Testosterone is an anabolic steroid hormone that plays a critical role in metabolism, sex drive, muscle building, mood regulation, memory & cognitive function. Normal testosterone levels play a huge role in maintaining optimal weight as well as reducing risk of degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, & certain cancers (1, 2, 3).
Vitamin D, a steroid hormone, is essential for the healthy development of the nucleus of the sperm cell, and helps maintain semen quality and sperm count. Vitamin D also increases levels of testosterone, which may boost libido. In one study, overweight men who were given vitamin D supplements had a significant increase in testosterone levels after one year.5
Testosterone may prove to be an effective treatment in female sexual arousal disorders, and is available as a dermal patch. There is no FDA approved androgen preparation for the treatment of androgen insufficiency; however, it has been used off-label to treat low libido and sexual dysfunction in older women. Testosterone may be a treatment for postmenopausal women as long as they are effectively estrogenized.
Two of the immediate metabolites of testosterone, 5α-DHT and estradiol, are biologically important and can be formed both in the liver and in extrahepatic tissues. Approximately 5 to 7% of testosterone is converted by 5α-reductase into 5α-DHT, with circulating levels of 5α-DHT about 10% of those of testosterone, and approximately 0.3% of testosterone is converted into estradiol by aromatase. 5α-Reductase is highly expressed in the male reproductive organs (including the prostate gland, seminal vesicles, and epididymides), skin, hair follicles, and brain and aromatase is highly expressed in adipose tissue, bone, and the brain. As much as 90% of testosterone is converted into 5α-DHT in so-called androgenic tissues with high 5α-reductase expression, and due to the several-fold greater potency of 5α-DHT as an AR agonist relative to testosterone, it has been estimated that the effects of testosterone are potentiated 2- to 3-fold in such tissues.
Testosterone is necessary for normal sperm development. It activates genes in Sertoli cells, which promote differentiation of spermatogonia. It regulates acute HPA (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis) response under dominance challenge. Androgen including testosterone enhances muscle growth. Testosterone also regulates the population of thromboxane A2 receptors on megakaryocytes and platelets and hence platelet aggregation in humans.
Clinical trials of the effect of testosterone on glucose metabolism in men have occurred in diabetic and non-diabetic populations. Data specific to aging males is not available. A series of studies investigated the effects of testosterone or dihydrotestosterone given for 6 weeks or 3 months to middle aged, non-diabetic obese men (Marin, Holmang et al 1992; Marin, Krotkiewski et al 1992; Marin et al 1993). It was found that physiological treatment doses led to improved insulin resistance, as measured by the gold standard technique using a euglycemic clamp and/or serum glucose and insulin responses during glucose tolerance test. These improvements were associated with decreased central obesity, measured by computered tomography (CT) or waist-hip ratio, without reduced total fat mass. Insulin resistance improved more with testosterone than dihydrotestosterone treatment and beneficial effects were greater in men with lower baseline testosterone levels. Increasing testosterone levels into the supraphysiological range lead to decreased glucose tolerance.
The regulation of testosterone production is tightly controlled to maintain normal levels in blood, although levels are usually highest in the morning and fall after that. The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland are important in controlling the amount of testosterone produced by the testes. In response to gonadotrophin-releasing hormone from the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland produces luteinising hormone which travels in the bloodstream to the gonads and stimulates the production and release of testosterone.
^ Southren AL, Gordon GG, Tochimoto S, Pinzon G, Lane DR, Stypulkowski W (May 1967). "Mean plasma concentration, metabolic clearance and basal plasma production rates of testosterone in normal young men and women using a constant infusion procedure: effect of time of day and plasma concentration on the metabolic clearance rate of testosterone". The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 27 (5): 686–94. doi:10.1210/jcem-27-5-686. PMID 6025472.
The reliable measurement of serum free testosterone requires equilibrium dialysis. This is not appropriate for clinical use as it is very time consuming and therefore expensive. The amount of bioavailable testosterone can be measured as a percentage of the total testosterone after precipitation of the SHBG bound fraction using ammonium sulphate. The bioavailable testosterone is then calculated from the total testosterone level. This method has an excellent correlation with free testosterone (Tremblay and Dube 1974) but is not widely available for clinical use. In most clinical situations the available tests are total testosterone and SHBG which are both easily and reliably measured. Total testosterone is appropriate for the diagnosis of overt male hypogonadism where testosterone levels are very low and also in excluding hypogonadism in patients with normal/high-normal testosterone levels. With increasing age, a greater number of men have total testosterone levels just below the normal range or in the low-normal range. In these patients total testosterone can be an unreliable indicator of hypogonadal status. There are a number of formulae that calculate an estimated bioavailable or free testosterone level using the SHBG and total testosterone levels. Some of these have been shown to correlate well with laboratory measures and there is evidence that they more reliably indicate hypogonadism than total testosterone in cases of borderline biochemical hypogonadism (Vermeulen et al 1971; Morris et al 2004). It is important that such tests are validated for use in patient populations relevant to the patient under consideration.
With the decline of ovarian function in menopause, not only do estrogen levels decline, but so does testosterone availability, since the ovaries contribute, either by direct secretion or through precursor production, about 50 percent of circulating testosterone. The other 50 percent is supplied by the adrenal glands. Many post-menopausal or oophorectomized women are symptomatic as a consequence of reduced testosterone, the leading symptom being loss of libido (Sherwin and Gelfand 1987; Simon et al 2005). There is an increasing trend toward testosterone supplementation in these women. Such supplementation may also lead, not only to increased libido, but to increased bone mineral density and an improvement in general overall sense of well-being including energy, strength, motivation and mood (Davis et al 1995; Davis et al 2000).
Testosterone is everywhere playing multiple roles from intrauterine life to advanced age. Table 1, the contents of which are always undergoing change primarily because of newly observed associations, provides an overview of the bodily systemic functions and patho-physiological states in which testosterone finds itself implicated. In some of these states there is a clear physiological cause and effect relationship. In others, evidence of the physiological role is early or tenuous.
Mood disturbance and dysthymia are part of the clinical syndrome of hypogonadism. Epidemiological studies have found a positive association between testosterone levels and mood, and depressed aging males have lower testosterone levels than controls (Barrett-Connor, Von Muhlen et al 1999). Furthermore, induction of a hypogonadal state during treatment of men for prostate cancer leads to an increase in depression scores (Almeida et al 2004). Trials of testosterone treatment effects on mood have varied in outcome. Data on the effects on men with depression are conflicting (Seidman et al 2001; Pope et al 2003) but there is evidence that testosterone treatment of older hypogonadal men does result in improvements in mood (Wang et al 1996) and that this may occur through changes in regional brain perfusion (Azad et al 2003).
Men on long-term testosterone appear to have a higher risk of cardiovascular problems, like heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from heart disease. For example, in 2010, researchers halted the Testosterone in Older Men study when early results showed that men on hormone treatments had noticeably more heart problems. "In older men, theoretical cardiac side effects become a little more immediate," Dr. Pallais says.