Sex hormones help regulate certain functions in the human body. Among men, testosterone is considered the primary sex hormone. The hormone plays a role in several functions.
Testosterone is often associated with sexual health, endurance, and physical strength. While these are true, the hormone has many other roles to play too.
Without testosterone, it is possible to experience weaker bones, fatigue, and even some mental complications.
Some publications suggest that low testosterone may also lead to the development of depression. This is a common mental illness among the population, including men. We take a look at the relationship between testosterone and depression.
What Is Testosterone?
Testosterone is primarily a male sex hormone. Like I’ve already said, women have it as well. This statement goes both ways. Men have estrogen, which is a female sex hormone, in their bodies as well.
What separates these two groups is the level of both of those hormones. Logically, men have more testosterone and very little of estrogen and vice versa.
Of course, some men don’t have enough testosterone and women who don’t have enough estrogen, but we will talk about that later in the article.
Why is testosterone so important?
According to one study1, testosterone has a vital role regarding these points:
As you can see, the list is pretty long. That only proves how vital testosterone is for us.
What Causes Low Testosterone?
Sometimes it is difficult to know. However, there are usual triggers that you need to be aware of. Here are the possible causes of low testosterone levels:
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone produced in testicles. The hormone is vital for muscle mass and your bones. It also plays a role in sex drive, mood, fat distribution, production of red blood cells, erection quality, and verbal memory.
As you age, the production of testosterone starts decreasing, but different factors can accelerate the process. When this happens, men experience a plethora of signs and symptoms.
Identifying these symptoms helps you take the necessary measures to address them and improve testosterone production. Throughout this post, you’re going to learn more about symptoms of low testosterone levels in men.
It’s not just middle aged men who experience low testosterone. The low-T problem can occur in younger men as well. Although the aging process decreases the production of the hormone, things we do (or don’t do) can speed it up significantly.
For example, a growing body of evidence2 confirms that the prevalence of low testosterone among men with type 2 diabetes is high.
What Are The Symptoms Of Low Testosterone?
The importance of testosterone for men is best depicted by the fact that declining levels of the hormone (accelerated by an unhealthy lifestyle and other factors) cause several different symptoms.
Below, we share a list of some essential signs related to declining testosterone levels.
This hormone is vital for male sex drive. A study whose findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism4 revealed that T concentrations and libido are strongly related.
Participants who reported problems with sex drive were more likely to have low testosterone levels. Even though some men experience problems with their libido as they age, the declining concentration of this hormone can aggravate the issue.
One of the major symptoms of low testosterone levels in men is an accumulation of belly fat which leads to weight gain. Studies show that low-T independently predicts an increase in intra-abdominal fat.
These findings also mean that predisposing to a rise in visceral adiposity, low testosterone can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes as well.
Men with low testosterone are also prone to the development of gynecomastia or enlarged breast tissue. In some cases, gynecomastia appears unevenly, while in other instances, it affects both breasts.
Although the problem isn’t life-threatening, it can cause pain in some men. The significant issue here is that most men become subconscious, and their confidence suffers.
Erectile dysfunction or the inability to achieve or maintain an erection is a common problem among men. Numerous studies5 have confirmed that lower testosterone in men is strongly linked to the incidence of erectile dysfunction.
That being said, it is important to clarify that this hormone alone doesn’t cause an erection, but it stimulates brain receptors to produce nitric oxide.
Testosterone is vital for a number of different functions in the body, including hair growth. That is why it is not uncommon for men with low-T to deal with hair loss. Although balding is considered a part of the aging process for most men, declining levels of this hormone may worsen the situation.
Fatigue is one of the most prevalent symptoms of low-T, and it refers to the type of tiredness that doesn’t improve when you get enough sleep. The primary reason why men experience fatigue is that testosterone plays a role in your energy levels too.
The declining concentration of the hormone also lowers energy and makes you constantly tired or unwilling to do just about anything.
Loss of muscle mass
A significant benefit of testosterone for men is its ability to influence the size and strength of your muscles. When levels of this hormone start to drop, men experience changes in their physique. They start losing muscle mass while body fat accumulates. For example, instead of toned stomach muscles, they may gain belly fat and love handles.
Men usually assume that every change in a woman’s mood and behavior is related to her hormone levels. Women are perceived as hormonal human beings, but men are the same. Testosterone doesn’t only influence physical health and processes in the body; it also has an impact on mental capacity and your mood.
Does Low Testosterone Cause Depression?
It has been established that testosterone plays a role in mental health. With this in mind, studies also suggest that there may be a link between low testosterone and depression. It is important to consider scientific studies behind these claims.
The primary concern with this association comes into play among older men. Low testosterone is a common concern among men who are older than 40. At the age of 60, there is a significant increase in the risk of hypogonadism too. The prevalence of depression seems to match the increasing likeliness of low testosterone among older men.
One paper6 explains that there is currently a major concern regarding suicide too. Depression seems to play a significant role in the risk of suicide. The highest rate of suicide is also seen among older men in the United States.
We also want to turn our focus to a scientific study here7. The study was led by a team of researchers at the University Hospital of Psychiatry in Switzerland.
The study looked at several men during the study. A total of 18 men were considered healthy control subjects. There are 14 subjects with atypical depression. A total of 25 men had experience melancholic depression.
Hormones were considered an important factor in the study.
Individuals with atypical depression had a significant decline in testosterone levels. Similar results were found in other subtypes with depression. The results were compared to tests conducted on healthy subjects.
The study provided clear evidence that there is a strong connection between low testosterone and depression. There are several pathways by which the connection may exist. The hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis often referred to as the HPG axis, comes into play here.
An imbalance in the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis might be a contributing factor to melancholic depression. This condition is also called typical depression. On the other hand, the hypocortisolemia axis may have a role to play in atypical depression.
When it comes to low testosterone, particularly, we need to turn our focus toward atypical depression. Atypical depression correlates with body mass index. A higher BMI is linked to a higher risk of atypical depression. On the other hand, a higher BMI is linked to a decline in testosterone levels.
Testosterone also acts on adipose tissue in the body. Adipose tissue is known to release cytokines, which activate inflammatory responses in the human body. There is evidence that links the inflammatory response system to atypical depression too. With this in mind, low testosterone may fail to regulate adipose tissue.
Fat distribution is often increased with low testosterone. This may increase cytokine release by adipose tissue. In turn, the inflammatory response system could harm mental health. This may further contribute to the link between low testosterone and depression.
Symptoms Of Depression
Due to the risks associated with depression, men are advised to understand what symptoms may signal this mental condition. Several symptoms have been associated with depression. The most common problem that men may experience is a depressing feeling.
Men who are depressed may feel hopeless. Their outlook on life may also be negative. A man with depression tends to lose interest in activities that previously brought them pleasure.
Other important symptoms that men should also consider include:
- A lot of men with depression may experience fatigue. Note that the fatigue could also be linked to low testosterone. When both conditions are present, the fatigue may be more significant.
- Some men experience suicidal thoughts when they are depressed. This is a severe symptom that needs professional help.
- Anxiety is rather common in men with depression. Depression and anxiety disorders have been associated with each other.
- Negative emotions should not go unnoticed. This is also common in men who develop depression. There may also be consistent changes in the man’s emotions. He may go from angry to happy and then crying in a matter of minutes. This is not common in all men with depression. It is, however, still something to be taken into account.
- Mood-related problems can occur too. Depression is often associated with irritability. Some men may also become angry quite easily.
- Men with depression may also experience sleep disturbances. Sleep disturbances in men with depression are associated with increased episode recurrences, persistent illness course, and poor outcomes.
- There are many cases where depression may cause changes in a man’s appetite. Some men may start to eat more than usual. This may lead to weight gain. Weight gain increases the chances of low testosterone. Some men also experience a loss of appetite. This may lead to weight loss.
Is It Low T Or Is It Depression?
When a man develops symptoms of depression, they may not be sure if it is a depression or rather low testosterone. It is important not to opt for self-treatment simply. The cause behind the depressive symptoms needs to be identified. This is why the patient should see a doctor.
Testosterone levels can be tested. A doctor can draw blood from the patient. The blood is sent to a laboratory. Tests can then be performed. These tests determine levels of testosterone in the patient’s blood. The test results would be returned to the doctor. They will assess the effects and see if the man has low testosterone levels.
If a man has low testosterone, addressing this concern may help ease symptoms of depression. If testosterone levels are normal, then treatment for the depression needs to be considered. This may include finding possible factors that could contribute to this mental condition.
There are several ways that depression can be effectively treated. Treatment does depend on the possible cause behind the condition in many cases. A consultation with a physician would be helpful.
Testosterone replacement therapy may be used if levels of the hormone are low. When testosterone levels increase, there could be an improvement in symptoms linked to depression.
Counseling is also known to be useful for men with depression. This can help the male patient address potential concerns that contribute to the depression. Various factors could cause depression. Some factors can also worsen existing symptoms of depression. Financial problems are often a concern in men who have depression. Relationship problems can also be a contributing factor.
Some medications help with depression too. Several classes of antidepressants exist. A doctor can prescribe an appropriate antidepressant for the patient. If the man experience problems with his erectile function, then he should mention this to the doctor. Some antidepressants cause erectile problems.
Thus, alternative drugs should be used when the man already experience erectile dysfunction symptoms. SSRI antidepressants are very common. A doctor may also consider the severity of the depression before prescribing a drug.
Low testosterone is a common problem in older men. Some younger men can suffer from hypogonadism too. A decline in testosterone production can present several symptoms in the male body.
Recognizing these symptoms and taking appropriate action is important. This might help to reduce the risk of certain complications. It also helps a man maintain their lean muscle tissue, while also preventing weight gain.
Studies also suggest a link between testosterone and depression. Men with low testosterone might be at an increased risk of developing depression. When this is the case, treatment for the low testosterone could yield improvements in depression symptoms.