Whenever one experiences growth hormones, peptide hormones, thyroid hormones, stress hormones or sex hormones, the body’s chemical messengers play a key role in many essential bodily functions and make a big difference in how we feel both emotionally and physically.
Testosterone, for instance, is a sex hormone that affects muscle mass, bone density, mood, body composition, libido, cognitive function and one’s immune system, per research available at the National Library of Medicine. Testosterone is essential in the development of male growth, but it’s also present in the ovaries and adrenal glands of women.
What are the symptoms of low testosterone?
Due to its many important functions in the body, it can be helpful to have one’s testosterone levels checked with a blood test if anything feels amiss. Signs and symptoms that could indicate diminished testosterone levels in men or women include frequent feelings of melancholy, sluggishness or tiredness, muscle weakness, decreasing sexual desire, sexual performance issues, or reduced sexual satisfaction. In women, low testosterone can also affect menstrual cycles and the frequency of periods.
Additional signs of low testosterone include a loss of body hair since testosterone promotes body hair growth. Diminished testosterone levels can also affect one’s ability to build and store muscles; low testosterone can cause one to gain fat instead and lead to sudden weight gain.
How common is low testosterone?
Such symptoms can be as disconcerting as they are common. Low testosterone levels affect about one in every four men over the age of 30, according to one report. And though less common in women since a woman’s main sex hormones are estrogen and progesterone, women can and often do also experience lower-than-normal levels of testosterone as well.
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How to increase testosterone?
Testosterone levels can be increased several ways – some natural and some that require medical intervention. The natural ways of increasing testosterone levels include improved sleep, decreasing one’s stress levels, a diet that includes plenty of protein, zinc and vitamin D and getting more exercise. Indeed, one study showed that increased physical activity was more beneficial than calorie restriction alone for increasing testosterone levels. Resistance training has also been shown to boost testosterone levels. Such benefits can be multiplied when they also mean dropping weight for people dealing with obesity. “For those who are overweight, weight loss will aid in increasing testosterone levels,” explains Dr. Disha Narang, an endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.
When it comes to medical interventions, there are a host of testosterone creams, supplements, and even injectables available – but the experts warn to use them with caution. “There are no FDA-approved supplements to increase testosterone levels, and any supplement touting sexual health or testosterone-boosting should be questioned for several possible associated risks,” warns Narang.
There are times, however, when testosterone therapy will be recommended by a physician for men or for women, sometimes for different reasons.
When women consider testosterone therapy, it’s often related to a condition called Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), explains Dr. Cynthia Stuenkel, a clinical professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “Testosterone can be administered to these women who are diagnosed with this (HSDD) postmenopausal-related decline in sexual interest,” she says. She adds that in such cases, when testosterone therapy is elected for women, clinicians often use only about 1/10 the dose of preparations approved for men since women produce and need significantly less testosterone than men in the first place.
Regardless of the recommended dose, it’s important to only medically increase testosterone levels under the care of a physician because there some possible negative side effects associated with the therapy. Such risks and side effects include acne or other skin reactions, a worsening of sleep apnea symptoms, enlarged breasts or a stimulating of a noncancerous growth of the prostate, increased risk of blood clot formations or even an increased risk of heart disease, per Mayo Clinic.
What’s more, “elevated testosterone levels in males are associated with decreased sperm count, shrinking of testicles and infertility,” warns Narang. Dr. Andrew Greenberg, director of the Obesity and Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, says that for these reasons and others, he recommends caution when considering the use of testosterone therapy.
“One needs to consult a physician who has experience in endocrinology and testosterone therapy if wanting to do this,” he suggests.
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Dr. Debi Johnson is a medical expert and health journalist dedicated to promoting well-being. With a background in medicine, she offers evidence-based insights into health trends and wellness practices. Beyond her reporting, Dr. Debi enjoys hiking, yoga, and empowering others to lead healthier lives.