Maybe you’ve got a slight paunch, and find it hard to climb a flight of stairs without feeling out of breath. You’ve got less muscle and more fat than you did in your twenties.
You might be one of the many who experience problems with their love life, ranging from problems getting an erection to a complete loss of interest in sex.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s possible you’re suffering from low testosterone levels.
For men, testosterone levels play a key role in almost everything. Testosterone builds emotional well-being and self-confidence. It affects how fat, fit or strong you are. It governs your mood, and plays a part in how aggressive you feel.
Unfortunately, testosterone levels begin to decline slowly but surely as you reach middle age. The testes (the place where most testosterone is made) are less responsive to hormones that control testosterone production. To make matters worse, “free” testosterone — the kind that’s most biologically active — declines to an even greater extent.
Since testosterone plays a vital role in muscle growth, most men find it gets harder and harder just to maintain muscle mass, let alone build it, as they age.
Irritable male syndrome
Not only does it affect the way you look, testosterone also affects the way you feel. Because the human brain is filled with testosterone receptors (the parts of the brain that respond to testosterone), your mood is affected if testosterone levels drop too low.
Termed by some “irritable male syndrome,” low testosterone levels might explain why some men become grumpy and irritable the older they get. Stress can also cause men of any age to experience a drop in testosterone levels.
By the age of 40, nearly 2 in 10 men report suffering from occasional impotence. And they’re just the ones who admit to it. With most men reluctant to talk about the fact that the troops desert them in the middle of battle, the problem is probably far more widespread than many experts think.
Some men have trouble with impotence when they go back to dating after a divorce. The debilitating cocktail of low testosterone levels, lack of self-confidence and an expanding waistline leaves many men feeling like their best days are behind them.
Many think of low testosterone as something that just affects older men.
However, men in their 30’s and 40’s also fall prey to low testosterone counts. According to the FDA, more than four million men suffer from low testosterone levels. Yet, 95 out of 100 men fail to seek treatment — often because they just accept the symptoms as a normal part of getting older.
Testosterone travels around your bloodstream in two forms — free testosterone or bound testosterone. Roughly two percent of total testosterone is made up of free testosterone, which is the most “active” form. The rest is attached to sex hormone-binding globulin (known as SHBG) and other proteins.
In aging men, it’s possible for total testosterone to appear normal, while free testosterone is actually low. If you do get your testosterone levels measured, make sure to ask for a reading of both total and free testosterone.
Since doctors and laboratories are only just beginning to recognize the importance of testing free testosterone, you may have to push to get the test. If you have to stick with total testosterone, learn the normal range for your lab (this will be somewhere between 350 and 1230 nanograms per deciliter).
Not all laboratories perform testosterone tests in the same way.
To minimize any errors, have all your testosterone tests done at the same location at roughly the same time of day. Any drop in testosterone could be due to laboratory error, a different testing method, or circadian cycling. Because your testosterone levels are lower in the evening, get a blood or saliva sample from both the morning (7.00am) and evening (7.00pm) analyzed.
According to sex therapist Dr. Louanne Cole Weston, men with total testosterone readings in the low 400s tend not to have much sexual drive even if they are in fulfilling relationships. Dr. Henry Ritter, a Californian urologist, says that even some men in the 600s do not feel that much sex drive when other things are equal. He prefers to see numbers in the 700s.
While a blood or saliva test is a more accurate way of establishing your levels of testosterone, you can also use The Saint Louis University Androgen Deficiency in Aging Men (ADAM) Questionnaire.
Dr. John Morley, a researcher with the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, developed the self-screening tool to help identify symptoms of low testosterone in men. Choose the responses below that best describe how you have been feeling.
1. Do you have a decrease in libido (sex drive)?
2. Do you have a lack of energy?
3. Do you have a decrease in strength and/or endurance?
4. Have you lost height?
5. Have you noticed a decreased “enjoyment of life”?
6. Are you sad and/or grumpy?
7. Are your erections less strong?
8. Have you noticed a deterioration in your ability to play sports?
9. Are you falling asleep after dinner?
10. Has there been a recent deterioration in your work performance?
If you answer yes to question one or seven, or at least three of the other questions you may have low testosterone levels.
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ABOUT CHRISTIAN FINNChristian Finn holds a master's degree with distinction in exercise science, is a former personal trainer and has been featured on BBC TV and radio, as well as in Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Fit Pro, Zest, and Perfect Body magazine.