Levels of testosterone naturally decrease with age, but exactly what level constitutes "low T," or hypogonadism, is controversial, Harvard Medical School said. Testosterone levels vary wildly, and can even differ depending on the time of day they're measured (levels tend to be lower in the evenings). The National Institutes of Health includes the following as possible symptoms of low testosterone:
Most Americans today are sleep deprived, which may be a contributing factor to declining testosterone levels in men. See, our body makes nearly all the testosterone it needs for the day while we’re sleeping. That increased level of T that we experience at night is one of the reasons we wake up with “Morning Wood.” (If you don’t have Morning Wood on a consistent basis, you might have low T).
Cross-sectional studies have found a positive association between serum testosterone and some measures of cognitive ability in men (Barrett-Connor, Goodman-Gruen et al 1999; Yaffe et al 2002). Longitudinal studies have found that free testosterone levels correlate positively with future cognitive abilities and reduced rate of cognitive decline (Moffat et al 2002) and that, compared with controls, testosterone levels are reduced in men with Alzheimer’s disease at least 10 years prior to diagnosis (Moffat et al 2004). Studies of the effects of induced androgen deficiency in patients with prostate cancer have shown that profoundly lowering testosterone leads to worsening cognitive functions (Almeida et al 2004; Salminen et al 2004) and increased levels of serum amyloid (Gandy et al 2001; Almeida et al 2004), which is central to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (Parihar and Hemnani 2004). Furthermore, testosterone reduces amyloid-induced hippocampal neurotoxity in vitro (Pike 2001) as well as exhibiting other neuroprotective effects (Pouliot et al 1996). The epidemiological and experimental data propose a potential role of testosterone in protecting cognitive function and preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
However, some of these signs and symptoms can be caused by factors other than low testosterone, including medication side effects, thyroid problems, depression and excessive alcohol use. There are also conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea, that might affect testosterone levels. Once these conditions are identified and treated, testosterone typically will return to a normal level.
Testosterone is an androgenic sex hormone produced by the testicles (and in smaller amounts in women’s ovaries), and is often associated with “manhood.” Primarily, this hormone plays a great role in men’s sexual and reproductive function. It also contributes to their muscle mass, hair growth, maintaining bone density, red blood cell production, and emotional health.
When testosterone and endorphins in ejaculated semen meet the cervical wall after sexual intercourse, females receive a spike in testosterone, endorphin, and oxytocin levels, and males after orgasm during copulation experience an increase in endorphins and a marked increase in oxytocin levels. This adds to the hospitable physiological environment in the female internal reproductive tract for conceiving, and later for nurturing the conceptus in the pre-embryonic stages, and stimulates feelings of love, desire, and paternal care in the male (this is the only time male oxytocin levels rival a female's).
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.
When you're under a lot of stress, your body releases high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone actually blocks the effects of testosterone,6 presumably because, from a biological standpoint, testosterone-associated behaviors (mating, competing, aggression) may have lowered your chances of survival in an emergency (hence, the "fight or flight" response is dominant, courtesy of cortisol).
Androgens may modulate the physiology of vaginal tissue and contribute to female genital sexual arousal. Women's level of testosterone is higher when measured pre-intercourse vs pre-cuddling, as well as post-intercourse vs post-cuddling. There is a time lag effect when testosterone is administered, on genital arousal in women. In addition, a continuous increase in vaginal sexual arousal may result in higher genital sensations and sexual appetitive behaviors.
Every vitamin, mineral, and ingredient that affects the human body can be taken in enough quantities that they are harmful, or toxic, even the ones that — at lower levels — are beneficial or necessary. Unfortunately, testosterone boosters contain a lot of ingredients that are not well understood. This means in addition to not being able to confirm whether certain ingredients increase testosterone, the scientific and medical communities also don’t know at what levels many ingredients become toxic. On the up side, you might need to eat several pounds of a particular leafy plant before it becomes harmful. On the down side, it could be significantly less that pushes you over your body’s limit. We simply don’t know how little or how much the human body can tolerate. We recommend keeping your doctor in the loop when you add any supplement with unproven ingredients into your diet — they’ll be able to help you find and track any undesired side-effects that these ingredients might cause.
The effects of testosterone in humans and other vertebrates occur by way of multiple mechanisms: by activation of the androgen receptor (directly or as DHT), and by conversion to estradiol and activation of certain estrogen receptors. Androgens such as testosterone have also been found to bind to and activate membrane androgen receptors.
"A lot of the symptoms are mirrored by other medical problems," Hedges says. "And for a long time, we were not attributing them to low testosterone, but to diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease. But awareness and appreciation of low testosterone has risen. We recognize now that low testosterone may be at the root of problems."