Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and an anabolic steroid. In male humans, testosterone plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues such as testes and prostate, as well as promoting secondary sexual characteristics such as increased muscle and bone mass, and the growth of body hair. In addition, testosterone is involved in health and well-being, and the prevention of osteoporosis. Insufficient levels of testosterone in men may lead to abnormalities including frailty and bone loss.
In accordance with sperm competition theory, testosterone levels are shown to increase as a response to previously neutral stimuli when conditioned to become sexual in male rats. This reaction engages penile reflexes (such as erection and ejaculation) that aid in sperm competition when more than one male is present in mating encounters, allowing for more production of successful sperm and a higher chance of reproduction.
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.
When stimulated by the nerves, the spongy tissue arranges itself in such a way that more blood can be stored in the penis. The veins running through the outer sheath of the penis then compress which stops the blood from leaving the penis. As the blood is stopped from flowing out, the penis fills with blood and stretches within the outer casing, giving an erection.
If you have low testosterone, your functional medicine or anti-aging physician will help you diagnose it. There are several different hormones your physician should measure, but the most important two are your free testosterone and estrogen levels, because converting too much testosterone to estrogen is a problem that’s different from not making enough testosterone in the first place. In my case, I wasn’t making very much testosterone, and what I was making my body converted to estrogen way too effectively.
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If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.
Some of the effects of testosterone treatment are well recognised and it seems clear that testosterone treatment for aging hypogonadal men can be expected to increase lean body mass, decrease visceral fat mass, increase bone mineral density and decrease total cholesterol. Beneficial effects have been seen in many trials on other parameters such as glycemic control in diabetes, erectile dysfunction, cardiovascular risk factors, angina, mood and cognition. These potentially important effects require confirmation in larger clinical trials. Indeed, it is apparent that longer duration randomized controlled trials of testosterone treatment in large numbers of men are needed to confirm the effects of testosterone on many aspects of aging male health including cardiovascular health, psychiatric health, prostate cancer and functional capacity. In the absence of such studies, it is necessary to balance risk and benefit on the best available data. At the present time the data supports the treatment of hypogonadal men with testosterone to normalize testosterone levels and improve symptoms. Most men with hypogonadism do not have a contraindication to treatment, but it is important to monitor for adverse consequences including prostate complications and polycythemia.
Before assessing the evidence of testosterone’s action in the aging male it is important to note certain methodological considerations which are common to the interpretation of any clinical trial of testosterone replacement. Many interventional trials of the effects of testosterone on human health and disease have been conducted. There is considerable heterogenicity in terms of study design and these differences have a potential to significantly affect the results seen in various studies. Gonadal status at baseline and the testosterone level produced by testosterone treatment in the study are of particular importance because the effects of altering testosterone from subphysiological to physiological levels may be different from those of altering physiological levels to supraphysiological. Another important factor is the length of treatment. Randomised controlled trials of testosterone have ranged from one to thirty-six months in duration (Isidori et al 2005) although some uncontrolled studies have lasted up to 42 months. Many effects of testosterone are thought to fully develop in the first few months of treatment but effects on bone, for example, have been shown to continue over two years or more (Snyder et al 2000; Wang, Cunningham et al 2004).
The normal development of the prostate gland is dependent on the action of testosterone via the androgen receptor, and abnormal biosynthesis of the hormone or inactivating mutations of the androgen receptor are associated with a rudimentary prostate gland. Testosterone also requires conversion to dihydrotestosterone in the prostate gland for full activity. In view of this link between testosterone and prostate development, it is important to consider the impact that testosterone replacement may have on the prevalence and morbidity associated with benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) and prostate cancer, which are the common conditions related to pathological growth of the prostate gland.
Testosterone is used as a medication for the treatment of males with too little or no natural testosterone production, certain forms of breast cancer, and gender dysphoria in transgender men. This is known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or testosterone replacement therapy (TRT), which maintains serum testosterone levels in the normal range. Decline of testosterone production with age has led to interest in androgen replacement therapy. It is unclear if the use of testosterone for low levels due to aging is beneficial or harmful.
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.
Talk with your doctor before trying supplements for ED. They can contain 10 or more ingredients and may complicate other health conditions. Asian ginseng and ginkgo biloba (seen here) are popular, but there isn't a lot of good research on their effectiveness. Some men find that taking a DHEA supplement improves their ability to have an erection. Unfortunately, the long-term safety of DHEA supplements is unknown. Most doctors do not recommend using it.
Recognized risk factors for ED include cardiovascular disease (CVD) (hypertension, atherosclerosis, and hyperlipidemia), diabetes, depression, alcohol use, smoking, pelvic/perineal surgery or trauma, neurologic disease, obesity, pelvic radiation, and Peyronie’s disease. One study suggested that the relationship between arterial disease and ED is very strong, with 49% (147 of 300) of patients with coronary artery disease noted on cardiac catheterization reporting significant erectile dysfunction.6 Endothelial dysfunction has been indicated as the pathophysiologic mechanism responsible for both CVD and ED.7 The Boston Area Community Health survey demonstrated a dose-response between smoking and incidence of erectile dysfunction.8 Animal studies have demonstrated both smooth-muscle disruption and decreased production of neural nitric oxide synthase in cigarette-exposed animals.9
A larger national study, the National Health and Social Life Survey, looked at sexual function in men and women.4 This study surveyed 1,410 men aged 18 to 59 and also documented an increase in ED with age. Additionally, the study found a decrease in sexual desire with increasing age. Men in the oldest cohort (50 to 59) were more than 3 times as likely to experience erection problems and to report low sexual desire compared with men 18 to 29. Experience of sexual dysfunction was more likely among men in poor physical and emotional health. The study also concluded that sexual dysfunction is an important public health concern and that emotional issues are likely to contribute to the experience sexual dysfunction.
Low testosterone levels may contribute to decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, fragile bones, and other health issues. Having low testosterone levels may also indicate an underlying medical condition. See your doctor if you suspect you have low testosterone. A simple blood test is all it takes to check if your testosterone falls within the normal range.