If you’re feeling the effects of low testosterone in your life, you want to find out why. Sure, testosterone levels decrease as you age, but sometimes men will have an underlying condition that causes those levels to fall below a healthy range.
To find out what’s making your testosterone so low, it’s important to know what produces testosterone in your body. This can help you better understand your body’s functions and pinpoint the potential problem. But first, a little lesson in biology.
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is an androgen, or sex hormone, that is naturally produced in the body. It’s widely regarded as a male hormone because many male secondary sexual characteristics, like body hair, a pronounced Adam’s apple, increased muscle mass, and broad shoulders, are influenced by testosterone. However, it’s found in both men and women.
While testosterone is largely associated with sex drive, it also affects bone density, muscle development, and red blood cell production, among other bodily functions.
What Produces Testosterone?
Testosterone is produced by the gonads (testicles or ovaries) and adrenal glands. Men and women have different processes for testosterone production.
How Men Produce Testosterone
About 95% of men’s testosterone is produced in the testicles. The remaining 5% is produced in the adrenal glands, which are responsible for producing hormones that help regulate your immune system, metabolism, and blood pressure.
How Women Produce Testosterone
Most of a woman’s testosterone is produced in her ovaries, while the remaining portion is produced in her adrenal glands. Women have much less testosterone than men—about 1/10 to 1/20 of men’s total amount.
How Is Testosterone Controlled?
The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are responsible for controlling testosterone levels in your body.
In general, the hypothalamus’ purpose is to keep the human body in a continuously stable condition. This means more than just managing hormones, as it sends your body signals as a response to your internal and external environment, including:
- Body temperature
- Blood pressure
- Night-time melatonin secretion
- Changes in cortisol levels
The pituitary gland communicates with other glands and organs to essentially tell them what hormones they need to produce. The hypothalamus communicates with the pituitary gland to tell it what hormones are needed and what needs regulating.
Puberty and Aging
The amount of testosterone your body produces corresponds with your age. Testosterone levels spike for both men and women when they hit puberty. These levels will remain relatively high through a person’s twenties. But for most men, testosterone levels will drop by about one percent every year after they turn thirty.
Meanwhile, women start to see a significant decline in testosterone after menopause, which usually begins between ages 45 and 55.
What Causes Testosterone Imbalances?
Because of the aging process, it’s normal for some older men and women to notice signs of decreasing testosterone levels, which may include mildly reduced sexual desire and reduced muscle bulk and strength. However, more severe imbalances can be caused by:
- Injury or trauma
- Infection of the testicles
- Metabolic disorders
- Certain medications, including opioids and steroids
- Alcohol abuse
- Congenital defects
- Adrenal insufficiency
Low Testosterone Symptoms
Low testosterone levels can significantly affect both men and women, though the effects are more noticeable for men. Early signs of low T may include a reduced sex drive, erectile dysfunction, low sperm count, and swollen breast tissue.
Over time, these symptoms may develop into further issues, like:
- Loss of body hair
- Loss of muscle bulk
- Loss of strength
- Increased body fat
- Mood swings
- Testicular shrinkage
- Reduced energy
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