Testosterone is an essential hormone produced in men’s testes and in smaller amounts in women’s ovaries. As men age, their testosterone levels can sometimes drop, leading to a range of unwanted side effects. Here is a quick overview of testosterone, its role in the body, why testosterone levels can drop, and what the consequences are.
Testosterone and Its Role in the Body
Testosterone is primarily responsible for the development of sex organs and fertility in men, but it also helps with the development of secondary sex characteristics at puberty—namely the growth of body hair and the deepening of the voice. Both the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are responsible for regulating the production of testosterone.
Most of the body’s testosterone circulates in the blood stream and is attached to a protein carrier. This testosterone is considered “bound” and has no effect on the body. Only “free” testosterone that is unattached to a protein carrier has the capability to produce any noticeable effects.
Causes of Low Testosterone
There are several potential causes for low testosterone. One possibility is that the hypothalamus and pituitary glands are not regulating its production correctly. However, it’s also possible that the organs which produce testosterone, the testes or ovaries, are not doing so correctly. This could be caused by anything from a scrotal injury to aging.
Low Testosterone’s Consequences
The symptoms associated with low testosterone depend on the stage of life in which it occurs. During fetal development, low testosterone can inhibit the normal growth of the male sex organs, which can lead to ambiguous genitalia. If it happens before or during puberty, low testosterone can result in improper maturation that includes gynecomastia, a lack of body hair, or a lack of muscle mass. Finally, during adulthood low testosterone can lead to infertility, baldness, erectile dysfunction, and even osteoporosis.
While low testosterone is normally a problem associated with men, there can be negative side effects for women suffering from it as well. These include a decrease in libido, hot flashes, osteoporosis, and sleep problems.