Testosterone is the male sex hormone. As men age, their bodies produce less of it. Starting in middle age, it often drops below levels doctors consider normal.
Low testosterone levels – also known as hypogonadism or low T – can affect your overall health. But some doctors say it’s just a normal, harmless part of aging.
Here’s what you need to know to keep your worries and your hormones in balance.
How low is it?
Testosterone levels are measured by some blood trials. Most doctors agree that a “normal” reading is between 300 and 1,000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). About 40% of men over 45 will have levels below this range. But a low reading by itself is not enough to warrant alarm.
In fact, it will probably have a lot to do with the time of day doctors test your some blood. The best time for testing is between 7 and 10 am. “Different hormones have different secretion patterns,” says Ronald Swerdloff, MD, chief of endocrinology at Harbor UCLA Medical Center. “Normal testosterone ranges are based on morning samples, when the average person is at a higher level. Afternoon tests may give a false impression of low levels.
Swerdloff says you should take multiple tests — at least two over the course of a few weeks or months. You will want to make sure you have a low T before taking any measurements.
More than just a number
Even if your testosterone levels are below the recommended range, you may not need to worry. Doctors say a reading between 200 and 300 ng/dL is kind of a gray area.
Slightly low levels are not of concern in themselves. But if you have other symptoms, you’ll want to see your doctor. “Everyone agrees that if you have a phenomenally low level you will benefit from treatment. But if it is just a little low, as is more common, you would definitely want to have symptoms,” explains Bradley Anawalt, MD, chief of medicine at the University of Washington.
These symptoms include:
Go to the bottom of Low T
A decrease in this hormone can be caused by a number of things, such as injury or infection to the testicles, which make testosterone. It can also be caused by tumors and disease of the pituitary gland, which regulates the amount of hormones your body releases.
It can also be linked to a number of other ailments, such as:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Obesity and be overweight
- HIV and AIDS
- Long-term use of some medicationsAs opioids
If you don’t have any of these conditions, your doctor may not be able to tell you why you have a low T. It’s not unusual. Many older men have it, and no one knows exactly why.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it.
Your first course of action should be to look at your lifestyle. If you are overweight, lose a few pounds. Anawalt says most men who lose 7% to 10% of their body weight see their testosterone levels improve. “Anything that affects overall health affects testosterone,” he says. “This includes diet, exercise, drinking less alcohol and not smoking. All of these things can help maintain healthy testosterone levels.
Some doctors say getting a good night’s sleep and reducing stress can also have a positive effect.
If these things don’t work, you might be a candidate for testosterone therapy. You can get extra doses of the hormone in several ways:
- Injections into your muscle approximately every 2 weeks
- Patches applied to skin Daily
- Gel rubbed into the skin daily
- Tablets taken twice a day
- Lozenges implanted under the skin once every 3 or 4 months
There are also pills available outside of the US, but Anawalt cautions: “When you read anything claiming to be a ‘magic cure’, be very, very skeptical.”
How long you will need treatment for may vary depending on the symptom(s) you are trying to treat. For example, if you have pituitary disease, you may need treatment for the rest of your life. If you are trying to increase your sex drive6 months can do the trick.
But overall, you should see a gradual increase in muscle mass and bone density, along with a higher libido. Your doctors will also look for deeper voice and beard growth – signs that your manhood is being restored along with your health.