If asked to name the most important male hormones, could you list any hormones other than testosterone? While testosterone gets the most attention for influencing male sexual health, there are many other hormones that control the male reproductive system and support long-term health.
Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone. It is produced from cholesterol by your adrenal glands, which are the triangle-shaped organs above your kidneys. This hormone is best known for triggering your “fight or flight” response in a stressful situation, but it also plays the following important roles.
Cortisol’s Role in the Body
On a regular basis, balanced levels of cortisol circulate throughout the male body to play many important roles:
- Oversees the body’s use of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- Regulates blood pressure
- Reduces inflammation
- Increases blood sugar
- Controls sleep cycle
- Prevents fatigue and brain fog
In early times, cortisol also enabled early men to escape predators and protect themselves against violent enemies. High-stress situations trigger the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol, which prepares the body for “fight or flight” by releasing excess glucose into the bloodstream for immediate energy. Cortisol also narrows the arteries and increases heart rate, forcing blood to pump harder.
This is a potentially life-saving process in the right situations, but it becomes dangerous if hormone levels don’t return to normal. Cortisol’s “fight or flight” response energizes the body at the expense of all processes not needed for immediate survival. Extended periods of high stress prevent the body from functioning in a normal and healthy way.
Symptoms of a Cortisol Imbalance
Our busy and chaotic modern lifestyle presents very different threats than approaching tigers once did. Nonetheless, your adrenal glands still produce cortisol in the same way, causing you to experience many more “fight or flight” stress triggers on a daily basis.
High cortisol levels restrict normal reproductive, digestive, and immune functions. This doesn’t harm the body in a temporary “fight or flight” situation, but leads to serious health implications when the cycle of high cortisol production continues long-term. As a result, the symptoms of high cortisol levels are directly related to the body functions that cortisol shuts down:
- Weight gain
- Weak immune system
- Blood sugar imbalance
You can use a blood, saliva, or urine test to confirm the presence of high cortisol levels in your body. There are many different natural ways to bring your cortisol levels back under control and enjoy a life free from dangerous symptoms.
Estradiol, the predominant form of the hormone estrogen, is best known as a female sex hormone that supports the growth development of a woman’s reproductive organs. However, estradiol is also produced in the male body and actually plays an essential role in male sexual function.
Estradiol’s Role in the Body
In the male body, estradiol is produced mainly by the adrenal glands and testes. An enzyme called aromatase converts existing testosterone into estradiol. Estrogen receptors are located throughout the brain, penis, and testes, and estradiol synthesis is higher in areas correlated to sexual arousal. This leads estradiol to influence male reproduction and sexual health with the following factors:
- Testicular size
- Erectile function
- Sperm production
- Testosterone levels
A male’s blood estrogen levels also affect his cardiovascular health. According to a study of 501 men with chronic heart failure, men with the lowest serum estradiol levels were 317% more likely to die in three years, while men with the highest serum estradiol levels were 133% more likely to die in three years compared to men with balanced estradiol levels.
Symptoms of an Estradiol Imbalance
Since the aromatase enzyme relies on testosterone to synthesize estradiol, many men are vulnerable to excess or deficient estrogen levels. Too much aromatase spikes estradiol while depleting vital testosterone. On the other hand, too little aromatase prevents the synthesis of healthy estradiol.
Symptoms of excess estradiol often include enlarged breasts, low libido, erectile dysfunction, and fatigue. Many of these symptoms are similar to signs of low testosterone, since excess estradiol usually drains the body’s testosterone supplies. Symptoms of too little estradiol are very similar, and may also include anxiety, joint pain, and hypersomnia.
Testosterone is widely known as the cornerstone of a man’s sex drive and performance. However, testosterone levels diminish over time and make the body vulnerable to a variety of side effects. New research suggests that one out of four men over the age of 30 have low testosterone levels, and about one in five men experience associated symptoms.
Testosterone’s Role in the Body
Testosterone is an essential male sex hormone produced by the testicles. It plays a central role in a man’s sexual and reproductive development. The testes produce testosterone while the brain and pituitary gland control production levels. Overall, testosterone is responsible for controlling the following functions in the male body:
- bone mass
- red blood cell production
- muscle mass
- fat distribution
- sperm production
Everything about a man’s sexual development relies upon testosterone.
Symptoms of a Testosterone Imbalance
Too much naturally-occurring testosterone does not occur often in men, but low testosterone is a common problem among men 30 years of age and above. It is estimated that four to five million men in the U.S suffer from this condition known as “Low T”.
If you can relate to any of the following symptoms, you could be suffering from low testosterone:
- sexual dysfunction
- loss of muscle and bone mass
- loss of libido
- brain fog
- weight gain, especially in the stomach and chest
It is possible to overcome your symptoms by testing your testosterone levels and working with your doctor to choose the best low testosterone medication or therapy.
Testosterone and estrogen are instantly recognizable as important hormones in the body, but they wouldn’t exist without dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). DHEA is a natural steroid hormone that plays a fundamental role in hormone balance and maintenance.
DHEA’s Role in the Body
DHEA is produced in the adrenal glands, intestinal tract, brain, and testes of the male body. As it circulates through the bloodstream, the body metabolizes DHEA into testosterone, estradiol, and other essential hormones. This has earned DHEA the nickname “the parent hormone”.
Though scientists are still working to fully understand the role of DHEA in the body, they do know that DHEA contributes to more than 150 different metabolic functions:
- Boosts production of natural growth hormones that build lean muscle mass
- Improves bone density
- Promotes heart health
- Controls cholesterol levels
- Regulates sex hormones testosterone and estrogen
- Supports cognitive function
Symptoms of a DHEA Imbalance
Like most other steroid hormones, DHEA production spikes around puberty and begins to decline around age 30. Since DHEA influences so many important body functions, a DHEA imbalance can trigger many different symptoms. It’s possible for low testosterone to be blamed for the following symptoms, when in reality the underlying problem is poor DHEA production:
- Depression and anxiety
- Decreased sexual desire
- Weakened immune system
- Loss of muscle mass
- Dry skin and eyes
Androstenedione is considered an androgen. It is one of many male sex hormones that influences male features like facial hair, deep voice, and reproductive development.
Androstenedione’s Role in the Body
The power of androstenedione doesn’t come from its direct effects on the body. Instead, androstenedione acts like a stepping stone in the production process of testosterone, estrogen, and other hormones that exert direct control over the body.
A male’s adrenal glands and testes produce androstenedione. Most of the androstenedione produced in the tests is quickly converted into testosterone, so very little makes it into the bloodstream. Instead, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain control the secretion of androstenedione from the adrenal glands into the bloodstream.
Symptoms of an Androstenedione Imbalance
If the pituitary gland and hypothalamus fail to properly regulate the secretion of androstenedione, or if the testes fail to convert androstenedione into testosterone, it is possible for androstenedione levels to become too high or low.
Symptoms of high androstenedione levels are similar to the signs of excess estrogen in the body:
- Large male breasts
- Smaller testes
- Decreased muscle mass
The follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is one of two gonadotropic hormones produced by the pituitary gland and released into the bloodstream. It is present in both men and women.
Follicle-Stimulating Hormone Role in the Body
FSH is produced and released through a complex physiological system. The hypothalamus in the brain released a gonadotropin-releasing hormone that attaches itself to the receptors in the pituitary gland. This stimulates the synthesis and release of FSH and its counterpart, luteinizing hormone.
As FSH travels through the bloodstream, it binds to receptors in the testes. This is essential during puberty because it influences the development of the testes. Later in life, FSH acts specifically upon the Sertoli cells of the testes to stimulate sperm production.
Symptoms of a Follicle-Stimulating Hormone Imbalance
If the testes fail to create enough oestrogen, testosterone, or ibhibin, follicle stimulating hormone production rises beyond normal levels. Unlike other hormone imbalances that result in unwanted but reversible symptoms, high FSH levels are associated with testicular failure through conditions like Klinefelter’s syndrome.
It’s also possible for the body to produce an inadequate supply of FSH. Symptoms of a follicle stimulating hormone deficiency are dramatic and include the following delayed or incomplete puberty and infertility due to lack of sperm.
Luteinizing hormone (LH) is the body’s other gonadotrophic hormone produced by the pituitary gland and released into the bloodstream. It works along with follicle-stimulating hormone to control the development and function of the testes and production of sperm.
Luteinizing Hormone Role in the Body
Luteinizing hormone stimulates the Leydig cells in the testes to synthesize testosterone. This is a critical role since testosterone is responsible for supporting sperm production and defining male characteristics like muscle mass, growth of body hair, and development of the male reproductive system.
Just like FSH, luteinizing hormone is produced and released through a complex physiological system. The hypothalamus in the brain releases a gonadotropin-releasing hormone that attaches itself to the receptors in the pituitary gland. This stimulates the synthesis and release of both LH and FSH. The luteinizing hormone then travels into the testes and begins to regulate their hormone secretions and sperm production.
Symptoms of a Luteinizing Hormone Imbalance
Luteinizing hormone plays a significant role in fertility, so an imbalance can lead to reduced fertility. Too much and too little luteinizing hormone are both associated with infertility in men. Symptoms that may indicate abnormal levels of luteinizing hormone include the following:
- Low testosterone levels
- Low libido
- Reduced muscle mass
- Fatigue and unexplained weight loss
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is the “parent hormone” of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. It plays a unique role in men and women alike.
Gonadotropin’s Role in the Body
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone is produced by nerve cells in the hypothalamus, then released into blood vessels that carry it to the pituitary gland. GnRH stimulates the production of two additional hormones in the pituitary gland: follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, both of which influence the development and function of the testes.
Like so many other hormones, GnRH spikes as puberty approaches in order to achieve sexual maturity. Once puberty concludes, testosterone levels begin to control the production of GnRH. If testosterone rises, GnRH production falls, but if testosterone falls, GnRH production rises to achieve balance.
Symptoms of a Gonadotropin Imbalance
It is extremely rare for the male body to have too much GnRH, but GnRH deficiency can occur with serious consequences. Without enough gonadotropin, boys cannot go through puberty. Their testes never mature, leading to infertility and other hormone production problems.
Inhibin is a protein hormone that males secrete in the testes. Rather than supporting the production of other hormones, inhibin actually suppresses the production of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
Inhibin’s Role in the Body
The testes produce two distinct forms of inhibin known as inhibin A and inhibin B. They work to control the secretion of FSH from the pituitary gland and achieve the right balance for fertility and male reproduction. This is accomplished through a feedback loop. An increase in FSH triggers inhibin, which blocks the FSH from being released into the bloodstream.
As a result, inhibin maintains the has the following roles in the body:
- Maintains male reproductive function
- Increases sperm production
Symptoms of an Inhibin Imbalance
Low inhibin levels reduce sperm production and may lead to testicular problems. Symptoms of low inhibin levels for males include low sperm count, infertility, and small testicles. This is why inhibin B testing is used to predict and confirm male infertility. High inhibin levels, on the other hand, are uncommon in men and mainly affect females.
The Bottom Line
From testosterone to estradiol and everything in between, a complex interplay of hormones controls and influences male health and sexual function. By understanding more about the hormones in your body, you can interpret symptoms and get the hormone testing that you need to determine the root cause of your concerns.