Testosterone is not only a young man’s concern. Lack of this substance can have a profound impact on a man’s health and well-being, particularly as he ages.
Maintaining proper testosterone levels are vital for men’s health. The following is a brief discussion regarding what testosterone is, how it is produced, the hormone’s importance to a man’s body and development, what may cause men to experience fluctuations of the substance in their systems, a condition called andropause, the immediate and long-term issues associated with low levels of testosterone and the associated health risks that may arise if the condition is not appropriately addressed.
What is Testosterone?
Considered the principal male hormone, testosterone impacts several male bodily systems. It is common knowledge the substance is chiefly responsible for a man’s ability to reproduce, as it plays a vital role in sperm production and his sex drive. However, the hormone also executes a significant part in helping a man maintain strong bones, grow hair, be able to shed excess fat, develop and maintain muscles and produce a healthy supply of red blood cells.
How is Testosterone Produced?
The vast majority of testosterone in the male body is made by the testicles, the male’s chief sex organs, which release the hormone into the bloodstream. The amount of testosterone that is created is controlled by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus.
The brain’s hypothalamus sends a signal to the pituitary gland to release follicle stimulating and luteinizing hormones (LH). Of these hormones that are released, the LH stimulates overall testosterone production. If too much testosterone is produced, the hypothalamus sends a signal to the pituitary gland to make less LH. This signal then transfers to the testes to decrease testosterone levels.
The Purpose of Testosterone
In men, testosterone is a sex hormone that is responsible for regulating sex drive, the production of sperm and the healthy development of male sex organs. However, this hormone’s significance extends beyond reproduction purposes.
In young boys, testosterone is necessary for proper physical development. This physical development includes the growth of facial and body hair, the lowering of the voice, the growth of the Adam’s apple and an increase in height and weight. As men get older and physical development is completed, with the exception of hair growth—which is continuous through much of adulthood—testosterone continues to regulate overall health and is responsible for maintaining bone mass, fat distribution, muscle strength and the production of red blood cells.
How Does Aging Impact Testosterone Levels?
Though not the case with every man, men do typically notice a decline in testosterone production. It is believed this decrease is roughly one percent a year following the age of 30. A small amount of circulating testosterone in the body is converted to a form of estrogen called estradiol. Thus, as testosterone levels begin to decrease, the levels of estradiol diminish as well.
As a result of these lower levels of testosterone and estradiol, a hormonal shift takes place and a condition referred to as andropause, “the male menopause,” occurs. A recent study revealed almost 40 percent of all men age 45 and older are afflicted with low testosterone levels.
What are the Immediate Effects of Andropause?
The most common and most bothersome and embarrassing problems associated with low testosterone levels are of the sexual variety. These include a diminished sex drive, low sperm counts and thus reduced fertility and sometimes erectile dysfunction. Symptoms are not restricted to sexual function. Other symptoms can also manifest mentally through issues like depression and mood swings and physical maladies such as decreased muscle mass and strength, weight gain, malaise, insomnia, breast enlargement, a loss in body hair and night sweats.
What are the Long-Term Impacts of Andropause?
Though the immediate effects of low testosterone can be embarrassing and even cause for concern, the condition could contribute to far more serious and dangerous problems down the road, Such concerns for long-term testosterone loss are heart and blood disorders, diabetes and the weakening of the bones, known as osteoporosis, making afflicted individuals more susceptible to fractures.
It is also important to note that, while age is considered amongst the more common causes of andropause, the disorder can be caused by a host of other conditions. These include, but are not limited to testicular injuries, certain forms of cancer, other hormonal imbalances and chronic kidney and liver diseases.
There may be ways to resolve this growing issue in the field of men’s health. In some cases, testosterone replacement therapy might be indicated. However, it is not appropriate for all cases. Any man with Andropause should receive a thorough medical evaluation where a doctor can pinpoint the underlying cause and formulate the best course of treatment.