Testosterone. The male sex hormone guys have to thank for their deep voices, facial and body hair, and muscular strength, also plays a role in a number of unseen (yet vital) aspects of men’s health. Here’s how to tell if you’ve got low T—and what to do about it.
Why Testosterone Matters
In addition to giving men their classically ‘male’ features, testosterone also supports red blood cell production (and thus the transportation of fresh oxygen throughout the body) as well as sperm production. It also supports men’s mood, libido, and cognitive function.
About Low Testosterone
When testosterone levels run low, men often find themselves feeling, well, less like ‘men.’
Unfortunately, though, low T (also referred to as hypogonadism) becomes increasingly common as men age. Starting around age 40, most guys’ testosterone decreases by about one to two percent per year. By the time they’re 80, most men have low levels.
Low T isn’t just an issue for older men, though. In fact, more than 30 percent of guys under 60 (roughly six million American men) have low testosterone, says Lawrence Jenkins, M.D., a urologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Even men as young as 25 can experience low testosterone levels.”
Reasons For Low Testosterone
Regular ol’ aging aside, one common reason for wonky testosterone levels is being overweight.
According to John La Puma, M.D., founder of nutrition-focused medical group Chef Clinic and author of REFUEL, weight actually has a bigger impact on testosterone levels than aging. “As weight goes up, testosterone levels go down,” he says. In fact, low T is more common in overweight men and men with diabetes, according to the American Urological Association.
Other causes include inflammatory diseases, narcotic pain med use, developmental issues during puberty, and damage due to cancer, according to The Mayo Clinic.
Signs You Have Low Testosterone
Guys dealing with low testosterone often experience a number of hard-to-ignore symptoms. Here are the details on four of the most common.
1. You’re Always Tired
Though experts don’t quite know why, low testosterone often causes fatigue, says La Puma.
One possible explanation: Testosterone is crucial for men’s ability to create proteins needed to build muscle and maintain healthy insulin sensitivity. “Both make men feel better,” La Puma says. After all, both help men power through the day—and impact their long-term metabolic health.
2. You Feel Depressed
Depression, which often goes hand in hand with fatigue, is another common symptom of low T.
Though the reason behind the link between depression and low T is still unclear, one leading theory suggests that testosterone impacts neurotransmitters (chemicals that transfer nerve impulses to other parts of the body) in the brain. Perhaps the most notable of these neurotransmitters: serotonin, the ‘feel good’ chemical, which helps regulate mood, memory, and sexual desire, says La Puma.
3. You Have No Sex Drive
That said, if you have low testosterone levels, you may not feel aroused as easily or as often as you once did.
What’s more, you may also have trouble getting or staying erect. Testosterone plays a key role in every pathway (from your brain and spinal cord to your muscle, heart, and blood cells) involved in achieving an erection.
4. You’re Losing Muscle
Along with growth hormone, testosterone is a crucial contributor to the muscle-building process.
Testosterone boosts production of other muscle- and strength-supporting hormones, increases the number of neurotransmitters around exercise-damaged muscle tissue, and encourages muscle protein synthesis (the process of repairing and building muscle tissue). These factors are especially important after strength training.
When T levels run low, your body may have a hard time building new muscle—or even maintaining the muscle you already have.
Think You Have Low Testosterone?
If any of these four symptoms sound familiar—or you’re just curious about your T levels—visit your doctor. From there, a simple blood test will reveal your testosterone levels.
Normal T falls between 300 to 1,000 ng/dL, and anything below 300 ng/dL is considered low, according to the American Urological Association (AUA).
How To Boost Testosterone
If you do, in fact, have low testosterone, there are a number of ways you can get your levels back on track.
If you meet the clinical definition of testosterone deficiency, your doctor may recommend prescription hormone therapy. However, if you want to avoid hormone therapy’s potential side effects—like skin issues and possible heart risks—you can take a more au-naturale route, says Jenkins.
In fact, lifestyle has a huge influence on testosterone. To encourage healthy T, your number-one task is to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Take a look at your diet and exercise habits (or lack thereof). If you have a few pounds to shed, get to it. In addition to regular cardio exercise, prioritize doing at least two full-body strength training sessions per week.
Scoring quality shut-eye can also make a big difference in T levels. In fact, according to one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, just one week of poor sleep can negatively impacted T levels in otherwise healthy young men. (Unsurprisingly, guys also reported a lower sense of wellbeing.) Aim to sleep seven to nine hours every night and help your body shut down by following a relaxing bedtime routine, like taking a warm shower, reading a book, or doing light stretches.
Finally, the right supplement regimen can also promote healthy T. Talk to your doctor about whether a multivitamin and supplements like vitamin D, ashwagandha, and zinc (all of which have been shown to support testosterone) can help.
There are also a number of testosterone boosters by Force Factor that you can explore at The Vitamin Shoppe.