When we think of testosterone, body builders spring to mind. But there is more to this powerful hormone than traditional masculine traits.
Everyone produces testosterone, although as the primary male sex hormone, men do have considerably higher levels than women. Testosterone is responsible for sexual arousal, sperm production (and biceps!), but the hormone comes with a range of other important functions.
‘Testosterone is the metabolism hormone,’ says men's health specialist Dr Jeff Foster. ‘It is responsible for male sexual characteristics, but also has a role in protecting against cardiovascular disease, bone density, concentration, memory, mood, muscle strength and fat metabolism.’
Is low testosterone normal?
While testosterone levels are usually high for young men, production tapers off and a decrease in testosterone is a natural part of the aging process.
‘In men, testosterone increases from puberty up until the age of 30, when it is generally accepted that there is a decline of about 1 per cent production per year,’ says Dr Foster. ‘This is an average, however, and the studies seem to show anything from 0.4 - 2 per cent.’
'If your testosterone levels were naturally at the higher end of normal, you may never notice them drop,' says Dr Foster. 'However, if your levels are at the lower limit, it may not take many years before age related testosterone deficiency shows a clinical effect.'
Do you have testosterone deficiency?
Tired, overweight and feeling listless? While a decrease is a natural part of the aging process, for some men it can lead to health complications.
Testosterone deficiency is also associated with low bone density, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, so if you are worried your testosterone levels might be low, it is worth getting checked out. Symptoms of low testosterone include:
- Central obesity
- Decreased sport performance
- Loss of sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Poor memory
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Take the ADAM questionnaire
Take the ADAM (Androgen Deficiency in the Aging Male) test to check if you have testosterone deficiency. Answer YES or NO to each of the following questions:
- Do you have a decrease in libido (sex drive)?
- Do you have a lack of energy?
- Do you have a decrease in strength and/or endurance?
- Have you lost height?
- Have you noticed a decreased enjoyment of life?
- Are you sad and/or grumpy?
- Are your erections less strong?
- Have you noticed a recent deterioration in your ability to play sports?
- Are you falling asleep after dinner?
- Has there been a recent deterioration in your work performance?
If you answered YES to questions 1, 7 or any 3 other questions, you may be experiencing androgen deficiency (low testosterone level).
✅ This questionnaire is not intended to replace a consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have any concerns, visit your GP. A testosterone test is a simple blood test carried out before 11am, with no sexual activity the night before.
How is low testosterone treated?
Depending on the cause, your doctor can prescribe a testosterone replacement treatment to normalise your testosterone levels with a tablet, patch, gel, implant or injection.
Evidence suggests that with regular monitoring, testosterone treatment for men is safe, effective and relatively free of side effects when it is prescribed appropriately.
If low testosterone is lifestyle induced, then improving your health and fitness can have a positive impact on your testosterone levels.
Natural ways to boost testosterone levels
Dr Foster recommends the following natural remedies to boost your testosterone levels:
- Sleep is a major factor: we produce our testosterone in the early hours of the morning but only if we have had at least three hours of deep sleep. This requires a full night's sleep to allow our bodies to produce it.
- Eat adequate protein: low protein can be associated with higher levels of sex hormone binding globulin, a protein which binds to testosterone and prevents it being released/used.
- Don’t drink too much: alcohol as well as many other medications including opiate pain killers are known to suppress testosterone levels and raise oestrogen.
- Keep fit: exercise naturally produces testosterone - there is no major difference in aerobic vs anaerobic exercise but it is the intensity that matters.
- Stay in shape: if you are too fat or too thin, either extreme will push the body to reduce testosterone - starvation state means reduced sex hormone production, obesity means we suppress production through negative feedback and increased oestrogen.
- Avoid supplements: there are no legal over the counter natural testosterone boosting supplements available.