When we think of declining levels of testosterone in men, we normally think of middle-aged or older men. However, according to an Australian study reported at the 2011 Annual Endocrine Society Meeting, old age alone doesn’t cause testosterone levels to decline. Instead, a man’s changing health and lifestyle habits can cause his testosterone levels to decrease as he ages, according to another study. Things like smoking, obesity, depression, and even medications can affect hormone levels.
Younger men, on the other hand, are usually thought to be at the peak of their testosterone production. According to the Mayo Clinic, testosterone peaks during adolescence and early adulthood, and then declines by about 1 percent per year after age 30.
Sometimes, though, symptoms develop that lead men to make assumptions about their sex hormones. Men under the age of 30 may suffer from erectile dysfunction or other symptoms that seem to be related to hormones. They may wonder if their testosterone levels are where they’re supposed to be. Is it possible to be young and have low testosterone?
Both men and women produce the hormone testosterone. It’s called the “male hormone,” though, because men produce a lot more of it. It’s critical for sperm development, and it’s responsible for producing male characteristics like hair growth, voice deepening, increased muscle mass, and maturation of the male sex organs.
A “normal” level of testosterone depends on age. However a 2007 review notes that the FDA defines 300 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) as the level below which a man is diagnosed with hypogonadism (low T). The same review states that the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists sets the level at 200 mg/dL. Men under 30 are generally in the 600 range, but aren’t considered to have low T unless the level drops below 200 or 300 ng/dL.
Low testosterone is a medical condition in which a man’s body is not producing enough of the hormone. Advertisements for testosterone replacement products may lead some men to believe that simply feeling tired or cranky could be signs of low T. Actual symptoms are typically more involved than that.
Doctors always recommend that men get their levels tested before taking any prescription medications. A recent study linked testosterone replacement therapy with a risk for heart attack and stroke in men over the age of 65 and men under 65 with a preexisting history of heart disease. So it’s important to take them only when needed.
Symptoms of low T are similar in adult men regardless of their age. Symptoms may include:
- erectile dysfunction: An often-telling symptom, erectile dysfunction is likely to occur in men with low T.
- change in erections: Men may also experience fewer spontaneous erections (such as during sleep) and weaker erections.
- decreased libido: Men who “just aren’t feeling” the desire anymore may be experiencing a symptom of low T. They may find they’re not as sexually active as they used to be.
- infertility: If a couple is trying to get pregnant and nothing’s happening, men may want to get checked for low T.
- enlarged breasts: Increased breast size is possible in some cases.
- hair loss: Many men experience hair loss as they age, but unexpected or rapid hair loss may indicate low T.
- increased body fat: There are a number of reasons for increased body fat, including changes in diet and exercise, stress, medical conditions, and more. But if young men have experienced weight gain and erectile dysfunction, it may be time to check testosterone levels.
- insomnia: Many factors may cause sleep problems. Diet, alcohol, caffeine, stress, and more can keep a man up at night. Low T, however, may also be to blame for insomnia or other sleep disturbances.
- fatigue: Though it can be a sign of other problems — some of which are more common — persistent fatigue can be a sign of low T.
- reduced muscle mass: You’re working out. You’re lifting weights. But nothing is changing. In fact, you seem to be losing muscle. It could be your testosterone.
- depression: Everyone experiences the blues now and then. If you have gone for a month or more feeling down, though, or if you’ve lost interest in things you used to enjoy, it may be time to get your testosterone levels tested.
- brain fog: Your boss is after you for dropping the ball. You keep forgetting things. You can’t focus. It could be stress or a lack of sleep, but it could also be low T.
Although it’s more rare for young men than old men to suffer from low T, there are many reasons why it may happen. These include:
- high cholesterol levels
- high blood pressure
- being overweight or obese
- sedentary lifestyle
- regular smoking
- illegal drug use
- anabolic steroid use
- excessive alcohol use
- inherited diseases like Klinefelter syndrome and Down syndrome
- hypothalamic or pituitary disease
- chronic illness, such as liver disease, diabetes, or cancer
- trauma or injury to the testicles
- disease or tumors in the testicles
- some medications
If you’re suffering some symptoms of low T and have some of the other health conditions listed above, check with your doctor. A simple blood test can determine your testosterone levels.
If you find that your levels are low and you and your physician are unable to identify an underlying cause, discuss the risks and benefits of testosterone replacement therapy with your doctor. You may also be able to implement some lifestyle changes that will restore your testosterone to a healthy level.