Testosterone and its effects
Men get hormonal disorders for various reasons including stress, natural aging, underlying medical conditions, and as a result of using certain medications. However, a major hormonal disorder in men is a reduced level of testosterone.
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is a primary male sex hormone and a primary androgen. It is responsible for the development of male sexual organs and secondary sexual characteristics. Though testosterone is present in both men and women, its levels are significantly higher in men than in women.
Testosterone is an anabolic steroid that is produced in the Leydig cells of testes in men. Action of the testosterone produced in Leydig cells assist in the production of sperms. Though a considerable amount of testosterone is produced in the testes, a small amount of it is also produced in the adrenal glands.
What are the effects of testosterone?
Anabolic effect of testosterone:
Testosterone is synthesized and derived from cholesterol. It is necessary for normal physical development of boys during puberty. Testosterone promotes the production of new blood cells, and the synthesis of proteins. This leads to tissue growth, and subsequently increase in the muscle mass, bone density, and strength. This effect of testosterone is called the anabolic effect.
Androgenic effects of testosterone:
The action of testosterone during puberty leads to the development of sperm-producing tissues, and male sexual organs. It also leads to the development of secondary sexual characteristics like jaw growth, deepening of voice, facial and pubic hair, growth of Adam’s apple, and others.
Effects of testosterone are not limited to the period of puberty. Its effect is seen even in the fetal stages with the formation of sexual organs. Its effects are also present in early infancy, during puberty, and throughout the adult life.
Testosterone is responsible for sexual arousal and it triggers certain behaviors and mating rituals. In fact, a difference in the male and female brain is linked to the testosterone levels in men and women.
Effects on brain:
Though complex, testosterone has certain cognitive and behavioral effects on the brain. This is because testosterone metabolism is complex and it can effect the synthesis of protein. The levels of testosterone are regulated by gonadotropin-releasing hormone present in the hypothalamus of the brain. The actions of gonadotropin-releasing hormone lead to actions in the anterior pituitary glands and thus there is production of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. Moreover, since gonadotropin-releasing hormone levels are highest during sleep, the levels of testosterone are high early in the morning.
Testosterone is known to influence cognition in the form of attention, spatial ability, memory, and behavioral responses like anxiety, aggression, and risk taking. In fathers, there are reduced levels of testosterone that acts in promoting paternal instincts.
What causes testosterone levels to rise or drop?
It is a fact that men without any hormonal imbalances have fluctuations in the levels of testosterone. However, consistent higher or lower levels of testosterone can be an indicator of hormonal disorders, which requires a thorough evaluation by an endocrinologist.
Reduced levels of testosterone can lead to impotence and infertility in men. It also manifests in the form of physical symptoms with reduced body hair, muscle mass, lack of strength, and an increase in body fat.
Testosterone levels are dependent on the pulsating cycles of gonadotropin-releasing hormone, and the health of Leydig cells in the testes where they are produced. Apart from these factors, there are other factors that influence the levels of testosterone.
Age: As men age, there is a gradual reduction in the levels of testosterone. This can lead to conditions like hypogonadism.
Weight reduction: People who reduce their weight might have an increase in the levels of testosterone. Also, people who gain weight with more adipose tissue (fat) can have reduced levels of testosterone as adipose tissue acts like an endocrine gland and produces estrogen.
Exercise: Strength training leads to an increase in testosterone levels while endurance sports activities tend to decrease testosterone.
Diet: Diet and lifestyle are also known to influence testosterone levels. Deficiency of vitamin A, and zinc is known to cause reduction in testosterone levels. Substances like alcohol, recreational drugs, certain medications, processed foods, added sugars, and fried foods are known to cause a reduction in testosterone levels. Other lifestyle considerations like sleep, and behavioral patterns have an influence on testosterone levels.
Next: Normal range of testosterone in men