Testosterone’s primary functions are sexual desire and function. However, low testosterone may also impact cognition, leading to symptoms like brain fog.

Researchers are finding that testosterone affects more than just your sex life. The hormone may play a part in brain health, cognition, and the way you think.

Keep reading to learn more about the connections between testosterone, brain fog, and thinking.

Testosterone is a type of hormone called androgen. There are specific androgen receptors within the brain. Think of these receptors as light switches that only androgen hormones can activate.

The hormone can also cross the blood-brain barrier. This barrier is a protective mechanism in your brain designed to keep out substances that could potentially damage it, and allow other substances like medications in. The fact that testosterone can cross the blood-brain barrier means that it could affect your thinking or brain functioning.

Testosterone may also have protective effects on the brain, including:

  • delaying nerve cell death
  • improving nerve cell regrowth after damage
  • reducing the effects of nerve damage
  • having anti-inflammatory actions on the nerves

These are just some of the potentially protective benefits to the brain that researchers think testosterone may have. We’re sure to learn more in the coming years as studies continue.

Language matters

In this article, we use “male and female” to refer to someone’s sex as determined by their chromosomes, and “men and women” when referring to their gender, unless quoting from sources using nonspecific language. The studies cited within the article frequently do not delineate between sex and gender and can be assumed to have entirely cisgender participants.

Sex is determined by chromosomes, and gender is a social construct that can vary between time periods and cultures. Both of these aspects are acknowledged to exist on a spectrum both historically and by modern scientific consensus.

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Cognitive decline tends to occur with aging. Testosterone levels tend to decrease with aging as well.

Some smaller studies suggest that men with lower testosterone levels tend to have poorer cognitive function than men the same age with higher testosterone levels.

Sometimes, low testosterone levels can cause symptoms like difficulty maintaining an erection or low sex drive. These are the symptoms people typically connect with low testosterone.

However, it may also cause other symptoms, such as:

If you have these symptoms and can’t identify another underlying cause like staying up late at night or eating a poor diet, low testosterone levels could play a role.

Most of the studies that connect testosterone with improving mental function are on older males. This is because they may be more impacted by changes in memory function.

That said, a 2021 study found that higher testosterone levels may reduce the ability to perform thinking tasks in younger males.

What happens if low testosterone goes untreated?

Low testosterone can cause symptoms like low sex drive, reduced lean muscle mass, and erectile dysfunction. You may also have difficulty focusing and lower energy levels, yet not know these symptoms are related to low testosterone.

Although low testosterone may affect your overall health and well-being, it doesn’t typically lead to life threatening conditions. An exception is that low testosterone can cause weakened bones, which increases your risk for osteoporosis.

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Studies haven’t been conclusive on the likely effects of testosterone therapy on brain fog or thinking. Some smaller studies and individual case reports suggest that testosterone supplementation may help improve cognition.

However, most available studies suggest that testosterone supplementation doesn’t improve thinking. For example:

  • A 2018 systematic review found that men who took androgen deprivation medications to treat prostate cancer – which may result in low testosterone – didn’t find a link between cognitive impairment and low testosterone.
  • A 2017 study of 493 men with age-associated memory impairment and low testosterone found no improvements in memory or cognitive function in those who utilized testosterone.
  • A 2020 meta-analysis on testosterone replacement therapy and cognitive function didn’t find any differences in cognitive function between men who took testosterone replacement and those who didn’t.
  • A 2019 systematic review of 23 independent randomized controlled trials (RCTs) didn’t find a statistically significant change in cognitive function from testosterone supplementation.

More research is needed to support using testosterone therapy as a way to improve your mental abilities.

How do you fix low testosterone?

Doctors can prescribe different forms of testosterone to help increase low levels, including:

Speak with a healthcare professional before taking any testosterone supplements because they may have side effects. For example, gel testosterone can be troublesome if you have young children.

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Will testosterone help with brain fog?

Although some smaller studies and individual case reports suggest that taking testosterone may help improve brain fog, a bigger meta-analysis suggests there’s no proven benefit. As such, there’s no consensus to fully support that taking testosterone creates changes in thinking or memory.

What hormones cause brain fog?

Hormonal changes due to menopause, pregnancy, stress, and other factors may lead to brain fog. Some hormones may include:

What are the effects of high testosterone on the brain?

In their summary of current research, the authors of a 2021 study suggest that high levels of testosterone in the brain may affect the recognition of social cues and emotions in children and young adults.

Low testosterone can affect your energy levels and thinking, which could contribute to brain fog.

Unfortunately, researchers haven’t yet established whether testosterone replacement therapy can alter these effects. More research is needed to support that testosterone supplements may be beneficial for your brain fog.

If you think you may have low testosterone levels, talk with a doctor about testing and potential treatments.