When considering testosterone, many people know it as the primary male hormone responsible for a man’s sex drive. While this is true and vitally important, the “just-right” balance of testosterone in a man plays many other essential roles in the body’s proper function.
The “just-right” balance of testosterone in a man plays many essential roles in the body’s proper function.(Jupiter Images)
As with so many of the body’s hormones, systems and processes, an appropriate testosterone balance is critical for optimal health, in general. And while it is true that testosterone levels usually dip as a man gets older, that doesn’t mean he should just “live with it.” When testosterone levels are off – either too low or too high – one might be surprised by the severe health conditions that can arise.
When Testosterone Is Too Low
Most of the body’s systems and processes are based on an intricate, complicated and sometimes delicate balance. While there can be a range of “normal” for many of those processes, a too-low dip can signal health concerns.
Interestingly, in men with testosterone levels considered clinically too-low, other health conditions are also often present – including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic disease. Although there is no scientific link that low testosterone levels in men cause these conditions, much research suggests that the inverse is true: Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic disease may contribute to the underproduction of testosterone.
When testosterone levels dip too low, many health issues can arise, including decreases in energy and libido, erectile dysfunction, irritability and depression.
Low Testosterone in Men
Anemia is a condition in which the body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells to carry the right amount of oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues. In older adults, anemia is prevalent in about 10% of the population and slightly higher in men. In approximately one-third of those anemia cases, there is no known cause, and treatment for it is often unsuccessful.
We know that testosterone helps with the production of red blood cells. The theory, backed by some clinical research, is that treatment of anemic men with testosterone replacement resulted in higher hemoglobin levels than a placebo. Further, one study even applied testosterone treatment to men with known anemia causes, and their hemoglobin levels increased. These studies suggest that healthy red blood cell production can be heavily influenced by testosterone in a man’s body.
Testosterone is well known to help regulate bone mass, muscle mass and strength. As the primary sex hormone and a “natural” anabolic steroid in men, testosterone plays a vital part in promoting what is known as “secondary sexual characteristics,” which include the development of muscle and bone mass.
Clinical studies show that testosterone deficiency is the most significant factor for age-related bone loss in men, especially those of more advanced age. When the testosterone levels in older men dip too low, osteoporosis and fracture risk increase significantly.
When Testosterone Is Too High
People are often surprised to learn that too much testosterone in the body is just as problematic for overall health as too little. Some men believe more testosterone is better – perhaps making them more manly – and might reach for supplements or other off-label testosterone treatments that can result in serious medical complications.
High Testosterone in Men
A too-high level of testosterone in the body can result in prostate enlargement as well as these other, possibly surprising concerns:
Excessive testosterone levels in the body (usually the result of taking supplements or other forms of testosterone therapy without consulting with a physician) can send signals to the brain that the body is making enough of the hormone. When that happens, the brain tells the body to stop or significantly reduce testosterone production, which can result in low sperm, the absence of sperm altogether and the shrinking of the testicles.
Whether a man’s too-high testosterone level results from supplementation misuse or a genetic predisposition, the result is an alarming increase in the risk of heart failure and blood-clotting disorders. Interestingly, while too much testosterone is considered a contributor to artery hardening, estrogen (the female sex hormone also present in men and converted by the body into testosterone) is known to be a heart protector. Once again, the hormonal balance in the body is crucial to heart and overall health.
Remedying Testosterone Imbalance
Beyond sexual function, the right balance of testosterone in the body is essential for overall health and wellness, especially as a man gets older. Remedying a testosterone imbalance is possible and successful for many men, but it isn’t a journey to be taken solo.
Testosterone replacement therapy is an option and can help bring a man’s testosterone levels back to normal while improving symptoms related to testosterone imbalance. During treatment, your doctor should be diligent about checking testosterone levels before beginning hormone replacement and monitoring their reaction closely during treatment. Because many other conditions can create similar low or high testosterone symptoms, it’s essential to see a urologic specialist for any testosterone concerns before starting hormone therapy.