Testosterone is the dominant sex hormone in men. It is responsible for the development of male sexual organs and secondary male sexual characteristics such as: muscle growth and strength, and facial and body hair. Levels of testosterone in the blood gradually elevate through puberty where they peak and remain high until about the age of 30 when levels will start to naturally decline (about 1% per year). When levels of testosterone become abnormally low, a condition called hypogonadism is diagnosed.
In middle-aged men (say 45+) and older, low testosterone levels are often termed male menopause or “andropause.” The symptoms of low testosterone include: erectile dysfunction, reduced sex drive, irritability, depressed mood, sleep disturbances, loss of concentration, diminished muscle mass and strength, and a general loss of interest in work and play.
In addition to the natural effects of aging, low testosterone can be congenital or it can be acquired through illness (mumps), injury (traumatic brain injury), toxic exposure such as prescription drugs and lifestyle factors, including: stress, obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, smoking and excessive alcohol use.
Interestingly, research is indicating that low testosterone may be a risk factor or complication of problems such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And one recent study made a correlation between low testosterone and premature death in men.
So, clearly, Low T should be taken seriously; but the choice to use testosterone replacement therapy should not be made lightly. As with any medicinal intervention, HRT can have negative effects. Testosterone replacement has been associated with gynecomastia (male breast enlargement), testicular shrinkage, sleep apnea, benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlarged prostate), prostate cancer and increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Despite the risks new research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism indicates that testosterone therapy is being prescribed for many individuals who do not meet the clinical guidelines for treatment.