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Post  Drew on Sun Jun 20, 2010 12:56 am

In fictional works, male virility comes from many sources. Popeye famously consumes spinach before opening up a proverbial can of whoop-ass on Brutus. For Dr. Bruce Banner, anger triggers a gamma powered transformation into the Hulk. And the mythical Samson drew his strength from the length of his hair.

But in the real world, the source of masculinity is hardly so mysterious. It comes from testosterone. Beginning early in prenatal development, the release of testosterone shapes nearly every defining characteristic of men: sex organs, brain size and function, sexual dimorphism (men being physically larger than women), behavior patterns, emotional development, personality, confidence, sex drive, competitiveness, and even our relative resistances to certain diseases such as osteoarthritis. By some scientific accounts, the adult male produces roughly 50 times the testosterone produced by an adult female. When insufficient testosterone is present in men, a multitude of ailments follow: low energy and motivation, poor immune system function, impaired sleep, depression, and, of course, sexual dysfunction, among many other symptoms. Given the latter problems, it is troubling to report that some recent studies indicate that nearly 25% of age 30+ American men meet criteria for low testosterone levels (defined as serum testosterone less than 300 nanograms per deciliter of blood [abbreviated ng/dl]). Worse, this number appears to be growing.

Because weight lifters aspire to be manly men – whether in a quest for personal records or insecurity driven efforts to compensate for less developed parts of their anatomy – testosterone is an especially common topic among men of iron. This article is written to provide a basic overview of testosterone, with an emphasis on its natural function and what you can do to keep this vital hormone floating through your veins at levels not seen since prom night. Lastly, please note that this is an article on natural testosterone, not synthetic steroids or prohormones that produce many of the same effects.

A. How does testosterone work and what is normal?
Remarkably, nearly every cell in your body contains receptors sensitive to testosterone, yet another sign of the importance of this hormone. Even in a young, healthy male, the actual levels of circulating testosterone are incredibly small. The nanogram units by which testosterone is measured, for example, weigh less than a billionth of a gram! Despite these trace levels, testosterone molecules bind with tissues throughout the body with dramatic effects. Testosterone is, of course, a steroid hormone, primarily released from the testes in men. We also have a small back-up source from the adrenal glands and it may surprise you how normally some men can function even with seemingly reduced testosterone. For example, some countries practice castration for sex criminals (perhaps more should, but that is another topic). In at least some instances, however, even castration is ineffective, because they are still able to achieve erections and reoffend. Closer to home, the tabloids suggest that Lance Armstrong seems to do well with the ladies despite the loss of a testicle during his cancer treatment.

It is important to appreciate that, among men and women, there is a huge range in testosterone levels (normal ranges approximately 300 to over 1200 ng/dl considered normal for men and from 15 to 70 ng/dl in women). In the extreme ranges, some high-T women have more testosterone than low-T men. Similarly, comparing your t-level to standard guidelines can be misleading, as the normal testosterone level for one man may be high or low for another man in terms of their natural function. You are best off tracking your own levels on a periodic basis in relation to how you feel and function, and in regards to your overall health status, to get a sense of your own baseline. As with any medical test, if you get a reading with an extreme result, the first thing you should do is repeat the test.

If you decide to test your testosterone, FOLLOW THESE GUIDELINES: Test at the same place, using the same procedure, and at the same time of day. T-levels vary across the day and month, and are generally higher in the morning hours (morning erections anyone?). Vary the above factors and you can expect the results to be all over the map.

Does having higher testosterone increase strength/performance?
Unequivocally, yes, but the relationship is far from linear. Testosterone supplementation improves muscle mass, decreases fat mass, improves strength and athletic performance in many studies, ranging from younger athletes to 80+ year old men. But higher definitely isn’t always better, and supplementation often provokes a rebound response as the body tries to re-establish homeostasis. Long term supplementation, as seen in some professional bodybuilders, can even lead to hypogonadism, where the testes become permanently crippled in their ability to manufacture sufficient testosterone and other androgens.

High testosterone also confers powerful health benefits based on observational studies. For example, a 2007 study of men tracked over 10-years showed that men in the upper 25 percent of natural testosterone levels had a 41 percent lower risk of dying from heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular conditions, cancer and all other causes, compared to men with the lowest levels.

But there are also downsides to higher testosterone. For example, men with higher levels of testosterone are more inclined to smoke, drink alcohol excessively, engage in criminal behavior, and indulge in risky behavior that leads to injury. As a result, even though men with higher natural t-levels are generally healthier, they are also prone to many self-induced forms of injury, accidents, addiction, and chronic diseases.

As is the case with other hormones, the best benefits with the fewest side effects are usually found in the middle range, approximately the 400-600 ng/dl range for testosterone, with problems occurring at either extreme of the spectrum.

How do I know if I have low testosterone?
Surprisingly, well less than half of men with testosterone in the low range report symptoms. A lack of symptoms, however, does not imply that problems are not present, just that the person doesn’t detect any signs, just as people often do not know they are hypertensive or diabetic until diagnosed by a medical provider. But don’t misinterpret this to read that low testosterone occurs at random, because we have a great deal of science to help us identify who is at risk. For example, male testosterone levels begin declining about 1% per year after 40, so older men have much higher rates. Outside of age, the single best indicators of your testosterone levels are your health and lifestyle. Cardiovascular risk factors (high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, physical fitness/activity, smoking), drug and alcohol abuse, sleep patterns (most consistently related to sleep quality rather than just hours of sleep), stress, cell phone use, low calorie diets, fat consumption (low fat diets are associated with reduced testosterone), vegetarian diets (many of these studies show that vegetarian men have t-levels around 1/3rd lower than meat eaters) are among the long list of modifiable health conditions and behaviors associated with low testosterone. Most people with low testosterone have at least several of the above factors working against them.

What can I do to raise my testosterone levels?
For the most part, the answer to this question is simple: do the opposite of the above listed risk factors for low testosterone and 95% of you will be in the normal range. Take care of your mind and body and you’ll be surprised at how well they respond.
Unfortunately, we live in a complicated world, where just being alive exposes you to many risk factors for low testosterone and changing exposure to some risk factors (such as air and water contamination and exposure to radiation from technological devices) is challenging to say the least. Others convince themselves that alcohol and drug abuse are too much fun to give up, or fool themselves into believing that 6 hours of sleep is all they need. Whatever the reasons, a variety of supplements and medical treatments are available, spanning the cheap and easy (zinc and essential fatty acid supplements) to more expensive programs such as recommended by Poliquin’s group (http://www.charlespoliquin.com/index...6&Itemid=10059), and prescription required treatments such as testosterone injections, gels, and hormone replacement therapies. Just don’t expect supplements to cure the underlying source of the problem.


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