This Men’s Health Month, it’s in your best interests to take some time to learn all about testosterone—including the symptoms of testosterone deficiency and the potential remedies that can support healthy hormone levels.
According to menshealthmonth.org, the purpose of this month is to “heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys.”
Part of this is understanding the possible signs of hormonal imbalance and what it could mean for you (or someone you care about), now or in the future.
Symptoms of testosterone imbalance can be very upsetting, and may include erectile dysfunction, weight gain, gynecomastia (also known as the development of breast tissue in men), loss of muscle tone, fatigue, and moodiness. These issues can diminish your quality of life, leading to very real mental health issues, like social isolation or depression and anxiety.
If you believe you may be experiencing any of these hormonal issues, you should know that you’re not alone—and that the issue can be managed.
Almost 40 percent of men 45 and older will experience these hormonal imbalance symptoms, often caused by low testosterone—also known as hypogonadism, which is a failure of the testicles to produce enough testosterone.
There are two forms of hypogonadism: primary and secondary. Primary hypogonadism is caused by a problem in the testicles whereas secondary hypogonadism is caused by an issue in the brain or the pituitary gland.
With the right approach to treatment—and an understanding of the root cause of your low testosterone—you can work with your doctor to find relief from these frustrating symptoms.
What Role Does Testosterone Play in Your Health?
Testosterone is the main male sex hormone, and in males, it’s responsible for a lot—including the growth of body hair and facial hair, muscle development and strength, the timbre of your voice, sperm production, sex drive, energy levels, and many health factors.
In males, it’s made mainly in the testicles, and then it’s passed into the bloodstream. The brain, specifically the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, regulates its functions.
Around a man’s middle or late twenties, however, testosterone levels tend to drop off, diminishing year by year. Older men may lose over one percent of their testosterone per year.
The changes caused by low or dwindling testosterone in men may seem gradual and almost undetectable at first—until they’re very obvious.
The symptoms may also be mistaken for general tiredness or fatigue from the workday or other stressors.
Dropping levels of testosterone can cause other hormones, like estradiol (estrogen) or the sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) protein, to become imbalanced as well, increasing the problem ten-fold.
If you are experiencing symptoms of low testosterone, you can work with your doctor on advanced lab testing, which will be able to more precisely indicate the exact issue at play.
A word of warning: many doctors will simply test for “total” testosterone, which can tell you how much testosterone you have in your body in total. This includes both biologically active testosterone (or free testosterone, which is basically hanging out in the body available to work) as well as testosterone bound to a protein called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). Because this testosterone is bound, it’s not doing much work. “This can make it hard to interpret test results that are low-normal,” Dr. Carl Pallais, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Harvard Health.
You should also know that there is no standardized or “normal” level of testosterone that can be applied to all males. In fact, levels change throughout the day, and can be affected by anything from what a person eats to how much alcohol they’ve consumed.
Medication, sickness, and even exercise can have an effect on testosterone levels as well. That’s why it’s so important to work with a practitioner who understands your unique needs, rather than painting your situation with one brush stroke.
Even if you haven’t begun to experience symptoms of low testosterone, you may want to get your levels checked so that your doctor knows which levels are best for you ahead of any future changes.
Low testosterone can be caused by many things; for one, age is a natural culprit. Beyond that, other causes include testicular trauma, medication, alcohol abuse and liver failure, inflammatory conditions, HIV/AIDS, extreme weight loss or gain, diabetes (type 2), hypothyroidism, anabolic steroid abuse, and sleep apnea, among many others.
Treating Low Testosterone: Hormone Therapy & Other Remedies
The benefits of testosterone replacement therapy for men are many, and can truly help balance hormones and restore quality of life. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, which uses hormones that are biologically identical to those your body produces, is a method that many hormone specialists find to be a safer and more effective way to increase testosterone levels. This form of therapy is customized to your needs, based off of your health and wellness goals.
As you can see, inadequate testosterone, as evidenced by the many symptoms men experience as they age, can lead to many problems, including increased risk of death. Beyond the symptoms associated with low T, there are a number of benefits that can be attained when using replacement therapy.
Testosterone replacement therapy has been found, according to a 2017 study, to have a number of excellent benefits: it can provide relief from erectile dysfunction, support bone health (especially around preventing osteoporosis), decrease fat mass, and improve cardiac health. It can also benefit serum glucose and insulin resistance in men with diabetes and pre-diabetic conditions. It can even improve exercise capacity.
In fact, the almighty hormone can positively impact red blood cell production, helping ward off cardiovascular disease and helping the body pump blood and oxygen. However, it is also possible that increasing red blood cell production too much can be dangerous, which is why it is important to be closely monitored by a hormone specialist if undergoing testosterone replacement therapy.
Testosterone is also responsible for increasing muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis, in addition to increasing lean body mass and decreasing fat. So if you’re suffering from weight gain and muscle flab or the inability to grow muscle, testosterone therapy may be the key to unlocking your body’s healing.
More so, testosterone helps improve cognitive abilities, such as memory and processing speed. Additionally, some patients with low testosterone see improvements in their depression when using testosterone replacement therapy.
Despite there not being many side effects, you should know that there are some risks associated with testosterone therapy, and, therefore, it is not appropriate for everyone. For example, men with a history of breast or prostate cancer should not use testosterone therapy. Additionally, trans men should know there are other risks and side effects.
Additionally, men with heart, liver, or kidney issues should approach this treatment plan with care. Other issues may include acne and breast swelling.
If you do choose to use testosterone therapy, your treatment options may include testosterone boosters in the form of pellets, patches, creams, injections, and other forms.
The road to balanced hormones is multi-layered, however. While testosterone therapy may be the main approach, your practitioner will also work with you to introduce sustainable, holistic lifestyle changes. You will need to update your diet, exercise moderately, and perhaps use vitamins or other hormone supplements.
Many men’s health issues can be improved by adopting an overall healthy lifestyle. You can start by improving your diet. Include more pomegranates, fatty fish (sardines, salmon, trout), olive oil, ginger, and leafy greens like kale and Swiss chard. You’ll also want to eliminate or decease some foods from your diet, including soy, processed foods, and alcohol, as these foods may lower testosterone levels.
You may also consider taking natural supplements to support testosterone function, but be sure to speak with your practitioner before starting any regimen, especially if you’re using testosterone therapy.
NuMedica’s Functional Male is a blend of eight synergistic ingredients that can help support testosterone levels, support sexual health, and increase energy in men. It can also help support dopamine and cortisol levels.
ResTor-T, by Compounded Nutrients, takes an herbal approach to managing stress, which can impact cortisol levels. This is important because high cortisol levels can lead to low testosterone levels.
Beyond what you eat, how much you sleep matters as well. One study found that poor sleep, even for a week, had a major impact on men’s testosterone levels. If you have chronic sleeping issues, this can wreak havoc on your hormones or even introduce adrenal fatigue, which can only further issues with your testosterone.
Creating a nighttime ritual that facilitates better sleep is key—that might mean stretching or taking a bath before bed or getting into bed earlier than you would normally.
More so, you’ll want to ensure that you’re getting adequate exercise, as it can improve the effects of testosterone therapy, according to research. Specifically, there is some evidence that high intensity interval training, or HIIT) can actually increase testosterone. In fact, research shows that exercising while using testosterone therapy is more effective versus than just testosterone therapy alone.
This Men’s Health Month, take the initiative and speak to your doctor if there are any health issues affecting your life.
If you’re ready to take the step toward hormonal balance, happiness, and true wellness, the bioidentical hormone specialists within the BodyLogicMD network are here to help support you every step of the way. You don’t have to suffer the effects of low testosterone any longer.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.