The Hormone Story (series): Testosterone
What is Testosterone?
Testosterone is the best-known of a group of sex hormones called "androgens," which also includes DHEA. We tend to think of testosterone as the "male hormone," and indeed it is the primary hormone responsible for male physical and sexual development. However, women require testosterone, as well, to maintain healthy mood, sex drive, and healthy muscles and bones: the difference is in the quantity.
Women naturally produce 0.25 milligrams of testosterone daily, while men may produce 4 to 7 milligrams: ten to forty times that amount! In women, testosterone is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands, and in men, it is produced in the testes and adrenal glands.
Women and men both reach their peak of testosterone levels in their 20s and thereafter levels drop approximately one percent a year. With optimal levels of testosterone, both men and women benefit from increased energy, reduced fat, healthy libido, and a protective effect on the heart and blood vessels. The key is finding and carefully maintaining the optimal amount!
Symptoms of Low Testosterone
Symptoms of low testosterone in women can be caused by an increase in a hormone called "sex-hormone binding globulin" (SHBG), which tends to rise as you age due to increased estrogen levels.
As SHBG levels rise, the proteins in this hormone "bind" to the free testosterone circulating in your bloodstream, effectively limiting the amount available for use in the body. This is called "relative testosterone deficiency." Higher SHBG can also be caused by birth control pills, which are made from synthetic hormones. The solution for any testosterone deficiency is careful treatment with bioidentical testosterone to bring your levels back in balance.
What is andropause? TV commercials for "low T" have finally made andropause, "the male menopause," a household name. Unlike women, men do not have an obvious signal like the end of menstruation to indicate that their hormone levels have shifted.
Andropause emerges more subtly. Typically, for a man in his forties, production of testosterone, DHEA, and progesterone begin to decline. Symptoms of men's hormone imbalance almost always include fatigue, apathy, low libido, and some degree of erectile dysfunction.
Other symptoms can include weight gain, lethargy or extreme fatigue, urinary problems, decreased physical agility, decreased mental acuity, and depression.
Andropause is not a "new" condition--it was observed and described in medical literature in the 1940s. Awareness of andropause is now much more prevalent--and it is no longer taboo for men to discuss their own challenges with hormonal shifts.
How to Find Hormone Balance
The best approach for problems with testosterone levels is to have your hormone levels checked with a blood test and monitored by clinicians skilled in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. Hormone balance is intricate endocrinology, and sometimes there are several hormone imbalances at play!