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The Sorry State of Testosterone… and what you can do about it

Testosterone! Give me all of it! But not too much, and definitely not too little. Just give me enough to perform. 

But it’s a sad story for our precious T…. In a culture with average food, little movement and sleep being a burden, levels have been steadily declining for some time. A study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that levels have been steadily declining since the 1980’s. Then there’s the recent study in the Human Reproduction Update Journal that found that sperm counts across North America, Europe and Australia has dropped by 50% from 1973 – 2011.

What it is:

Testosterone plays a vital importance in all humans, not only the muscle head who’s looking to maximise it at any cost. It’s what keeps us happy, strong, and motivates us to get off our arse and do things.

Us guys produce most of it in our testes (some comes from the adrenal glands), and the whole process starts in the brain. We produce a hormone called gonadotropin – releasing hormone (GRH) which is sent to the pituitary gland. The pituitary then releases two hormones, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which make their way down to the testes… this is where the fun begins.

Through cholesterol (yes, eat your eggs), testosterone is produced in the testes through leydig cells. It’s sent into the bloodstream, and attaches to sex hormone binding globulin and albumin, making it active. When we have enough, the brain sends a signal for LH to quieten down and production diminishes.

Why you should care:

As mentioned above, testosterone makes us do things. It gives us vitality, strength and wellbeing. It’s also been widely studied and has connections with a number of health conditions such as:

  • Depression:

It’s a wonderful thing that men are now encouraged to talk about their mental health, and there’s a wealth of support out there for those struggling. What’s worth noting is that there’s a significant correlation between low T levels and depression. Researchers have established the link between the two, but haven’t concluded whether depression causes low T, or low T causes depression. Coaching thousands of humans over the years tells me that those who train regularly, eat well, get into nature and have good relationships are generally in a healthier mental state than those who don’t. Hey, it IS anecdotal, but I believe these to be innate needs and at the baseline for mental and physical health.

  • Body Composition:

Having healthy levels of testosterone is going to promote muscle growth via protein synthesis – testosterone = muscle mass… we know that. What you may not know is T’s critical role in regulating bodyfat levels. It helps our metabolism of insulin and glucose, which causes fat tissue to accumulate. In a tasty turn of events, the body is then more likely to convert testosterone to estrogen, further increasing our fat stores – more on that here. So, increased bodyfat = increased estrogen and decreased testosterone.

  • Libido

T is probably most famous for its impact on libido. There’s clear relationship between healthy testosterone levels and increased sex drive and erectile function and one of the most obvious signs of overall health for us fellas.

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  • Cognition

Though it’s often associated with the meathead variety, testosterone plays a critical role in our brain function… Maybe we shouldn’t dismiss the jacked dude at the gym. Low T is often associated with brain fog and spatial awareness in middle aged men, and has been well studied in its effects on memory.

  • Motivation and Drive

Testosterone is linked to our ability to get up and go. In a competitive environment, it’s been shown to increase visual acuity, reaction time and endurance. Another interesting study here monitored the hormone statuses of winners and losers during competition. Those who lost the competition and suffered a decrease in T levels were more likely to quit, whereas those who lost but had an increase in T were more likely to try again.

 

But doesn’t it make me angry?

Testosterone has long been associated with aggression, but more recent research suggests that the opposite could be true. Dr. Ronald Swerdloff, a chief endocrinologist at UCLA, was one of the first people to use testosterone replacement therapy for alleviating depression and found that those with lower testosterone suffer from frustration and irritability. While testosterone has been liked with competitiveness, risk taking and desire for power, being able this energy into positive means is crucial for men.

 

For now

Respect that your testosterone is important. If you don’t care about your muscle mass, you might care about your brain, or your sex drive… I’ll be talking about how to raise it naturally in part 2, but if you’d like some proper testing and advice, schedule a complimentary consultation and we can talk about your options.

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Steve is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner and Fitness Coach based in Melbourne, Australia.

He works with clients to restore optimum function using nutrition and lifestyle interventions.

References:

Travison, T., Araujo, A., O’Donnell. (2007) A population – level decline in serum testosterone levels in American Men. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology Metabolism. 92 (196-202)

McHenry, J., Carrier, N., Hull, E., & Kubbaj, M (2014) Sex Differences in Anxiety and Depression: Role of Testosterone. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology. 35 (42 – 57).

Josephs, R. (2015) Testosterone change after losing predicts the decision to compete again. Hormones and Behaviour 50(5).