Last time we spoke of what testosterone is and what it does. This week I’ll explain what happens to men when their testosterone is too low and the effects that has on various aspects of a man’s health.
Testosterone levels fluctuate so it’s not the temporary dips that pose a problem but rather the slow, steady decline of this most valuable hormone that creates health issues.
Research indicates sudden drop in testosterone may be an underlying factor not only in contributing factors of cardiovascular disease, but the disease itself. Lowered testosterone is associated with hypertension, cardiac failure and ischemic heart disease, which are marked by decreased blood supply to heart muscle.
One of the biggest jobs that testosterone has is being responsible for metabolism (the rate it takes to convert food to energy). A slow metabolism equals low energy levels and higher incidence of bodyfat.
Lower testosterone equals lowers production of red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen and removing waste. Low blood cells equals anemia, which leads to weakness and fatigue. Areas which require a lot of oxygen include:
- Immune system
Symptoms of low red blood cells include:
- Shortness of breath
- Sore tongue and bleeding gums
- Nausea and loss of appetite
- Faintness and dizziness
- Confusion and dementia
- Increased heart rate.
Lack of oxygen also results in erratic sleep and frequent insomnia. With increased sleep comes increased testosterone levels and energy levels.
With low testosterone, comes increased belly fat; both subcutaneous (just below the surface) and visceral (the deep fat that affects internal organs and is dangerous to your health). Increased fat levels results in lower testosterone. As a man loses weight, his testosterone levels are likely to return.
Increased testosterone inhibits fat cell’s ability to expand by taking in fewer lipids. It inhibits lipoprotein-lipase, which is a powerful fat-storing enzyme. It also stimulates lipolysis, which is fat break down. This explains why so many men in their teens and 20’s can eat like crazy and still have great muscle tone and stay lean.
Lean muscle tissue burns more calories than the same mass of fat because muscle is active. A sluggish metabolism, lower muscle and high fat rates equal beer belly.
Testosterone is needed in every cell of your body. It not only aids in building muscle, but also prevents atrophy and helps muscles resist fatigue during activity. Without testosterone aiding protein synthesis, muscles can’t keep up and you become a smaller, weaker version of your former self. The amount of muscle you carry dictates how many calories you burn. Less muscle equals lower rate of metabolism.
Insufficient testosterone has a massive effect on your brain. Psychological symptoms such as depression, as well as functional symptoms such as memory, loss, difficulty processing information and increased risk of Alzheimer’s are all the result of insufficient testosterone.
This powerful hormone enhances dopamine levels, energy levels in the brain and the rest of your body and is essential to healthy energy production.
Testosterone has a major impact on blood sugar levels. Insulin is the main fat-storing hormone and increased levels (hyperinsulinism) are connected with how much fat you store. Hyperinsulinism almost always is associated with insulin resistance, where the cells become resistant to insulin, resulting in the cells summoning even more insulin into the blood. The majority of men with Type 2 Diabetes have low testosterone.
Normally, if blood sugar is too low, the pancreas releases glycogen that tells the liver to release extra glucose. If blood sugar is too high, the pancreas releases insulin that recruits fat cells to suck some of the glucose out of the blood; either way, balance is achieved. The problem arises when the pancreas protests. If you become insulin resistant, blood sugar spikes, stays there and Type 2 appears.
Higher bodyfat percentage equals higher estrogen due to the enzyme known as aromatase, which converts testosterone into estrogen in bodyfat. It’s a vicious circle; excess belly fat results in lowered testosterone; lowered testosterone increases fat levels. The way we combat that is to lower fat levels which will increase testosterone levels.
Low testosterone often results in lowered sexual interest, inability to climax and erectile dysfunction.
Testosterone actively promotes increase of nitric oxide, which is required for optimal bloodflow. Restricted blood flow is one reason for erectile dysfunction. Testosterone is responsible for stimulating nitric oxide within expandable erectile tissues called the corpora cavernosa. Testosterone improves erectile function by restoring blood-trapping capacity of blood vessels within the penis.
Not all testosterone is created equal however. It is, in fact, a fat-soluble steroid hormone that is synthesized from cholesterol, which is why it and estrogen need to be transported around the bloodstream on special carrier proteins, one of which is the sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG for short). Once testosterone is bound to SHBG, you are unable to produce erections.
SHBG is a plasma glycoprotein that provides the strongest bond to testosterone as it transports it throughout blood. Predominantly produced in the liver and to a lesser extent in the testes and brain, levels of SHBG are influenced by the health of your liver.
SHBG is the master regulator of sex-hormone status. SHBG acts much like a hormone or messenger molecule. Healthy levels increase communication between cells and unhealthy levels are associated with prostate disease and cancer, breast cancer, obesity, low HDL, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
As testosterone decreases and belly fat increases, SHBG also increases and activity or bioavailability of testosterone becomes further decreased which is why total testosterone levels are not accurate.
As you can see, testosterone has a massive impact on a man’s health and lack of sufficient FREE testosterone should not be taken lightly.
Next week I’ll explain how testosterone affects women.
Until then, have a great week and please … if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms or if you’re carrying a lot of excess weight, get your levels checked and make sure it’s safe for you to start exercising. I’ll be talking about appropriate nutrition and lifestyle choices, as well as bloodwork you should have checked in the upcoming weeks.
Sandy O’Shea, CNP