penis might lose length and girth and soften.
Symptoms of Low T
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, there is a possibility you may have Low T.
– Anemia, due to decreased red blood cell production.
– Changes in fat distribution. Those with Low T may experience increased weight gain, visceral (deep abdominal fat around organs), body fat and belly size. This increases risk for diabetes and heart disease.
– Emotional changes. Areas of the brain associated with memory and attention—amygdala and cerebrum—have testosterone receptors. Insufficient hormone levels cause brain cells to function inefficiently, affect emotional regulation and degrade overall well-being. The condition can lead to feelings of depression, irritability, mood swings and sadness.
– Gynecomastia, the swelling/tenderness in the breast tissue in men, can result from Low T.
– High cholesterol. The link between high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease is an indicator of Low T.
– Poor sleep patterns. Low T can result in insomnia and sleep apnea, as well as hot flashes and night sweats in men.
Low T is a medical disorder that should be diagnosed and treated by a qualified physician. Some may not require treatment, while others may require testosterone replacement therapy. Many health issues related to low testosterone can be reversed or improved with testosterone therapy.
If you have low testosterone, call Ironwood Urology in Phoenix at (480) 961-2323 to make an appointment or request one online. Renowned urologist Dr. Desi Avila offers many treatment options based on the severity of your condition and looks forward to helping you achieve your health and wellness goals.