Hormones rule our bodies in nearly every way — they contribute to growth, mood, reproduction and even the regulation of hunger — and as such, hormonal balance is critical for our health. While we all have many different and necessary hormones that contribute to this balance, testosterone is the most influential for men, and having low testosterone carries a host of side effects.
As men age, many will experience low testosterone levels, but it does not need to be cause for alarm. “Patients need to understand that having low testosterone is not an unusual condition and can be treated safely, economically and effectively,” said Mark Leo, MD, Director of Operations at Urology Specialists of Nevada and a member of the medical staff at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center.
What does testosterone do?
Both men and women produce testosterone, but women do so in significantly smaller amounts than men. In men, testosterone controls the development and maintenance of male characteristics.
“Depending on the man’s age, testosterone — produced in the testicles — is responsible for various bodily functions,” Leo said. Testosterone propels puberty for young men and continues to generate significant effects throughout the rest of their lives.
Testosterone causes and/or contributes to the following:
- Growth of male sexual organs
- Growth of body and facial hair
- Development of muscles and muscle mass
- Bone density
- Deepening of the voice
- Libido/sex drive
- Energy level
Low testosterone occurs when a man is unable to produce enough testosterone within his body. Aging is most often the cause for low testosterone, but there are other potential reasons. “The causes of low testosterone are either primary, as a result of damage or malfunction of the testes; or secondary, where the problem occurs within the pituitary axis of the brain. The most common of all of these relates to the normal process of aging,” Leo said.
Age is such a strong factor in low testosterone that the incidence of it is directly related to age group. While very rarely does low testosterone occur in men younger than 30, the likelihood of it gradually increases with each decade thereafter. “Approximately 30 percent of men age 50 experience low testosterone, 50 percent of men age 60, and 70 percent of men age 70,” Leo said.
The chances of a man having low testosterone in the later years of his life are very high, though many men are unaware of the possibility or embarrassed by the reality.
Symptoms of low testosterone
- Low energy/fatigue
- Erectile dysfunction
- Loss of muscle mass/reduced strength
- Decreased or diminished libido/sex drive
- Reduced bone density
- Low red blood cell concentration
Treating low testosterone
Low testosterone is most effectively treated using testosterone-replacement therapy, which can be administered by injection, patches, lozenges, topical gels or pellets inserted under the skin.
Depending on the patient and dosage, some treatment methods may be more preferable than others, but they’re all effective. The trick when treating low testosterone is finding the right dosage to supplement.
Too much testosterone can be dangerous, especially in older men or men with other medical conditions. Because of this, it’s imperative that testosterone-replacement therapy is not self-administered and is regularly monitored by a physician.
The emotional impact
For many, there is a stigma that comes with having low testosterone, especially as it relates to sexual performance. Because of this, many men don’t seek help when they should and in some cases, may not know that low testosterone is causing their symptoms.
“Low testosterone definitely causes emotional side effects. Loss of libido or erectile dysfunction can cause problems in relationships and self-esteem. Another problem we see is with men who are feeling depressed; often, men will begin being treated for clinical depression, when the cause of their depressed mood is actually low levels of testosterone,” Leo said.
Can women have low testosterone?
Testosterone is responsible for many of the same things in women as it is in men — including libido, energy level and building muscle mass. While women have much lower levels of testosterone than men do, they can experience the effects of having testosterone levels that are too low. There are many issues that may be linked to low testosterone for women, including the loss of libido, weight gain/difficulty losing weight, low energy/fatigue and mood swings.