Testosterone is the hormone lots of men worry about – in fact, it’s probably the only hormone many can name. It’s also one of the most misunderstood. Because it’s linked with sex drive and building muscle, the internet is littered with natural and, as far as the general medical profession is concerned, ineffectual ways to boost it, along with exaggerated promises of what having high levels of testosterone could achieve.
To get the inside scoop on what the average man needs to know about testosterone, we spoke to Dr Timothy Woodman, medical director of Bupa UK.
What is testosterone and why do we need it?
Before you start looking for ways to up your testosterone levels, it’s probably worth knowing exactly what it does in the body.
“Testosterone is a hormone responsible for the development of male sexual characteristics,” says Woodman.
“It regulates sex drive and plays a vital role in sperm production. It also regulates bone and muscle mass, affects the way men store body fat and helps with the production of red blood cells – the blood cells that move oxygen throughout your body.
“Women also have this hormone, but in much smaller amounts. In fact, testosterone has some effects that mimic oestrogen – the female sex hormone – in women, including protecting your bones and keeping them strong.”
What are the risks of low levels of testosterone?
Testosterone is a vital hormone so it’s no surprise that when you do have low levels of it, many bodily functions start to suffer.
“Signs of low testosterone levels in men include low sex drive, muscle mass, mood and energy,” says Woodman.
“Because testosterone helps regulate your muscles and bones, men with low levels may also notice muscle and strength loss. They are also at increased risk of osteoporosis (weak bones).
“Although there is no evidence to say that low testosterone levels directly increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease, men with low levels are more at risk of having higher cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels.”
Does the average man need to worry about his testosterone levels?
Having low levels of testosterone is undeniably bad news. Fortunately, you don’t really need to worry about it unless you’re displaying the above symptoms.
“A man’s body naturally produces testosterone, especially during puberty and in your early 20s,” says Woodman.
“The older you get, though, the less testosterone you produce. Twenty per cent of men over the age of 60 have low levels and this number increases as you age.”
If you are concerned about your testosterone levels your best bet is to have them checked by your doctor, rather than self-diagnosing.
“During a Bupa Health Assessment or general visit to your GP, you can ask to have your testosterone levels checked,” says Woodman.
Are there natural ways to boost testosterone?
A cursory search of the internet will throw up all manner of natural ways to boost your testosterone naturally. Unfortunately, they are unlikely to be backed up by a reliable body of evidence.
“There are many theories of how to increase your testosterone levels. However, there is no proper scientific evidence that these things work in the long term,” says Woodman.
“The good news is that treatment options are available to boost your levels. They include supplements, testosterone injections, patches or gels, or a pellet which is inserted under the skin and slowly releases testosterone into the body.
“If you’re concerned, speak to your GP or an endocrinologist or andrologist, who will be able to develop a safe treatment plan for you.”
One thing that could help with the symptoms of low testosterone is a healthy lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is always a solid choice, to be honest.
“Although there is no solid evidence to suggest that exercise and a healthy diet can increase your testosterone levels, it can help alleviate the symptoms, such as tiredness, mood and muscle loss,” says Woodman.