The sex hormone testosterone is far more than just the stuff of the alpha male's swagger. Though it plays a more significant role in the life of the biological male, it is actually present in both sexes to some degree. Despite popular perceptions that testosterone primarily controls aggression and sex drive—although it does play a role in both of those things—research has shown that individual levels of testosterone are also correlated with our language skills and cognitive abilities. Testosterone occurs in the body naturally, but can be administered as a medication, too: its most common uses are in the treatment of hypogonadism and breast cancer, as well as in hormone therapy for transgender men.
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So what is this Big T, anyway? Derived from cholesterol, testosterone is a steroid hormone—called an androgen—that causes the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics. It's mainly secreted by the testicles in males, although the adrenal cortex and ovaries in females also secrete testosterone—though only about one-tenth the amount as in healthy males.

Important future developments will include selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs). These drugs will be able to produce isolated effects of testosterone at androgen receptors. They are likely to become useful clinical drugs, but their initial worth may lie in facilitating research into the relative importance of testosterone’s action at the androgen receptor compared to at other sites or after conversion to other hormones. Testosterone will remain the treatment of choice for late onset hypogonadism for some time to come.
Testosterone was first used as a clinical drug as early as 1937, but with little understanding of its mechanisms. The hormone is now widely prescribed to men whose bodies naturally produce low levels. But the levels at which testosterone deficiency become medically relevant still aren’t well understood. Normal testosterone production varies widely in men, so it’s difficult to know what levels have medical significance. The hormone’s mechanisms of action are also unclear.
These oral medications reversibly inhibit penile-specific PDE5 and enhance the nitric oxide–cGMP pathways of cavernous smooth muscle relaxation; that is, all prevent the breakdown of cGMP by PDE5. It is important to emphasize to patients that these drugs augment the body’s natural erectile mechanisms, therefore the neural and psychoemotional stimuli typically needed for arousal still need to be activated for the drugs to be efficacious.
Failure to achieve an erection is not uncommon for most men and may be considered normal even if it happens as often as 20 percent of the time. There is a wide range of normal when it comes to sexual functioning and sexual relationships. "Generally if a couple feels comfortable with their sex life and they enjoy intimacy together, erectile dysfunction may not be much of an issue. But if erectile dysfunction is causing stress in a relationship, then help is available," says Feloney.
Mood disturbance and dysthymia are part of the clinical syndrome of hypogonadism. Epidemiological studies have found a positive association between testosterone levels and mood, and depressed aging males have lower testosterone levels than controls (Barrett-Connor, Von Muhlen et al 1999). Furthermore, induction of a hypogonadal state during treatment of men for prostate cancer leads to an increase in depression scores (Almeida et al 2004). Trials of testosterone treatment effects on mood have varied in outcome. Data on the effects on men with depression are conflicting (Seidman et al 2001; Pope et al 2003) but there is evidence that testosterone treatment of older hypogonadal men does result in improvements in mood (Wang et al 1996) and that this may occur through changes in regional brain perfusion (Azad et al 2003).
The rise in testosterone levels during competition predicted aggression in males but not in females.[86] Subjects who interacted with hand guns and an experimental game showed rise in testosterone and aggression.[87] Natural selection might have evolved males to be more sensitive to competitive and status challenge situations and that the interacting roles of testosterone are the essential ingredient for aggressive behaviour in these situations.[88] Testosterone produces aggression by activating subcortical areas in the brain, which may also be inhibited or suppressed by social norms or familial situations while still manifesting in diverse intensities and ways through thoughts, anger, verbal aggression, competition, dominance and physical violence.[89] Testosterone mediates attraction to cruel and violent cues in men by promoting extended viewing of violent stimuli.[90] Testosterone specific structural brain characteristic can predict aggressive behaviour in individuals.[91]
A large number of trials have demonstrated a positive effect of testosterone treatment on bone mineral density (Katznelson et al 1996; Behre et al 1997; Leifke et al 1998; Snyder et al 2000; Zacharin et al 2003; Wang, Cunningham et al 2004; Aminorroaya et al 2005; Benito et al 2005) and bone architecture (Benito et al 2005). These effects are often more impressive in longer trials, which have shown that adequate replacement will lead to near normal bone density but that the full effects may take two years or more (Snyder et al 2000; Wang, Cunningham et al 2004; Aminorroaya et al 2005). Three randomized placebo-controlled trials of testosterone treatment in aging males have been conducted (Snyder et al 1999; Kenny et al 2001; Amory et al 2004). One of these studies concerned men with a mean age of 71 years with two serum testosterone levels less than 12.1nmol/l. After 36 months of intramuscular testosterone treatment or placebo, there were significant increases in vertebral and hip bone mineral density. In this study, there was also a significant decrease in the bone resorption marker urinary deoxypyridinoline with testosterone treatment (Amory et al 2004). The second study contained men with low bioavailable testosterone levels and an average age of 76 years. Testosterone treatment in the form of transdermal patches was given for 1 year. During this trial there was a significant preservation of hip bone mineral density with testosterone treatment but testosterone had no effect on bone mineral density at other sites including the vertebrae. There were no significant alterations in bone turnover markers during testosterone treatment (Kenny et al 2001). The remaining study contained men of average age 73 years. Men were eligible for the study if their serum total testosterone levels were less than 16.5 nmol/L, meaning that the study contained men who would usually be considered eugonadal. The beneficial effects of testosterone on bone density were confined to the men who had lower serum testosterone levels at baseline and were seen only in the vertebrae. There were no significant changes in bone turnover markers. Testosterone in the trial was given via scrotal patches for a 36 month duration (Snyder et al 1999). A recent meta-analysis of the effects on bone density of testosterone treatment in men included data from these studies and two other randomized controlled trials. The findings were that testosterone produces a significant increase of 2.7% in the bone mineral density at the lumber spine but no overall change at the hip (Isidori et al 2005). These results from randomized controlled trials in aging men show much smaller benefits of testosterone treatment on bone density than have been seen in other trials. This could be due to the trials including patients who are not hypogonadal and being too short to allow for the maximal effects of testosterone. The meta-analysis also assessed the data concerning changes of bone formation and resorption markers during testosterone treatment. There was a significant decrease in bone resorption markers but no change in markers of bone formation suggesting that reduction of bone resorption may be the primary mode of action of testosterone in improving bone density (Isidori et al 2005).
They also don't make clear how risky exposure to testosterone gel is for others—female partners, children, even pets. The gel is actually notorious for transferring to others. It can cause excess hair to grow on women's faces and arms, deepen their voices, interrupt menstruation, and make them anxious and irritable. In children, exposure to testosterone gels and creams can cause premature puberty and aggression. And in pets, it can cause aggressive behavior and enlargement of the genitalia.
The amount of testosterone synthesized is regulated by the hypothalamic–pituitary–testicular axis (see figure to the right).[125] When testosterone levels are low, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is released by the hypothalamus, which in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to release FSH and LH. These latter two hormones stimulate the testis to synthesize testosterone. Finally, increasing levels of testosterone through a negative feedback loop act on the hypothalamus and pituitary to inhibit the release of GnRH and FSH/LH, respectively.
In the last few years, a lot of men and women have switched over to a pellet that goes under your skin. This is probably the best way to take testosterone now. The pellet is life-changing for both men and women (the dose for women is much lower than it is for men). Women, you won’t get bulky and grow a beard when you take testosterone to achieve normal levels, but you will probably lean out a little without losing your curves, and your energy and sex drive will be amazing. Female bodybuilders who experience weird scary side effects are taking anabolic steroids.
Medications for erectile dysfunction don't work for everyone and may cause side effects that make a particular drug hard to take. "Work with your doctor to find the right treatment. There are still options for people who fail at medical treatment," advises Feloney. Alternatives to erectile dysfunction drugs include vacuum pump devices, medications injected into the penis, testosterone replacement if needed, and a surgical penile implant.
A related issue is the potential use of testosterone as a coronary vasodilator and anti-anginal agent. Testosterone has been shown to act as a vasodilator of coronary arteries at physiological concentrations during angiography (Webb, McNeill et al 1999). Furthermore men given a testosterone injection prior to exercise testing showed improved performance, as assessed by ST changes compared to placebo (Rosano et al 1999; Webb, Adamson et al 1999). Administration of one to three months of testosterone treatment has also been shown to improve symptoms of angina and exercise test performance (Wu and Weng 1993; English et al 2000; Malkin, Pugh, Morris et al 2004). Longer term studies are underway. It is thought that testosterone improves angina due its vasodilatory action, which occurs independently of the androgen receptor, via blockade of L-type calcium channels at the cell membrane of the vascular smooth muscle in an action similar to the dihydropyridine calcium-channel blockers such as nifedipine (Hall et al 2006).
Following a detailed discussion about the history of erectile dysfunction and its risk factors, your doctor will examine the testicles and penis to help determine the cause of erectile dysfunction. Your doctor will check reflexes and pulses in the area to see if problems with blood vessels or nerves are contributing to the erectile dysfunction. If necessary, your doctor will order tests to help diagnose erectile dysfunction.
What happens is that the blood vessels of the penis are rather small, and a small amount of plaque in the penile arteries is going to result in erectile dysfunction. You need more plaque before the person’s actually symptomatic from a heart problem, but they’re linked. And so when anybody, any man has an erectile issue, it’s incumbent upon the physician to make certain that their cardiac status is healthy.
Levels of testosterone naturally decrease with age, but exactly what level constitutes "low T," or hypogonadism, is controversial, Harvard Medical School said. Testosterone levels vary wildly, and can even differ depending on the time of day they're measured (levels tend to be lower in the evenings). The National Institutes of Health includes the following as possible symptoms of low testosterone:

Studies show that high cholesterol and obesity are linked to erectile dysfunction, and both can be improved through diet. "A heart-healthy diet that prevents cardiovascular disease and maintains a healthy weight is also good for erectile functioning," says Feloney. An ideal diet plan involves eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and having frequent servings of fruits, vegetables, and plenty of whole grains.

All devices that are currently approved by the FDA are considered safe for use in magnetic resonance imaging environments. However, 2 previously approved devices–the OmniPhase and the DuraPhase penile prostheses–are not considered safe in this environment. Other surgical procedures–including venous ligation to limit penile venous outflow and penile revascularization procedures–are rarely successful and are not recommended.19 These surgeries are only indicated when a patient demonstrates recent-onset ED and an occlusive lesion seen on angiogram or magnetic resonance angiography and should be performed only in centers of excellence for ED.
Given the high risk of priapism during escalation of therapy for intracorporeal injection, it is recommended that the drugs be administered in a supervised office visit initially and that the patient be given a well-articulated plan for treatment of priapism if it occurs. Escalation guidelines for alprostadil alone vary, but a general guideline is to start at 2.5 mcg and increase by 2.5 mcg to a dose of 5 mcg and then in increments of 5 mcg to 10 mcg until an erection sufficient for penetration, not lasting more than 1 hour, is achieved. If there is no response to the initial 2.5-mcg dose, escalation dosing can be slightly more liberal.34 A European prospective trial of PGE1 alone found 91% of the 54 patients completing the 4 years of the study reported good or better tolerability and satisfaction with therapy.35
In one study, 9.6% reported ‘occasional’ erectile dysfunction, 8.9% reported erectile dysfunction occurring ‘often’, and 18.6% reported erectile dysfunction occurring ‘all the time’. Of these, only 11.6% had received treatment.In another study, only 14.1% of men reported that they had received treatment, despite experiencing erectile dysfunction for longer than 12 months.
"The hope," explained Dr. Swerdloff in a telephone interview, "is this will provide some clarity as to whether testosterone replacement therapy will benefit men in this older age group who clearly have abnormal testosterone and have some symptoms." He added, "We don't know whether it will be beneficial at all the endpoints we are studying, or be beneficial to some and not others. We don't know if the benefits occur at different blood levels that are attained in the individuals."
The largest amounts of testosterone (>95%) are produced by the testes in men,[2] while the adrenal glands account for most of the remainder. Testosterone is also synthesized in far smaller total quantities in women by the adrenal glands, thecal cells of the ovaries, and, during pregnancy, by the placenta.[122] In the testes, testosterone is produced by the Leydig cells.[123] The male generative glands also contain Sertoli cells, which require testosterone for spermatogenesis. Like most hormones, testosterone is supplied to target tissues in the blood where much of it is transported bound to a specific plasma protein, sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG).
Epidemiological studies have also assessed links between serum testosterone and non-coronary atherosclerosis. A study of over 1000 people aged 55 years and over found an inverse correlation between serum total and bioavailable testosterone and the amount of aortic atherosclerosis in men, as assessed by radiological methods (Hak et al 2002). Increased intima-media thickness (IMT) is an early sign of atherosclerosis and has also been shown to predict cardiovascular mortality (Murakami et al 2005). Cross-sectional studies have found that testosterone levels are negatively correlated with carotid IMT in independently living men aged 74–93 years (van den Beld et al 2003), diabetic men (Fukui et al 2003) and young obese men (De Pergola et al 2003). A 4-year follow up study of the latter population showed that free testosterone was also inversely correlated with the rate of increase of IMT (Muller et al 2004).
In summary, low testosterone levels are linked to the presence of numerous cardiovascular risk factors. Testosterone treatment acts to improve some of these factors, but effects may vary according to pre- and post-treatment testosterone levels, as well as other factors. There is little data from trials specific to aging males. Appropriately-powered randomized controlled trials, with cardiovascular disease primary endpoints, are needed to clarify the situation, but in the meantime the balance of evidence is that testosterone has either neutral or beneficial effects on the risk of cardiovascular disease in men. It is particularly important to define the effect of testosterone treatment on cardiovascular disease in view of its potential use as an anti-anginal agent.
Erectile dysfunction in older men. Because erections primarily involve the blood vessels, it is not surprising that the most common causes in older men are conditions that block blood flow to the penis, such as atherosclerosis or diabetes. Another vascular cause may be a faulty vein, which lets blood drain too quickly from the penis. Other physical disorders, as well as hormonal imbalances and certain operations, may also result in erectile dysfunction.

A related issue is the potential use of testosterone as a coronary vasodilator and anti-anginal agent. Testosterone has been shown to act as a vasodilator of coronary arteries at physiological concentrations during angiography (Webb, McNeill et al 1999). Furthermore men given a testosterone injection prior to exercise testing showed improved performance, as assessed by ST changes compared to placebo (Rosano et al 1999; Webb, Adamson et al 1999). Administration of one to three months of testosterone treatment has also been shown to improve symptoms of angina and exercise test performance (Wu and Weng 1993; English et al 2000; Malkin, Pugh, Morris et al 2004). Longer term studies are underway. It is thought that testosterone improves angina due its vasodilatory action, which occurs independently of the androgen receptor, via blockade of L-type calcium channels at the cell membrane of the vascular smooth muscle in an action similar to the dihydropyridine calcium-channel blockers such as nifedipine (Hall et al 2006).
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show that total testosterone levels increase after exercising, especially after resistance training. Low testosterone levels can affect your sex drive and your mood. The good news is that exercise improves mood and stimulates brain chemicals to help you feel happier and more confident. Exercise also boosts energy and endurance, and helps you to sleep better. Fitness experts recommend 30 minutes of exercise every day.
It appears that testosterone has NOS-independent pathways as well. In one study, castrated rats were implanted with testosterone pellets and then divided into a group that received an NOS inhibitor (L-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester [L-NAME]) and a control group that received no enzyme. [24] The castrated rats that were given testosterone pellets and L-NAME still had partial erections, a result suggesting the presence of a pathway independent of NOS activity.

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Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Then you have to be able to make the right diagnosis. What is the basis for their erectile dysfunction? Is it psychogenic? Is it some sort of neurological or blood vessel or hormonal issue? So you have to make a diagnosis. You have to be able to make an assessment. And then only after those things are done, then you start to think about medications.
Penile erection is managed by two mechanisms: the reflex erection, which is achieved by directly touching the penile shaft, and the psychogenic erection, which is achieved by erotic or emotional stimuli. The former uses the peripheral nerves and the lower parts of the spinal cord, whereas the latter uses the limbic system of the brain. In both cases, an intact neural system is required for a successful and complete erection. Stimulation of the penile shaft by the nervous system leads to the secretion of nitric oxide (NO), which causes the relaxation of smooth muscles of corpora cavernosa (the main erectile tissue of penis), and subsequently penile erection. Additionally, adequate levels of testosterone (produced by the testes) and an intact pituitary gland are required for the development of a healthy erectile system. As can be understood from the mechanisms of a normal erection, impotence may develop due to hormonal deficiency, disorders of the neural system, lack of adequate penile blood supply or psychological problems.[18] Spinal cord injury causes sexual dysfunction including ED. Restriction of blood flow can arise from impaired endothelial function due to the usual causes associated with coronary artery disease, but can also be caused by prolonged exposure to bright light.
Patients receiving penile prostheses should be instructed in the operation of the prosthesis before surgery and again in the postoperative period. The prosthesis usually is not activated until approximately 6 weeks after surgery, so as to allow the edema and pain to subside. The prosthesis is checked in the office before the patient begins to use it.

Capogrosso, P., Colicchia, M., Ventimiglia, E., Castagna, G., Clementi, M. C., Suardi, N., ... Salonia, A. (2013, July). One patient out of four with newly diagnosed erectile dysfunction is a young man — worrisome picture from the everyday clinical practice. The journal of sexual medicine. 10(7), 1833–1841. Retrieved from