When you’re under stress (be it from lack of sleep, workplace stress, emotional stress, stress from a bad diet, overtraining etc.), your body releases cortisol. Cortisol blunts the effects of testosterone (47), which makes sense from an evolutionary point of view – if we were stressed as cavemen chances are it was a life or death situation – not running late to a meeting - in this state (i.e. running from a lion) the body wouldn’t care if you couldn’t get it up, there was more to worry about!
The sex hormone testosterone is far more than just the stuff of the alpha male's swagger. Though it plays a more significant role in the life of the biological male, it is actually present in both sexes to some degree. Despite popular perceptions that testosterone primarily controls aggression and sex drive—although it does play a role in both of those things—research has shown that individual levels of testosterone are also correlated with our language skills and cognitive abilities. Testosterone occurs in the body naturally, but can be administered as a medication, too: its most common uses are in the treatment of hypogonadism and breast cancer, as well as in hormone therapy for transgender men.
Cognitive abilities differ between males and females and these differences are present from childhood. In broad terms, girls have stronger verbal skills than boys who tend to have stronger skills related to spatial ability (Linn and Petersen 1985). It is thought that the actions of sex hormones have a role in these differences. Reviewing different cognitive strengths of male versus female humans is not within the scope of this article but the idea that cognition could be altered by testosterone deserves attention.
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Men's levels of testosterone, a hormone known to affect men's mating behaviour, changes depending on whether they are exposed to an ovulating or nonovulating woman's body odour. Men who are exposed to scents of ovulating women maintained a stable testosterone level that was higher than the testosterone level of men exposed to nonovulation cues. Testosterone levels and sexual arousal in men are heavily aware of hormone cycles in females. This may be linked to the ovulatory shift hypothesis, where males are adapted to respond to the ovulation cycles of females by sensing when they are most fertile and whereby females look for preferred male mates when they are the most fertile; both actions may be driven by hormones.
In summary, low testosterone levels are linked to the presence of numerous cardiovascular risk factors. Testosterone treatment acts to improve some of these factors, but effects may vary according to pre- and post-treatment testosterone levels, as well as other factors. There is little data from trials specific to aging males. Appropriately-powered randomized controlled trials, with cardiovascular disease primary endpoints, are needed to clarify the situation, but in the meantime the balance of evidence is that testosterone has either neutral or beneficial effects on the risk of cardiovascular disease in men. It is particularly important to define the effect of testosterone treatment on cardiovascular disease in view of its potential use as an anti-anginal agent.
Early infancy androgen effects are the least understood. In the first weeks of life for male infants, testosterone levels rise. The levels remain in a pubertal range for a few months, but usually reach the barely detectable levels of childhood by 4–7 months of age. The function of this rise in humans is unknown. It has been theorized that brain masculinization is occurring since no significant changes have been identified in other parts of the body. The male brain is masculinized by the aromatization of testosterone into estrogen, which crosses the blood–brain barrier and enters the male brain, whereas female fetuses have α-fetoprotein, which binds the estrogen so that female brains are not affected.
That said, a group of researchers at the National University of Malaysia did a systemic literature review of longjack, looking for clinical research that demonstrated a relationship between the shrub and testosterone levels. Of 150 articles, only 11 met their inclusion criteria — involving humans and scientifically rigorous. However, of those 11 studies, seven “revealed remarkable association” between using longjack and improving male sexual health, while the remaining four “failed to demonstrate sufficient effects.” The team concluded that longjack looks “promising” when it comes to raising low testosterone, and that there is convincing evidence that it works.
The amount of testosterone synthesized is regulated by the hypothalamic–pituitary–testicular axis (see figure to the right). When testosterone levels are low, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is released by the hypothalamus, which in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to release FSH and LH. These latter two hormones stimulate the testis to synthesize testosterone. Finally, increasing levels of testosterone through a negative feedback loop act on the hypothalamus and pituitary to inhibit the release of GnRH and FSH/LH, respectively.
Any day that you don’t get 20 minutes of direct sunlight on your skin, you want to supplement with 5,000 IUs of vitamin D3. If you get your blood levels tested and you’re extremely low — below 50 IUs — you typically want to do 5,000 IUs twice a day for three months until you get those numbers up. You can do everything in the world, but if your vitamin D levels aren’t right, your testosterone levels will stay low.
One of the most important nutrients that can help boost testosterone levels is vitamin D3. In 2011, the results of a study published in the journal Hormone and Metabolic Research announced that vitamin D supplementation boosts testosterone naturally in overweight men by up to 30 percent. (12) This is pretty exciting because research has shown that vitamin D3 is also linked to helping to prevent and treat cancer! (13)
There are a lot of test booster blends out there. A lot of them are junk. I have tried to cover the most effective herbs above. As always, I recommend doing your own research and experiment to see if you notice an effect. If you would like one easy herbal solution I recommend starting with Mike Mahlers Aggressive Strength product purely because I have solid anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness. But again, supplements should be seen purely as that - a supplement to a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, hard training with adequate rest.
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Do low levels of testosterone produce symptoms in middle-aged men? Absolutely. In fact, the classic symptoms were first recognized more than 70 years ago when two American physicians, Carl Heller, MD, and Gordon Myers, MD, showed the effectiveness of testosterone treatment for symptoms of fatigue, depression, irritability, low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, night sweats, and hot flashes in men. Over the years, subsequent studies have found that some—but not all—men with low, age-adjusted testosterone levels exhibit symptoms consistent with andropause. All experience improvement with testosterone therapy.
Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 actually isn’t a vitamin, it’s a hormone — a really important hormone that provides a whole host of health benefits. Our bodies can naturally make vitamin D from the sun, but recent studies have shown that many Westerners are vitamin D3 deprived because we’re spending less and less time outdoors. When we do decide to venture outside, we slather our bodies with sunscreen, which prevents the sun reaching our skin to kick-off vitamin D3 production. If you’re not getting enough sun, you may have a vitamin D3 deficiency, which may contribute to low T levels. If you think you need more vitamin D3, supplement it with a pill. Studies have shown that men who take this supplement see a boost in their testosterone levels. Because I have a darker complexion — which makes me prone to Vitamin D3 deficiency — I took 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 in the morning.
There are supplements out there that promise to increase your libido while also upping your testosterone. There are over the counter testosterone supplements and prescription supplements. There are supplements that market themselves as T-boosters, while also touting themselves as an aphrodisiac. And then there are companies that claim to have developed a testosterone pill that contains the triumvirate of male-enhancing properties: T-boosting, libido-enhancing, and even fertility-increasing. These supplement makers sometimes throw in an additional claim of muscle gain as well.
Conflicting results have been obtained concerning the importance of testosterone in maintaining cardiovascular health. Nevertheless, maintaining normal testosterone levels in elderly men has been shown to improve many parameters that are thought to reduce cardiovascular disease risk, such as increased lean body mass, decreased visceral fat mass, decreased total cholesterol, and glycemic control.
The partial synthesis in the 1930s of abundant, potent testosterone esters permitted the characterization of the hormone's effects, so that Kochakian and Murlin (1936) were able to show that testosterone raised nitrogen retention (a mechanism central to anabolism) in the dog, after which Allan Kenyon's group was able to demonstrate both anabolic and androgenic effects of testosterone propionate in eunuchoidal men, boys, and women. The period of the early 1930s to the 1950s has been called "The Golden Age of Steroid Chemistry", and work during this period progressed quickly. Research in this golden age proved that this newly synthesized compound—testosterone—or rather family of compounds (for many derivatives were developed from 1940 to 1960), was a potent multiplier of muscle, strength, and well-being.
The most common "out of balance" testosterone levels are found to be on the low side of normal; this occurs because a male's highest testosterone level usually peaks at about age 20, and then it decreases slowly with age. It has been suggested that a 1% decrease in testosterone level per year is not unusual for middle-aged (30 to 50 years old) and older males. While this decrease may not be noticeable in some men, others may experience significant changes starting in their middle-aged years or more commonly at age 60 and above. This drop in testosterone levels is sometimes termed hypogonadism, "male menopause" or andropause.
A lifelong habit of learning and engaging in mentally challenging activities seems to keep the brain in shape. Intellectual enrichment and learning stimulate the brain to make more connections, increasing the density of nerve-to-nerve connections. That means the "educated brain" may possess a deeper well of connections and be able to withstand more damage to the brain from a small stroke without causing loss of memory or thinking skills.