Testosterone is the hormone responsible for the development of masculine characteristics, such as increased muscle and a deeper voice. Although testosterone is present in both males and females, men tend to have it in significantly higher qualities. When the testes don’t produce enough testosterone, the condition is known as hypogonadism. Sometimes, a baby will be born with hypogonadism. This can lead to smaller testes and delayed puberty. It is also more common in men with type 2 diabetes, or who are obese.
Some men may experience hypogonadism in their twenties but it is more commonly associated with men in their 40s or 50s. Of course, some reduction in testosterone is natural with age, but a severe drop can cause negative effects.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy
So what is Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) and how does it help? Well TRT is a way to increase testosterone levels when they are too low and can help negate symptoms of hypogonadism. TRT may be recommended if a blood test shows you have a deficiency in your testosterone levels.
Signs of a testosterone deficiency include:
- Loss of muscle
- Increase in fat (including a larger belly or growth of the breasts)
- Loss of sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction
- Irritability and mood swings
- Poor short-term memory
If you are experiencing these symptoms, talk to your doctor. They will run tests to rule out other potential causes and may refer you to an endocrinologist, or hormone expert. Your endocrinologist may then prescribe TRT.
The benefits of TRT
TRT acts by increasing low levels of testosterone and balancing your hormones, which can lead to the following benefits:
1. Muscle mass
Increased testosterone is associated with increased muscle mass. Although it will still be necessary to exercise regularly if you want to achieve peak fitness, it will help you to build up your strength. Testosterone replacement therapy may also help to reduce fat. Together, increased muscle and reduced fat can improve energy levels and control weight.
2. Bone density
Similarly, increased testosterone is also associated with increased bone density. Bone density tends to reduce with age. Studies have shown bone density in the spine and hip is particularly improved by TRT. This reduces the likelihood of fractures and osteoporosis later in life. It will also help support your newly improved muscle mass and therefore further improve your fitness.
One of the most widely-known effects of testosterone replacement therapy is that it increases sex drive. Low levels of testosterone can also cause erectile dysfunction. Although erectile dysfunction can be caused by a multitude of factors, such as depression or stress (your doctor should test for other potential causes before embarking on TRT), TRT has been shown to help men sustain erections. Its effect on men without hypogonadism is less clear. Men without hypogonadism may not experience the same benefits from TRT.
4. Heart and blood health
Research shows that testosterone replacement therapy can have significant positive effects on the health of your heart. More than 83,000 men took part in one study that suggested participants who received TRT saw a 24% reduction in the likelihood of suffering a heart attack. They were also 36% less likely to suffer a stroke.
The relationship between TRT and heart disease is less clear. In the early 2000s, small studies showed mild improvements in patients who underwent testosterone replacement therapy whilst suffering heart disease. Some participants saw a 33% increase in the distance they could walk. Another study suggested TRT could not help patients with angina, despite helping widen healthy arteries. There is little evidence to suggest that TRT is helpful to those who already have healthy levels of testosterone.
5. Memory and mood
Lower levels of testosterone are associated with low moods and poor memory. Both verbal and spatial memory will improve with TRT. Studies show men between the ages of 34 and 70 particularly experience the benefits to spatial memory. Other studies suggest men treated with TRT are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Your mood should also improve after undergoing testosterone replacement therapy, both directly because of the testosterone increase and because of the wider improvements in your quality of life.