What Is Testosterone & What Does It Do? All You Need to Know

Get to know your Test, bro

Muscular man showing signs of healthy testosterone levels

Testosterone. The anabolic-androgen hormone cursing through your veins; the thing that makes you the alpha-male you are. All talk of masculinity aside, testosterone is undeniably a big deal for your health as a man. Here is all you need to know about the male sex hormone…

Illustration showing chemical formula of testosterone

What is testosterone?

Testosterone is powerful.

It’s part of the androgen group, making this steroid hormone vital for your health as a man. You produce most of it inside your testes with a tiny amount created in the adrenal glands too. When testosterone production is thriving, you’ll have no trouble maintaining a muscular physique and a healthy lifestyle.

As the male sex hormone, testosterone is the main thing responsible for your ‘manly’ traits. However, women produce it too, although in much smaller amounts. Regardless of sex, a healthy hormonal balance of testosterone is integral to your wellbeing.

There are three main types of testosterone; albumin, sex hormone binding globulin (SHGB), and free testosterone. The latter is the only type free-flowing through your blood unbound, hence the name.  

Before we go any further, we’ll have to clear something up – natural testosterone should not be confused with the synthetic version. We’re talking strictly about the hormone produced by your very own body, not the lab-created treatment often abused as a PED (Performance Enhancing Drug).

This type of testosterone is not natural and should only be administered by medical professionals.

An image of a muscular man flexing his biceps to show testosterone function

Testosterone function

On average, the testosterone levels of men are seven to eight times greater than women. Because of this, we’ll typically carry more muscle mass, speak with deeper voices, have higher bone density and grow thick hair on our faces. Men are also likely to be naturally stronger than their female counterparts too.

For most of us, these masculine traits can be attributed to our T. After all, it’s the steroid hormone pumping under our skin that encourages our bodies to develop like this.

You’ll have likely first started noticing these changes during puberty, when your T levels sky rocketed in comparison to the opposite sex. Depending on your rate of development this was probably during your teens. Now all the oily skin, sexual awareness and mood swings make sense.

Regardless of age, testosterone is a huge part of a man’s life. It helps us to regulate both physical and mental health, alongside athletic and sporting performance. Hell, studies have shown it can also impact your ability to break the bank in business too.   

Here’s a rundown of the way testosterone levels impact your body:

  • Development of reproductive tissue
  • Muscle mass [1]
  • Muscle growth
  • Bone density [2]
  • Growth of body hair
  • Sperm development
  • Libido
  • Sexual performance
  • Cognitive function and mental clarity
  • Red blood cell production
  • Assertiveness
  • Overall wellbeing

We told you your T was a pretty big deal, bro…

Photograph of smiling man with healthy testosterone

Testosterone, Health, and Wellbeing

After a quick glance at the previous list, you’ll recognize testosterone as being more than just another hormone. It’s a fundamental figure in your wellbeing.

Healthy levels of T allow a man to be who he wants to be. He can master his body, hone his physique, and enjoy an invigorated sex life. Business meetings are no match for his assertiveness and peaked energy levels keep him playing the game for longer. All in all, life is much more rewarding.

On the other hand, low levels of testosterone can cause adverse effects. Reduced lean mass and an increase in body fat can make working out unenjoyable. Plus, when he gets home, a man with low testosterone might feel self-conscious about his physique.

It should go without saying that a decline in sexual prowess can cause mental distress too. Erectile dysfunction and lack of libido are just two side effects of low testosterone; something that could make maintaining relationships a struggle. Decreased sperm quality may also put a hold on starting a family.

Sadly, there’s also a link between low testosterone and depression. However, scientists aren’t yet sure if it’s low-T that causes depression, or the other way around. Either way, finding hormonal balance can help combat symptoms of the mental illness in most men.

In short – if you keep your hormones healthy, you might lead a happier life.

Testosterone levels

It’s no surprise that testosterone levels have been on the decline for decades. When once we were men who thrived on a high-fat diet, spent time in the sun and moved around all day; we’re now a breed secluded to badly lit office cubicles, poor sleep, bright screens, and sugar filled feasts.

To put it bluntly we’re on the decline. Our hormonal health has taken a hit too.

According to medical professionals, your testosterone should be some place on a sliding scale. Depending on your age you’ll typically be some place between 300 – 1000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl).

If you’re sitting comfortably inside this bracket, you’ve most likely got healthy T. Check out the table below for a more age-related insight:

AgeMean Total Testosterone (ng/dL)Median Total Testosterone (ng/dL)5%95th%
692697408956
25-296696373881005
30-34621597348975
35-39597597329936
40-44597597319939
45-49546527329846
50-54544518289936
55-59552547319866

The only way to know for sure how your hormones stack up is with a test. Your doctor should be able to do this for you depending on your insurance or medical needs. At the time of writing there are two tests; one that measures total testosterone and another that records free-T.

Photograph of man holding head in hands depressed after showing signs of low testosterone

Low Testosterone AKA Hypogonadism

Unfortunately, there is such thing as low testosterone. For men affected, it can change their lives dramatically if the symptoms are severe enough. In proper medical terms this condition is known as hypogonadism.

Low testosterone can be a response to many things. Some causes can easily be resolved, others not so much.

Medically induced low testosterone is usually caused by issues within the testes or brain. These problems can arise at any point in a man’s life, with injury or disease being the highest culprit as he ages. When doctors prescribe testosterone replacement therapy it’s normally for this kind of clinically low T.

Alternatively, low testosterone may also be caused by lifestyle. Partying hard and abusing alcohol alongside narcotic drugs can plummet T production. Stress can contribute to bottomed levels too, along with shock and other distress. Understandably, as we are what we eat, junk food (especially sugar) can hit our testosterone hard too. Low testosterone caused by lifestyle isn’t always treated medically by doctors.

Finally, age can make a huge difference to the total androgen levels of men. Once you hit the age of 30 your free-flowing levels of testosterone naturally decline. Every year they drop down by one percent until old age when the decline picks up pace. It should be noted that age-related hypogonadism doesn’t usually qualify for medical treatment.

Man with signs of healthy testosterone

Facts & information about testosterone

It’s widely accepted that maintaining healthy levels of testosterone can help you build lean muscle mass, and even up your chances of performing well in the bedroom. We’ve already spoken about this, bro.

However, there are several other facts about the male sex hormone that are a little more surprising (and some are downright confusing).

Some of the statements below will make you want to get out there and raise your T levels to the max. However, others may force you to completely reconsider…

Anyway, here are seven strange, but interesting facts that you’ve likely never heard about testosterone:

1. Meditation is one of the best ways to boost testosterone levels

High testosterone levels are usually associated with ‘manly activities’ – lifting heavy things, fighting, and playing sports. Alpha male kind of stuff.

Mediation is almost the opposite of these.

 We told you some of these facts were going to be a little confusing…

It’s the yin to the yang. It’s usually something people do after a gentle yoga class, or in a temple in the middle of nowhere.

It seems like our definition of manliness might need a reboot, because there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that regular mediation can boost testosterone levels – that manly-male hormone.

One study from the late nineties showed that mediation and relaxation exercises can increase the production of growth hormones and testosterone, whilst bringing down levels of the stress hormone cortisol [3].

2. High levels can mean more success in business

Looking to build a global empire that’s gonna take the world by storm? You might want to check your hormone levels to see if you’re ready…

A 2008 study examined the links between testosterone and success on Wall Street. The results suggested that when trader’s testosterone levels were elevated, they were more likely to have a successful day [4].

Interestingly, the more deals the traders closed, the higher their testosterone levels would then rise. So not only does the hormone seem to increase the likelihood of success, earning more and achieving above average profits, but it can lead to even higher T levels!

The mechanism behind the phenomena is not quite understood, but some believe that it’s linked with a decrease in aversion to risk, where higher testosterone levels make you less likely to play it safe.

Angry man with too much testosterone

3. Too much testosterone can make you hard to be around

Whilst there are plenty of ways you can raise your testosterone, and it may give you an edge up in the business world, boosting your levels too high might not be that wise…

One study from the Kellogg School of Management examined whether exposure to prenatal testosterone predicts aggressive responses to unfair offers during bargaining. The results showed that people with high testosterone who were presented with a poor deal were much more likely to retaliate and try to get revenge.

Another study showed that men with higher levels of testosterone were more likely to use their own money to punish those who were ungenerous toward them [5]. They were also 27% less generous towards strangers with money they controlled…

The researchers concluded that “elevated testosterone causes men to behave antisocially.”

4. It’s not all about aggression

Aside from the meditation anomaly, it’s pretty much universally agreed that high levels of testosterone are linked with vigorous, almost aggressive activities.

Again, think weight lifting, American football, MMA…

Scientists have known for quite some time that taking part in sports is a great way to send testosterone levels through the roof. In 2013 however, they decided to set up a study to see how everyday activities stacked up.

Interestingly, the researchers found that it wasn’t lifting weights or kicking a ball around that raised the hormone levels the most.

It was in fact, chopping wood [6].

An hour of wood chopping lead to a 48% increase in testosterone levels, regardless of the men’s age or state of health. In comparison, a game of football resulted in just a 30% rise.

Healthy testosterone food displayed on a table

5. Your diet plays an important role in your testosterone levels

Everyone knows that a healthy diet is key to making gains and staying healthy, but there are certain foods and micronutrients that can have a direct effect on your testosterone levels too.

Zinc, found in pumpkin seeds and lentils, has repeatedly been shown to help boost testosterone levels. A study performed in the nineties showed that low testosterone levels were often linked to a zinc deficiency [7].

B-Vitamins are also important, as they help the body to absorb more zinc. You’ll find them in bananas, avocados and pseudo grains.

Berries are also great. They’re a good source of antioxidants, which helps to combat the effects of free radicals in the body. If left unchecked, free radicals cause damage to cells (including those in the gonads), which can deplete testosterone stores.

Last but not least – Vitamin D. Low levels have been linked with decreased testosterone production, so it may be worth getting out in the sunshine as often as you can, and to regularly consume Vitamin D rich foods such mushrooms and fresh water fish.

6. Weight can cause an issue

Being overweight can lower testosterone levels. This is due to estrogen dominance and the fact that belly fat produces an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen, which then produces more belly fat.

Man showing signs of healthy testosterone sleeping

7. Your testosterone levels can determine your sleep quality

Sleep is one of those things that we all know we should be getting plenty of, but we often fail to meet the recommendations. Just like the quantity of greens on our plates, or the number of units of alcohol we should stick to…

Interestingly your testosterone levels are closely linked to the amount of high-quality sleep you get.

A study from 2014 looked at the relationship between testosterone levels as incidences of sleep apnea, a disorder that results in disturbed sleep [8].

The results showed that low testosterone may affect overall sleep quality, but it can be improved by taking replacement therapy. Interestingly, elevated testosterone levels also had a similar effect…

The researchers concluded that:

“Large doses of exogenous testosterone and anabolic/androgenic steroid abuse are associated with abnormalities of sleep duration and architecture”.

As well as testosterone affecting sleep quality, sleep quality can also affect testosterone levels. Normal production of the hormone requires plenty of deep, REM sleep. If disturbances persist, cortisol levels can start to rise, which sends testosterone levels plummeting downwards.

So, do your best to get enough good quality sleep, and try to keep your testosterone levels around that normal range.

Photograph of man after exercising hard overlaid with chemical formula of testosterone

The bottom line

At this point you should be familiar with the intricacies of testosterone. As the primary male sex hormone, it’s what makes you a man, in the physical and biological sense anyway. Without it, the masculine traits you’re so proud of wouldn’t exist, which sums up it’s importance perfectly.

However, not all the benefits of balanced T are skin deep. Optimized hormones allow a man to feel energized and happier, alongside fighting depression and improving confidence. When it comes to testosterone, your wellbeing is just as much at stake.

As a man it is your duty to look after yours. Eat nutritious, healthy foods rich in protein and good fats. Exercise intelligently and don’t be afraid to hit the iron. Sleep as best you can and be repaid for your efforts between the sheets.

Unfortunately, no matter how bad we wish it wasn’t an issue, low-testosterone can rear its head at any time. If you feel like it might be affecting your life, speak to a doctor.

While it’s possible to reclaim sky-high T from changing your lifestyle, some issues are medically induced. The only way to find out is to seek help from a professional. 

References

  1. Sheffield-Moore M. Androgens and the control of skeletal muscle protein synthesisAnn Med. 2000
  2. Mohamad NV, et al. A concise review of testosterone and bone health. Clin Interv Aging. 2016
  3. MacLean C, et al. Effects of the transcendental meditation program on adaptive mechanisms: Changes in hormone levels and responses to stress after 4 months of practice. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1997
  4. Apicella C, et al. Testosterone and financial risk preferences. Evolution and Human Behavior. 2008
  5. Zak P, et al. Testosterone Administration Decreases Generosity in the Ultimatum Game. PLoS ONE. 2009
  6. Trumble B, et al. Age-independent increases in male salivary testosterone during horticultural activity among Tsimane forager-farmers. Evolution and Human Behavior. 2013
  7. Prasad A. Zinc Status and Serum Testosterone Levels of Healthy Adults. Nutrition. 1996
  8. Wittert G. The relationship between sleep disorders and testosterone in men. Asian J Androl. 2014

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