Please Note: This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you have any health concern, see a licensed healthcare professional in person.
Popularly known as the male sex hormone, testosterone actually impacts several areas of the brain and is responsible for much more than libido. An imbalance in testosterone, or between testosterone and other hormones and enzymes it interacts with, can impact both men’s and women’s bodies—as well as their mental and behavioral health.
In men, low testosterone can cause various symptoms from fatigue to depression, and potentially body dysmorphia or low self-esteem issues due to physical changes like reduced muscle mass and sexual dysfunction. High testosterone often leads to aggressive or hostile behavior and also interferes with sleep.
Here are some of the ways that keeping your T-levels in check will also boost mental clarity and health:
Improves cognitive abilities
It’s clear that testosterone plays an important role in memory and other cognitive functions, but results have varied highly over many years of research.
One meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Neuroscience found that testosterone injections could have either a negative or positive effect on verbal memory, with longer studies reporting better results in both men and women.
A nearly five-decade study completed in 2003 looked at the correlation between testosterone and Alzheimer’s disease in a pool of 574 male participants from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging.
After following up with participants, researchers found that men who had developed Alzheimer’s also had low levels of free testosterone, and that the reduction in T-levels happened before diagnosis.
While this doesn’t mean that low testosterone in any way causes Alzheimer’s or dementia, it is one reason you should know your body and what symptoms to look out for.
Protects against depression
Testosterone has a complex relationship with multiple neural networks, including those regulating mood. For a long time, researchers have wondered if women were more prone to depression than men because they have less testosterone. Imbalances between testosterone and other hormones like estradiol can cause depression symptoms in women, but it’s more complicated than just high or low testosterone.
A study conducted by the University of Florida examined the protective factors of testosterone against depression and anxiety. What they discovered is that most testosterone in the brain is converted to estrogen by interacting with a specific enzyme. Problems with that enzyme can lead to symptoms of both anxiety and depression in men because it prevents that conversion.
Helps Boost your self-esteem
Testosterone levels affect physical characteristics like body hair, muscle mass, and of course, sexual potency. While these things may not seem to affect your mental health directly, the fact is many people develop poor relationships with their bodies—and themselves—when they aren’t happy with their appearance or performance.
Low self-esteem not only causes negative feelings of sadness or anger at your body but can create serious body image issues. Body dysmorphia occurs when your idea of what your body looks like is worse than it actually is, and you could find yourself going to extreme lengths to “fix” yourself. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that a full third of people with an eating disorder are male.
Get a better nights sleep
The Harvard Health Blog says that high testosterone levels in men can cause insomnia, or the inability to sleep, and this can compound or increase the side-effects of high-T.
Sleep is necessary for multiple physical and neurological processes, like digestion, memory storage, and emotionally processing the events of the day. When you don’t get enough sleep, or your sleep isn’t restful enough, you end up holding onto all the small stresses and irritations that you’d normally just forget about.
This will leave you feeling fatigued and lethargic as well as increasingly frustrated with even minor obstacles and inconveniences. Feelings of hostility and snapping or lashing out are the most common symptoms of sleep deprivation. Problems with digestion and metabolic function can also cause weight gain, on top of that already associated with testosterone imbalances.
Be the man your family needs
One of the most commonly known side-effects of high testosterone in men is increased aggression, irritability, and hypervigilance. Some studies suggest the changes are minor, although one male contraceptive trial found that “increased circulating T was associated with significant increases in anger and hostility.”
A constant state of alertness or bursts of aggression can result in relational conflict and other dysfunctional living patterns. Marital discord is an obvious example, but behavioral changes can affect relationships at work, with friends, and with other family members, not just at home or in the bedroom.
Just like with men, low testosterone in women can cause depression and can lead to weight gain and a lowered sex drive. High testosterone is not only associated with severe health complications like diabetes and some cancers, but also increased aggression, depression, and even substance abuse.
So, while the word “testosterone” often brings to mind images of bodybuilders and macho men, it’s actually a vital hormone for mental and behavioral health. If you’re not sure what your testosterone levels are, it might be time to start tracking them.
This content is sponsored by William Horton.