Having written an article on cortisol and its importance I thought I would give you a basic understanding of the hormone testosterone. Im sure you've all heard of it and some will assume it is a hormone only found in young males. Well I will try and enlighten you into the importance of this hormone in both males and females and things that you can do to maintain levels naturally throughout your life.
So what is testosterone and where does it come from? Testosterone is produced by the gonads (by the Leydig cells in testes in men and by the ovaries in women). It is an androgen, meaning that it stimulates the development of male characteristics.
Present in much greater levels in men than women, testosterone initiates the development of the male internal and external reproductive organs during foetal development and is essential for the production of sperm in adult life. This hormone also signals the body to make new blood cells, ensures that muscles and bones stay strong during and after puberty and enhances libido both in men and women. Testosterone is linked to many of the changes seen in boys during puberty (including an increase in height, body and pubic hair growth, enlargement of the penis, testes and prostate gland, and changes in sexual and aggressive behaviour). It also regulates the secretion of luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). To effect these changes, testosterone is often converted into another androgen called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
In women, testosterone is produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands. The majority of testosterone produced in the ovaries is converted to the principle female sex hormone, estrogen. Despite being a male sex hormone, testosterone also contributes to sex drive, bone density, and muscle strength in women.
Our testosterone levels peak in our early 20’s and decline gradually as we age. A male in his 40’s has half the testosterone he had in his 20’s.
So now you have an understanding of what the hormone does in both males and females lets explain what are the symptoms of someone with testosterone imbalances. I will cover low testosterone or hypogonadism as its known medically.
When a man has low testosterone he may experience:
reduced sex drive
low sperm count
enlarged or swollen breast tissue
Over time, these symptoms may develop in the following ways:
loss of body hair
loss of muscle bulk
loss of strength
increased body fat
Chronic, or ongoing, low testosterone may lead to osteoporosis, mood swings, reduced energy, and testicular shrinkage.
When a woman has low testosterone she may experience:
affected sexual desire
affected sexual satisfaction
In women this can often be misdiagnosed as menopausal changes.
So if you feel you are suffering any of the above symptoms it is worth visiting your doctor and asking for a full hormone panel blood test. This will ascertain your levels and if they are within range. Now if your female you will need to ask your doctor the best day to draw your blood as your testosterone levels increase at certain times of your menstrual cycle.
Now lets quickly discuss the ranges doctors currently work from.
In the UK the range is very broad and a male is considered normal if he is within the ranges of 9 to 32 nmol/L total testosterone. Yet there is another marker and that is Free-Testosterone and this ranges from 0.3 to 1.0 nmol/L. It is common for men to be within the range of total testosterone yet be low in free testosterone. Now this range is not tied to any age group therefore if your 40 years of age and are above 9 your considered within range. Yet that score of 9 would be associated with an 80 year old male. So if your feeling any of the symptoms insist on a blood test which includes calculated free testosterone. These feelings are commonly referred to as the male menopause.
This is a recognised condition in the US and Australia but not so much in the UK.
So what is free testosterone. To keep it simple the majority of testosterone is bound to sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and albumin and whats left over is called Free-Testosterone. This free testosterone is whats available for the body to use in all the functions I described earlier.
So what can we do to increase our testosterone levels naturally.
1. The first thing we can do to increase our levels naturally is to lift heavy stuff :)
No seriously there have been numerous studies that show testosterone production is stimulated when lifting heavy weights. The greatest response can be achieved from doing exercises such as the squat and deadlift. Both these exercises recruit the most muscle fibres in the body and hence stimulate production. To maximise this stimulation incorporate longer rest periods between sets.
2. There can be a similar response from sprint training such as high intensity interval training (HIIT). Again this needs to be kept brief as it is well known that prolonged cardio can have a negative effect on testosterone production.
3. Eat a healthy diet rich in whole foods and good fats
4. Get plenty of quality sleep (read article on sleep)
5. Minimise stress and cortisol levels. (read the article on cortisol)
I hope this has given you an insight into all things testosterone.