In this piece from our Guide To Gains serious we ask ourselves an important question: What are the symptoms of low testosterone in males? And when you experience those low testosterone symptoms, how do you know it’s because of “low T” and not some other medical condition?
All adult men begin to lose their testosterone as they age. Thing is, some experience a much steeper drop, accompanied by more severe symptoms. Yes, low levels of the male sex hormone will translate into a lower sex drive—but that’s only part of it.
In this guide, we uncover the facts about low “T” that every guy should know:
- Most common symptoms of low testosterone
- Reasons why men lose their “T”
- Proven ways to increase your male sex hormone naturally
- The truth about testosterone boosters and supplements
- When to speak to a doctor
Before we dig into low testosterone symptoms in men, it’s a good idea to have an understanding of what testosterone is and how it affects adult men. Let’s start with the basics …
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men. It is primarily produced by the testicles, though small amounts are also made by the adrenal glands. Testosterone is an androgen hormone, which means it plays a critical role in the development of male characteristics and reproductive systems.
Testosterone plays several important roles in men, including:
- Development of the penis and testes
- Libido (sex drive)
- Muscle strength and growth
- Bone density
- Production of red blood cells
- Sperm production
- Mood and behavior
- Cognitive function
- Male development at puberty: deepening of the voice, growth of facial hair and pubic hair, muscle growth and reproduction functions
Testosterone levels fluctuate in men throughout the day, peaking in the morning and hitting a low point in the evening.
The brain controls the production of testosterone, sending signals to the pituitary gland, which in turn sends signals to the testes. That is where the production happens. Your body uses a “feedback loop” to regulate testosterone levels in the blood. Scientists at Harvard Health explain: “When testosterone levels rise too high, the brain sends signals to the pituitary to reduce production.”
The opposite is also true: when levels are too low, the brain says, “Hey, let’s ramp up production down there.” But if your body is unable to, for whatever reason, that’s when the low testosterone symptoms set in. In men, this inability to produce normal levels of testosterone is a medical condition known as hypogonadism.
Here’s what it can look like …
Common Symptoms Of Low Testosterone In Men
Symptoms of low testosterone can manifest themselves in several different ways. Below, we take a deep dive into the most common low testosterone signs and how they’re experienced by the average guy.
But again, it’s important to remember that these symptoms are very similar to those of other, potentially serious medical conditions. Low-T symptoms are typically most noticeable in men whose testosterone falls below “normal” levels. But a slight drop (or slight incline, for that matter) generally won’t make a noticeable difference, unless you’re falling in or out of the normal range for your age.
Wondering how to tell if you have low testosterone? Here are some of the most common symptoms and signs of low testosterone in men:
Reduced interest in sex
Not surprisingly, when your main sex hormone is in short supply, it negatively affects your desire for sex. A loss of libido is the most common and most noticeable symptom of low testosterone.
In an interview with CBS News, Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, associate clinical professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the author of “Testosterone for Life,” explained how men with low “T” typically lose their sexual desire: “Testosterone is what’s responsible for ‘the grrr factor’ [in men],” he said.
Every guy is different when it comes to how often they want sex. But when their testosterone is low, a man’s appetite for sex is virtually “absent.”
However, other Harvard researchers warn that it’s still too early to determine how low testosterone levels affect sex drive. While we know that testosterone is key for libido and healthy sexual function, more research needs to be done on the hormone’s relationship to sexual behavior in men.
Loss of muscle mass
Guys with low “T” often report feeling “weaker,” and there’s plenty of medical research to back that up. Since testosterone plays a vital role in muscle growth, it makes sense that declining levels would be accompanied by a loss of muscle mass.
A 2013 study of nearly 1,000 Japanese men found that low levels of free testosterone resulted in a greater risk of muscle loss. A separate study published in the “New England Journal of Medicine” found that men whose testosterone levels decreased experienced “reductions in lean mass, muscle size, and leg-press strength.”
Generally, a loss of muscle from low “T” won’t mean your body will suddenly become “skin and bones.” In fact, it’s the opposite: the muscle is typically replaced by fat (low testosterone is often accompanied by weight gain – we’ll come back to that in a minute).
Fatigue and sluggishness
Remember that testosterone plays an important role in the production of red blood cells. So when your “T” levels drop, it can cause a deficiency in red blood cells – a condition known as anemia. Anemia causes you to feel fatigued and weary more often than normal. Many men describe this is as a feeling of sluggishness – a “mope on the couch” kind of feeling, but more debilitating and prolonged than your typical loss of motivation on a Sunday afternoon.
Harvard’s Dr. Abraham Morgentaler lists “fatigue” as one of the most common symptoms of low testosterone. Dr. Joel Locke of Williams Medical Center argues that many men who experience a loss of energy may be dealing with diminishing testosterone levels, or a number of other indirectly related causes.
The feeling of sluggishness, he explains, is a natural byproduct of the loss of muscle mass from low “T.” That loss of muscle mass results in reduced strength, less endurance and less energy.
Foul mood and depression
Feelings of fatigue can also be accompanied by irritability, anger and bouts of depression – and often these symptoms are intertwined. It’s important to note, however, that researchers don’t all agree on how or why low “T” causes depression.
Some studies have concluded that low testosterone is not always the main culprit for depression, but that the depression is caused by other factors that are contributing to the low “T.”
Other studies highlighted by Harvard Health conclude that men with abnormally low levels of the sex hormone do have “increased incidence” of depression. And, separate studies have found that increasing a man’s testosterone can help to alleviate those symptoms.
Men with abnormally low testosterone levels often report chronic feelings of anxiousness. Harvard health lists “anxiety” as one of the most common symptoms of male hypogonadism. Often, this anxiety is intertwined with the feelings of depression mentioned above.
A 2013 medical report highlighted the fact that “lower salivary levels of testosterone are observed in individuals with anxiety disorders.” Similarly, one study found that “socially anxious men also display a significant drop in testosterone levels after being defeated in a competition, an effect not observed in non-anxious men.”
This signifies two things: 1) Men with low “T” are more likely to experience heightened anxiety, and 2) there is likely a reciprocal effect in that anxiety causes the hormone levels to drop. (Stress, in fact, is one of the biggest culprits of decreased testosterone, as we mention below.)
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition in which men have trouble producing (or keeping) an erection. There are many different possible causes for ED, and low testosterone is one of them.
It’s all about the nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide is a tiny molecule that signals our blood vessels to allow increased blood through the vessel. That’s what happens when you get an erection: sexual arousal signals the release of nitric oxide, which in turn increases the blood flow to your penis. But if there’s not enough nitric oxide, the erection doesn’t happen (or doesn’t happen long enough).
What can cause a lack of nitric oxide? You guessed it: low testosterone.
However, it’s more complicated than that. Studies show that low testosterone by itself (with no other medical problems apparent) is not always enough to cause ED. It can, but usually there’s a host of other health conditions that can be causing the ED along with the low “T” – it’s just not clear yet exactly where the lines of causation fall.
Still, if you are experiencing erectile dysfunction, chances are your testosterone is lower than it should be.
Weak bones, osteopenia and osteoporosis
Osteopenia is a condition of reduced bone mass, which is slightly less severe than osteoporosis. We already know that testosterone plays an important role in increasing bone mass in adult men. So it’s no surprise there’s ample research concluding that a loss of “T” also results in a loss of bone mass.
Dr. Paul Mystkowski, MD, an endocrinologist at Virginia Mason Medical Center says that the most common cause of osteoporosis in men is low testosterone: “There’s a clear consensus that when you’re evaluating men with osteoporosis, you always evaluate for testosterone deficiency.”
Where the research begins to conflict is in how testosterone benefits your bones exactly. For example, some studies conclude that the hormone directly leads to stronger, denser bones, while other studies say the benefit may also come from testosterone’s conversion to estrogen. In either case, low levels of “T” are still strongly correlated with a greater risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Lack of stimulation in the genitals
Most guys react to being touched in their private area as if there’s an electrical spark. It’s an electrifying sensation not unlike tickling but more stimulating. In short, that simple touch – to the penis or scrotum – usually gets things moving.
But not for guys with low “T.”
Harvard’s Dr. Morgentaler says that men with low testosterone report that touching the genital area “just feels wrong to them” – not wrong as in “bad,” but as in “something’s not working.” This lack of sensation could be caused by the same low-T conditions that cause erectile dysfunction.
Research shows this symptom may be reciprocal, too. Men with low testosterone often complain of having gained weight. And indeed, Harvard Health states that weight gain is a common symptom of male hypogonadism. But we also know that weight gain itself also causes your “T” to decline further.
Dr. Frances Hayes, a reproductive endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, argues that weight gain (especially at obese levels) is the single biggest reason why men’s testosterone levels begin to drop. “Weight has a bigger impact on testosterone levels than aging,” she says. “As weight goes up, testosterone levels go down.”
But studies show that weight gain is as much of a symptom of low “T” as it is a cause. A 2014 medical review by Dr. Abdulmaged M. Traish found that overweight men who increased their testosterone levels experienced “significant and sustained weight loss, marked reduction in waist circumference and BMI and improvement in body composition … without recidivism.”
You may know that women experience hot flashes during menopause, due to the decrease in estrogen. But similarly, men can experience hot flashes from decreasing testosterone.
A hot flash is a sudden feeling of oppressive heat in the body, usually felt in the head and torso. The sensation is also accompanied by excessive sweating and redness of the skin.
Doctors say that aging men who experience a normal, gradual decline in “T” won’t usually experience hot flashes. But those who drop to abnormally low testosterone levels can. This is especially true for men who experience the sharp decrease because of other factors, such as androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer. “About 70%–80% of men who receive androgen deprivation therapy experience hot flashes,” says Harvard Health, and “low testosterone is the culprit.”
Ejaculatory dysfunction is often tied with erectile dysfunction, but the two conditions actually refer to two completely different sexual functions. ED is all about erections. But men with ejaculatory dysfunction specifically have difficulty ejaculating, or they have reduced ejaculate volume or simply weak ejaculations.
Studies have found that men with ejaculatory dysfunction almost always have abnormally low testosterone. But once again, it’s not clear if the drop in “T” is the primary culprit.
For example, one 2015 study looked at 76 men who had symptoms of ejaculatory dysfunction. All of them had low “T.” But increasing their testosterone levels (with 60 milligrams of a 2 percent testosterone solution daily) did not produce any changes to their ejaculations.
Low sperm count
Yep – low “T” can also affect what’s in those ejaculations (or more accurately: what’s not). Testosterone plays an important role in the production of sperm, as both are produced in the testes.
So when your hormone levels are low, it can hurt your sperm count. Infertility is a common symptom of low testosterone, though researchers remain divided on the exact causation.
A note of caution: stay away from “testosterone replacement therapy” (TRT) if you’re trying to boost your sperm count. TRT has the opposite effect: causing your sperm count to drop. That’s because the unnatural increase of the hormone will make your brain think you have enough, sending a signal to your testes to stop producing it, which in turn will inhibit your sperm production.
The jury is still out on this one, but there have been a few studies that show low testosterone is linked to memory loss.
Specifically, one often-cited study presented by the Society for Neuroscience in 2004 looked at how well men could remember certain words presented to them. In a first list of words, men were asked questions about the words, like whether the letters shown were capitalized, or whether the words represented objects that occur in nature.
The men were then presented with a second list of words and asked to remember if any were shown from the first list. As it turns out, men with low “T” had far more difficulty remembering those words than men whose hormone levels were normal.
More recent analysis highlights the fact that, while testosterone has been shown to have cognitive benefits, the link between low “T” and memory loss is sometimes oversimplified. In other words, more research still needs to be done.
Potential Causes Of Low Testosterone
If you’re experiencing symptoms of low testosterone, then you may be wondering, “Do I have low testosterone?!”
There could be several factors at play. For starters, most men begin to lose their testosterone pretty rapidly after age 30. Age itself accounts for test levels dropping by about 1% to 2% every year. It’s not a sudden, dramatic decline, but it adds up over time. However, some researchers argue that the declining hormone levels are not a natural part of aging, but instead the result of behavioral and health factors.
We know from substantial medical research that there are several low testosterone causes that are proven to decrease your “T”:
- Weight gain and obesity
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of exercise
- Injuries, infection and chronic illness
- Endurance exercises, like long-distance cycling and marathons
So as you might expect, eliminating some or all of these causes can greatly reduce your risk for low testosterone, provided that no other health problems are at play.
Let’s take a closer look at each of methods:
Proven ways to increase testosterone
- Be more active: No debate here. Research shows that almost any amount of exercise can help to reverse your low testosterone. The increase is more pronounced in non-sedentary men who intensify their workout routines. But even sedentary men who suddenly become active reap the benefits too.
- Try weight-lifting and HIIT: If you want to maximize the results of your physical activity, add weight-lifting and high-intensity interval training into your workout routine. Intensity is the key. In numerous studies, the biggest impact on testosterone levels came from intense “resistance training” activities, such as HIIT workouts and heavy lifting of free weights.
- Have more sex: As we mentioned above, low “T” can lower your sex drive. But did you know that simply having sex or ejaculating can cause your testosterone to rise? While it’s not an instant jump, one study found that testosterone levels jumped 145% by the 7th day after ejaculation.
- Sleep well: A poor night’s sleep limits your body’s ability to produce testosterone, because most of the hormone is made while you’re catching zzzz’s. Studies show you can do a lot for your “T” by getting 7 to 9 hours of deep, restful, uninterrupted sleep every night.
- Eat smarter: We know that weight gain makes your testosterone deficiency worse, so start by placing limits on your intake. But also, make sure you’re eating healthy foods too. Replacing sugar and processed foods with more fresh, natural foods (especially vegetables) can do a lot to increase your “T.”
- Seek out T-boosting nutrients: Some foods (and testosterone supplements) have nutrients that are proven to increase your testosterone. Key ingredients to look for: zinc, boron, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin D and foods with healthy saturated fats (like eggs).
- Eliminate stress: Stress kills testosterone. More accurately, elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol is what causes the sex hormone to drop. So if you’re serious about increasing your “T,” you must eliminate the factors that are making your life stressful.
- Cut down on alcohol: A couple drinks here and there probably won’t hurt your T (and it may even help it). But alcoholism will. If you’re a heavy drinker, you can probably boost your T with a little bit of moderation. For the greatest impact, try cutting alcohol out of your diet completely.
Should you take testosterone boosters?
Natural testosterone boosters are dietary supplements that are made with nutrients known to increase testosterone levels. While few studies have looked at testosterone boosters outside of individual ingredients (most research is focused on testosterone replacement therapy), they can be a convenient way to consume these testosterone boosting nutrients, especially if you’re unable to get them from natural food sources.
For the greatest results, we recommend taking the supplements as part of a 360-degree effort that includes high-resistance exercise, a balanced diet and lots of sleep every night.
If you have abnormally low testosterone, you may be a candidate for testosterone replacement therapy, which typically involves taking gels or injections of testosterone. However, your doctor is likely to prescribe some of the natural T-boosting methods listed above before recommending TRT.
This brings us to our last and important point …
When to speak to your doctor
Severe symptoms of low testosterone, like depression and erectile dysfunction, can actually be caused by other serious health problems, such as heart disease. Our advice: don’t self-medicate.
Only a qualified physician can determine the underlying cause of your symptoms. They can perform tests to see whether it could be low “T” or something else altogether.
While there are test kits that allow you to check your testosterone levels at home, it’s best to speak to a doctor if you are experiencing any of what could be low testosterone symptoms outlined above. Once you uncover the cause of your symptoms, you and your doctor can administer the most effective plan of action for moving forward.