Men who are obese or suffer from depression have the lowest levels. Unmarried men are more likely to see a decline in testosterone levels than married men.
Are low testosterone levels an unavoidable part of male aging?
Many doctors once assumed that the answer to that question was yes. After all, there is a large body of research showing that as men grow older, their testosterone levels decrease. It seems natural to assume that loss of testosterone is part of the aging process for all men.
But other research indicates that this isn’t necessarily the case.
A study conducted by scientists at the University of Adelaide found that low testosterone in older men is more likely to be the result of lifestyle choices and health factors.
The study followed more than 1,500 men over five years. All the men were between 35 and 80 years old, and the average age of participants was 54 at the beginning of the study. After examining participants’ hormone levels at the beginning and end of the five-year period, researchers found that average testosterone levels decreased less than 1 percent each year, but men with chronic health problems were more likely to see larger declines.
In particular, men who were obese or suffered from depression had the lowest levels. Unmarried men were also more likely to see a decline in testosterone than their married counterparts.
Testosterone loss, it turns out, might not be an unavoidable part of aging. And that means you can make changes to increase your testosterone levels, even as you grow older.
How to increase testosterone levels
Hormone replacement, often in the form of a gel, is available for men with low testosterone levels, and some studies have shown that it can improve energy, mood, and levels of sexual desire. However, testosterone therapy has not been shown to improve conditions such as low bone density or erectile dysfunction.
Hormone replacement gels also carry risks, such as prostate cancer, sleep apnea, blood clots, and heart trouble. In one 2009 study of testosterone-replacement gel, the participants developed so many cardiovascular problems that the research had to be halted. These gels are also known for rubbing off on partners, children, and pets, potentially causing health problems and hormone imbalances for anyone you come in contact with while using them.
A safer and more effective way to reclaim your previous testosterone levels could be to restore them at the source, rather than replacing them, according to a research published in BJU International. This randomized study followed 127 men who received either no treatment, a topical testosterone replacement gel, or an oral medication to stimulate the body’s natural testosterone production. Researchers found that the oral medication, which works like drugs that stimulate ovulation in women, restored testosterone levels within 16 weeks without adverse side effects.
But medical interference isn’t the only way to increase testosterone lost to aging. Other research has shown that lifestyle changes as simple as starting an aerobic exercise routine and improving your diet can raise testosterone levels. Another study, this one specifically looking at men between the ages of 40 and 75, found similar results from a yearlong, moderate-level exercise program.
The results of the Australian study also argue in favor of lifestyle modifications to reclaim testosterone. Obesity and depression were linked to low hormones levels, indicating that maintaining a low body weight, reducing stress and anxiety, and practicing other strategies for positive physical and mental health can help prevent testosterone loss.
Are you actually at risk for low testosterone?
But before you decide on any sort of treatment, talk to your doctor. You might find that you don’t have a hormone deficiency at all.
According to an article published in the British Medical Journal, the European Male Ageing Study has provided the best data to date on the prevalence of low testosterone among aging males. And it isn’t large.
Only 0.1 percent of men in their 40s, 0.6 percent in their 50s, 3.2 percent in their 60s, and 5.2 percent in their 70s meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of low testosterone. Unlike women after menopause, who suffer from drastically lowered levels of estrogen, men over 40 typically lose only about 1 to 2 percent of their testosterone per year. Around 80 percent of men in their 60s and over 50 percent of men in their 80s have hormone levels that would be considered normal for younger men, the BMJ reports.
If you are worried that you are part of the small percentage of men who suffer from low testosterone levels, be sure to discuss options with your doctor before making any changes on your own. You might find that all you need to start feeling like your younger self is an occasional run at the gym.
February 21, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN