Testosterone is a male hormone that is responsible for reproductive and sexual development. While women do produce some testosterone, the National Institutes of Health hold it as the most important hormone for men.
It’s essential for the development of male sex organs ahead of birth, and is vital during puberty when the secondary sex characteristics are being formed, including an increase in penis and testes size, growth of facial and body hair, and deepening of the voice. As well, it’s used to regulate the fat distribution, sperm production, red cell production, sex drive, and the maintenance of the strength and mass of muscles.
For women, testosterone takes more of a secondary role in body development. Women do need it, however they rely on other hormones more. It helps regulate sex drive and red cell production, as well as maintain the strength and mass of muscles, however it has a far more insignificant effect on body growth.
Both sexes benefit from testosterone, and thats why its important that its properly regulated. Often during the early 30’s, the production of testosterone will decrease. However, there are cases where the body produces either too much or too little for our bodies regular needs. Once again, both cases can occur in women and men, so it’s important to speak with your doctor on the subject. You should be prepared to open up a dialogue with a health professional if you see any of the signs of symptoms below in your life.
What are the Effects of High Testosterone?
It is important to note that cases of high testosterone are very rare. Adrenal tumors, hyperthyroidism, and precocious puberty are all able to cause it, however none of these are common occurrences. Those with high testosterone are likely abusing steroids, and the ones most likely to do this are individuals involved in the athletic community.
Depression is often described as heightened feelings of sadness, but the actual definition describes these feelings to be more akin to severe despondency and dejection. Sadness isn’t enough to describe it. More often than not, depression makes the individual perceive themselves to be isolated, causing them to lose interest in hobbies, activities and social interactions. High testosterone levels in those over 35 are often linked to depression, especially for women. This is caused by the body attempting to regulate itself through this large hormonal imbalance.
Though this is most common in men, anyone who has a higher testosterone level will often respond to a situation in a hostile manner. Short tempers, overreactions to annoyances or inconveniences, even violence can occur in more extreme cases.
Decrease Testicular Size/Sperm Count:
One of the reasons for this is that the excess testosterone will actually be converted into estrogen. Male reproductive organs will end up making less sperm. If you notice a significant change in testicular size, it is important that you speak with a doctor immediately.
Frequent and Major Mood Swings:
Everyone experiences mood swings in their lives. It just happens sometimes, and no one should feel ashamed for it. The problem with this case is that they’re frequent and major. Most often a mood swing means going between two emotions in a short time, but high testosterone can cause this to be several emotions in the range of a minute. They may start out angry, and then suddenly they’ll be in tears, and almost right away they’ll be smiling. They might become suddenly impulsive, then immediately talk themselves out of their impulsions. These play a major role in aggression as well, often triggered by inconsequential situations.
This is a symptom for higher and lower testosterone, however in higher it is often related to some of the things above. While it’s thought that a higher testosterone level would increase the sex drive and libido, it’s actually able to do just the opposite. You mood will greatly affect your libido, so if you’re going through some major mood swings then your sex life may not be very active.
Learn more about the treatments of male sexual dysfunction.
What are the Effects of Low Testosterone?
Your body will naturally lower how much testosterone it produces to meet your needs as you age. Though we often don’t feel the effects of this until we’re in our 60’s, the average start for the decreasing process is age 30. Low testosterone is much more common than high, though they have some similar signs and symptoms.
Erectile dysfunction is the inability of a man to maintain an erection sufficient enough for sexual activity. ED is almost never the result of just low testosterone; often there is a secondary cause, such as diabetes, physical conditions, even substance abuse. Know that, it is able to cause problems with sex organs. Testosterone is used in stimulating sex drives and maintaining erections. It helps to stimulate the receptors in the brain, as well as produce the nitric oxide in male sex organs.
Perimenopause, also known as “pre-menopause” or “early menopause” is the length of time before and up to one year after the final menstrual period for women. The amount of testosterone in a woman decreases during menopause. However, low levels of testosterone can cause perimenopause to occur even earlier begin to show menopausal symptoms, such as lowered libido, fatigue, irregular periods, etc.
Hair Growth and Loss:
An enzyme known as 5-alpha reductase is what’s responsible for making dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which is responsible for hair growth. It’s in the skin and allows hair to grow in a given place. As you age the DHT will be distributed differently throughout your body, which means not only is your hair thinning out on top, but it’s probably increasing on your face, back, chest, or other places. Decreased testosterone doesn’t necessarily mean hair loss, rather it’s more akin to hair growth irregularity.
Increased Body Fat and Loss of Muscle Mass:
As mentioned before, testosterone plays a major role in building and maintaining muscle mass. This means that if you have less testosterone then you likely will have less muscle mass. This does not necessarily mean a loss of strength or function, but it can mean an increase in overall body fat. Men will eventually see their testosterone decline into a state of “adrenopause” where they have a partial androgen deficiency. Testosterone plays a vital role in how our bodies balance glucose, insulin, and fat metabolism.
Men may experience gynecomastia, which is when the breast tissue swells because of an imbalance in the estrogen and testosterone levels. Commonly, men experience swollen breast gland tissues and tenderness, and in some cases, discharge from one or both nipples. Gynecomastia is not necessarily even between the breasts, and may only end up affecting one of them.
Osteoporosis is a medical condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue, typically as a result of hormonal changes, or deficiency of calcium or vitamin D. Simply put, it is the thinning of bone mass, and this condition is often associated with women, but men with low testosterone can also experience this as well, as testosterone helps maintain that bone density and mass. Bones from an individual with this are much easier to break.
How Could Hypogonadism Affect Me?
This condition is when the body is unable to produce enough testosterone. It is a completely separate entity from simply having lower testosterone levels, as it is a condition that you are either born with or develops later in life as the result from an injury or infection. You don’t need hypogonadism to experience the above listed symptoms. Still, it’s vital that we know what the symptoms are for all life stages:
- Ambiguous genitalia
- Female genitals on a genetically male child
- Underdeveloped male genitalia
In pubescent boys:
- Lack of muscle mass development
- No deepening of the voice
- Lack of hair on the body and face
- A slow increase in the testicle and penis size
- Arms and legs that grow out of proportion to the rest of the body
Men after puberty:
- Low sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Little body or facial hair
- The growth of the breast tissue
Men should also expect the following symptoms, as testosterone levels will drop with age:
- Lower libido
- Trouble in staying concentrated
- Changes in sleep patterns
What Happens in Testosterone Replacement Therapy?
If a doctor confirms that you have a strangely low testosterone level then they might suggest you get treatment. Some of the ways this testosterone replacement therapy can be performed is as follows:
- Transdermal (Aka “Skin Patch”): Applied once a day, these are patches not dissimilar to bandages that are worn on the upper body or arms. The patches contain the the patient’s prescription, which is then absorbed through the skin in a steady and controlled manner.
- Mouth Patch: Similar to skin patches, mouth patches are tablets that stick to the upper gums, just above the incisors and are applied twice daily.
- Gels: These lotions will be rubbed on the skin, usually once a day, and the medicine will be absorbed in this way.
- Injections/Implants: Just as they say, these are implanted or injected for direct addition of testosterone into the bloodstream, and thusly your system.
- Pills: These can be problematic for your liver. It is not recommended to use this treatment outside of uncontrolled variables, such as allergic reactions to other treatments.
Testosterone replacement therapy does come with risks. The immediate side effects are normally mild, things like acne or irregular breathing patterns while sleeping. The long term ones can be dangerous though. It’s been reported that men who are on testosterone are more at risk of developing cardiovascular issues, like heart disease, heart attacks, or stroke, and while research has yet to confirm there is a concern that testosterone replacement therapy is able to stimulate the growth of prostate cancer cells. It’s best you speak with your doctor before you make any major or rash decisions. You speak with them about getting your testosterone levels tested, and then determine what the risks are for you and what the next steps, if any, are that you should take.
Along with that, enter the idea of testosterone replacement therapy with realistic expectations. The therapy isn’t a magical cure for getting older, and if your symptoms are just a part of the aging process then most doctors will advise against you receiving it.