Millions of US men suffer from low amounts of the sex hormone testosterone. In fact, you likely know someone who may struggle with low testosterone levels. Low levels can make it difficult to maintain muscle mass and cause low libido, but that’s not all. But experts have dubbed low testosterone “male menopause” and are now more concerned with its debilitating effects on men’s health.
Testosterone is primarily produced in the testicles. However, many receptors are spread throughout the body. The Mayo Clinic states that it helps to maintain bone density, fat distribution, muscle mass, facial and body hair, sex drive, and sperm production.
Male testosterone levels tend to be highest around age 20 and decline naturally with age. Estimates from the University of Wisconsin show that low testosterone affects roughly 12% of men in their 50s, 19% in their 60s, 28% in their 70s, and 49% in their 80s.
Testosterone levels should be between 300 and 1,200 ng/dL (nanograms per deciliter) at their highest during adolescent years. Once men reach their mid-thirties, testosterone declines by at least one percent per year. However, men can become deficient at any age.
Here are SEVEN warning signs of low testosterone:
Low sex drive
Low sex drive is one of the most common symptoms of testosterone deficiency. It’s due to the presence of androgen receptors, where testosterone binds, in areas of the brain that process desire. Without testosterone, there is nothing to signal arousal.
While there has to be increased blood flow to the penis to maintain an erection, testosterone is also necessary since there are receptors within erectile tissue, also known as the corpus cavernosum, inside the penis. Erectile tissue in someone with low testosterone can atrophy or become less healthy, leading to blood flow in the penis becoming less responsive to sexual stimulation. A lack of testosterone can also make medications like Viagra less effective.
Low testosterone could tank your mood. As with sex drive, androgen receptors are found in several areas of the brain, including the amygdala, which processes fear. However, more research is needed to understand this relationship. Besides low testosterone, other factors could lead to depression, such as poor sleep or thyroid dysfunction.
Much like depression, androgen receptors could lead to poor memory. These receptors are found in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, and the cerebrum, which controls thinking and reasoning. When there isn’t enough testosterone to bind to those receptors, it could lead to forgetfulness.
Testosterone is a diurnal steroid hormone that keeps the body energized and is highest in the morning and gradually decreases throughout the day. Since it drops, men with low levels will be more tired during the day than those with normal levels.
Increased belly fat
Having more fat tissue, especially around the abdomen, can be a sign of low testosterone due to the fatty adipose tissue that replaces lean muscle mass. One review in obese men found that low testosterone specifically increases fat deposits in the abdomen. Making matters worse, fat cells produce aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. Estrogen causes more fat to deposit in the abdomen and the chest, hips, and thighs. In other words, lowered testosterone leads to belly fat which leads to lower testosterone.
In both sexes, estrogen is involved in maintaining bone health. So for men who have lower testosterone levels, they’ll have lower estrogen levels. This causes the bones to thin or break down. It can also lead to osteoporosis, which causes weak or brittle bones.
Remember, these are possible symptoms of low testosterone, but they could also be symptoms of something else (blood pressure, stress, overeating, etc). The only way to know is to get tested. It’s also worth noting that if you don’t have any of these symptoms but choose to get tested and discover you’re “low,” you may not need to begin hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT, while powerful, isn’t without risks and side effects. Like any other treatment for any other condition, HRT should be involve careful weighing of the costs and benefits.