Testosterone: Myths & Facts
Low Testosterone Myths and Facts
The Truth About Low Testosterone
Testosterone is a sex hormone that drives more than just libido. In men, it affects physical appearance, mood, bone density, muscle mass, and more. How much of this critical hormone the body produces is determined by signals from the brain that are delivered to the testes via the pituitary gland.
It's estimated that several million men in the United States have low testosterone. But thanks to a growing body of research, treatments are now available to help men treat the symptoms of low testosterone, which include decreased sex drive, low energy, and fatigue.
However, there are still a number of myths that exist about this men's health issue. Read on to discover what's fact and what's fiction about low testosterone in men.
Myth: Low Testosterone Is a Normal Part of Aging
As you get older, your testes naturally begin to produce less testosterone than they did when you were a teenager. But that doesn't mean you have low testosterone.
When it comes to testosterone levels, there's a wide range of normal. If you're experiencing low testosterone symptoms — such as loss of sex drive, erectile dysfunction, and fatigue — get a blood test to determine if your testosterone level is below normal, says Ahmer Farooq, DO, an assistant professor of urology at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill. "Not everyone needs treatment," he says, "but men with the appropriate symptoms should take it seriously and be screened."
Fact: Low Testosterone Affects Men of All Ages
Low testosterone can develop at any age for a number of reasons, including damage to your pituitary gland or testes. Research has also shown that obesity and type 2 diabetes are linked to low testosterone.
In fact, one-third of men with type 2 diabetes also have low testosterone. A study published in the journalDiabetes Carein 2008 found that men 18 to 35 years old with type 2 diabetes have much lower testosterone levels than their peers with type 1 diabetes. The researchers noted that as body mass index increases, testosterone levels decrease. Dr. Farooq says that low testosterone screening may be useful in some men with type 2 diabetes.
Myth: Low Testosterone Only Affects a Man's Sex Drive
One of the first signs of low testosterone is loss of libido, Farooq says. He points out, however, that there are a number of other low testosterone symptoms that can affect your quality of life. "Low testosterone can be associated with fatigue, low energy, and a lack of motivation to get up and do things," he says. "Warning signs for low testosterone can also include mood swings, a decrease in bone density or muscle mass, and an increase in body fat."
Fact: Low Testosterone Is Not Uncommon
In a study conducted in 2006 that included 2,100 men, low testosterone affected roughly 39 percent of men older than 45. However, low testosterone rates do increase with age, affecting about 20 percent of men between ages 60 and 70, about 30 percent after age 70 and up to age 80, and about half of men older than 80. But the condition sometimes goes undiagnosed, Farooq says. He explains that men often ignore low testosterone symptoms or put off discussing them with their doctor, chalking them up to be part of normal aging.
Because low testosterone is also linked to age, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, research suggests that low testosterone will become even more prevalent as the population ages and the rates of these chronic conditions continue to rise.
Myth: A Man's Low Testosterone Symptoms Affect Only Him
Low testosterone symptoms like loss of sex drive, depression, and lack of energy can take a toll on close relationships. "If you're tired or fatigued, it can put a strain on your partner or spouse, too," Farooq says. "I try to have couples come in together so they can understand that these are real symptoms and that it's a treatable medical condition."
Fact: Sleep Apnea May Play a Role in Low Testosterone
Research suggests that obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder, can lead to low testosterone levels. Sleep apnea, which affects 4 percent of men, causes repeated disruptions in breathing during sleep and loss of a deep sleep — when testosterone production is at its peak. A study in theJournal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolismin 2002 found that the constant disruptions in sleep and normal breathing result in lower testosterone levels.
Treatment for low testosterone, however, can make obstructive sleep apnea worse, and men with symptoms of low testosterone should be screened for the sleep disorder, Farooq says. "You have to look at how low your testosterone levels are, as well as the severity of your sleep apnea, and weigh the risks and benefits of treatment," he says.
Myth: Hormone Replacement Therapy Is a Quick Fix for Low Testosterone
Testosterone replacement therapy may be a treatment option for some men diagnosed with low testosterone. Available in several different forms, including gels, patches, and injections, testosterone replacement may help restore your sex drive and ease symptoms of depression and fatigue. But Farooq cautions that this treatment is not a quick fix, and most men will need to stay on it indefinitely under the supervision of their doctor. "It's an ongoing process," he says. Most men on testosterone replacement therapy start to see an improvement in about three to six months.
Fact: Following a Healthy Lifestyle Can Help Treat Low Testosterone
Treating an underlying health condition such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, or sleep apnea could help improve testosterone levels, Farooq says. He advises that men with low testosterone should follow a heart-healthy diet and engage in regular physical activity. A study in theJournal of Sexual Medicinein 2013 reported a link between obesity and low testosterone and found that more than 200 minutes of aerobic exercise each week results in greater improvement in weight and testosterone levels than less exercise does.
Video: Mayo Clinic Minute: Low Testosterone Symptoms
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