Low testosterone, commonly known as “Low T”, affects millions of men as they age. Research continues to uncover more about this condition, making tests and treatments more accessible to help men identify and reverse their low levels of testosterone.
What Is Low Testosterone?
Testosterone is a male sex hormone produced by the testicles. It influences the body even before birth by stimulating the development of male sex organs. Testosterone is often best known for its role in puberty, in which it causes physical and behavioral changes in males, including deepening voice, growth of body hair, and enhanced arousal and sexual response.
Though testosterone levels surge in males during puberty, often jumping from 20 ng/dL to 1,200 ng/dL, this hormone doesn’t stay elevated indefinitely. By the time a man turns 30, he begins to experience a 1% decrease in testosterone every year.
Lower testosterone levels cause subtle changes in the body over time, but low testosterone is not considered a formal medical condition until it is diagnosed as hypogonadism. Male hypogonadism is identified as a failure of the testes to produce adequate levels of testosterone:
- In primary hypogonadism, the testicles can’t produce enough testosterone to support levels within the normal range based on age
- In secondary hypogonadism, the brain and testes don’t communicate efficiently, causing testosterone levels to dip too low
Over time, low testosterone causes a range of side effects that diminish a man’s quality of life and place him at increased risk of additional health complications. Identifying the signs of low testosterone and undergoing testosterone testing is necessary to effectively treat male hypogonadism.
Signs You Should Test Your Testosterone Levels
It’s easy to misinterpret signs of low testosterone as symptoms of other health conditions. Many men experience weight gain, fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration but assume their symptoms are caused by stress or aging. Instead, it could be low testosterone interrupting the body’s natural hormonal balance.
If you experience any of the following symptoms on a regular basis, you should have your testosterone levels tested for hypogonadism:
- Increased body fat and decreased muscle mass
- Sleep disturbances and fatigue
- Depression, anxiety, and irritability
- Lack of mental focus
- Decreased libido and erectile dysfunction
- Diminished energy and overall vitality
Aging doesn’t have to be a prison sentence that forces you to endure these symptoms for the rest of your life. It is possible to overcome low testosterone levels and restore balance to the body through hormone testing and treatment.
Testing For Low Testosterone
A testosterone test measures the amount of testosterone in your blood or saliva. Testosterone exists in the body in many different forms and can be measured in terms of bioavailable, free, and total testosterone levels.
Most of the body’s testosterone naturally binds to carrier proteins called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and albumin. More than 40% of the body’s testosterone binds so tightly to SHBG that it is completely unavailable to the body’s cells.
Only 2% of all testosterone remains fully unbound to proteins in the blood. This portion of testosterone is known as free testosterone. It is readily available to move into cells that need testosterone to function and thrive.
Since free testosterone is easily used by the body, a free testosterone test can often provide the most precise indication of low testosterone levels. Free testosterone tests are available in a few different forms:
- Saliva testing: Saliva collection offers an easy, non-invasive way to measure free testosterone and other important hormones in the body.
- Calculated free testosterone: It is also possible to calculate free testosterone from blood samples using equations when total testosterone and unavailable testosterone levels are already established.
Bioavailable testosterone is measured by adding free testosterone levels to the amount of testosterone bound loosely to albumin. On average, 54% of testosterone in the male body forms these loose bonds. This portion of testosterone is active and accessible by the body, but lacks the complete efficiency of free testosterone.
Like free testosterone, bioavailable testosterone is best calculated using an equation with known measurements of total and unavailable testosterone.
A total testosterone test, also known as serum testosterone, measures all three types of testosterone in the body: free, bioavailable, and unavailable. This is the most common type of testosterone test since it provides an overall profile of testosterone levels and helps doctors assess the likelihood of hypogonadism.
Total testosterone can be measured through blood serum testing. All testosterone tests should be completed in the morning since testosterone levels are highest upon waking and fluctuate through the day.`
Overall, there are many different methods available to determine whether a male does have lower-than-average levels of testosterone that are contributing to his unwanted symptoms and health conditions. Once the test confirms hypogonadism, a range of treatments are available to restore normal levels of testosterone and rejuvenate a man’s health.
Common Low Testosterone Treatments
Healthier Lifestyle Habits
Before committing to a formal testosterone treatment, you can use positive lifestyle changes to encourage healthy testosterone levels. Mild to moderate hypogonadism may be improved with the following habits:
- Add more exercise into your daily routine, including resistance and cardio workouts
- Eat vitamin-rich foods, especially those high in vitamin D and zinc: tuna, milk, eggs, beef, and beans
- Lose excess weight to optimize body functions
While these self-improvements may not completely reverse low testosterone, they will enhance your overall health and hormone production.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is the formal medical treatment for low testosterone. It can be completed in a number of ways, some of which might be more convenient for your lifestyle and goals.
- Skin Patch or Gel: A patch or gel applied daily to release measured levels of testosterone into the skin
- Oral tablets: Tablets placed on the inner cheek twice a day to release testosterone into the bloodstream
- Pellet implants: Small, rice-sized pellets implanted under the skin to release a slow, steady stream of testosterone over the span of three to six months
- Injections: Formulas injected weekly or biweekly to increase testosterone levels
It is important to discuss your TRT options with your doctor. The right treatment method can help you enjoy significant improvement in your symptoms after just four to six weeks. The most common benefits of testosterone treatment include enhanced energy levels, focus, sex drive, muscle mass, and quality of life.