Ever wondered what is responsible for a man’s sexual characteristics? It is primarily because of a hormone called testosterone. Testosterone is important for both men and women, though in men its role is more pronounced. In men, testosterone is secreted by certain cells in the testes called Leydig cells. In women the ovaries secrete it. The adrenal glands also secrete a little testosterone.
Testosterone has a prominent role to play in the formation of male tissues such as the testes and the prostate gland. It also promotes the development of muscle, body hair and increased bone mass. Testosterone is also important to live a healthy life and prevent osteoporosis.
Here are a few Functions of Testosterone.
- Responsible for the growth and maturation of the prostate gland and other male sexual organs such as the penis and the scrotum.
- Development of secondary characteristics such as a deep voice, beard and even auxiliary hair.
- Testosterone is also responsible for muscle mass, bone density, linear growth stimulation and maturation of bone.
- Libido and sexual function.
When the body does not produce enough testosterone, it can be said that testosterone insufficiency or low testosterone levels exist. It mainly occurs in middle age or in elderly men when the level of testosterone production in their body falls. The threshold below which symptoms may begin to show is 300 ng/dL.
As men age, the number of Leydig cells in their testes reduce; Leydig cells are mainly responsible for producing testosterone. When their number comes down, testosterone production will naturally decrease.
In others, the hypothalamic pituitary function might be dysfunctional. This will decrease luteinizing hormone levels, again leading to a reduction in testosterone. The former might be acquired or congenital.
It is said that every 4th man in the United States has low testosterone levels. There is no medical cure for low testosterone. A patient who is suffering from it will usually have to undergo treatment. If you think you are suffering from low testosterone, here is some good news. Your doctor may be able to diagnose the condition based on your medical history, signs, symptoms and even some blood tests.
What are the Symptoms of Low Testosterone?
Low testosterone levels can affect any male over the age of 30. Here are some common symptoms of low testosterone.
Decrease in The Libido: When testosterone levels go down, the libido also decreases and this may happen to both men and women.
Depression: Men who have low testosterone levels are four times more likely than others to suffer from depression.
Energy Deficit: If your energy level has declined lately, it may be because of low testosterone level.
Decrease in Height: Testosterone is very important for bone strength. If you think you are loosing some height, it may be due to low testosterone.
Decreased Strength: Testosterone is very important for muscle mass. Decreased strength or even endurance may be due to a decrease in testosterone level.
Health Issues: Low testosterone levels can also cause obesity, thyroid issues, Type 2 Diabetes and more.
Testicles are Shrinking: Low levels of testosterone can sometimes shrink the testicles. Some men have also reported a numb feeling in their testicles.
Not able to Father Children: Some men with low testosterone levels will not be able to father children because of low or even zero sperm count.
Low testosterone levels can also cause erectile dysfunction, hot flashes and sweats.
Conditions Associated With Low Testosterone
According to a report by the Endocrine Society, there are some conditions that could be associated with low testosterone levels. Here are some of them.
- A mass in the sellar turcia region (the region of the skull which holds the pituitary gland), radiation directed at this region or any disease that has affected this region.
- Ingesting medications that may affect the production of testosterone such as opioids and glucocortocoids.
- Weight loss associated with HIV.
- Renal disease in the end stage and people who are undergoing maintenance hemodialysis.
- People who are suffering from obstructive lung disease.
- Diabetes mellitus Type 2
- Osteoporosis or a fracture can also be caused because of low testosterone.
If you have any of these conditions, you may be suffering from low testosterone levels. If you have Diabetes mellitus Type 2, you should get your testosterone level checked.
What Can Happen When your Level of Testosterone goes Down?
Before a person begins testosterone replacement therapy or even before it is determined that an individual has low testosterone levels, it is important to know what can happen when the testosterone levels go down.
It is important to treat low testosterone levels or testosterone insufficiency. The side effects have been widely documented.
Affects Organs and Leads to Osteoporosis
Testosterone insufficiency affects many organs. Muscle mass decreases as does bone density and strength. As people grow older, many stoop over. Some cannot even hold their head high. This is most likely a result of osteoporosis, which can be attributed to low levels of testosterone.
Body Mass Increase
Low levels of testosterone can also cause an increase in body mass, for example in the waist area. Some of it will even cling on to organs such as the liver and intestine. An increase in abdominal fat will further decrease levels of testosterone, leading to a vicious cycle, where more fat starts accumulating.
It is not only for aesthetic reasons why increase in visceral fat is such a problem. There is some evidence that when visceral fat accumulates, over time it can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Affect on The Brain
Low testosterone levels will also affect the brain. In the brain, testosterone has many receptors. Therefore it is not a surprise that low levels of testosterone can lead to depression, social isolation, decrease in spatial memory, lowering of libido, and a decrease in assertiveness and well being.
Contributes to damage in vascular tissues and nerves in sexual organs
Impotence is not usually attributed to low testosterone. The main reason is damage to the vascular structures and nerves. But low levels of testosterone certainly increase this damage. Nearly 5%-10% of people who suffer from impotence have a low level of testosterone.
Erectile dysfunction and Larger Refractory period
Testosterone levels certainly have an effect on the refractory period and erectile dysfunction. Some of these symptoms may improve with testosterone replacement therapy.
Low Blood Count
Finally, when a man has low testosterone levels, normal blood count may not be maintained.
How to Improve Testosterone Levels Naturally?
If you are suffering from symptoms like a decrease in your sex drive, low concentration, depressed mood or even erectile dysfunction, the cause may be low testosterone levels. If you think this is the problem, get your levels tested. Know that testosterone levels will not be the same at all times of the day.
If your levels are indeed low, here are some steps that will naturally improve your testosterone levels without having to resort to testosterone replacement therapy.
Lose Some Weight
According to a new study by the Endocrine Society, middle aged men who are overweight; who have impaired tolerance to glucose and low testosterone levels, can increase their levels of testosterone by almost 50% by reducing their weight. Try this before you go in for TRT.
Overweight men have a higher chance of suffering from low testosterone levels. By shedding excess pounds, you might be able to trick your body into increasing its level of testosterone.
Anyone who wants to loose weight seriously has to limit processed sugar in their diet. There is mounting evidence to say that sugar or particularly fructose, is one of the main factors for obesity. For starters you can cut cola from your diet. You can also limit your intake of fructose by limiting processed foods, excessive fruit, fruit juice that is sweetened and others.
Your total intake of sugar everyday should be less than 25 grams, especially when you are resistant to insulin. This is also true if you are overweight, if your blood pressure or cholesterol is high or if you have diabetes.
Engage in Some High Intensity Exercises (intermittent fasting will also help)
You can boost your testosterone levels through short term intense exercises and intermittent fasting. The positive effect of intense exercise on increasing testosterone levels has been recorded in many instances. It will also prevent its decline.
Intermittent fasting will increase the secretion of hunger hormones like insulin, leptin, colecystokinin and others. These hormones will indirectly increase testosterone levels, prevent decline due to aging and even increase libido.
Eat Food Rich in Zinc
Testosterone production is influenced by zinc. If you are suffering from low levels of testosterone, try supplementing zinc in your diet. A six week course will increase your levels substantially. Restricting zinc in your diet will lead to a drop in testosterone levels.
It is said that more than 45% of the people, aged 60 years and older in the US may have lower than average zinc intakes. Even when dietary supplements are taken, nearly 20%-25% may still have low zinc levels.
An adequate diet will increase zinc levels in your body. Foods rich in protein like fish, meat, raw milk, beans and raw cheese have a good amount of zinc. But note that dietary zinc can be difficult to obtain, both for vegetarians and non vegetarians because of our farming methods, which relies on pesticides and chemical fertilizers. So try zinc supplements instead.
Engage in Strength Training
Strength training can also boost testosterone levels in your body, but the exercise should be intense. To boost your testosterone levels, increase the weight but cut down on the reps. Focus on exercises that will work the most muscles like squats or dead lifts.
Optimize Vitamin D Intake
Vitamin D is actually a group of secosteroids. For human beings, the most important Vitamin D compounds are Vitamin D3 and Vitamin D2.
There is a strong relationship between Vitamin D and testosterone levels. A recent study found out that men who had Vitamin D deficiency (below 20ng/ml) had a lower level of free testosterone and high estrogen. The study also found that taking Vitamin D supplements could raise testosterone levels by as much as 20%.
The cells that produce testosterone have receptors for Vitamin D and hence Vitamin D supports the production of testosterone. It is also thought that Vitamin D inhibits the conversion of testosterone into estrogen, in a process known as aromatization.
Many people in the Unites States and in many other places over the world, are deficient in Vitamin D, because they are not spending adequate time in the sun. The body can synthesize Vitamin D from cholesterol when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Therefore Vitamin D is also called the ‘sunshine vitamin’. There is a test available to find out if there is enough Vitamin D in your body. It is better to get this test conducted if you are suffering from low testosterone levels. The optimum Vitamin D level is between 50 ng/ml and 70 ng/ml.
To increase your Vitamin D levels, step out in the sun for a few minutes every day – early mornings are preferable over the scorching noon sun. If exposure to sunlight is not an option, you can use a tanning bed. You can also trying taking oral Vitamin D3 supplements.
Reduce your Stress
When people undergo stress, their body produces an anti-stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is produced when the body undergoes chronic stress. The irony is, the body starts storing cortisol because it cannot negate it when stress is chronic. Vitamin D is also a steroid hormone, just like cortisol. Receptors are important for hormones to perform. When the number of receptors available comes down, so does the effect of Vitamin D.
Here is one more explanation. Behaviors that are associated with testosterone such as aggression, competing and mating are supposed to lower survival rates. Therefore cortisol will actually block testosterone from doing its job.
Chronic stress will elevate cortisol levels and in the long run, the effects of testosterone will be blocked. Try to reduce your stress by engaging in meditation, prayer, yoga and other techniques. Also try to sleep for regular hours.
Limit your Intake of Sugar or Even Eliminate it
Testosterone levels will decrease for some time after you eat sugar. This is because eating sugar will increase the level of insulin in your blood. Insulin is primarily responsible for the absorption of glucose by cells in the muscles, fat tissues and liver.
Limit your consumption of sugar and fructose via aerated drinks; fruit juices which have added sugar and more. Also try cutting back on pasta and bread.
Eat More Healthy Fats
Both saturated and unsaturated fats are important for building testosterone levels. Research has shown that when you get less than 40% of your energy from fat, your testosterone levels decrease. Healthy fat should make up 40%-70 % of your diet.
You need to include saturated fats that you can get from vegetable and animal sources (like diary, meat, and certain oils like coconut oil) in your diet. If you neglect this in favor of too much grain, sugar or other types of starchy carbs, your weight and health will certainly suffer. Here are some foods that will give your testosterone levels a boost.
- Palm oil
- Coconut oil and coconuts
- Raw nuts like pecans, almonds
- Meats from grass-fed animals
Testosterone Boosting Supplements
There are many supplements available that can increase your level of testosterone, improve your muscle mass, stamina, sexual appetite and your general health.
Compared to a young male, the body of older men produces less testosterone as they age. Strength and muscle mass are imperative for men. A testosterone booster can give your body that extra juice. But before you take a supplement, you have to do appropriate research so that you find a supplement that is ideal for you.
There are testosterone supplements that contain completely natural ingredients as well as formulated ones with chemical enhancers. Testosterone boosters can help you perform at your peak, enhance your muscle mass and offer many other benefits.
Expert Opinion from Professor Declan Naughton
Professor Declan Naughton is a Professor in Biomolecular Sciences at Kingston University, London. He is a PhD from Trinity College, Dublin and has many years of research experience.
He and his team at the School of Life Sciences at Kingston University have found that red wine could boost the performance of players and athletes by increasing their levels of testosterone. They found that red wine will decrease the quantity of testosterone excreted from the body.