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How Does Low T Affect Your Health?

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Testosterone is the primary male hormone. When optimized it helps support physical performance, virility and long-term male health. Look after it and it looks after you.

But more and more men are struggling to reach desired, healthy levels of this hormone – particularly as older age sets in. In fact, after the age of 30, T levels start to drop by about 1% each year – more so in some men. And this can lead to a number of warning signs, symptoms and side effects.

It is important that you do all you can in order to maintain your masculinity and male health. In this article we’ll give you the run down on the most common symptoms of low testosterone so you know what to look out for.


What is Low T?

A good place to start here would be to actually define what low T is. That way you’ll understand more about how it might affect your body and how to fix it.

Testosterone itself is produced by the Leydig cells of the testes. It is one of five classes of natural steroid hormone and is responsible for promoting masculine traits that are either anabolic or androgenic in nature.

Your male hormone plays a key role in development of male reproductive tissues as well as a number of secondary sexual characteristics such as voice deepening, hair growth and body size.

It is measured by a simple blood or serum test. Although normal levels vary from man to man you’d expect healthy men to report levels between 300 and 1000 ng.dL.

When your T levels are normal you have a healthy sex drive and sperm production; your body composition is healthy, and you have an athletic physique with considerable muscle mass and strength.

If you have levels that fall below 300 ng.dL then you are clinically diagnosed with hypogonadism – more commonly known as low T. 

This is where problems can start as abnormally low levels can lead to a number of issues. With hypogonadism comes a number of side effects.

Low testosterone can also increase the chances of an early death according to research in the Archives of Internal Medicine [1]. In the study, researchers found that clinically hypogonadal men had an 68% greater chance of early death once all confounding factors had been accounted for.



#1. Loss of Sex Drive and Libido

This is probably the first symptom you’ll find. Don’t forget that testosterone is produced primarily in the testes and therefore plays a key role in reproduction and sex drive.

Many men experience a drop in libido as they age, but this is much more pronounced in those with low androgen levels. As levels decrease, a common side effect is lack of sexual appetite and libido.

You might find that there are physical symptoms that accompany your lack of sex drive too. Testosterone stimulates receptors in the brain that increase the production of nitric oxide – an important compound responsible for increasing blood flow that triggers an erection.

Without the stimulatory effect of nitric oxide you may find difficulties getting or maintaining an erection. The changes to Leydig cell count might also cause low sperm volume and general loss of performance.


#2. Tiredness, Fatigue and Loss of Energy

Hypogonadal men often report extreme feelings of lethargy, fatigue and a general lack of energy. If you feel tired even though you’re sleeping properly, this might be a tell tale sign of low T.

In fact, low androgen levels share similar symptoms to depression, with many men being treated with antidepressants for a lack of energy when in reality it is their T levels that need treating.

A lack of energy could also be down to suffering a loss of strength and muscle mass – another symptom of hypogonadism.



#3. Reduced Muscle Mass and Strength

One of the biggest effects of optimal testosterone is it’s anabolic, muscle building properties. It is one of the major hormonal players responsible for your broad shoulders, athletic arms and tight waist.

Testosterone itself elevates muscle protein synthesis [2] – the process by which your body generates new protein cells that eventually become muscle tissue. Lower levels mean that you can’t stimulate sufficient muscle regeneration – and that leads to protein, and eventually muscle loss.

Within a few weeks of low androgen levels you’ll notice that your muscle performance is lower. This will also greatly affect your strength, endurance and overall physical capabilities.


#4. Increased Belly Fat

One of the biggest predictors and risk factors of weight gain is how much muscle tissue you have. And as we’ve already suggested, low T is strongly correlated to low muscle mass.

Your metabolic rate is driven by lean tissue – the more you have, the higher you metabolism and the easier it is to partition incoming nutrients into muscle rather than fat.

Men with hypogonadism tend to develop excess fat in specific places – typically around the belly and chest.

Cortisol – the body’s main stress hormone – is a direct antagonist to testosterone. When T levels fall, cortisol rises, and it has a good way of directing calories to your middle causing belly fat storage.

Excess chest fat is often referred to as Gynecomastia, or ‘man boobs’. It is caused by an imbalance between testosterone and the female hormone estrogen. Without sufficient androgens to maintain male sex characteristics, estrogenic hormones start to take over and you begin to develop female traits.



#5. Mood Changes

In the same way that a woman might experience changes to her mood during a menstrual cycle, men might also see their mood fluctuating as their primary hormone levels fall.

So not only can the loss of strength, muscle and sex drive indirectly give you a low mood, there are more direct factors at play here too. Studies show that hypogonadal men exhibit regular symptoms of anxiety and depression [3], as well as irritability and adhedonia.


#6. You Aren’t Sleeping

As well as playing havoc with your energy, falling androgen levels can also affect your sleep quality.

Despite the fact that you might feel lethargic and tired, low T doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll rest well either. Quite the opposite in fact, as hypogonadism has strong links to broken sleep and insomnia.

Scientist don’t really know why sleep quality is affected but according to studies, testosterone levels should peak during sleep in healthy men and any reduction in T levels affects deep sleep quality [4]. There is definitely a strong relationship between the two.


#7. Your Bones Are Weaker

This one isn’t as obvious as a change to your mood, sleep or body fat would be – but it is just as important. The main regulator of bone health in females is estrogen. In males it is testosterone.

There is a strong link between low levels of testosterone and osteopenia in men – a disease characterized by a loss of protein and mineral content of the skeleton.

According to review statements, decreases in bone mineral density and increase in fractures are a common side effect of hypogonadism – particularly of the hip and spine. The reason why the link is so strong is unclear though [5].



Summary

Hypogonadism or ‘low T’ is an ever-increasing issue in the male population. It is characterized by abnormally low testosterone levels.

Whilst decreased male hormone levels may be an inevitable aspect of the aging process, looking out for warning signs and symptoms allows to better manage your well-being.


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References

  1. Shores, M et al. Low Serum Testosterone and Mortality in Male Veterans. Arch Intern Med. 2006; 166(15): 1660-1665
  2. Griggs, RC et al. Effect of testosterone on muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis. 
  3. Aydogan, U et al. Increased frequency of anxiety, depression, quality of life and sexual life in young hypogonadotropic hypogonadal males and impacts of testosterone replacement therapy on these conditions. Endocr J. 2012; 59(12): 1099-105
  4. Wittert, G. The relationship between sleep disorders and testosterone in men. Asian J Androl. 2014; 16(2): 262-5
  5. Behre, HM et al. Long-term effect of testosterone therapy on bone mineral density in hypogonadal men. J Clin Endoc & Metab. 2011; 82(8)

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