What is testosterone?
Testosterone is a hormone that is produced primarily in the testicles for men and the ovaries and adrenal glands for women. This hormone is essential to the development of male growth and masculine characteristics. For women, testosterone comes in much smaller amounts. Testosterone production increases about 30 times more during adolescence and early adulthood. After early adulthood, it’s natural for levels to drop slightly each year. Your body may see a one percent decline after you’re 30 years old.
Testosterone plays a key role in your:
muscle mass and bones
facial and pubic hair
body’s development of deeper voices
mood and quality of life
verbal memory and thinking ability
See your doctor if you’re concerned about low testosterone. Because it’s natural to have low testosterone as you age, some symptoms such as decreased muscle mass, increased body fat, or erectile dysfunction may be a sign of other conditions.
You may be interested in boosting your testosterone levels if your doctor says you have low levels, or hypogonadism, or need testosterone replacement therapy for other conditions. If you have normal testosterone levels, increasing your testosterone levels may not give any additional benefits. The increased benefits mentioned below have only been researched in people with low testosterone levels.
What are the benefits of increasing your testosterone levels?
- Healthy heart and blood
A healthy heart pumps blood to the rest of the body, providing muscles and organs with the oxygen needed for peak performance. Testosterone helps red blood cell production through the bone marrow. Low testosterone levels are linked to a variety of cardiovascular risks.
But can testosterone replacement therapy help with heart disease? Study results are mixed. Small studies in the early 2000s found that men with heart disease who underwent testosterone therapy saw only slight improvements. Some were able to increase their walking distance by 33 percent. Another study found that hormone therapy only widened healthy arteries but had no effect on angina pain.
A more recent, larger study of 83,000 men found that men whose testosterone levels returned to normal were 24 percent less likely to have a heart attack and 36 percent less likely to experience a stroke.
- Less fat, more muscle
Testosterone is responsible for increased muscle mass. Leaner body mass helps control weight and increases energy. For men with low testosterone, studies show that treatment can decrease fat mass and increase muscle size and strength. Some men reported a change in lean body mass but no increase in strength. It’s likely you’ll see the most benefits when you combine testosterone therapy with strength training and exercise.
- Stronger bones
Testosterone plays a huge role in bone mineral density. Bone density decreases as men age and testosterone levels drop. This raises the risk of weak bones and osteoporosis. Strong bones help support your muscles and internal organs, which can boost athletic performance.
Research shows that bone density increases with testosterone treatment as long as the dose is high enough. Clinical trials on the effect of testosterone on bone density found increases in spinal and hip bone density. Another study of females transitioning into males found that testosterone increased bone mineral density. But it’s unknown if testosterone can help with reducing fracture risk.
- Better verbal memory, spatial abilities, or mathematical reasoning
Research shows that men with higher ratios of total testosterone have a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. There’s also evidence for a strong correlation between testosterone and thinking abilities such as verbal memory and faster processing speed. Testosterone treatment for men 34 to 70 years old has shown an improvement in spatial memory.
- Better libido
Testosterone levels naturally rise in response to sexual arousal and activity. Men with higher levels of testosterone usually have greater sexual activity. Older men need more testosterone for libido and erectile function. But it’s important to note that erectile dysfunction is often due to other conditions or medications rather than low testosterone levels.
Studies show that testosterone therapy can benefit your sexual health and performance. It also shows that there is a maximum level of testosterone before there’s no increased response. For men who don’t have hypogonadism, increasing your testosterone may not benefit your libido.
- Improved mood
Lower testosterone levels are associated with poorer quality of life. Some of the symptoms of low testosterone levels include depression, fatigue, and irritability. But some research shows that this may only be for men with hypogonadism. Men whose bodies follow the normal decrease of testosterone over time didn’t show an increase for depression.
The effects of testosterone replacement therapy on mood can vary. Men with hypogonadism reported improved mood and well-being, and reduced fatigue and irritability. Research suggests that this treatment may also be an effective anti-depressant treatment.
What are the risks of testosterone therapy?
Prescription testosterone treatments are available as gels, skin patches, and intramuscular injections. Each comes with potential side effects. Patches can irritate skin. Intramuscular injections may cause mood swings. If you use the gel, don’t share the product with others.
Possible side effects of testosterone therapy include:
decreased testicular size
decreased sperm count
increased aggressive behaviors
Testosterone treatment is not advised for men with prostate or breast cancer. Additionally, testosterone therapy may worsen sleep apnea in older people.
Considering testosterone replacement therapy?
Treatment is not necessary if your levels fall within the normal range. Testosterone replacement therapy is primarily beneficial for men with low testosterone levels. Don’t purchase testosterone without a prescription. See your doctor if you think you might have low levels of testosterone. A blood test can determine your testosterone levels and help diagnose underlying conditions.
Doctors and researchers have varying opinions regarding the effectiveness of testosterone replacement therapy. Most agree that study results are mixed for most conditions.
A healthy diet and regular exercise are necessary for good health and to ensure the maximum effectiveness of testosterone treatment. Follow-up care and monitoring is recommended.
Natural ways to increase your testosterone levels
Some foods, vitamins, and herbs can help boost your testosterone levels. Be sure to talk to your doctor, if you’re concerned about low testosterone. These alternative and natural treatments aren’t proven to be more, or as, effective as traditional testosterone therapy. Some may also interact with any medications you may be taking and cause unintended side effects.