Dr. Emily Cooper of Seattle Performance Medicine joined KING 5 to explain how testosterone is not just important as a sex hormone -- and it's not just a "guy thing," either.
She answered questions and talked about why testosterone matters.
What are the most important things to know about testosterone?
Levels of testosterone change throughout life. They begin to increase in puberty-- especially late puberty -- and peak in the 20s and they do decline naturally with age. When everything's working properly, levels are about eight to 10 times higher in men than women.
Is testosterone part of women's hormonal makeup as well?
Yes. Men and women have both estrogen and testosterone, but in different amounts! Many of the functions of testosterone are important to women's bodies as well.
But while in women estrogen is more important for bones, in men, testosterone is one of the most important factors in bone density. When it's deficient, it leads to osteopenia and osteoporosis. It's important for muscle development and injury prevention. As we age, this is critical. You've probably seen men who are exercising and seem as though they're in great shape, but they're lacking muscle mass or develop stress fractures, have poor posture. Many times a low testosterone level can be a contributor to these problems. Also for men, testosterone is very important for concentration, memory and mood as well as energy levels, motivation and drive...and not just sex drive!
Testosterone is important for:
- Bone density--deficiency leads to osteopenia and osteoporosis
- Muscle development and repair, injury prevention
- Brain function concentration, memory and mood
- Energy levels, motivation and drive -- not just sex drive
How do these levels decrease? Is it something you do? Something you eat? Lifestyle?
It can be a combination of all of those. It could be something as simple as a lack of sleep, extreme or chronic stress, exercising while underfueled. Also, following a really low-carb diet combined with a high amount of exercising can lower testosterone levels. Increased belly fat will increase estrogen which blocks testosterone. And on the flip side, having too low body weight or body fat will lower the levels also.
How do you know if your levels are low?
If you think you have some of the symptoms we just talked about, there are simple blood tests that you can ask your doctor for -- total testosterone, or a free testosterone, LH or and estradiol test will show your levels. It's a good idea to test first thing in the morning since testosterone peaks early in the day.
Is there something you can do on your own to prevent the levels from going down?
As with anything, I will always tell my patients to eat a balanced diet of protein, fats and carbs. Stay away from extreme low carb diets. Like I've said before, they're not going to help you in the long run. And unless you have an allergy to gluten or wheat, don't go without whole grains. Your body needs them.
Another simple thing is to try and get eight hours of sleep a night. Getting to bed before midnight is the best idea. In terms of exercise, I recommend strength and interval training if you are well-rested. Also, make sure that you're getting adequate levels of vitamin D. You might want to supplement vitamin D or have your level measured. And always try and lower your stress! That's probably the hardest thing!
How to increase testosterone:
- Good fueling
- Good sleep
- Exercise -- strength and interval training (vs. endurance)
- Vitamin D -- adequate levels
- Lower stress
What if all of those things don't work? Can you treat low testosterone medically?
If we see that the levels are low due to more than just a simple nutrition/sleep imbalance, and energy is low, especially if a bone density scan shows there's some osteoporosis as well as in cases of muscle deficiency and frequent injuries, a doctor can prescribe testosterone in the form of gels, patches or injections. If you are taking a prescription testosterone, blood levels should be checked periodically to make sure they are in the optimal ranges.