Testosterone, an androgen hormone, is probably the most well-known male sex hormone. In addition to being responsible for sperm production and the development of male sexual features, testosterone is also essential in building and maintaining muscle mass and bone mass. The production of testosterone in men can be traced back to the testicles. After that, testosterone levels are regulated by the hypothalamus of the brain and the pituitary gland. As men grow older, it is natural to see a decrease in testosterone production, especially after the age of 30. This decrease is often the result of hypogonadism; the natural decline of testosterone production itself is a form of secondary hypogonadism. Low testosterone that causes andropause in men could also be caused by primary hypogonadism, which is a form of testicular failure that can be caused by a number of conditions, including:
- Congenital issues (such as Klinefelter syndrome or undescended testicles)
- Mumps orchitis
- Cancer treatment
- Injury to the testicles
This condition creates an extreme testosterone deficiency, leading to erectile dysfunction. Secondary hypogonadism refers to a testosterone deficiency that can be attributed to dysfunction in the pituitary gland or hypothalamus. In this condition, which is the source of testosterone deficiency most commonly associated with andropause, the testicles themselves are still functioning properly. Whatever the cause of a specific case of testosterone deficiency may be, the resulting imbalance can lead to a litany of men's health issues.
Erectile dysfunction is the inability to attain and maintain an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse or activity. ED can be the total inability to reach erection, an inconsistency to do so, or the inability to sustain it for extended periods of time. There are several causes of erectile dysfunction in men, several of which are influenced by hormones.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can have a detrimental effect on testosterone. Prolactin, a chemical secreted from the brain's pituitary gland, plays a key role in erectile dysfunction. High levels of prolactin can cause testosterone levels to decrease. Underactive thyroid hormones, or hypothyroidism, also stimulate the production of prolactin and diminish testosterone levels. Excess levels of testosterone, which are overwhelmingly the result of steroid use, can shrink the testicles and negatively impact sperm production. While this can lead to infertility, excess levels of testosterone are relatively rare in men and are not known to negatively affect erectile function. Other contributors to erectile dysfunction include liver and kidney disease which can create hormone imbalances. For example, liver disease can cause high levels of estrogen in the male body, effectively contributing to erectile dysfunction. Constriction of the veins, diabetes, and blood pressure medication are also leading causes of erectile dysfunction.
The Relationship between Low Testosterone and Erectile Dysfunction
Hormones regulate the functions in your body. They work in concert to help your body function optimally, if one is not at optimal levels, it will affect the others. So when there is a deficiency or excess of a particular hormone in your body, you will experience any number of symptoms of hormonal imbalance.
In andropause, low testosterone levels lead to a number of unwelcome symptoms, including erectile dysfunction. Testosterone affects both the ability and capability of a man to produce an erection. Diminished testosterone reduces libido or sex drive and in turn can affect the ability to develop and sustain an erection. In some cases, the sexual desire is there but men are incapable of an erection. This is because the brain is supposed to signal the release of nitric oxide which relaxes the muscles of penis, allowing blood flow. If nitric oxide is not released, like in the case of too much plaque in the arteries where nitric oxide is produced, it is difficult for a man to achieve an erection.
As mentioned before, andropause and secondary hypogonadism go hand-in-hand. After the age of 30, the production of testosterone naturally begins to decrease. As testosterone levels decrease, estrogen beings to take over; that is why the symptoms of low testosterone so closely mirror the symptoms of estrogen dominance, which include:
- Weight gain
- Loss of muscle mass
However, the first symptom that men will often notice or act upon is sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction doesn't just cover erectile issues either; it also covers the loss of libido or sexual drive, which are also symptoms of low testosterone levels. Although secondary hypogonadism and low testosterone levels are often a natural byproduct of the aging process, these conditions can also be the result of using certain medications, such as opiates and glucocorticoids.
How to Treat Low Testosterone
Fortunately, there are natural ways to address the pitfalls of testosterone deficiency. By making some lifestyle adjustments, men can begin to correct their inadequate levels of testosterone. The most prominent of these lifestyle adjustments would be to lose weight. The relationship between testosterone deficiency and being overweight can be described as a feedback loop, wherein these two conditions contribute to one another and feed off each other. Losing that extra weight can help reduce estrogen dominance and restore some balance to testosterone levels. Reducing stress is another way to have a positive effect on testosterone deficiency and, by extension, erectile dysfunction. Consistently high levels of stress (aka chronic stress) leads to an excess of cortisol, which contributes to estrogen dominance. These two lifestyle choices can improve sexual function, but that may not be enough for men as they reach the age of 30 and beyond. After all, experiencing a decrease in testosterone production is a natural part of the aging process for men.
Inadequate levels of testosterone can lead to more serious issues than sexual dysfunction, as well. Many studies suggest that testosterone deficiency can also lead to an increased risk of heart attack, other forms of cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Compound that with the fact that low testosterone levels can also contribute to brittle bones and an increased risk of osteoporosis, and it's safe to say that testosterone deficiency is no joke and should be taken very seriously.
BodyLogicMD-affiliated physicians have successfully helped men with erectile dysfunction using a comprehensive treatment plan that includes bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, nutritional, and targeted supplement regimens. If low levels of testosterone or other male hormones are causing you to experience erectile dysfunction, it is likely that balancing those hormones to normal levels could resolve erectile dysfunction. A simple test to determine your hormone levels will help your physician determine if your erectile dysfunction is caused by low testosterone. If you are found to be experiencing the effects of low testosterone levels, bioidentical hormone therapy may be your ideal solution.
Contact the BodyLogicMD-affiliated bioidentical hormone specialist nearest you to schedule an appointment and learn more about how testosterone replacement therapy can solve erectile dysfunction and other sexual problems.