Low testosterone levels are critical to men’s health and wellbeing, you probably you knew that, but did you know that as you get older your testosterone levels decrease?
As it turns out lowering levels of testosterone as you age, goes with the territory of being a man. However whilst it’s a natural part of ageing, if you’ve been feeling fatigued lately or your sex drive has diminished; it could be that your testosterone levels are lower than they should be.
The reason it matters is because testosterone plays a crucial role in men’s health and well being no matter what your age. It is one of the key hormones that make a man a man. Your body requires 20 times more testosterone than a woman to function optimally.
Testosterone affects nearly every cell in the male body. It improves muscle mass and bone density and will also have a positive affect on the heart, brain and blood vessels. Testosterone has been the source of the drive men have needed during our 4 million year evolution to pioneer, explore, adventure and conquer.
It is the hormone you and I need in abundance to feel most alive.
As a general rule, the normal range in men is about 270 to 1070 ng/dL with an average level of 679 ng/dL depending on your age. A normal male testosterone level peaks at about age 20, and then slowly declines throughout a mans life.
So what’s the problem you might be asking if a decline is just part of life?
Well irrespective of your age, 100 years ago men’s testosterone levels were between 800-2000 ng/dL. At the highest point, that’s 86% more than today. Men with low testosterone levels 100 years ago, would have high levels compared to today.
Studies have shown that in the past 50 years, the quality of sperm has dropped by 42%, and the quantity by 50%. In the past 20 years the decrease in sperm counts has occurred at a rate of 2% each year. Increases in estrogen and decreases in testosterone are literally transforming men into women!
This brings us nicely to the to male menopause. A controversial topic within the medical industry. Some experts are convinced declining testosterone is responsible for a host of middle-age problems, from low energy and poor concentration to man boobs, irritability and impotence (we’ll cover the symptoms of low testosterone shortly).
They believe perhaps one in five men over 50 should have testosterone treatment to restore their vigor and well being. In the UK over the past decade, prescriptions for testosterone gels and injections have doubled to 300,000 a year.
But experts insist the rising popularity of male HRT simply reflects aggressive marketing by the pharmaceutical industry. In the U.S., where drug companies can advertise directly to the public, men spend nearly £2.5 billion a year on testosterone replacements.
Either way, if you’re approaching middle age you’re unlikely to have the sex drive or energy you had when you were 20. But your testosterone level isn’t just affected by your age.
The biggest factor determining whether your testosterone levels are high or low, is dictated by your personal choices; we know this because not all men given HRT find their symptoms improve.
Hormone Imbalance is a Man Made Result of 20th Century Life
Professor Fred Wu, director of the Andrology Research Unit in Manchester has said that
“for most men, the symptoms attributed to low testosterone and the male menopause are actually ‘normal symptoms of unhealthy ageing, obese men with low testosterone, normally find their levels bounce back when they lose weight. It’s the same when patients control their diabetes”
The same negative lifestyle habits that cause men to lose muscle and gain weight are compounded by the fact that the obesity will further decrease testosterone, increase estrogen and make weight gain even more likely.
Elevated levels of estrogen in men need to be recognized and treated, because even though your body produces estrogen, it’s required in far less quantities than a woman.
The problem is that when testosterone decreases, estrogen levels increases in the male body which can be bad news.
Too much estrogen may correlate with diabetes and heart attacks [Source: Sewdarsen]. Also prostate cancer, which continues to be one of the most frequently diagnosed and common causes of death in men.
Evidence is now pointing to estrogens playing a significant role in the cause of prostate cancer [Source: Carruba, Stone]. In fact high levels of estrogen play a significant role in men for all chronic diseases.
Exposure to Synthetic Estrogen
But there are also other sources of synthetic estrogen some experts believe are adding to the growing hormone imbalance in men (and women). As mentioned, when testosterone decreases, estrogen increases. Estrogen is the female equivalent of testosterone. It is primarily the female sex hormone involved in the growth, maintenance, and repair of reproductive tissues.
The thing is today, we are continuously surrounded by environmental compounds called xenoestrogens introduced into the environment by industrial, agricultural and chemical companies and consumers only in the last 70 years or so.
The potential ecological and human health impact of these foreign estrogens is of growing concern. They are in our air, fuels, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, plastics, clothing, bug/mosquito sprays and personal care products.
“cortisol is catabolic (breaks tissue down), while testosterone is anabolic. Excessive levels of cortisol produce insulin resistance, fat gain, and muscle wasting, while testosterone promotes muscular hypertrophy and lean mass gains. Cortisol contributes to metabolic syndrome, while testosterone helps alleviate it.”
But High Levels of Testosterone Aren’t Always a Good Thing
When I was in my late teens I was quite serious about lifting weights. It felt good being strong, but I was very vain in an attempt to impress women.
I’d hit the gym 5 or 6 times a week. I was fully committed to the worship of my body, so much so that I experimented with steroids for a short time. I’m not proud of it, but it was rife in the gym I went to and I was easily influenced!
It was clear who was taking and I decided I wanted some of that, so I started injecting testosterone. The results were pretty amazing, I put on about 18 pounds of muscle in a couple of months. I had more energy, I could lift heavier weights and my libido went through the roof!
I didn’t know or even consider the potential side effects. I was a silly boy because a friend of mine became seriously ill as a result of steroid abuse. Luckily my experiment only lasted a couple of months. I knew this wasn’t the thing to be doing to my body. I felt out of balance.
And it’s no wonder because high levels of testosterone are associated with antisocial behaviour and violence. This has been observed in chimpanzees and bonobos, two of our closest ape relatives.
Male bonobos have lower levels of testosterone than chimps, which makes them much more easygoing than hormone-fueled chimps, who grow competitive and mercurial during puberty, when their testosterone levels spike.
Scientist believe this was fundamental in helping our species to be successful. As testosterone levels lowered we became more creative, kinder and gentler towards each other, during a time when the population was increasing.
Left: ancient human skull with more pronounced brow ridge. Right: modern human skull
Less Testosterone Needed For Muscle Maintenance
A recent article in the New York Times, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), found that there were significant individual variations in the amount of testosterone required for any particular man to maintain lean body mass, strength, and sexual function.
They found that less testosterone is actually needed for muscle maintenance than previously thought. They also found that:
In young men, the average testosterone level is about 550 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl)
Muscle size and strength does not become adversely affected until testosterone levels drop below 200 ng/dl, which has previously been considered extremely low
Fat accumulation, however, increases at testosterone levels of 300-350 ng/dl, due to its impact on estrogen
Libido increases steadily with simultaneous increases in testosterone and estrogen
So the goal isn’t necessarily to blow your brains out with the stuff, it’s about ensuring you’re doing the right things to keep your levels high enough so you remain strong, healthy and creative.
No matter your age, understanding how to maintain healthy testosterone levels naturally, is something every man should understand and be concerned about.
And whilst there are synthetic ways to increase testosterone, these methods will only ever addresses the symptoms rather than the cause – the lifestyle choices men are making today.
History has proven we are perfectly able to function and flourish without the need for artificial enhancements. Nature provides everything we need to thrive, so using synthetic substances as a quick fix is only likely to compound the self neglect even further.
It’s Not Rocket Science
If you’re concerned about low testosterone levels please consult your doctor who’ll give you the guidance you need or you can buy kits on line from a variety of different outlets to see where you’re at.
The key is choosing to live in a way that’s naturally healthy and physically active, because unless you’re suffering from a severe thyroid problem or have had testicular cancer, from what I understand there’s no reason to use artificial testosterone replacement therapy.
The next part of this article talks you through some of the key lifestyle changes that will help you keep your testosterone levels optimum whatever your age.
Sewdarsen M. et al. The low plasma testosterone levels of young Indian infarct survivors are not due to a primary testicular defect. Postgrad Med J. 1988 Apr;64(750):264-6.
Carruba G. Estrogen and prostate cancer: an eclipsed truth in an androgen-dominated scenario. J Cell Biochem. 2007 Nov 1;102(4):899-911.
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