Testosterone is the hormone most often associated with the development of male characteristics. It continues, however, to have an effect on your body even after puberty. This evidence is not conclusive, but it is certain that testosterone levels lower as you age and this can affect your body. In some cases, low testosterone levels can lead to a condition called late-onset hypogonadism.
The impact of testosterone begins with the embryo, but levels of testosterone are at their highest during puberty when they contribute to the development of male secondary sexual characteristics. In adulthood, it is associated with increased bone density, muscle mass and physical strength, as well as regulating the libido. It also affects cognitive functions, including mood, memory, concentration and spatial awareness. Conditions associated with low levels of testosterone include heart disease and cardiac failure, hypertension, osteoporosis and diabetes.
Andropause, also known as the “male menopause”, is the name given to a collection of symptoms often experienced by middle-aged men. Unlike the female menopause, this is not a dramatic drop in hormone levels. Testosterone levels generally fall at a slow and steady rate in most men and rarely drop to levels where they cause problems.
Many of the common symptoms experienced by middle-aged men, such as erectile dysfunction, reduced muscle and increased fat, fatigue and poor concentration, are not actually caused by lowering testosterone. Instead, they often have psychological causes, such as stress and depression. Erectile dysfunction can be caused by changes to circulation and blood vessels.
Hypogonadism refers to a condition in which the body does not produce enough testosterone. It can be present from birth, but late-onset hypogonadism generally emerges later in life. It is quite rare, but tends to be more common in men who have type 2 diabetes or who are obese. If you are displaying the symptoms of late-onset hypogonadism, the condition can be verified with a blood test to measure your levels of testosterone.
Symptoms of late-onset hypogonadism include irritability or mood swings, lack of energy and enthusiasm, fatigue or insomnia, poor concentration, memory problems, reduced muscle and increased or redistributed fat. The fact that these symptoms are so similar to the natural symptoms of ageing can lead to difficulties with diagnosis, especially as testosterone levels will exhibit a natural reduction with age.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
For men experiencing late-onset hypogonadism, testosterone replacement therapy can help to relieve symptoms and help to rebuild muscle mass and reinvigorate libido.
For men with normal levels of testosterone, however, the benefits are uncertain and there may even be some side effects. Testosterone treatments are also not recommended when the patient already has cancer, as this can aggravate tumours.