Often referred to as the “male” hormone, testosterone is actually present in both sexes, for very important reasons. These are chemical messengers that are produced primarily in the testes of males, and in the ovaries of females, that regulate many functions within the body. Testosterone is referred to as an “androgen” hormone, because it is associated with males and male characteristics.
Testosterone for Development
Although both genders will produce testosterone, typically male children, as they develop in the womb will create much higher levels than females, masculinizing the brain. This will affect future physical characteristics and psychosocial behaviors, such as aggression and competitiveness. As males age, and enter adolescence, testosterone is responsible for a number of changes including, lowering of the voice, increasing the sex drive, stimulating pubic and facial hair growth, and developing muscles and facial features.
Testosterone for Sex and Reproduction
Produced primarily in the testicles of males, and the ovaries of females, testosterone plays a critical role in sexual function and reproduction as it supports the libido, facilitates the production of sperm in men, and may actually promote follicle growth in women, (small structures that contain and ultimately release eggs from the ovaries). The androgen increases libido in both sexes and rises in females at the time of ovulation.
It can also gradually increase the time between menstrual periods for women and eventually suppress menstruation altogether. Testosterone is produced in the adrenal glands of both sexes, in small amounts as well.
Testosterone, Bones, Body Composition and Strength
As men enter young adulthood, testosterone helps maintain optimal muscle strength and bone mineral density. Lean muscle mass helps the body burn fat efficiently and high testosterone levels assist in distributing fatty tissue evenly throughout the torso, arms, and legs.
Testosterone and Other Health Benefits, Both Physical and Emotional
Studies indicate that testosterone is not just for strength and sexual function either. The male hormone actually plays a role in stabilizing blood sugar and keeping diabetes under control.
In both sexes testosterone has the ability to help modulate mood by reducing levels of anger and irritability and promoting overall feeling of well-being. It also helps to produce red blood cells in men and women and can even work to improve cardiovascular health in men as well.
Symptoms of low testosterone in both sexes vary and may be difficult to diagnose as they sometimes mimic other medical conditions.
Low testosterone in men may include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- High percentage of fat in midsection
- Gynecomastia (male breasts)
- Decrease in body hair
- Higher voice
- Lack of muscle mass
- Decrease in sex drive
Low testosterone in women may include:
- Low libido
- Irregular or absent menstrual periods
Both sexes may experience:
- Lack of concentration
- Memory problems
- Lack of motivation
Testosterone Levels Decrease
In males, testosterone levels decrease by about 1 percent annually each year after about age 25. Women slowly lose testosterone throughout life and will only have about half of the amount they once had in their 20’s, by the time they reach menopause.
True androgen deficiency may be treated a number of different ways through:
- Topical gels
- Injectable testosterone
- Implantable testosterone
While both sexes may take testosterone replacement therapy to improve symptoms, women may need additional estrogen therapy to avoid an overall hormonal imbalance.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy Side Effects
Side effects of testosterone replacement therapy may include:
- Breast tenderness
- Increase in red blood cells
- Reduction in testicle size
- Swelling of lower extremities
While statistically one in four men over the age of 30 are affected by low testosterone, and as many as 15 million U.S. women are suspected of androgen deficiency, many suffer in silence or go undiagnosed and untreated altogether. Some men and women accept symptoms as simply part of the aging process, while others, uncomfortable with cultural or social ideas surrounding sexual health and behavior choose not to explore possible causes or treatments for lack of libido or sexual dissatisfaction.
Finding the balance that’s right for you and your partner is the key to maintaining overall good health and happiness in every season of life.