Advertisements for “low testosterone” or “Low T” supplements have taken over our televisions lately, with companies selling products they promise will boost a man’s sex drive, increase muscle tone, and end male menopause, among other things. But is Low T, or testosterone deficiency, even something men need to be concerned about?
Sathya Jyothinagaram, MD, Director of Inpatient Diabetes & Endocrinology at Banner – University Medicine Diabetes and Endocrinology Institute and Clinical Professor of Medicine at The University of Arizona College of Medicine - Phoenix, explained that, especially for older men, this common condition needs to be on your radar. “Normal testosterone levels vary throughout life,” explained Dr. Jyothinagaram. “The highest levels are around puberty and young adulthood. There is a gradual decline in levels starting from age 25-30, with a 1-2% decline per year starting around age 30.” One can see an up-to 40 to 50% decline from peak levels by the 5th or 6th decade of life. However, a lower level of testosterone does not necessarily always warrant treatment.
What is low T?
According to the Urology Care Foundation, low testosterone (or testosterone deficiency) is when the body isn’t able to make enough of the hormone testosterone to work normally. Because testosterone is the major androgen, or male sex hormone, it is key not just for the physical changes that happen during puberty, but for bone and muscle function, sex drive, and general mood.
Testosterone is involved in many bodily functions, which means the symptoms of Low T can be nonspecific. Erectile dysfunction is the most common symptom in men, yet many other symptoms can occur, including:
- Fatigue or weakness
- Decreased libido
- Depression or the inability to concentrate
- Decreased muscle mass, strength
- Frailty, fractures
- Decreased body hair
- Hot flashes
- Reduced fertility
Are treatments available?
A decline in the amount of testosterone is a natural part of aging, but several other conditions can also cause testosterone levels to fall. Chronic illnesses like diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and heart failure, infections like mumps, and some autoimmune conditions can all harm testosterone levels. Even some medications like opiates, anabolic steroids, and chemotherapy can cause reduced testosterone levels in men. This is why, as Dr. Jyothinagaram explained, “it’s important to determine the cause of the low testosterone and treat the primary cause before considering testosterone supplementation.”
You have options available if your doctor determines testosterone replacement therapy is appropriate for your condition. These treatment options range from weekly or biweekly injections, transdermal gels and patches, or trans buccal applications designed to adhere to the gum or inner cheek.
These treatments can have adverse effects, which means it’s uncommon to treat a low testosterone level if that person does not yet have symptoms. “Like any medication, there are always risks involved,” cautioned Dr. Jyothinagaram. “Treatment should always be discussed with and monitored by a physician with expertise and experience in using testosterone therapy.” Some conditions affecting testosterone levels may require a referral to a specialist, such as an endocrinologist or urologist.
If you think you might be struggling with low testosterone, don’t wait. Schedule an appointment with a Banner Health endocrinologist to discuss your treatment options and potential next steps.