As young males progress through adolescence into young adulthood, they experience the tell-tale signs of hormonal changes. Testosterone’s impact on male physique and other characteristics becomes quite evident: growth of body hair, deepening voice, maturation of the penis and testicles, increased muscle mass, and quickening libido, among others.
During those early years, testosterone levels are peaking, but as the saying goes, what goes up must come down. Around age 30, testosterone levels begin a slow and gradual decline, approximately 1 percent per year. That decline has varying effects on a man’s physique, depending on a number of factors.
Testosterone impacts male physique: what gives?
As guys get older and T levels decline, the impact of the hormone on male physique changes. A small amount of circulating testosterone transforms into a form of estrogen called estradiol. As T levels decline, men also produce less estradiol. Therefore, changes and symptoms experienced by men who have falling testosterone levels may be partly or entirely due to the drop in estradiol levels.
Of course, testosterone levels in any given man may be low, within normal range, or high. Although there are guidelines physicians and patients follow to help them determine where a guy falls on the T spectrum, testosterone levels are highly individual, as are each man’s response to them. Here we are concerned with the two extremes, and this is how low and high testosterone levels may affect you.
Perhaps you are already experiencing some of the symptoms that are commonly associated with low testosterone: lack of sex drive, erectile dysfunction, loss of muscle tone and mass, accumulation of body fat (especially around the abdomen), hair loss, mood changes, trouble sleeping, decrease in testicle size, fatigue, bone loss, and mood changes.
All of these changes associated with low testosterone, even those not directly linked to physique, have an impact on a man’s physical, emotional, and mental health. Yet enhancing your testosterone levels naturally is highly recommended over taking testosterone replacement therapy, which is medically recommended only for men who have a medical condition that causes excessively low testosterone levels (hypogonadism).
Men who artificially pump up their testosterone levels by using anabolic steroids, testosterone, or related hormones to improve their athletic performance or muscle mass may experience some significant problems associated with excessive testosterone, such as:
- Low sperm counts
- An enlarged prostate
- Acne or other skin problems
- Fluid retention (swelling of the feet, ankles and legs)
- Weight gain
- High cholesterol and blood pressure
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Increased muscle mass
- Liver disease
However, you also can help boost your testosterone levels naturally by adhering to certain lifestyle modifications, such as following a healthy all-natural diet, exercising and lifting weights (even light ones can help), reducing stress, getting sufficient vitamin D, sleeping at least 7 hours per night (which is when testosterone replenishes itself), and taking natural supplements that may help boost testosterone levels. These approaches are not associated with the side effects found with other ways to raise T levels.
What the research says
In a study appearing in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers looked at the effect of taking testosterone enanthate (200 mg/week) for six months in13 nonathletic men. Eight healthy men served as controls. Factors considered were bone turnover fat-free mass, bone density, muscle strength, serum testosterone, among others.
Concerning male physique, use of testosterone resulted in an increase in fat-free mass, a decrease in fat mass, changes in muscle strength, and a rise in testosterone levels. The authors concluded that “these changes do not support the use of androgens for enhancing athletic performance.”
It’s well known that testosterone impacts male physique, as demonstrated here. Testosterone’s effect on male health can depend on many factors, ranging from what a man’s “normal” testosterone levels is, to his age, diet, exercise habits , and other lifestyle factors. If you talk to a doctor about symptoms of low testosterone, be sure to ask about the benefits and side effects of any suggested treatment plan and to discuss the impact of lifestyle changes and the use of natural supplements, a combination that can help balance a man’s testosterone levels without the use of medical intervention.
Harvard Health Publishing. Testosterone—what it does and doesn’t do. 2015 July
Young NR et al. Body composition and muscle strength in healthy men receiving testosterone enanthate for contraception. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 1993 Oct; 77(4): 1028-32