6 Myths About Testosterone, Busted by Doctors
Some say it gives you a fuller beard. Others say it might be the reason you started that bar fight. There are a lot of misconceptions about testosterone — especially around the role it plays in athleticism, aggression, and fertility. So, let’s separate the myths from the facts, shall we?
Testosterone is a sex hormone that’s produced mainly in the testicles. There’s no denying that it has some super important functions: according to Dr. Steve Hruby, DC, co-owner of Superhumn, testosterone is involved in your:
- Sex drive
- Energy level
- Muscle mass and strength
- Bone health
“Low testosterone levels can cause fatigue, loss of sex drive, depression, erectile dysfunction, loss of muscle mass, and decreased strength,” adds Hruby.
Given how many key roles testosterone plays in your overall health, it’s crucial to understand just how it works. Below, experts debunk some of the top myths about testosterone.
Myth 1: Your Testosterone Levels Only Decline as You Age
Sure, it’s natural for your body to produce less testosterone as you get older. But that’s not the only factor that can cause low testosterone. In reality, you can experience a dip in this hormone at any age.
- Poor diet
- Excessive alcohol or drug consumption
- Sleep deprivation
“All of these factors can lead to metabolic problems that basically impede the body’s ability to produce testosterone,” says Rice.
Hruby adds that low testosterone can also be caused by having too much visceral belly fat or taking medications that affect hormone levels.
A decline in testosterone typically doesn’t just happen due to one single factor, or at a steady or dramatic rate. “It’s often gradual enough that most men don’t notice it until they’re older than 65 years old,” explains Hruby. “Some men may never notice it because they’ve been living with low testosterone for so long that they don’t even realize it now affects them.”
Myth 2: Testosterone is a Male-Only Hormone
While testosterone is classified as an “androgen,” meaning it’s technically a male sex hormone, that doesn’t mean women don’t have it, too. Quite the contrary, in fact.
According to Hruby, testosterone is produced in the ovaries and helps to support ovulation. It’s also produced in a woman’s adrenal glands, fat cells, and skin cells.
For women, testosterone plays a role in:
- Breast health
- Bone health
- Vaginal health
- Sex drive
All that said, women only make about 1/10th to 1/20th of the amount of testosterone that men make.
Myth 3: High Testosterone Causes Prostate Cancer
Some scientists believed that prostate cancer development and progression is driven by androgens — like testosterone. But a 2015 research review found that there’s no evidence that elevated testosterone levels increase your risk of prostate cancer.
“We now know that low testosterone is an independent risk factor for aggressive prostate cancer, so the lower the amount of your testosterone, the higher the risk you have of having aggressive prostate cancer,” says Dr. Rice. “When you give testosterone therapy to men, it does not increase the risk nor does it cause prostate cancer to grow.”
Myth 4: High Testosterone Translates to a High Sex Drive
“At the end of the day, testosterone definitely impacts the sex drive but only when its levels are extremely low or extremely high,” he says.
For example, let’s say two men both have testosterone levels within the normal range (10-34 nmol/L): Jeff’s testosterone is 11 nmol/L and Nick’s is 32 nmol/L. According to Quayle, there’s no guarantee that Nick will have a higher sex drive than Jeff, In fact, there’s a chance that Jeff has the stronger libido.
“Testosterone is an important argument in a formula of libido, but also there are other factors like age, stress, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems that can make difference,” he explains.
Quayle notes that many of his clients are professional bodybuilders who report high libido when their testosterone levels peak — which is just before they compete. But that’s because their testosterone can reach 20-50 times higher than the norm.
In other words, unless you’re on either extreme end of the spectrum, your testosterone levels probably won’t impact how often you want to get frisky.
Myth 5: Testosterone Improves Fertility
Eager to start a family? While testosterone may be a sex hormone, having more of it doesn’t necessarily improve your fertility. In fact, it can have quite the opposite effect.
“While testosterone can improve libido and erectile function, it will not improve fertility,” says Quayle. “In fact, high levels of testosterone can actually decrease sperm quality and in some cases even lead to infertility.”
Basically, if you start pumping your body with excess amounts of this hormone via supplements or testosterone therapy, it can shut off your body’s ability to make its own testosterone, as well as sperm.
Myth 6: Testosterone Supplements Are Safe and Effective
In recent years, there’s been an influx of testosterone supplements promising everything from increased sexual desire to muscle gains. But experts say you should be wary of these products since they’re not regulated by the FDA. That means manufacturers don’t need to list all possible side effects.
If you use them without supervision from your doctor, you may run the risk of compromising your body’s ability to produce testosterone. And if you flood your body with too much of this hormone, you could run the risk of experiencing:
- Heart muscle damage
- Liver disease
- Low sperm counts and impotence
- Shrinking testicles
- High blood pressure and cholesterol
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
“The only way to naturally boost testosterone is to go onto testosterone replacement therapy or make lifestyle changes like exercising more, eating better, and sleeping more,” says Rice.
Testosterone replacement therapy must be prescribed by your doctor and can be administered via patches, injections, pills, creams, gels and, the newest administration method, pellets. If you suspect that you have low testosterone, talk to your healthcare provider about getting a diagnosis. They can rule out any potential health problems that may be causing your symptoms, and determine if your testosterone levels are within the normal range. If they aren’t, they can then work with you to explore what the root cause may be and what the appropriate treatment is.
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