Testosterone has become a very in-vogue term. Many patients come into the office specifically asking for their testosterone levels to be checked. The pharma industry has aggressively pursued direct-to-consumer advertising of testosterone replacement products, which has promoted a grass-roots awareness of testosterone issues, a topic that was previously the domain of urologists and endocrinologists.
So what is testosterone?
Testosterone (or T) is that all-important male hormone that goes way beyond male sexuality and is now regarded as a key factor in men’s health. Aside from contributing to libido, masculinity and sexual function, T is responsible for the physical changes that begin at puberty, including pubic, underarm and facial hair, deepening voice, prominent Adam’s apple and increased bone and muscle mass. Additionally, T contributes to your mood, bone and muscle strength, red blood cell count, energy, and general mojo.
What are the symptoms of low testosterone?
Most testosterone is manufactured in the testicles, although a small percentage is made by the adrenal glands. There is a gradual decline in T that occurs with the aging process—approximately a 1% decline each year after age 30. This will occur in most men, but will not always be symptomatic. 40% of American men aged 45 or older have low or low range T.
Low T is associated with diabetes, bone mineral loss, and altered sexual function. Specifically, symptoms of low T may include one or more of the following:
- decreased libido
- erectile dysfunction
- impaired orgasmic function
- decreased energy and sense of well being
- loss of muscle and bone mass
- increased body fat
- abnormal lipid profiles.
How obesity and lifestyle choices can affect testosterone levels
Obesity plays a pivotal role in the process leading to low T. Fat is not just fat—it is a metabolically active endocrine organ that does way more than just protrude from your abdomen. Fat has an abundance of the hormone aromatase, which functions to convert testosterone to the female sex hormone estrogen. The consequence of too much conversion of testosterone to estrogen is the potential for gynecomastia, (a.k.a. man boobs). Too much estrogen slows testosterone production, and with less testosterone, more abdominal obesity occurs and even more estrogen is made, a vicious cycle of emasculation.
The good news is that by losing abdominal fat, the unfortunate consequences of low T can often be reversed.
How to naturally boost your testosterone levels
- A healthy lifestyle, including good eating habits, maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in exercise, obtaining adequate sleep, moderation with respect to alcohol intake, avoiding tobacco, and stress reduction are the initial approaches to treating low T. Insufficient sleep can lower T, and excessive alcohol increases the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Maintaining an active sex life can help maintain T.
- Lose the abdominal fat, with the caveat that a sufficient caloric intake of quality food and nutrients is necessary to prevent the body going into “starvation mode,” which can substantially decrease T production.
- In terms of exercise, a healthy balance of aerobic, resistance, and core training is best. In particular, vigorous resistance exercise is crucial. This will help the flabby abdomen disappear and build lean muscle mass, which in turn will increase your metabolic rate.
Other treatment options for low testosterone
If lifestyle modifications fail to improve the symptoms of low T and levels remain measurably low via a simple blood test, a trial of T replacement under the supervision of your doctor can provide a meaningful improvement of your quality of life.