Testosterone is the male sex hormone produced by the testes, starting in the eighth week of a fetus' life and continuing throughout a man's life. Hormone levels vary with age, peaking in early adulthood, then decreasing slightly as a man ages. But as some men age, they can experience a dramatic drop in testosterone, which can present health risks. Here are warning signs of low testosterone.
Low Sex Drive
In addition to helping to build muscle and bones during pubescent development, testosterone is also the primary male sex hormone. When the level of testosterone in the body is low, a man may experience reduced sex drive. As men age, it is normal to have less interest in sex; however, it is abnormal to have no interest in sex.
Erectile dysfunction is not always caused by low testosterone, as it can also be caused by heart disease, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, enlarged prostate or a variety of other conditions. The condition is characterized by the inability to get or maintain an erection. For younger men, in particular, it may be a sign of low testosterone. Consult a doctor to discuss possibilities.
Fatigue, Decreased Energy
Consistent fatigue or lethargy can be linked to hypogonadism, which causes low testosterone levels. Fatigue can also be associated with depression, another symptom of low testosterone.
Mood problems, difficult concentrating, depression
Low testosterone levels in men have been associated with mood problems and difficulty concentrating. When the body's natural chemicals become imbalanced, changes, including those that may not be obvious, may occur. According to a report published in Archives of General Psychiatry, increasing testosterone is an effective means of treating mood disorders, including depression.
In addition to depression and fatigue, men with low testosterone may experience mood swings, including irritability and aggressive behavior. A New York Times piece debunks the myth of testosterone as the hormone of aggressive behavior; instead, testosterone levels help maintain a balance within a man's body. Without the appropriate amount of testosterone, men can suffer from mood swings, including edginess and irritability.
Reduced muscle mass
In order to build muscle, men need testosterone. So, in cases of reduced testosterone, men are prone to reductions in muscle mass. Men need the hormone for muscle strength. A 1993 study found that weightlifting, too, can naturally boost testosterone production in the body. The study particularly notes that using heavier weights to work the biggest muscles – the quads, butt and lower back – can increase testosterone levels the most.
Increased body fat
While testosterone helps build muscle in men, a shortage of it can result in weight gains, especially in the midsection. The breasts, too, can increase in size if a man suffers from low testosterone. If a man is experiencing these types of body changes and feels they are not lifestyle-related, he should talk to his doctor.
Shrinking of the testicles
When a man experiences low levels of testosterone, it means that his "factory" producing the hormone is not working correctly. With decreased output, this factory – the testes – may begin to shrink and become soft. Natural means can be used to boost testosterone production or men can undergo hormone replacement therapy, which can provide the body with the necessary chemicals. Continued decrease in testosterone can do irreversible harm to the sexual organs, so symptoms should not be ignored.
As testosterone is a key element in building bones, low levels of testosterone can lead to decreased bone density, making a man more prone to fractures. This symptom is more common in extreme cases of low testosterone, and if a man experiences frequent bone breaks, he should consult a doctor.
Risk of Death
According to a recent study from the University of California at San Diego, men suffering from low testosterone may be at a 33 percent higher risk of dying over an 18-year period. 800 men were tracked, aged 50 to 91, over a nearly 20 year period. Though the study discovered a connection between low testosterone and mortality, the researchers cautioned that the association did not imply that one caused the other. The report concluded that more research is needed in the field before more comprehensive conclusions can be drawn.