Testosterone is widely known as the male sex hormone for good reasons. In men, it affects their sexual development and features, such as larger muscles, deeper voice, and more facial and body hair. It is also involved in the production of sperm and, thus, in male fertility.
Aside from the physical aspects, testosterone is also involved in the maintenance of mental function and emotional well-being. Due to the close connection between the physical and mental aspects of life, men who suffer from infertility will also likely experience depression.
Pre-pubescent boys usually have low testosterone levels while men 40 years old and below have high levels. But as men age, their testicles slow down on testosterone production, a natural effect of aging.
When testosterone levels in relatively healthy adult males decrease, the body releases the luteinizing hormone, which signals the testicles to produce more testosterone.
But what happens when testosterone levels become abnormally low? We’re not talking about pre-pubescent boys and elderly men. We’re talking about adult males whose testosterone levels should be within the normal levels but aren’t for now.
If you’re experiencing a few or several of these symptoms, you should be concerned and consider the possibility of testosterone-related health issues. Keep in mind that most, if not all, of these symptoms can also be caused by other underlying medical issues (e.g., depression or diabetes). You should consult with your doctor for a definitive diagnoses and prompt treatment.
The physiological effects of low testosterone levels include the following physical symptoms.
- Erectile dysfunction
Also known as impotence, erectile dysfunction refers to the inability to develop and/or maintain an erection despite physical and mental stimulation. In many cases, the man is unable to maintain an erection until vaginal penetration can be achieved.
The frequency of the inability for erection will be considered in the diagnosis. If it’s infrequent, then it may not be erectile dysfunction at all. For example, physical and mental stress can also affect erection capability, albeit temporarily, in most healthy males.
In many men, the recovery period between erections will also be longer. This isn’t necessarily erectile dysfunction since a good erection can still be achieved although it takes longer after the first orgasm.
- Increased sense of fatigue
The lack of physical and mental energy, even after a full night of sleep, can also be caused by low testosterone levels. Even men in the prime of their lives can feel fatigued despite plenty of rest and relaxation because their bodies aren’t up to the task anymore.
Be sure to consider other factors that contribute to your fatigue. You may, for example, be getting less sleep or your body may be absorbing less nutrients because of an underlying disease.
- Decreased muscle mass and strength
Testosterone is closely linked with the development of muscle mass and strength in both men and women. Men, in particular, are more likely to feel the effects of low testosterone levels because of the significant drop in their muscle size and strength.
If your muscles don’t seem to increase in size and strength despite increased intensity, duration and frequency of muscle training exercises, then you can consider low testosterone levels. You’re well-advised to stop with your exercises for a while and check with your doctor.
- Increased body fat
With the decrease in muscle size and strength comes the increase in body fat. This isn’t surprising as the muscles will be replaced by fat, thus, the less toned appearance of men with low testosterone levels.
- Back pain
Low testosterone levels have also been linked to reduced bone mass and density. As a result, the risks of fractures and osteoporosis also increase.
- Reduced fertility
The decrease in testosterone production also has a significant negative effect on sperm production. Men with reduced fertility have difficulty impregnating their partners despite natural interventions, such as dietary supplements, avoidance of heat in the crotch, and allowing better blood circulation in the groin.
- Higher risk for cardiovascular diseases
Low testosterone levels have also been linked to higher levels of cholesterol, especially the LDL/HDL ratio. With the higher cholesterol level, the risk for cardiovascular diseases including heart attack also increases.
Many men also develop so-called male breasts or man-boobs. While this isn’t fatal in itself, man-boobs can be distressing for men because these can look so much like female breasts.
Keep in mind that many of the physical signs of low testosterone levels are subtle in nature. You will not know them immediately but when you notice them, you will, indeed, be concerned.
The decrease in testosterone levels can also cause these mental issues.
- Decreased libido even with physical and mental stimulation
- Difficulty in concentrating on tasks (brain fog)
- Decreased memory capabilities
These signs can also be linked to the physical symptoms. For example, the decreased libido and concentration can partly be attributed to the increased sense of fatigue.
The abnormally low testosterone can also cause the following emotional symptoms.
- Depression, the sense of deep sadness that can be coupled with despair and desperation. This isn’t just the blues, which will pass in better times, but a constant sense of despair.
- Decreased feelings of motivation, even when faced with a challenge that was welcomed in previous instances.
- Increased sense of irritability, anger and agitation.
When you experience these physical, mental and emotional signs for a few weeks, you should see your doctor about them. You may or may not have low testosterone levels but it still pays to get a definitive diagnosis.
If your doctor suspects low testosterone levels, you will be instructed to take a simple blood test known as serum testosterone level. While there’s a wide range of normal testosterone in the bloodstream, experts agree that the normal range for adult men is 25o to 1,100 mg/dL in adult males (Mayo Clinic).
Based on the results of the blood test, you and your doctor will decide on the best plan of action to resolve your low testosterone levels, if that’s the case. Your doctor may recommend dietary supplements, testosterone replacement therapy, and other methods depending on your condition.
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