Low Testosterone Part 1: 7 Reasons for low testosterone in males
Low testosterone in males is a major concern these days as more and more men are presenting with low testosterone symptoms. It is well documented that sperm counts are on a steady decline and the feminisation of males is on the increase, with symptoms such as increased fat deposits around the nipple, low sex drive, erectile dysfunction and even nipple discharge. There are numerous symptoms associated with low testosterone and one of the major symptoms is an inability to lose body fat.
Before jumping to the conclusion that low testosterone must be the reason behind you are not getting results, I urge you to still look at the basics first and not label yourself with anything after reading this article. One thing to note is that many hormone dysfunctions like this are simply a symptom of a dysfunction elsewhere in the body, thus the usual starting point to correct low testosterone levels is making sure the food we eat and the lifestyle we lead is one that will promote health, and support our body in doing what it is supposed to be doing.
I consulted with a number of people with testosterone issues last year, each one of them the reason for their low testosterone was very different and required deep investigation. The purpose of this article is to educate on the potential dysfunctions that can lead to low testosterone and the probable causes of those dysfunctions in the body.
Potential dysfunctions in low testosterone symptoms
Establishing where the dysfunction is coming from is a major part of combating low testosterone symptoms, and to do this we have to understand the physiology of how we come to make testosterone and how it travels through the body to then act on the cell. Because of the complex nature of this, there are many areas in which a blocking factor can occur. I am going to outline in basic terms the order of how testosterone is produced and how it comes to act on the cell, pointing out potential dysfunctions along the way.
Dysfunction 1 – High levels of prolactin or low dopamine leading to low testosterone
Prolactin is a hormone released by the pituitary gland that can cause a drop in testosterone levels. High prolactin levels in men can lead to nipple discharge and may also be a sign of low dopamine levels. This will often cause a lack of sex drive and a reduction in general mental focus and drive. It has been shown that increasing dopamine levels is able to supress the production of prolactin. This is another great reason to introduce the meat and nut style breakfast, as this type of breakfast provides the correct amino acids to help increase dopamine production.
Prolactin essentially inbits the production of Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GRH) from the hypothalamus in the brain. The job of GRH is to stimulate the pituitary gland to then produce luteinising hormone (LH), whose job is to then talk to the testes where testosterone is produced. So you can see how a dysfunction in either the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland will prevent or lower the production of testosterone further down the chain.
The best way to assess this is through blood samples that your doctor may run for you if they suspect low testosterone being an issue.
Dysfunctions 2 – Pituitary dysfunction
As mentioned previous the pituitary produces LH to stimulate the production of testosterone in the testes. Unfortunately there are many things in the modern world that can lead to suppressed pituitary function. Those with high levels of inflammation, the stress hormone cortisol or toxin exposure can lead to under-performing pituitary function, and in some this may cause a drop in their LH amongst other things such as thyroid function.
If this is the case further investigation into gut health, liver function, stress levels/lifestyle and potential exposure to toxins such as heavy metals like mercury should be explored. In an individual like this, taking all the testosterone boosting supplements in the world may be a complete waste of money until the underlying cause of the pituitary suppression is dealt with and inflammation levels are reduced.
When it comes to assessing if you have low testosterone you must assess LH to determine if the dysfunction is coming from before the testes, i.e. the pituitary or the hypothalamus. If LH levels are high, then there is a chance the dysfunction is coming from the testes as the pituitary is producing high levels of LH trying to get the testes to make more testosterone, if low then the likely dysfunction is coming from the pituitary or hypothalamus.
Dysfunction 3 – Dysfunction within the testes
Assuming there is enough LH coming from the pituitary gland yet low testosterone symptoms still exist the next step is understanding whether there is a dysfunction within the testes themselves. The testes themselves require cholesterol to be present to make testosterone, this may be a reason why low fat diets have been linked with low testosterone in men. Cholesterol has built up a very bad reputation and is severely misunderstood for a number of reasons that I won’t get into in this article, however it must be noted that we need cholesterol for healthy physiology, especially steroid hormone production.
Dysfunctions within the testes have been linked with excessive free radicals, increased oxidative stress, nutritional deficiencies such as zinc, exposure to chemical pesticides and numerous other factors so it may be worth addressing these areas or running further tests to determine what might be causing the dysfunction.
Dysfunction 4 – Elevated Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG)
This is a dysfunction I have seen in those that have in the past abused their body with synthetic hormones. In response to the excessively high levels of testosterone in the system, the body will cut its own production of testosterone but will also begin to increase its production of a protein the liver called SHBG. The job of SHBG is to bind to free hormones so they don’t act directly on the cell straight away, therefore it allows them to travel around the body, however these bound hormones are not usable by the body, only free hormones are usable. This is why the normal blood test for testosterone does not give the full picture as most of the testosterone in the blood is bound, saliva hormone testing is said to be a much better way to determine ‘free’ testosterone levels.
Dysfunction 5 – Excessive conversion of free testosterone
Through the body there are a number of enzymes that are able to convert testosterone into other hormones or substances that have completely different actions. One of the most common is the production of aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen. The higher levels of fat you have in the body the more aromatase your body will produce thus causing low testosterone symptoms and symptoms of high estrogen, this can often be a cause of a disproportionate increase of fat deposits around the nipple, upper legs and around the belly button in males. I have seen evidence of this in clients that I have performed Biosignature Modulation assessments on that have low testosterone symptoms, low testosterone on their labs and history of hormone dysfunction or steroid abuse.
In the past I have found running a urine test that looks at metabolites linked to the pathways associated with excessive conversion helpful in determining where the conversion has been up regulated, i.e. what enzymes are being over produced. In this case you may well look at certain nutrients and herbals that help block that enzyme and thus the excessive conversion. This then has the ability to increase free testosterone levels.
Dysfunction 6 – Hormone clearance and low testosterone
The world we live in these days is a very toxic world, we are exposed to thousands of chemicals every day and it is the job of our liver to process these toxins and to then excrete them from the body with the help of our digestive system, kidneys and through sweat. Unfortunately the overload of chemical burden on the body may be having detrimental effects on our body to clear excess hormones. I worked with an individual last year who through lab testing we determined excessively high levels of all hormones including all sex hormones and also stress hormones. Within an individual like this liver and gut support to help with the clearance of hormones is essential to establish normal levels again.
Dysfunction 7 – Receptor site resistance
Many people develop resistance to the effects of insulin (insulin resistance) that can lead to poor management of blood sugar levels and if left untreated can lead to type 2 diabetes, so to, can the cell become resistant to the effects of testosterone. Commonly the individual may have normal test results of elevated testosterone levels but still present with low testosterone symptoms. If this is the case then you may presume there is some issue on a cellular level. High levels of inflammation and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol may contribute to this. Also those that have used anabolic steroids in the past may also have some level of cell resistance to testosterone because of the excessively high levels that had previously been trying to act on the cell.
Treat the individual not the symptom
As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, for many simply addressing levels of stress we are exposed to, whether mental, emotional, physical or environmental, whilst eating clean organic foods and drinking clean water, exercising at a level that suits their body, reducing overall levels of inflammation and supporting liver function and gut health may be enough to reverse low testosterone symptoms, however if you have made these changes and still have low testosterone symptoms then running the appropriate lab analysis to determine where your dysfunction might be coming from could be an important step in improving their health.
The nature of the world we live in of high stress and high toxin exposure is a recipe for this steady decline in male testosterone levels and sperm production. We may not be able to get away completely from environmental/synthetic estrogens like residues from plastics or the female contraceptive pill in our water supply but we can try and support the body as best we can so it can process and eliminate these substances with as little as possible negative effect on the body.
Throughout last year I consulted with a number of males that had previously or were currently taking some kind of oral or injectable synthetic anabolic steroid. These types of synthetic hormones are easily available these days and often can be ordered off the internet. Not only do you not know what you are getting, you are also setting up a recipe for hormonal dysfunction that can take years to unwind and in some cases will cause permanent dysfunction on some level. Playing with anabolic steroids should be left to the professionals like Lance Armstrong!