Low testosterone is known as male hypogonadism, a condition wherein the body doesn’t produce sufficient testosterone or doesn’t produce healthy sperm in sufficient numbers. In many case, men can be impaired in both aspects.
Many men are born with hypogonadism while others develop it later in life, usually from an infection or injury affecting their testosterone-producing parts. These include the pituitary gland and testicles.
The effects of and treatment for hypogonadism will depend on several factors, such as its cause and the time in your life when it occurred. You and your doctor will decide about the proper treatments, if any, for your type of hypogonadism.
With that being said, here are the types of hypogonadism that result in abnormally low level of testosterone. Keep in mind that the following discussion also points to the cause of low testosterone levels, too.
Known as primary testicular failure, primary hypogonadismis usually caused by issues in the testicles particularly underactive testes. Basically, the testes don’t produce adequate levels of testosterone necessary for optimum growth and health. The condition can be inherited, as well as acquired via illness or injury.
The common causes for this condition include:
- Klinefelter syndrome, a condition resulting from an abnormality of the X and Y chromosomes present at birth (i.e., congenital defect). The testicles develop abnormally and, thus, causing underproduction of testosterone.
- Undescended testicles, a condition wherein the testicles don’t move downwards from the abdomen to the scrotum while the baby’s still in the womb. One or both of the testicles can be undescended. While it may resolve on its own during the baby’s first few years of life, it may also not do so, thus, requiring treatment during early childhood. Otherwise, the testicles will malfunction.
- Hemochromatosis, a condition characterized by abnormally high levels of iron in the blood. This causes either failure of the pituitary gland or testicles that, in turn, affects testosterone production.
- Mumps orchitis, an infection of both the salivary glands and testicles usually occurring in adolescence or adulthood. The infection can cause long-term damage to the testicles, too.
- Traumatic injury to the testicles, such as during an accident with a blunt object. Since the testicles are located outside of the abdomen, these are prone to injury.
- Cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, can also interfere with normal testosterone and sperm production. Unfortunately, permanent infertility is a possibility, thus, many men choose sperm preservation before starting on cancer therapy.
The treatment for primary hypogonadism will depend on its cause. For example, if the cause is undescended testicles, surgery may be necessary. In a few cases, such as in Klinefelter syndrome, there are no effective treatments known to man yet.
In secondary hypogonadism, the problem lies in the hypothalamus or pituitary gland, both of which are involved in testosterone production. The testicles, in contrast, are normal but their functions are impaired because of the issues in the abovementioned body parts.
By the way, the hypothalamus is located in the brain with its main role in testosterone production being the production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone. This hormone signals the pituitary gland, also located in the brain, to produce luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. These hormones, in turn, signal the testes to start testosterone production.
As with primary hypogonadism, there are also several causes of secondary hypogonadism. The treatment, if available, will depend on the cause, too.
- Pituitary disorders, such as tumors, can impair the release of the abovementioned hormones and, hence, adversely affect testosterone production. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery to remove the tumors can also affect the process.
- Kallman syndrome, a condition characterized by the abnormal development of the hypothalamus. If you have red-green color blindness and anosmia (the impaired ability to smell), your doctor may consider the syndrome, too.
- Inflammatory diseases, such as tuberculosis, can also affect the production of the male sex hormone.
- HIV and AIDS, which are considered as the scourge of the 20th century, can also result in significant reduction of testosterone production. This is because the diseases attacks the testosterone-producing parts of the body, namely, the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and testes.
- Certain medications, such as opiate pain medications, corticosteroids, and chemotherapy drugs used in cancer treatment, can also result in low testosterone levels. Alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking have also been linked to the health issue.
- Obesity, which is defined as a body mass index higher than 30 kg/m2, has been observed to reduce testosterone levels in men, too. In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, an increase of 4 to 5 kg/m2 BMI is linked to a testosterone level drop comparable to 10 years of natural aging.
Tip: Lose weight if you suspect low testosterone levels. You can enjoy sustained increases in your testosterone levels in the process, especially when the weight loss results are maintained.
- Concurrent illness, such as physical or emotional stress due to an underlying illness, or after surgery, or from work, can also reduce testosterone production. In this case, the hypothalamus sends out diminished signals, thus, the reduced testosterone levels. Fortunately, this can be resolved with the treatment of the underlying disease.
Of course, low testosterone levels can also be the result of the natural aging process. Pre-pubescent boys usually have low testosterone production than their older counterparts. Elderly men will also have low testosterone levels in comparison with their younger counterparts.
The bottom line: Testosterone production increases during puberty, attains its peak at 40 years of age, and then declines afterwards. Indeed, as men age, the decrease in testosterone production is slow but sure! The rate of decline in testosterone production varies greatly among men.
Regardless of the cause of your low testosterone levels, as determined via a simple blood test, you should work with your doctor in finding the best possible treatment. You may be prescribed medications to treat the underlying health issue, as well as dietary supplements, healthy diet and exercise program, and sensible lifestyle habits. Your chances of increasing your testosterone levels will improve with such a holistic approach.