Finding the level of testosterone that is “just right for me” should be your goal.
Like many kids growing up I identified with the “skinny 97-pound weakling” who got sand kicked in his face and sent in the coupon to get help from Charles Atlas. We now have modern versions of the “I can make YOU a new man, too, in only 15 minutes a day” philosophy of life. Here are a few headlines about testosterone and low T:
“REDUCED sex drive? Decreased energy? Unwanted mood or body changes? Is it low testosterone?”
“Bigger, faster, stronger? 5 benefits of testosterone”
“Feeling like a shadow of your former self?” “Lost your appetite for romance? The problem could be Low T.”
But what are the facts? We know that testosterone is an important hormone and we need the right amount to live well throughout our lives. If our testosterone gets too low we become fatigued, depressed, and irritable. I began research on testosterone in 1994 and my book Male Menopause drew upon my own research and studies that I found from all over the world. The book was later translated into 17 foreign languages.
I’ve continued my research and have learned a lot. Of course, I can’t get “everything you need to know” into a single article, but here are some of the questions that people often ask:
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is the most important sex hormone that men have. It is responsible for the typical male characteristics, such as facial, pubic, and body hair as well as muscle. This hormone also helps maintain sex drive, sperm production, bone health, and other important functions throughout the body.
How are testosterone levels measured?
A blood sample is taken from a vein. The best time for the blood sample to be taken is between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. (when testosterone levels are highest). Additional samples are often taken to confirm results that may be lower than normal. Simple tests measure the total amount of testosterone in the blood. But much of the testosterone in the blood is bound to a protein called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). It’s often important to measure both total testosterone and “free” or unbounded testosterone.
What are normal levels of testosterone?
- For males the normal range is 300 -1,100 ng/dl (that’s nanograms per deciliter)
- For females the normal range is 15-70 ng/dl
Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different specimens.
Is Low testosterone a problem for men?
In the short term, low testosterone (also called hypogonadism) can cause:
- A drop in sex drive
- Low sperm count
- Enlarged breasts
Over time, low testosterone may cause a man to lose body hair, muscle bulk and strength, and to gain body fat. Chronic (long-term) low testosterone may also cause weak bones (osteoporosis), mood changes, less energy, and smaller testes. Signs and symptoms (what you see and feel) vary from person to person.
Here are some additional things you should know:
- Testosterone and estrogen are the major players in sex hormone family.
They both start out as cholesterol, one of the chief building blocks of the body. Cholesterol is converted into testosterone by the action of enzymes and the conversion takes place in the testes, ovaries, and adrenal glands.
- Testosterone can be converted into estrogen, but estrogen cannot be converted back into testosterone.
As we will see this is important in insuring that there is a proper balance between testosterone and estrogen. When we put on weight and add fat to our bodies, more testosterone is converted to estrogen which is not good.
- Although our average testosterone levels stay within limits we inherit from our parents, many things can cause T levels to fluctuate.
Testosterone falls with ill health and physical exhaustion, for instance. It rises when we win important events or even when our favorite team wins. T falls when we lose or our team loses. It changes with our status in life. Men, for instance, have higher T levels when they are single and T declines when they get married and declines even more when they have children. Changes in T levels are usually temporary and ride along on top of our unique T levels that we have at birth.
- Testosterone acts on the brain and influences our minds and our behavior.
Centers in the brain stimulate the production of testosterone and it influences the brain and other parts of the body in turn. Each testosterone molecule lasts, at most, only a few hours before being taken up by receptor molecules in target cells located throughout the body or broken down and discarded when it is no longer needed by the cells. This helps account for the changing moods that can accompany a rise or fall in T levels.
- People differ in their testosterone levels.
Testosterone is more important in some people than in others. Remember the normal T range for men is 300 -1,100 ng/dl. A man who was 1,100 at age twenty and dropped to 300 by age fifty might have a number of uncomfortable symptoms. While a man who was 350 at age twenty and 300 by age fifty may experience no symptoms. Yet, both might test as having “normal” levels of T.
- Testosterone levels can shift up and down as required to meet life’s challenges.
Testosterone levels are higher when it’s time to be dominant and lower when it is time to avoid fights. Men are high in testosterone when they are competing for mates as adolescents and young adults. Women are high when they ovulate. When people and other animals are high in testosterone, they focus on sex and dominance, but often neglect other important aspects of their lives.
- Although there is a healthy range of Lower T and Higher T, levels that are too low can be a problem.
Endocrinologists find that testosterone levels that are too low can cause men to lose vitality and interest in sexual activity. Men with T levels that are too low can become more irritable and depressed. Low T levels may impact men’s health in other ways as well. Finding the level of T that is “just right for me” should be your goal.
The key to getting it right is learning as much as you can about testosterone and your own natural rhythms and cycles. It is also helpful to work with a good doctor or health-care practitioner who is expert in men’s health issues, hormonal changes, and how best to keep your testosterone levels in the optimal range throughout your life.
Have you ever thought you might have low T? Have you checked your levels? Have you tried testosterone replacement therapy (TRT)?For more information on my work with men or to learn more about testosterone, low T, and men’s health, contact me at www.MenAlive.com. The role of men is changing in the 21st century. Want to keep up? Get the best stories from The Good Men Project delivered straight to your inbox, here. Photo: Rennett Stowe/Flickr