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Signs of low testosterone — and how to fix it
Low T can hurt your energy, sex drive and more. It affects men of all ages, but there are ways to bring your levels back up.
Few hormones receive as much attention as testosterone. That might be because many of its effects are easy to spot. Testosterone leads to more body and facial hair, a deeper voice and bigger muscles, according to the Urology Care Foundation.
And for many men, testosterone is related to identity. It’s the main male sex hormone. In men, it’s produced mainly in the testicles, and it’s required for sperm production. Testosterone levels spike during puberty, but in many cases, they drop during the decades that follow.
“Low testosterone is very common and becomes more likely with age,” says Stanton C. Honig, MD. He’s a urologist and director of the Yale Medicine Male Reproductive Health/Sexual Medicine Program in New Haven, Connecticut.
But low testosterone is also on the rise among younger men. According to a study published in the Journal of Urology, the average testosterone levels for men ages 15 to 39 fell by about 25% between 1999 and 2016.
The American Urology Association identifies low testosterone as less than 300 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). The researchers in the study estimated that 20% of adolescent and young adult men are below this number. And the rates go up in older men.
To learn why testosterone drops and how you can treat it, keep reading.
Signs of low testosterone
Low testosterone can have a big impact on how you feel and how motivated you are throughout the day, says Dr. Honig.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, signs of low testosterone include:
- Reduced energy and fatigue
- Depressed mood
- Loss of muscle mass and strength
- Decrease in body hair
- Lower sex drive
- Problems getting an erection
With erectile dysfunction (ED), Dr. Honig notes that it could also be caused by a blood-flow problem. That would be treated differently than low testosterone. (Click here to learn about mail-order ED medication.)
As for why testosterone drops, many people blame age. But weight gain might play a bigger role. “Obesity is a major culprit,” says Dr. Honig. “Many researchers think that the increased incidence of low testosterone as men age is more of an effect of weight gain.”
In other words, if you can keep your waistline slim into your 50s and beyond, you might dodge a major drop in testosterone.
Other causes of low testosterone include a history of anabolic steroid use, opioid use or diabetes, says Dr. Honig.
Why low testosterone is a problem
Low testosterone typically signals other problems. A study from the University of Michigan found that men with low testosterone had higher rates of 9 chronic conditions, regardless of age:
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Pulmonary disease
- Type 2 diabetes
How to fix low testosterone
If you are struggling with low testosterone, you have options. Here are 5 ways to boost it.
Eat more monounsaturated fats
“Research shows that a low-fat diet may lower testosterone,” says Jonathan Valdez. He’s a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
That said, saturated fat — the kind found in red meat and dairy — can also lower testosterone, he says. So to eat for testosterone, focus on getting more monounsaturated fats. Those are the heart-healthy kind found in olive oil, avocados and nuts. “Research shows that these types of fats can boost testosterone,” says Valdez.
Skip the baked goods
If you’re starting every morning with a scone or doughnut, it may be hurting your testosterone levels.
A study in the journal Nutrients found that men who ate the most bread and pastries had lower testosterone levels. Other foods linked to low testosterone in the study included dairy products, desserts and meals made in restaurants.
Break a sweat every day
A review of studies from the United Kingdom found that aerobic exercise could lead to a small but significant improvement in testosterone levels in older men.
But a bigger impact can potentially be achieved if you combine daily exercise with other habits that help you lose weight. “For every 10 pounds you lose, you probably increase your testosterone levels 75 points,” says Dr. Honig.
Talk to your doctor about testosterone replacement therapy
“Testosterone replacement is an excellent option for the well-informed patient,” says Dr. Honig. He adds that testosterone therapy has come a long way and there are many forms available.
After you work with your doctor on a treatment plan, Optum Perks can help you save money on medications such as topical gels (Foresta®), nasal gels (Natesto®), injections (Depo®-Testosterone) and more.
Be wary of “T-boosting” supplements
While a doctor’s prescription can have a big impact on testosterone, the science behind testosterone-boosting supplements is less certain.
Researchers at UCLA evaluated the ingredients in 50 testosterone-boosting supplements. Roughly 62% of them lacked any data to support the claim that they boosted testosterone. Less than 25% were shown to increase testosterone. And about 10% actually showed a decrease in testosterone with supplementation. Several of the supplements also contained levels of vitamins and minerals well above the recommended limit.
To build a testosterone treatment plan, it’s best to work with your doctor. And if you end up with a prescription, we want to help: The Optum Perks mobile app lets you search for coupons for up to 80% off.
Testosterone overview: Urology Care Foundation
Testosterone dropping among younger men: The Journal of Urology (2021). “Trends in serum testosterone levels among adolescent and young adult men in the United States”
Signs of low testosterone: The Cleveland Clinic
Low T increases the risk of death from COVID-19: Andrology (2020). “Low testosterone levels predict clinical adverse outcomes in SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia patients”
Conditions associated with low testosterone: Scientific Reports (2018). “Testosterone deficiency, weakness, and multimorbidity in men”
Exercise and testosterone: Frontiers in Physiology (2019). “Short-term exercise training inconsistently influences basal testosterone in older men: a systematic review and meta-analysis”
Testosterone supplements don’t hold up: The World Journal of Men’s Health (2019). “‘Testosterone boosting’ supplements composition and claims are not supported by the academic literature”
Pastries associated with lower testosterone: Nutrients (2018). “Testosterone-associated dietary pattern predicts low testosterone levels and hypogonadism”