What Is Testosterone (The Lowdown) – Everything You Need To Know

What’s the first image that pops into your head when you hear the word testosterone? You probably picture a bodybuilder or athlete with lots of lean muscle and low body fat. But testosterone is a hormone that does more than help you bulk up. It does everything from supporting your mental health to allowing you to sleep better. Testosterone levels decline with age, but there are many ways you can fight against this natural process. In this article, we’ll focus mostly on the role testosterone plays in men’s health. However, we’ll also touch on why it’s an essential hormone for women, too. We’ll start by examining testosterone’s function in your body. After that, we’ll look at why it declines as you age and how you can combat low testosterone. In this post about testosterone we’ll cover:

What Is Testosterone?

The short answer is testosterone is a hormone produced primarily by your testes that gives you male attributes. Remember those voice cracks you had to suffer through in middle school? You can blame testosterone for that. To say that testosterone is made in your testes is a little bit of an oversimplification. Let’s dig deeper into the science for a moment. The pathway for testosterone production actually starts in a part of your brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which acts on another part of your brain called the anterior pituitary gland (1). The anterior pituitary gland releases another hormone called Luteinizing hormone (LH). Luteinizing hormone then acts on Leydig cells in your testes to create testosterone. You might be wondering why you need three different parts of your body to produce testosterone. To answer that, it’s easiest to think about why our bodies have hormones. Our body likes to stay in balance and our hormones help with that (2). By using multiple hormones to produce testosterone, your body can upregulate or downregulate testosterone production depending on how much testosterone is in your blood.

What Does Testosterone Do?

Testosterone is responsible for manly traits like:
  • Body hair
  • Large amounts of muscle mass
  • Low body fat
  • Strong bones
  • Facial hair
  • Fertility
  • and a deep voice (3).
Men who take anabolic steroids (synthetic testosterone) become more feminine when they stop taking steroids. Their bodies stop producing testosterone because their bodies become accustomed to getting testosterone through injections. Which is why steroid users often need post cycle therapies to get their natural testosterone flowing again. Many of the changes you experienced during puberty were caused by your body ramping up testosterone production. Testosterone levels stay high until you reach about the age of 30. After 30, testosterone levels decline about 1% per year (4). If testosterone levels drop below a healthy level, the resulting disorder is called hypogonadism. Hypogonadism leads to health problems like infertility, increased risk of depression, lack of sex drive, and trouble maintaining muscle mass.

What Are The Symptoms of Low Testosterone?

High testosterone causes masculine traits and behaviours, but low testosterone has the opposite effect. Symptoms of low testosterone in men include the following (5):
  • Low sex drive
  • Difficulty with erections
  • Low sperm count
  • Hair loss
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis
  • Hot flashes
  • Increased body fat
  • Trouble maintaining muscle
  • Fatigue
  • Low sperm count
Basically, low testosterone will have a negative impact on your ability to work out and on your sex life. We also have another article on the symptoms of low testosterone here. Low testosterone also has negative effects on your mental health. Men with low testosterone often experience the following (5):
  • Depression
  • Poor concentration
  • Problems sleeping
  • Mood swings

Normal Testosterone Levels

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the normal range of testosterone for men is 300–1000 ng/dL. Research has found the mean to be 630ng/dL (6). The Endocrine Society considers low testosterone to be any amount below 263 ng/dL. Testosterone declines by about 1% per year, so normal levels for a 30-year-old are different from normal levels for an 80-year-old. How many bodybuilders do you see in their 70s? A few (props to them), but in general, the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to build muscle because of low testosterone.

Reasons Why Testosterone Drops Off

I hope we haven’t scared you into thinking the future is bleak and muscle-less. Although testosterone levels decline, the rate is somewhat controllable with healthy lifestyle habits. The following risk factors can accelerate your testosterone decline:
  • Not enough sleep
  • Not enough exercise
  • Being overweight
  • Eating too much sugar
  • Chronic stress
  • A diet high in refined vegetable oils
  • Excessive alcohol

Diseases That Cause Low Testosterone

Beyond the above lifestyles factors that are largely under your control, there are also a variety of diseases that can lead to low testosterone levels.
  • Klinefelter syndrome: A disorder that results from an abnormality in the X and Y sex chromosomes.
  • Mumps Infection: A testicular mumps infection can cause lifelong damage to the testosterone-producing Leydig cells.
  • Testicular Injury: An injury to the testicles can cause permanent damage to testosterone production.
  • Cancer Treatment: Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can both hinder testosterone production
  • Kallmann syndrome: An abnormal development of the hypothalamus.
  • Pituitary disorders: Disorders of the anterior pituitary gland disrupt LH production, which reduces testosterone production
  • HIV/AIDS: Lowers testosterone levels by affecting the hypothalamus, and pituitary glands
  • Medications: Some medications can also affect the hormonal pathway that produces testosterone.

Women and Testosterone

Even though we generally associate testosterone as a manly hormone, women also produce testosterone. Woman don’t have testes to produce testosterone, but their ovaries can produce testosterone (although to a limited degree) (7). Both men and women also produce a small amount of testosterone in the adrenal glands of their kidneys. Medical experts consider low testosterone in men to be around 266-300ng/dL, but the normal testosterone levels for women is about 8 to 60ng/dL with an average of 32.6ng/dL (8). Women with excessive testosterone levels develop masculine symptoms like baldness, a deepened voice, and an irregular menstrual cycle. Other symptoms include reduced breast size, acne, and facial hair growth. If you’re a woman reading this, you may want to lower your testosterone in fear of becoming Tarzan. However, unless you’re taking anabolic steroids, you’re unlikely to develop unhealthy levels of testosterone. Women need testosterone to produce strong bones and muscles the same as men. Testosterone is also essential for regulating sex drive for women (9).

How to Increase Testosterone Levels

Saying that testosterone is important for optimal health is an understatement. By now, you’re probably wondering how you can raise your testosterone levels. The easiest way is to increase your testosterone levels is by adopting healthy lifestyle habits.

Exercise Increases Testosterone

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the leading risk factors for low testosterone. Research shows that regular exercise can lead to increased testosterone levels (10). Resistance training can be particularly helpful since it causes a spike in testosterone (11). Taking creatine monohydrate may further increase testosterone levels (12).

A Healthy Diet Increases Testosterone

Eating a healthy diet is also critical for maintaining high testosterone levels. Hopefully, you’re already eating clean. However, if you’re not, focus on eating lots of protein, low glycemic carbs, and monounsaturated fats. Research shows adequate protein optimizes your testosterone levels (1314). Studies also show that eating carbs around your workout can also give you a testosterone boost (1516). Testosterone is a steroid hormone, which means that it’s made out of fat. This is one reason (amongst others) that you don’t want to eat a low-fat diet if your goal is to build muscle or maximize your overall health.

Sleep Increases Testosterone

Finding out that sleep can improve your testosterone levels is going to come as good news if you like to sleep through your alarm. Sleeping more than eight hours per night can improve many aspects of your health beyond hormone regulation. Increasing your testosterone levels is the icing on the cake. One study found that sleeping 5 hours per night caused a 15% reduction in testosterone levels (17). Multiple studies show that the more sleep you get, the higher your testosterone levels will be (1819).

Other Testosterone Boosting Options

If you need medical intervention to raise your testosterone, there are a few options available.

Testosterone Replacement Therapy

The testosterone replacement therapy industry has grown rapidly since the 1980’s, reaching USD 1.6 billion in 2011 (20). Testosterone replacement therapy is a common solution that men use to raise their natural testosterone production. Even Joe Rogan is on it: It can be administered through.
  • Gels and patches
  • Injections
  • Tablets
There are some side effects to testosterone replacement therapy, however. It can cause the testicles to shrink. This reasons for this is the same reason why they shrink in men who take anabolic steroids. If the testes aren’t needed to make testosterone, they atrophy. There’s also ongoing research to see if testosterone replacement therapy increases prostate cancer risk. Research shows that testosterone replacement therapy may help with the physical symptoms of low testosterone. However, it may not help the mental symptoms such as risk of depression (21). We wrote more about TRT here.

Testosterone Boosting Supplements

Testosterone boosting supplements work by increasing your body’s natural testosterone production. Unlike testosterone replacement therapy, taking a testosterone booster doesn’t involve ingesting an external source of testosterone. The quality of testosterone boosters widely varies, but some ingredients that have at least some research to back them as testosterone boosters include the following (22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28):
  • Boron
  • Shilajit
  • Tribulus Terrestris Extract
  • Tongkat ali
  • Ashwagandha
  • D-aspartic acid
  • Zinc
Apart from testosterone boosting foods Testosterone Boosters are one of the best ways to safely increase your testosterone levels. You can see our list of the best testosterone boosters here.


Prohormones are a variety of steroid that can increase testosterone production. Taking anabolic steroids involves injecting synthetic testosterone, however, taking prohormones means injecting a testosterone precursor. They can be used to treat low testosterone, or some men use them to build muscle. The use of prohormones can increase estrogen levels as well. They can be potentially dangerous.

Conclusion On Testosterone

Hopefully we’ve done a good job answering the question of – what is testosterone. By now you should have a good understanding of what testosterone is. Testosterone is essential for your optimal health no matter if you want to build muscle or just live longer. It’s not only important for men, but women need testosterone as well to maintain bone density and muscle mass. To fight against the natural decline of testosterone, you should try to sleep properly, eat cleanly, and minimize stress. If your doctor recommends medical intervention, testosterone replacement therapy is a common option. I would always recommend going the natural route first before using TRT unless your doctor thinks TRT is urgent. It’s expected that your testosterone levels will decrease with age, but if you take care of yourself, you can push the decline until late in your life.
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