Testosterone: Understanding the Primary Male Sex Hormone
Testosterone is a necessary male sex hormone that naturally declines with age. In some cases, this primary sex hormone may be too low and cause health issues.
For this reason, testosterone has been at the center of a lot of hype in recent years. Some supplement manufacturers have marketed towards middle-aged men who may not even need testosterone help.
It’s important to determine whether you have low testosterone (low-T), but you have to know the facts about the hormone first.
What Does Testosterone Do?
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone, which is produced by the testicles. Both the pituitary gland and the brain help control it. Women have trace amounts of testosterone, so it’s not considered a primary hormone. This hormone is certainly important to male reproductive health, but that’s not all it’s responsible for.
During puberty, testosterone production increases and produces adult-like physical changes. The Hormone Health Network describes such changes as those that “turn a boy into a man.” Testosterone in puberty causes penile and testicular changes, increased body hair, and voice changes. The hormone is also responsible for proper muscle and bone growth—without testosterone, boys may not gain height as they ought to.
There is certainly an influx in testosterone during puberty, but the sex hormone plays important roles throughout the rest of your life. Since it is made in the testes, it’s no surprise that the hormone helps create sperm. If your body doesn’t make enough testosterone, you may have fertility issues in the future.
The hormone also:
- regulates your body weigh
- aids in sex drive
- helps produce red blood cells
- maintains healthy bones and muscle mass
Normal vs. Abnormal Levels
Just as testosterone levels peak during puberty and early adulthood, they naturally decrease as you age. Despite the necessity for some normal levels of testosterone, this occurrence is natural. According to the Hormone Health Network, testosterone starts decreasing after the age of 30. Still, it’s important to note that this isn’t a sudden or rapid drop except in men who are obese or have chronic illnesses.
Other things that contribute to lower levels include:
- alcohol use
- lack of exercise
- drug abuse
- use of steroids
Low-T is a more common problem than high testosterone. The latter health issue normally develops before puberty as a result of tumors. This can also happen in boys who are exposed to low-T treatments.
Determining a “normal” testosterone level is based partially on age. According to the Patient Education Institute, normal levels range from 300 to 1,200 ng/dl. Given such a wide range, many men aren’t medically considered as having Low-T based on blood tests.
Do You Need Treatment?
Low-T is a medical problem many men might think they have. Still, it’s important to distinguish between a true medical problem and natural aging. The Patient Education Institute estimates that five million men in the U.S. have low-T. Such men can benefit from hormone replacement therapy.
If you don’t have low-T, then hormone treatments won’t do you any good. In fact, they can produce quite the opposite effects.
Taking low-T medications without actually having hormone problems may cause:
- blood clots
- sleep apnea
- heart attack
- enlarged breasts
- testicular changes
- prostate problems
Bottom Line: Breaking Through the Hype
Having a real issue with testosterone requires a doctor’s visit. If you suffer from low-T, you’ll likely be placed on hormone replacements like topical testosterone gel. Don’t fall for the hype of natural supplements that promise to treat low-T. There is no proof that they work, and you may also put yourself at risk for interactions. Talk to your doctor and get proper testing if you suspect low-T.