By Robbie Clark- Accredited Practising Dietitian and co-founder of TheHealthClinic.com.au
Low testosterone, androgen deficiency, hypogonadism or low T. Whatever you want to call it, it is one thing that most men never want to hear, but did you know that low testosterone is common in Australia, affecting 1 in 200 men under the age of 60?
Androgens are the group of sex hormones that give men their ‘male’ characteristics. They are essential for male sexual and reproductive function but they are also responsible for the development and growth of facial and body hair, as well as bone and muscle development.
The major sex hormone (androgen) in men is testosterone. It is produced primarily in the testes and is controlled and regulated by a small gland in the brain (hypothalamus) called the pituitary gland.
The major functions of testosterone in the male body include:
- starting and completing the process of puberty
- bone and muscle development
- growth of body hair, including facial hair
- change of vocal cords to produce the adult male voice
- sex drive (libido) and sexual function
- prostate gland growth and function
- sperm production.
Causes of low T
Testosterone deficiency occurs when the body is not able to make enough for the body to function normally. Having low T is not life threatening, but it can affect your quality of life.
Physically, you will have a greater risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis due to decreased bone density. Low T also affects your body composition, with decreases in muscle mass and strength, and increases in body fat, particularly abdominal fat where the buildup increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Common causes of low testosterone are primarily testicular, but can also be caused by issues with the Pituitary gland and hypothalamus.
Testicular causes may include medical problems that affect the testes such as Klinefelter’s syndrome or undescended testicle, testicular damage, surgery, infection such as mumps, chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment and medication or toxin exposure.
Pituitary gland causes may include a benign tumour, congenital abnormalities and genetic conditions such as Kallmann’s syndrome, haemochromatosis – a genetic disorder causing excess iron stores in the body, thalassaemia – a genetic disorder that affects the production of haemoglobin resulting in severe anaemia.
Additional risk factors associated with lowered testosterone levels include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Certain drugs and medications such as opiates, anabolic steroids and corticosteroids used as an anti-inflammatory agent
Signs and symptoms of Having Low T
The symptoms of androgen deficiency (low testosterone) often overlap with those of other
illnesses and are often different for men of different ages. Some of the common signs and symptoms related to low testosterone include:
Physical Symptoms: decreased lean tissue, decreased muscle size, increased body fat, gynaecomastia (“man boobs”), weight gain, joint & back pain, decreased ﬁrmness of the skin, headaches and anaemia
Energy & Strength Symptoms: frequent tiredness and fatigue, feeling weaker and decreased endurance
Sleep Symptoms: insomnia, difﬁculty falling asleep, difficulty staying awake and night sweats
Cognitive Symptoms: decreased mental skills, decreased memory function, difficulty solving problems, confused, decreased memory and focus
Mood & Behavioural: feelings of depression, social isolation, less motivated, increased irritability, mood changes and mood swings
Sexual Symptoms: erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, decreased genital sensation, decreased orgasm experience, decreased ejaculate volume, testicular atrophy (decrease in size)
Low testosterone is diagnosed by a simple blood, urine or even saliva sample to measure male sex hormone levels. Diagnosis should not be simply based on symptoms as these could be caused by other health problems that need different treatment. A diagnosis of testosterone deficiency is only confirmed when the tests show a lower than normal testosterone level.
How to Boost Your Testosterone
Depending on the severity of your testosterone deficiency, will determine the best course of treatment. Many males decide to undergo testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) and this can be given by your GP or medical practitioner in the form of topical cream/gel, injections, patches and oral medication. Once started and depending on our age, testosterone therapy is usually continued for life and you need to be checked regularly by your doctor. It’s important to talk about the possible side effects of the TRT with your health practitioner.
There are also a number of natural ways to boost your testosterone.
Dietary fat is a key player when it comes to optimising natural testosterone production. However, keep in mind that you still have to be careful of the type of fat that you are eating. A focus on mono- and poly-unsaturated fats in your diet is important.
Olive oil, avocado, almonds, coconut oil, egg yolks, cheese and peanut butter are all great examples of the healthy fats that you could consider adding into your diet.
Nutrients and antioxidants such as L-carnitine, selenium and zinc are important for male reproductive health with low levels associated with suboptimal sperm health. It has been shown that males with a low sperm count typically have lower seminal fluid carnitine levels. Studies have also shown that supplementation with these nutrients has resulted in improved quality, motility and viability of normal healthy sperm.
Vitamin D is also important for the production of testosterone. Therefore, it is recommended to check vitamin D levels as well to see if you are at risk of deficiency.
Bulgarian tribulus is used in traditional medicine as an aphrodisiac and male rejuvenation tonic for virility. Studies have shown that the steroidal saponin content in tribulus is the most important when it comes to its effects on libido and sexual function.
Other ways of boosting your testosterone is HIIT training, strength training, getting enough sleep, eliminating sugar from your diet, reducing and managing stress and losing weight.
Also consider consulting your healthcare practitioner for strategies on how to get your testosterone strong again. Your practitioner should be able to direct you to the right foods, supplements, sleep, stress and workout strategies which will help.
Robbie is a Sydney based Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist who has been in the industry for over 10 years. He is regularly featured as an expert in the media and he has recently co-founded the first online nutrition and health clinic in Australia TheHealthClinic.com.au along with Nutritionist, Pip Reed.
Robbie has a ‘everything in moderation’ approach to diet and nutrition and feels that diets are usually over complicated and unrealistic for people to follow and/ or sustain. He believes in educating people to get back to the basics to gain a healthy metabolism, more energy, more muscle, less fat, improved hormone balance and a positive mindset when it comes to food.