Testosterone is an important hormone for both men and women. Even though it’s often associated with a man’s libido, testosterone occurs in both sexes from birth. In females, it plays a part in sexual drive, energy, and physical strength. In males, it stimulates the beginning of sexual development and helps maintain a man’s health throughout his life.
Epidemiological evidence supports a link between testosterone and glucose metabolism. Studies in non-diabetic men have found an inverse correlation of total or free testosterone with glucose and insulin levels (Simon et al 1992; Haffner et al 1994) and studies show lower testosterone levels in patients with the metabolic syndrome (Laaksonen et al 2003; Muller et al 2005; Kupelian et al 2006) or diabetes (Barrett-Connor 1992; Andersson et al 1994; Rhoden et al 2005). A study of patients with type 2 diabetes using measurement of serum free testosterone by the gold standard method of equilibrium dialysis, found a 33% prevalence of biochemical hypogonadism (Dhindsa et al 2004). The Barnsley study demonstrated a high prevalence of clinical and biochemical hypogonadism with 19% having total testosterone levels below 8 nmol/l and a further 25% between 8–12 nmol/l (Kapoor, Aldred et al 2007). There are also a number longitudinal studies linking low serum testosterone levels to the future development of the metabolic syndrome (Laaksonen et al 2004) or type 2 diabetes (Haffner et al 1996; Tibblin et al 1996; Stellato et al 2000; Oh et al 2002; Laaksonen et al 2004), indicating a possible role of hypogonadism in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes in men. Alternatively, it has been postulated that obesity may be the common link between low testosterone levels and insulin resistance, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Phillips et al 2003; Kapoor et al 2005). With regard to this hypothesis, study findings vary as to whether the association of testosterone with diabetes occurs independently of obesity (Haffner et al 1996; Laaksonen et al 2003; Rhoden et al 2005).
You’re probably most familiar with testosterone as being the sex hormone responsible for defining “manhood.” And, yes, it does. However, proper levels of this key hormone are also necessary to stimulate sexual desire, increase libido, heighten arousal and ensure sexual satisfaction for both men and women. It’s also necessary to maintaining the following:
Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.
We should probably start with the elephant in the room: do these supplements increase testosterone? The answer is probably yes. There are some ingredients that help convince your body to produce more testosterone, but there’s a catch. Testosterone boosters aren’t actually great at boosting; that is, at pushing your testosterone levels above your healthy, normal balance. Boosters typically act more like restorers — helping bring low testosterone levels back to that healthy equilibrium rather than boosting you above normal testosterone levels. Just like how if you have anemia, taking a vitamin B12 supplement can help restore your energy and reduce fatigue, but if your B12 levels are good, a supplement won’t give you super energy levels to stay awake for three days — your body will likely just process (read: pee) out the extra.
Erectile dysfunction is a common finding in the aging male. A prevalence of over 70% was found in men older than 70 in a recent cross-sectional study (Ponholzer et al 2005). Treatment with phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors is proven to be effective for the majority of men but some do not respond (Shabsigh and Anastasiadis 2003). The condition is multi-factorial, with contributions from emotional, vascular, neurological and pharmacological factors. The concept of erectile dysfunction as a vascular disease is particularly interesting in view of the evidence presented above, linking testosterone to atherosclerosis and describing its action as a vasodilator.
Testosterone levels generally peak during adolescence and early adulthood. As you get older, your testosterone level gradually declines — typically about 1 percent a year after age 30 or 40. It is important to determine in older men if a low testosterone level is simply due to the decline of normal aging or if it is due to a disease (hypogonadism).