What low testosterone can mean for your health
Researchers are unlocking the mysteries of how low testosterone is related to men's overall health. Along the way, they're uncovering connections between low testosterone and other health conditions.
Diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity and high blood pressure have all been linked to testosterone deficiency. Low testosterone isn't known to cause these health problems, and replacing testosterone isn't the cure. However, the associations between low testosterone and other medical conditions are interesting and worth examining.
Low testosterone - a sign of poor health?
Researchers have noticed general links between low testosterone and medical conditions. A 2006 study showed that in 2,100 men over the age of 45, the odds of having low testosterone were:
- 2.4 times higher for obese men
- 2.1 times higher for men with diabetes
- 1.8 times higher for men with high blood pressure
Experts don't suggest that low testosterone causes these conditions. In fact, it might be the other way around. That is, men with medical problems or who are in poor general health might then develop low testosterone.
Research into the relationship between low testosterone and several other health conditions is ongoing.
Diabetes and low testosterone
A link between diabetes and low testosterone is well established. Men with diabetes are more likely to have low testosterone. And men with low testosterone are more likely to develop diabetes later on. Testosterone helps the body's tissues take up more blood sugar in response to insulin. Men with low testosterone more often have insulin resistance, where they need to produce more insulin to keep blood sugar normal.
As many as half of men with diabetes have low testosterone, when randomly tested. Scientists aren't sure whether diabetes causes low testosterone, or the other way around. More research is needed, but short-term studies show testosterone replacement may improve blood sugar levels and obesity in men with low testosterone.
Obesity and low testosterone
Obesity and low testosterone are closely linked. Obese men are more likely to have low testosterone. Men with very low testosterone are also more likely to become obese.
Fat cells metabolise testosterone to oestrogen, lowering testosterone levels. Also, obesity reduces levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a protein that carries testosterone in the blood. Less SHBG means less testosterone.
Losing weight through exercise can increase testosterone levels.
Testosterone replacement may promote weight loss in obese older men who have low levels of the male sex hormone, according to findings presented at 2012 European Congress on Obesity in Lyon, France.
Researchers followed a group of mostly older, overweight men receiving injections of the hormone for up to five years to treat erectile dysfunction and other symptoms associated with low testosterone.
The men who were treated the longest lost more than 30 pounds (more than 2 stone or 13.6 kilograms) on average over the course of the study and also showed improvements in blood pressure, blood glucose and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
However, before men try to lose weight by bumping up their testosterone, experts say more studies are needed to show that the treatment is both safe and effective.