Men ages 30-50 are certainly familiar with ads, offers and other media that might cause them to worry, or at least wonder, about their testosterone levels.
Testosterone is a hormone that can affect men’s mood, sex drive and more.
“Fifteen to 20 years ago, it was rare for any man to come to my office and wonder about this factor in their health,” Dr. Michael Richardson, Avera Medical Group family practitioner, said. “The prolific marketing messages have changed that.”
Understanding low testosterone — low T — and how to treat it can help anyone get past the hype and get help.
Testosterone levels vary, and while they can decrease with age, they have to reach a specific measure to be considered low T.
Reduced sex drive
Less endurance and motivation
“Low testosterone is common – but only in men 70 and older,” Dr. Xenofon Papadopoulos, Avera Medical Group urologist, said.
A blood test performed in the early morning measures testosterone. The test is performed twice on separate occasions. The level of the hormone in the blood should range from 300-1200 nanograms per deciliter.
“The test is easy and inexpensive,” Richardson said. “If it’s low, we start to look at treatment options.”
A number of factors come into play with low T. Obesity, diabetes or sleep apnea all could contribute to the issue without any actual endocrine issues.
“There are metabolic problems as well, including conditions of the thyroid or pituitary glands,” Richardson said. “Those conditions affect the level of testosterone in your body.”
Among the best ways to prevent low T? Get a provider, set and keep your provider appointments and work with that expert to stay ahead of risks.
In cases where the lab test shows low T, physicians will prescribe supplements to raise the level. Most common among them is a gel rubbed into the skin. Injected and implanted methods also exist, and newer oral supplements can help raise T levels.
“We monitor supplemental testosterone closely, as other factors could be at play,” Papadopoulos said. “Supplements can help, but they’re not a cure-all, especially if other conditions are part of the way the patient feels.”
Over-the-counter remedies or specific diets do not include enough of the hormone to significantly change the level. Testosterone is only available via prescription. Papadopoulos said like any supplement, people who take something they feel will help with low T should not overdo it.
Diet, exercise, reducing alcohol consumption and keeping a healthy BMI can help regulate testosterone and keep your level in the range it should be. Some foods, such as seafood, including salmon and shellfish, as well as beans, can help boost levels. Other foods, including soy, dairy, breads, pastries and desserts, can reduce your level of T. Those changes are often mild or marginal at most.
“When levels are really low, we’ll do additional tests to make sure there’s not an issue with glands, especially when men 35 or younger present with low T,” Richardson said. “Over-doing it with prescription testosterone, in an effort to raise the level, can create other problems, including making heart disease worse or contributing to prostate problems.”
In larger doses, testosterone can be a bad idea.
“Sometimes we get a patient back to normal levels of the hormone, and they still feel low on energy – that’s more coincidental than anything,” Richardson said. “That could be a sign that the obesity, diabetes or other chronic conditions needs more attention.”
Talk to your provider about low T, and make sure you keep regular appointments, including your yearly checkups, to avoid the issues that might make you have low testosterone.