Hormones are a tricky subject. it's hard to pinpoint exactly one symptom or effect of a a hormone because of how pivotal they are in the regulation of all bodily systems and functions. This also makes it so easy to overlook and dismiss signs and symptoms when we do have hormonal deficiencies. One of the most important hormones to the physical and mental performance and overall wellbeing of both men and women is testosterone. Unironically, as we age, this is one of the first hormones to start to decline in production and become deficient.
Testosterone is more than just the steroid used by bodybuilders most people know it as. It's responsible for regulating effectiveness of almost every system in our body. From gene expression to energy production and food metabolism, the importance of healthy testosterone levels is undeniable so understanding the signs of low testosterone and how to combat it is of the utmost importance. Here are 5 signs of low testosterone.
Symptoms You May Experience
1. Hair Loss
This has to do with a molecule called DHT which is responsible for the development of hair follicles. This molecule is made by the metabolism of testosterone so as testosterone levels fall, so do DHT levels. This leads to reduced production of hair follicles and even the loss of existing follicles. Low testosterone is even hypothesized to be the primary cause of male pattern baldness and hair loss in women as they age.
2. Hot Flashes
This is another example of how deeply involved testosterone is in various bodily systems. Low testosterone often causes hot flashes in both men and women due to the role it plays in the hypothalamus. This is the region of the brain responsible for sensing and controlling body temperature. Low testosterone reduces this brain structure's ability to effectively sense body temperature thus causing it to perceive the body to be overheating when in reality it is not. This causes it to send false signals of heat throughout the body which we perceive as hot flashes.
3. Rapid Weight Gain
Testosterone controls various levels of your metabolism. This means your testosterone levels play a role in determining how food is broken down and how the calories harvested are used. Additionally, testosterone, also known as androgen, binds to androgen receptors in muscles to support maintenance and stimulate muscular growth. When there is not enough testosterone to sufficiently stimulate androgen receptors, your body starts to breakdown muscles thus causing loss in muscle mass.
this decrease in muscle mass leads to lower required calories as you have less tissue to feed. This means eating the same amount of calories as before will cause you to gain fat. The most interesting part is that as you gain fat, your baseline caloric requirements continue to decrease, sending you into a fat storing positive feedback loop.
4. Insomnia/ Difficulty Sleeping
Although part of the insomnia may have to do with the dietary and lifestyle factors that are actually causing your low testosterone, low testosterone itself also exacerbates the problem further. This is because of the inverse relationship between testosterone levels and cortisol levels. As Testosterone goes down, cortisol goes up. Cortisol is the a hormone that is released in response to stress and promotes wakefulness thus stopping you from getting quality sleep. If you do suffer from insomnia, we also suggest you read our post on optimizing sleep called "Optimizing Sleep For a Long Healthy Life" .
5. tiredness/ weakness
Last but most definitely not least of the symptoms of low testosterones is chronic tiredness. This is also caused by the role testosterone plays in metabolism. A lower metabolic rate combined with less muscle mass and a higher tendency to store calories as fat rather than use them for energy, causes people to be chronically tired, even after sleep or rest. This can make doing regular daily tasks harder and even lead to symptoms of depression.
Although we've only listed 5 main symptoms of low testosterone in this article, there are many more and if you believe you do have low testosterone, we strongly advise contacting a health care professional.
What You can Do to Fix it
Just as there are many factors that may lead to low testosterone, there are also many things, primarily lifestyle factors, that can be changed to optimize testosterone levels. These factors include nutrition, movement, sunlight exposure and stress reduction.
Although this may seem contradictory, the primary food group that's going to help you increase testosterone is fat. Now before you go drinking butter with your steak, it's important to note that there are different types of fats with different uses and effects in the body. The fat we need is Omega 3 fats. These are healthy unsaturated fats primarily found in fatty fish and nuts. Omega 3 fats not only help with testosterone production, but can also help reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.
A diet consisting of micronutrients like iron and zinc also key for optimal testosterone production. This means incorporating vegetables like peppers and especially leafy greens like kale and spinach.
This one's no surprise but physical activity plays a huge role in testosterone production. Although this primarily applies to weight lifting, forms of cardio like HIIT and even just walking can have huge benefits, especially to those who are used to living a sedentary lifestyle. If you already move or train consistently, try training muscle groups that release higher amounts of testosterone more often. This includes muscle groups like legs and glutes.
This is another one of those tips that should be a given. Low vitamin D is one of the most common causes of low testosterone, especially in winter months in northern countries. However, aside from just giving us vitamin D, sunlight exposure does so much more for the body. Sufficient sunlight exposure has actually been seen to mediate cortisol production and regulate circadian rhythms. Recent research has even shown that the human body has receptors for specific wavelengths of light so our body can interpret the position of the sun and thus the time of day, even with our eyes closed. sunlight is one of the greatest tools for mediating hormonal levels so we'll probably write a whole blog on the topic later.
As stated before, cortisol, aka the stress hormone, and testosterone are inversely related. Chronically high cortisol from mental stress, use of certain drugs and even over consumption of caffeine and sugar can cause huge losses in testosterone. One way to combat this is by meditating or finding a mindfulness practice that helps you control your stress. Even going for a quiet walk can do wonders for both your mental health and testosterone levels.
In conclusion, I hope we've convinced you of the importance of testosterone in keeping your body healthy and living an effective life. Once again, if you so see any signs of low testosterone, we do highly recommend you see a health care professionals. Even if you don't think you have low testosterones, we encourage you to try some of the tips above and see how they can positively impact your life.