How often do you hear your friends blame their health problems on low testosterone? From weight gain to insomnia, many unwanted symptoms can be traced back to testosterone.

Testosterone plays an essential role in the body’s daily functions, but its levels fluctuate and diminish over time. These changes begin in the womb, spike during adolescence, and continue in a downward trend with age.

Men and women use testosterone differently, but they are both affected by changing levels over time. New research continues to uncover exactly how these testosterone changes influence our physical and emotional health.

Testosterone’s Role In the Male 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. In fact, testosterone is so important that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) considers it the most necessary male hormone.

Testosterone is part of a group of male hormones called androgens. 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:

  • libido
  • bone mass
  • red blood cell production
  • muscle mass
  • bone mass
  • fat distribution
  • sperm production

Everything about a man’s sexual development relies upon testosterone, so it’s no wonder that low testosterone causes health problems.

Testosterone’s Role In the Female Body

Testosterone is often labeled as “the male sex hormone”, but it’s also an important part of a woman’s health as well. Females generally produce lower levels of testosterone than males. They are also more sensitive to the testosterone that does exist in the body.

Women produce testosterone in their ovaries and adrenal glands. This testosterone is responsible for the following:

  • development of lean muscle mass and bone strength
  • libido and sexual function
  • energy level
  • sharp brain function

Some women suffer from the side effects of high testosterone, especially women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a condition that triggers abnormally high amounts of male hormones like testosterone. This hormonal imbalance causes a range of symptoms:

  • irregular menstrual periods
  • infertility
  • excess body hair
  • weight gain

From the Beginning: Fetal Testosterone Levels

Testosterone plays a vital role in the body long before puberty begins. This hormone influences the growing fetus during pregnancy as well.  

Testosterone stimulates the development of male sex organs before birth. A baby boy begins to produce his own testosterone as early as seven weeks after conception.

A growing body of research suggests that a mother’s testosterone levels during pregnancy directly impact her baby’s future traits. Studies have connected fetal testosterone levels to everything from impulsivity and facial appearance to illness susceptibility.

If fetal testosterone levels range too high or low, the developing baby may suffer health consequences. Most notably, research links autism to high levels of testosterone in the womb.

Testosterone Levels in Adolescence and Early Adulthood

Boys and girls both experience dramatic hormonal changes beginning around the age of 10 or 11. Testosterone is directly responsible for puberty in males, while it acts as a precursor to estrogen in females.

Testosterone Levels For Males in Adolescence and Early Adulthood

Testosterone levels surge during adolescence. Boys commonly experience a 30-fold increase in testosterone production. This dramatic increase in testosterone causes physical and behavioral changes in males:

  • Deepening voice
  • Growth of body and facial hair
  • More lean body mass and muscle tissue
  • Enhanced arousal and sexual response

Adolescent boys maintain high testosterone levels through early adulthood, as seen in the chart below.

Age of Male T Level in Blood (ng/dL)
6 months – 9 years <7-20
10-11 years <7-130
12-13 years <7-800
14 years <7-1,200
15-16 years 100-1,200
17-18 years 300-1,200
19+ years 240-950
Average early adult male 270-1,070

However, a marked rise in testosterone is not guaranteed. Some boys struggle to produce normal levels of testosterone during adolescence. Males who produce too little testosterone often have a condition called hypogonadism.

This condition is marked by the reduction or absence of hormone secretion in the testes. Signs of hypogonadism during puberty include the following:

  • Development of breast tissue
  • Lack of deepening voice
  • Impaired growth of body hair, penis, testicles, and muscle mass

Testosterone Levels For Females in Adolescence and Early Adulthood

The female body also requires testosterone to undergo puberty, but not in such high quantities. This is why a woman’s total testosterone levels are usually one-tenth to one-twentieth those of a man’s.

 

Age of Female T Level in Blood (ng/dL)
6 months – 9 years <7-20
10-11 years <7-44
12-16 years <7-75
17-18 years 20-75
19+ years 8-60
Average early adult female 15-70

Testosterone functions as a precursor to estrogen. It blends with other hormones in the body to trigger the common changes seen in girls during adolescence:

  • Breast development
  • Extra body fat
  • Menstruation
  • Growth of body hair

Testosterone Levels After Age 30

Despite the undeniable rise in testosterone levels for males and females throughout adolescence and early adulthood, most males experience a decrease in testosterone by about 1% every year after the age of 30.

This gradual decline in testosterone does not cause symptoms immediately. The body changes subtly over time. Signs of increased testosterone during puberty often become replaced by an overall decline in physical energy, strength, and stamina.

Testosterone Levels After Age 50

Low testosterone becomes most predominant after the age of 50 when women frequently begin to experience menopause and men become more vulnerable to andropause.

Testosterone Levels in Andropause

Andropause is known as the male menopause because it is defined by dramatic hormonal shifts. A healthy 30-year-old man averages a testosterone level of 600 ng/dL, but that decreases to 400 ng/dL by age 80.

Andropause is marked by decreasing testosterone levels. Physical, sexual, and psychological symptoms may develop as a result:

  • low energy
  • depression
  • difficulty concentrating
  • development of male breasts
  • erectile dysfunction and reduced libido
  • reduced muscle mass and increased body fat

Testosterone Levels in Menopause

Menopause is commonly correlated with decreased estrogen levels, but diminishing testosterone levels contribute to the development of menopause as well.

Testosterone plays a key role in a woman’s estrogen production, contributes to libido, and supports muscle mass and bone strength. This means that lower testosterone levels during menopause are partially responsible for lower estrogen levels and the following symptoms:

  • hot flashes and night sweats
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • vaginal dryness and decreased libido
  • fatigue and poor concentration

Do I Have Low Testosterone?

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”.

Low testosterone levels can trigger a range of impacts on your health and quality of life. By testing your hormone levels, you can narrow down the cause of your symptoms to Low T and seek the proper treatment to enhance your wellness.

Symptoms of Low Testosterone

It’s easy to assume the symptoms of your low testosterone are signs of general aging, but they are distinctly different. Aging cannot be stopped, but low testosterone can be treated and reversed.

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
  • fatigue
  • 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.

How to Test Your Testosterone Levels

Low testosterone can be medically diagnosed using a blood or saliva test. Both testosterone tests are quick and simple. It’s best to provide your blood or saliva sample in the morning, when testosterone levels are highest.

A testosterone test measures the hormone in two ways and provides a total of both:

  1. Free testosterone, which travels through the blood unattached to any proteins
  2. Testosterone that travels through the blood attached to the proteins albumin and SHBG
Normal Total Testosterone Male Female
Ages 19 – 49 249 – 836 ng/dL 8 – 48 ng/dL
Ages 50 and up 193 – 740 ng/dL 2 – 41 ng/dL

If the results of your testosterone test fall within the normal range for your age and sex, your doctor can help you adopt healthier lifestyle habits to reduce your symptoms and enhance your quality of life.

If the results of your testosterone test indicate that you do have low testosterone, your doctor may want to run a few other tests to evaluate additional hormone levels. You also have a few treatment options to consider:

  • Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy
  • Testosterone gels and skin patches
  • Testosterone injections

Many men who use their testosterone test results to develop a treatment plan report the elimination of their worst symptoms. Testosterone therapy has helped men over the age of 30 improve their energy level, focus, sex drive, muscle mass, and quality of life.

The Bottom Line

Testosterone plays an important role in male and female health. It influences sex drive, concentration, mood, and so much more. This is why fluctuations and changes in testosterone levels can cause unwanted side effects.

Do you suspect that imbalanced testosterone levels are causing your ongoing health problems? If so, a simple hormone test will help you identify a potential deficiency or surplus. Knowing your testosterone level is the first step to finding the treatment that will help you restore your wellness.