What is the first thing that comes to mind when the word “testosterone” is mentioned? Is it an image of muscular men working out at the gym or one of those Greek-god-like supermodels? Do you associate testosterone with strength, aggressiveness, or violence?
Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men. It is produced by the testes and is key to a variety of essential bodily processes and functions that occur from fetal development, during puberty, and throughout the adult years. Among its most notable roles are in:
- Bone growth and development
- Muscle mass and strength
- Libido or sex drive
- The formation and development of the male genitalia, including the penis, testicles, prostate
- The growth of pubic hair, facial hair, chest hair, arm and leg hair, and other body hair starting at puberty
- The deepening of the voice during the puberty stage
- Production of sperm
- Distribution of body fat
- Production of new red blood cells
Ideal testosterone levels in men
Keeping your body’s testosterone levels within the ideal or normal range is crucial to your sexual and reproductive growth, development, and function. If your levels are too low or too high, you may experience abnormal masculinization and encounter various sexual and reproductive problems.
For example, if an 11-year-old boy who is just about to enter puberty has testosterone issues, his penis or testicles may not increase in size, he may not be able to grow body hair, and his voice may not sound deeper like other boys his age who are also going through puberty. Or, if a 30-year old adult man has testosterone issues, he may notice his libido or sex drive decline, he may have trouble getting an erection, or he may have a reduced sperm count.
In general, testosterone levels in men reach their peak during the late teens to early 20s and start to decline by 1% each year after they turn 30 years old. Below are the ideal or normal testosterone levels (measured in nanograms per deciliter or ng/dL) in men per age group:
- From age 0 to 5 months – between 75 ng/dL and 400 ng/dL
- From 6 months to 9 years – <7-20 ng/dL
- From age 10 years to 11 years – <7-130 ng/dL
- From age 12 years to 13 years – <7-800 ng/dL
- 14 years – <7-1,200 ng/dL
- From age 15 years to 16 years – between 100 ng/dL and 1,200 ng/dL
- From age 17 years to 18 years – between 300 ng/dL and 1,200 ng/dL
- 19 years old and older – between 240 ng/dL and 950 ng/dL
High testosterone in men
Having high levels of testosterone in the body is not good for your health. It is vital to find a way to get your levels back down to normal as soon as possible, as complications that can negatively impact not only your sexual and reproductive functions but also other important organ and system functions can arise.
There are a number of things that can cause testosterone levels in men to increase to higher than normal levels.
Sometimes, it can be due to androgen resistance, a condition in which an individual who is genetically male (i.e. has one X chromosome and one Y chromosome) becomes resistant to androgens or male hormones, resulting to the development of female physical traits, such as breasts; and congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a type of inherited condition in which the genes that communicate with the enzymes to produce steroid hormones in a man’s adrenal glands go through mutations, leading to an excessive production of male hormones.
Other times, it can be caused by anabolic steroids, which are a man-made kind of testosterone typically consumed for muscle building or enhancing male sexual traits and characteristics. They are usually taken by athletes, bodybuilders, and weightlifters.
Side effects of high testosterone
While taking anabolic steroids can really build muscle and boost strength and physical performance, they can also cause many different side effects, including:
Reduced libido or sex drive
Too much testosterone in the body can lead to a decline in your desire for sex.
Reduced sperm count
High testosterone levels can hinder your sperm production, causing a decline in the amount and the quality of sperm that your testicles produce.
Shrinking of the testicles
Abnormally high testosterone levels in the body can cause your testicles to shrink, which can impair sperm production and other sexual function.
Having too much testosterone in your body may make you become more aggressive, easily angered or irritated, or moody.
Enlargement of the prostate
If your testosterone levels are higher than normal, your prostate gland may enlarge, causing a variety of complications, such as urinary tract infections, bladder damage, bladder stones, urinary retention, and kidney damage.
Prolonged intake of anabolic steroids can endanger your kidneys, increasing your risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer, fatty liver disease, and others.
Long-term use of anabolic steroids may eventually damage your arteries and your heart, disrupting blood flow and blood circulation in your body and increasing your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, blood vessel disease, heart attack, and others.
Too much testosterone can lead to a higher production of red blood cells. The excess cells can thicken your blood and slow down blood flow, increasing your risk of blood clots.
Treatment for high testosterone
You need to go see a doctor to get the best treatment for your high testosterone issue. There are several treatment options available, depending on the cause of the problem.
Your doctor may recommend medications, such as oral contraceptives, metformin, glucocorticosteroids, or spironolactone. They may also suggest that you eat foods that can lower testosterone levels, such as tofu, miso, vegetable oil, mint, licorice root, nuts, and flaxseed. If your testosterone levels increased because of anabolic steroid use, your doctor may advise you to stop taking those to get your testosterone levels down.