If your testosterone levels are low, you may gain weight, lose energy and experience mental fog, in addition to having various sexual side effects that can include erectile dysfunction and low libido. Many men shrug off these symptoms, chalking them up to being inevitable as they grow older.
But age isn’t the only possible cause of low testosterone, and the symptoms of testosterone deficiency are not something you have to settle for. Let’s take a closer look at the various causes that can underlie low testosterone levels and what you can do about them.
The #1 Cause: Testosterone Declines Naturally As You Age
While age isn’t the only cause of a decline in testosterone levels, it’s certainly the most common. All men start to see their testosterone levels decline naturally. You can expect to lose an average of 1% of your testosterone per year beginning in your 30s.
That natural decline doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that you’ll end up with clinically low testosterone levels. The normal range for testosterone runs from 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter, which is a fairly significant spread. Some men will remain in that normal range even with a 1% decline per year. But other men will see their testosterone levels dip below that minimum of 300 ng/dL, causing them to be diagnosed as having testosterone deficiency.
The Other Causes of Low Testosterone Levels
Some medications can have a negative impact on your body’s ability to produce testosterone. Others interact with your hormonal system in a way that affects your testosterone levels. While studies continue to unravel the relationship between various medications and testosterone levels, the following drugs are known to have a significant impact:
- Painkillers: Opioids or narcotics used to control pain can result in a testosterone decline when used over time.
- Steroids: Use of corticosteroids has been linked to lowered testosterone levels. Anabolic steroids cause testosterone production in the testes to cease, and the effects can be permanent, even after you stop taking the drug. Many men who take protein supplements don’t even realize that some of these products contain anabolic steroids.
- Hair-loss medications: Some hair-loss medications, including finasteride, sold under the brand name Propecia, block the effects of testosterone in the body. As a result, some men on this medication can suffer from depression, loss of libido and sexual dysfunction.
- Antidepressants: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are a common type of antidepressant. Sold under the brand names Celexa, Paxil and Prozac, among others, these medications interfere with the brain’s involvement in the production of testosterone.
- Cancer treatment: The hormone therapies used to treat prostate cancer shut down all production of testosterone as part of their effort to slow the cancer. After treatment is over, some men’s bodies do not resume normal testosterone production. In addition, some forms of radiation and chemotherapy can impact testosterone production, though typically this effect is temporary.
Some medical conditions are linked to low testosterone levels, though it’s not clear to scientists the mechanism by which testosterone levels and these conditions affect each other. Men with diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and obesity are more likely to develop low testosterone levels. In the case of Type 2 diabetes, low testosterone appears to be linked to high blood sugar levels. If low testosterone is treated, the body is better able to handle insulin.
Thyroid or pituitary gland disorders may also affect testosterone production. Some chromosome disorders, such as Klinefelter syndrome, affect testosterone, though these congenital conditions are rare. In addition, injury to or infection of the testicles may result in decreased testosterone production.
WE ARE HERE TO HELP
While studies are inconclusive regarding the relationship between some foods and testosterone levels, the following have been linked to declining testosterone in one way or another. Try to eat them in moderation:
- Meat boosted with hormones
- Reishi mushrooms
- Spearmint tea
Lack of Sleep
Lack of sleep has been linked to a decline in testosterone levels, especially when that lack of sleep is a result of obstructive sleep apnea. While the relationship between testosterone and sleep (as well as related symptoms such as fatigue, low energy, obesity and cognitive issues) is complex, protecting your sleep cycle can be critical to maintaining healthy testosterone levels.
Lack of Sex
Sex is a vital part of men’s health. Research shows that men who have higher levels of sex see increases in their testosterone levels.
A Sedentary Lifestyle
Men who lead a sedentary lifestyle tend to show lower levels of testosterone. This symptom is, of course, also related to the issues of obesity and weight gain. That’s because obesity and a lack of movement result in lowered levels of the hormones needed to trigger testosterone production. The good news is that undergoing an exercise program should result in a boost to your testosterone levels, as well as improvements in memory, cardiovascular health, bone density and sexual health.
Alcohol affects testosterone production along several paths. The metabolism of alcohol causes a reduction in one of the enzymes needed for testosterone production. In addition, if you drink chronically or in large amounts, your estrogen levels can rise, resulting in a co-occurring drop of testosterone. Drinking can cause sleep problems, which also decreases testosterone, and the damage it can cause to body tissues over the long term can affect the testes. Overall, alcohol consumption results in a drop of up to 6.8% in your testosterone levels.
Your stress levels are intricately connected with your entire hormonal system. When you’re stressed, your levels of the hormone cortisol (the “stress hormone”) rise. When that happens, other hormones are shunted aside, including testosterone, which is suppressed. And stress can put your body into a vicious cycle: as your testosterone levels sink, your stress levels rise, increasing cortisol production and decreasing testosterone even further. Managing stress can be key to improving the symptoms of low testosterone.
If your waist size is excessive, there’s a good chance your testosterone levels are low — and again, you may see a vicious cycle at work, with your lowered testosterone levels resulting in even more weight gain around your belly. That’s because excess fat converts testosterone into estradiol, a female hormone related to estrogen. Losing 15% of your body weight can trigger an increase in testosterone.
But These Things Don’t Cause Low Testosterone
You may be surprised to see a couple of items missing from the above list. So let’s set a couple of myths to rest right here. No, frequent masturbation doesn’t cause a long-term drop (or an increase) in your testosterone levels. Neither does frequent sex, for that matter. In fact, any sexual activity gives you a temporary boost in testosterone levels.
Here’s another myth we should bust: No, having a vasectomy doesn’t have any effect on your testosterone levels either. A vasectomy doesn’t affect the parts of the testes that produce testosterone at all; all it does is stop the flow of semen out of the testicles. So there are two things you don’t have to worry about!
Symptoms of Low Testosterone
Many symptoms of low testosterone may not be immediately obvious, since they can overlap with symptoms caused by other medical conditions. Most men would point to issues with loss of libido, sexual performance and erectile dysfunction as potential signs of low testosterone, but the symptoms don’t stop there. If you have a combination of the following symptoms, testosterone deficiency could be at the root of the issues:
- Decreased muscle mass
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability, depression and other mood changes
- Weight gain
In addition, testosterone deficiency can result in a decrease in bone density. While you’re unlikely to notice this symptom, it can be a potentially dangerous one, resulting in osteoporosis and high risk of bone fractures.
Treatment for Low Testosterone
Treatment for low testosterone starts with getting an accurate diagnosis to determine if this is a condition that you actually have. At Texas Men’s Health Group, we provide our Dallas, Texas, patients with all the testing needed to determine the health of the entire endocrine, or hormone, system. We can dive into the symptoms you’ve been experiencing to help determine all possible causes.
If your testing confirms that your testosterone levels are low, we’ll talk about testosterone replacement therapy. This safe and effective treatment regimen comes in several different forms (at-home testosterone injections, patches, gels, etc.), so you can choose the most appropriate mode of treatment for your preferences and lifestyle. We can also talk to you about managing contributing factors such as sleep apnea.
When to See a Doctor
Have you been told your testosterone levels are low, and you’re wondering what to do next? Maybe you’ve experienced a combination of the symptoms listed here — sexual dysfunction, loss of libido, weight gain, memory lapses, fatigue and more — and you’d like to know what’s going on in your body.
Whatever your concerns, we’re ready to help. At Texas Men’s Health Group, we deliver the highest quality of care for men’s hormone replacement treatment in all of Texas, optimizing male hormones to help put those disturbing symptoms in your past. If you have concerns, it’s never too early to make an appointment with us for a checkup and some testing — and it’s never too late. We are your Texas testosterone center, helping men from all around Dallas, Texas, reclaim their lives. Call us today to see how we can help.