Think Testosterone is Only Good For Sexual and Physical Prowess? Think Again!6 months ago | Men's Health
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
We’re all familiar with the role that testosterone (T, for short), plays in a man’s physical development and the ongoing functioning of his body once he reaches adulthood. These include well-known and typically “manly man” attributes such as muscles; secondary sex characteristics such as pubic and facial hair; the Adam’s apple; a deeper voice than a woman’s; aggressiveness; and sexual function. T also helps maintain strong bones, keeps physical energy levels high and may improve mood.
It was also pretty much understood, and accepted, that a man’s T level decreases with age (current research indicates at the rate of between 1 and 3 percent a year after the age of 40). According to the Urology Care Foundation, roughly 20 percent of men in their 60s, 30 percent of men in their 70s and almost half of men in their 80s have low T. This can result in loss of muscle mass, weight increase, erectile dysfunction, loss of facial hair, poor concentration, moodiness and reduced strength. Of course, age isn’t the only reason men have lowered T levels. Other causes may include injury to the testicles, chemo or radiation therapy targeted toward the genital area, diseases of the pituitary gland and taking various medications.
Recent research, however, continues to show that low amounts of T could also be associated with a variety of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and metabolic syndrome and osteoporosis. For example, one study showed that among a group of men over 45, the odds of having low testosterone were:
- 2.4 times higher for men who were obese
- 2.1 times higher for men with diabetes
- 1.8 times higher for men with hypertension (high blood pressure)
Medical professionals are not suggesting that low T causes these conditions. It could just as easily be the other way around, that is, men with these conditions or in poorer overall health may be at greater risk for developing low T. But there clearly is an association between low T and these types of chronic diseases.
These chronic conditions can develop even among younger men who may not yet be exhibiting any common symptoms of low T or whose T levels are declining but have not yet reached a level where they would be clinically diagnosed with low T. To give a reference point, a clinical diagnosis of low T is having less than 300 ng/dL circulating in the blood. This association is supported by data that show that the incidence of chronic disease is increasing among older males.
It also indicates that an additional consequence of being obese or having a sedentary lifestyle is that T levels are decreasing even in younger men who would typically have what are considered to be normal levels of T for their age groups. One study even showed that having low T increased the risk of death over the next 18 years by almost 33 percent compared to men with higher T levels.
Knowing if you have low T levels
You shouldn’t wait until you have symptoms of low T to have your levels tested. You can ask your doctor to do this test during your annual physical, or if you have any concerns about your T levels, ask for this test in between physicals. Most doctors do a single blood test called “total testosterone” to get a baseline for where your T is at. Some doctors may simply assess symptoms without actually checking T levels, but this is certainly not advisable.
There are a variety of tests to check your T levels, including:
- Total testosterone – This gives the amount of T circulating in your body. It is bound to small protein particles and is the inactive form. As mentioned above, this is more to give a baseline.
- Free testosterone – This is the actual active T, which is able to interact with T receptors and exert the effects of testosterone. It can fluctuate within a few minutes. Morning testosterone levels tend to be higher than later in the afternoon. So, better to have your test in the earlier part of the day.
- Di-hydro testosterone (DHT) – This is a more powerful testosterone. It has benefits of greater muscle strength, but also can accelerate hair loss and voiding difficulty in men with prostate problems.
- Estrogen – This is an important marker. Decreasing T levels frequently go hand in hand with increasing estrogen levels. Estrogen levels can be controlled with other medications or some supplements.
- Sex-binding hormone (SBH) – This is a small protein floating in the bloodstream. It actually binds free T to itself, effectively inactivating it. SBH tends to increase as males age and is also related to increased body fat.
Testosterone and a number of T metabolites can be tested in the urine and give another perspective. As you can see, there are many options. Talk with your doctor or healthcare practitioner about which is best for you and your personal situation.
Good nutrition and lifestyle changes can boost your T levels
If your doctor determines that you have low T levels, the good news is that there is a lot you can do to boost them without resorting first to testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). But no matter which route you and your doctor take, just be sure to not fall into the trap of “more is better.” Having too much testosterone can be just as harmful as not having enough.
Here are some of the things you can start doing to maintain or boost your T levels:
Make Sure You’re Getting the Right Nutrition
As it does with practically almost every other aspect of getting and staying healthy, getting the right nutrients in the right amounts is critical to helping maintain your T at its optimum level. Balance your diet with lots of leafy green vegetables, and make sure you’re getting enough protein. Eat healthy fats from foods such as avocado. Limit the amount of sugar in your diet. Some foods that have been shown to boost or maintain T include:
- Cabbage (helps flush out female sex hormones)
- Oats (oatmeal, porridge oats)
These foods are great sources of zinc, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B6, iron, vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin C, all of which may contribute to healthy T levels. Another important vitamin for T is vitamin D, which you either can get from sunlight or via supplements. If you go the supplement route, make sure to get only those that are manufactured by a reputable manufacturer.
Lifestyle and Exercise
Other things you can do to maintain your T levels include the following:
- Reduce exposure to environmental toxins and minimize stress – Men had higher testosterone levels two decades ago than they do now, some research shows. An increase in toxins may play a role. A University of Michigan study found that certain chemicals, “phthalates,” found in many plastic and personal care products are associated with lower testosterone levels. Other reasons for testosterone decline may include increased use of pesticides or widespread use of illegal steroid supplements.
- Lose extra fat – Specifically, drop the extra fat around the abdomen (visceral fat). Excess fat can result in less bioavailable testosterone – the testosterone that is accessible for your body to utilize. Having too much fat can also increase your risk for heart problems. Heart problems diminish blood flow to the testicles and interfere with sexual function, causing erectile dysfunction.
- Exercise regularly – Make a goal of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. Generally, exercise should include cardio and strength training. Interval training and lifting weights are the most beneficial.
- Balance your life – There are a variety of factors that may contribute to low T, including your lifestyle. Make sure you are getting your eight hours of sleep each night and make an effort to reduce the amount of stress in your day-to-day life.
In addition to helping boost your T levels, being proactive about good nutrition and healthier lifestyle choices brings a wealth of other help benefits. Go guy!
(For more information about testosterone and men’s health, read here)
Enjoy your healthy life!
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