As many as 13 million men in the United States suffer from low testosterone levels, estimates the American Diabetes Association. Unfortunately, as common as this problem is, as many as 90 percent are not seeking out proper treatment.
Ignoring low T-levels could turn out to be a dangerous decision. According to a study conducted at the University of California, men with low testosterone levels have a 33 percent greater risk of death within 18 years as compared to men with normal T-levels.
And though the study was only epidemiological, it reveals an important truth about low testosterone levels: Men with decreased levels of the male sex hormone in their bloodstream experience decreased strength, compromised personal relationships, and overall worsened health.
However, diagnosing low testosterone can be difficult, as Harvard Medical School professor Joel Finkelstein notes.
“No one knows what low really is,” Finkelstein tells ABC News.
And the most common symptoms aren’t helpful either—fatigue, depression, and compromised sex drive could be indicative of many things.
To help you diagnose and treat low testosterone, here’s a look at five symptoms of low testosterone and ideas on how to treat them.
1. Hair Loss
One of the most obvious physical symptoms of low testosterone is hair loss. Hair loss occurs as the body metabolizes testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which increases androgen levels and speeds the thinning of the hair.
DHT binds to androgen receptors on hair follicles and inhibits the growth of that follicle. Over time, this thins the hair follicle and leads to the formation of a bald patch and a receding hairline that will eventually meet.
What to Do: Treatments for hair loss are widespread, but there are several related directly to decreased testosterone. Check out topical minoxidili and oral finasteride for FDA-approved treatments, or hormone replacement therapy for a less expensive option.
2. Less Energy
Low energy is more natural in men in their 60s than in men their 30s, but for men with low testosterone, fatigue can become a way of life. Just having enough energy to go to the gym can become nearly impossible.
Alongside these symptoms, urologist Robert Brannigan with Northwestern Memorial Hospital says that weight gain and mood swings can be the result of low T-levels.
“Depression is actually something that closely parallels of mimics low testosterone,” Brannigan tells ABC News. “So we see many men who have actually been treated clinically with antidepressants when in turn their underlying problem is low testosterone.”
What to Do: The best way to treat testosterone-related fatigue is through testosterone replacement therapy. However, many doctors won’t prescribe treatment unless low testosterone is really interfering with quality of life. In that case, it’s easier to invest in a testosterone booster, which will indirectly increase testosterone by stimulating the areas in your body responsible for producing the male sex hormone.
3. Low Sex Drive
Another symptom of low testosterone affects not only you, but your significant other. According to the same statistics from the American Diabetes Association, about 63 percent of men with low T-levels report a decreased sex drive and another 70 percent have trouble maintaining an erection when they do experience a spark in libido.
Low libido as a result of low testosterone can also spark metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes if left untreated.
Fortunately, these difficulties are becoming more acknowledged both by the medical community and by men in general.
“More men are getting older, and men are more open about talking about erectile dysfunction,” Dr. Spyros Mezitis tells WebMD.
Because of this increased awareness of this condition, there are many treatments available.
What to Do: If your testosterone levels aren’t dangerously low, a male enhancement supplement is the best route to go in treating low sex drive. There are a variety of options that work to increase your testosterone levels and your blood flow to ensure more frequent, more satisfying sex.
4. Decreased Muscle Mass
Since many bodybuilders take testosterone supplements to increase their ability to build muscle, it makes sense that low levels of testosterone result in muscle pain, weakness, and an overall lack of endurance.
Testosterone is responsible for promoting protein synthesis and therefore the development of new muscular tissue. When protein synthesis does not have the support it needs to take place, muscle degenerates.
Coupled with fatigue, body composition is easily compromised.
What to Do: While you’re working to build up your testosterone reserves, you can make positive changes on your own by adjusting your diet to ensure a surplus in calories. Make sure to eat plenty of protein to help build muscle and train with weights at least three times a week. This will tell your body that it needs to develop strength and resistance.
Testosterone is also linked to bone density, so low levels of this hormone can decrease bone mass and strength. In fact, between the ages of 40 and 70—when men begin to lose large amounts of testosterone—the average man incurs a loss of bone density of up to 15 percent.
Similarly, men whose testosterone is in the lowest quartile are 2.5 times more likely to sustain a spine fracture. Other areas particularly at risk include the ribs and wrists.
What to Do: Obviously, making sure your body gets plenty of calcium will counteract some portion of this undesirable side effect. Coupled with a testosterone supplement—especially a gel rubbed in at the back, upper arms, abdomen, and thighs—you should be able to ward off the most serious consequences of low testosterone-induced osteoporosis.