Ever wondered what makes men different than women? The master male hormone, testosterone, is the answer. While testosterone is essential to women's health as well, it is crucial for many functions in the development and maintenance of the male body. It is considered an anabolic (building) and androgenic (male) sex hormone. Women produce testosterone in the ovaries. Men's bodies largely manufacture testosterone in the testicles and, to a small extent, in the adrenal glands.
Maintaining optimal testosterone levels is a delicate and artful balancing act. In the brain, the pituitary and hypothalamus glands work in concert to adjust these levels throughout a man's life. LH, or lutenizing hormone, is the messenger that travels to the testicles to fire up the testosterone factory. Testosterone causes aggressive behavior, creates a feeling of well-being and encourages optimal bone density, muscle growth and secondary sexual characteristics.
The simplest explanation is that low testosterone makes men less manly. It is widely estimated that 4 to 5 million American men have low testosterone, though only 5 percent ever seek treatment. Half of those affected will never experience any symptoms whatsoever.
There are many causes of low testosterone. Aging, gland dysfunction, and genetic disorders can all cause the underproduction of this important hormone. Andropause is considered the masculine equivalent of menopause, which is experienced by aging females when they cease to menstruate, and their hormonal balance changes drastically. For men, it means a steady decrease in the amount of both free and total testosterone. The male body makes 1 percent less testosterone a year after reaching middle age. By the age of 70 or 80 years, obesity, brittle bones, decreased muscle and impotence can set in because of this hormonal decline. This may in fact be the reason why old men are said to be so grumpy.
Common Side Effects
Common side effects of low testosterone include muscle loss and strength decline, decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, depression, decreased masculinity, fat gain, decreased energy and work performance and even height loss due to waning bone density.
Most embarrassing of all is a symptom commonly referred to as "gyno," short for gynocomastia. In this case, low testosterone results in increased estrogen levels causing the growth of breast tissue in males. When it comes to men, there are both good and bad estrogens. Some help to prevent heart disease. Higher levels of prolactin and estradiol lead to feminizing of the male body. Certain estrogens also encourage and complicate the growth of prostate tumors. Avoiding cancer is a good incentive to monitor your testosterone levels from year to year.
Check Your Levels
Monitoring testosterone levels requires a simple blood test administered by your physician or an endocrinology expert. The normal range varies but typically falls between 350 and 1,200 nanograms/deciliter. The average variance is the reason why some men are naturally more muscular and masculine than others. Testosterone levels are partially genetic, but that does not mean you can't have a positive impact on your levels.