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What is testosterone? How does it function in the body? If testosterone is a male hormone, why do females have it too?
Understanding testosterone, what it does and how it functions in the body, is essential for anyone thinking of using it.
There are a number of reasons people take it’s enhancing effects for increasing levels of testosterone in the body.
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Table of Contents
First, the basic testosterone definition: it’s one of the many hormones produced by the endocrine system.
Testosterone is manufactured in large amounts by the male testicles (testes).
It is also synthesized in small amounts by women’s ovaries and in very small levels by the adrenal glands of men and women.
Levels of testosterone production in the body are controlled by the pituitary gland, known as the master gland because it controls the function, production, and secretions of numerous hormone glands in the body.
The male sex hormone testosterone is manufactured in the testes.
Testosterone is a hormone responsible for male characteristics such as growth of body and facial hair, a deeper voice, sex drive, and ability to achieve and maintain an erection, among others.
The male reproductive organs produce not only testosterone, but the spermatozoa otherwise known as sperm.
More specifically, testosterone is manufactured in the Leydig cells, reputed to be one of the main sources of androgens in males.
The Leydig cells are responsible for the maintenance of male reproductive functions through the production of testosterone.
Adult Leydig cells are more than capable of producing testosterone all by itself.
This is mentioned because it’s important for bodybuilders and athletes to realize that injecting or otherwise utilizing exogenous testosterone into the body when the body is more than capable of manufacturing its own (and often is), hormone levels may be disrupted.
This disruption can trigger the pituitary gland to send orders to the testes to cease production of endogenous testosterone. Hormones and hormone functions must be carefully balanced in the body.
The pituitary gland, a tiny, pea-sized gland located deep in the brain, is known as the master gland of the body because it controls and maintains the function of numerous endocrine or hormonal glands in the body.
These include the testes, adrenal glands, and the pancreas, the function of the parathyroid, the thyroid, and the pituitary gland itself.
The pituitary gland is responsible for sending messages to various glands to either increase or decrease manufacture and secretions of certain types of hormones into the body.
The pituitary gland receives these instructions from the hypothalamus.
A number of endocrine glands in the body are controlled by the relationship and hormonal signals between the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, also located in the brain. This interaction is known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-axis.
When the testes are involved, for example in the manufacture of testosterone, this interaction may be designated as the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal-axis.
The pituitary gland produces a number of hormones including:
Each hormone also has a huge influence over male or female sex characteristics including muscle formation, texture and thickness of the skin, voice, and hair distribution.
The adrenal glands produce several hormones as well. One familiar to bodybuilders may be cortisol, which can have an impact on numerous body organs and functions.
Cortisol is beneficial for its anti-inflammatory actions, its ability to maintain blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and muscle strength.
Bodybuilders taking exogenous forms of testosterone steroids must be aware of the potential for acromegaly, or excessive and often uncontrolled growth of connective tissues, muscle, and bone structure, mainly noted in the extremities and in the face.
High levels of growth hormone, which are often combined with testosterone, can lead to coarse facial features, overgrowth of the jawbone, and swelling and deformities of the hands and feet.
Coarse body hair and thicker skin, and enlarged sweat glands in the skin can produce excessive perspiration and offensive body odor. In some cases, acromegaly may contribute to cardiomyopathy or an enlarged heart, which can impair function.
If nerves are compressed, additional symptoms may occur including weakness in the arms or the legs, vision difficulties, and severe headaches.
Testosterone, at its most basic function description, controls the development of male sex characteristics and the male reproductive system.
Testosterone also promotes growth during childhood and maintains male sex characteristics during adulthood, including maturation of sperm.
Endocrine glands, like the testes, the ovaries, or the adrenal glands, secrete hormones into the bloodstream. Hormones are basically defined as chemical substances that affect specific body activities.
Think of hormones as messengers of sorts that coordinate and control a massive number of activities and functions in the human body.
When the hormone reaches its “target” it binds to receptors on the target site. Imagine a key that slides into a lock or a car that pulls into a parking space.
After the hormone latches or locks onto the receptor, it sends a message that initiates specific actions in the target cell. Hormone receptors are found on the surface of cells or deep within the nucleus of a cell.
Hormones, including testosterone, have a powerful effect and influence on the function of major body organs. They have the ability to influence growth and development, sexual characteristics, reproduction, and more.
Hormones like testosterone can impact the way the body stores fluid, energy, and even levels of sugars (glucose) and potassium (salt) in the body. Even very small secretions of a hormone can initiate massive responses in the body.
Therefore, hormones like testosterone can influence other body organs and their functions throughout the body. Check out the best natural ways to increase testosterone levels here.
What does testosterone do in regard to body functions?
As mentioned, levels of testosterone in the body are controlled by the pituitary gland.
When levels are low, the pituitary gland kicks into action and releases luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone or GnRH, which instructs the testicles to produce more testosterone.
Levels of testosterone in males depends on age. Before puberty, levels are typically low but rise during adolescence.
This increase in testosterone is what encourages larger muscles, a deeper voice, and growth of facial and body hair. By the time a man reaches 40 years of age, levels of testosterone are typically the highest. After that, levels decline.
“Normal” levels of testosterone are dependent on age, health, and genetics. Defining a normal range of testosterone for any given individual also takes other factors into consideration such as overall endocrine system health and contributing medical factors.
Before injecting testosterone into the body, especially for non-medical reasons such as bodybuilding, bigger muscles, or enhanced strength and endurance, be aware of averages when it comes to testosterone levels based on age.
For example, the Mayo Clinic defines average testosterone levels as:
How can you tell if you have low testosterone levels? A man with low testosterone levels may experience a variety of symptoms such as:
In addition to the physical side effects, a man with low testosterone levels may also experience psychological, mental, and emotional changes including a lack of interest in formerly enjoyable activities, a lack of motivation, a decline in self-confidence and/or self-esteem.
Of course, the only way to be sure is to schedule a visit with a physician and get tested.
While it is common knowledge that hormone levels do decrease as a body ages, other reasons for low testosterone levels should always be considered, such as illness, disease, or an imbalance of hormones.
Sometimes, this imbalance is caused by individuals injecting testosterone and other drugs into the body to maximize results, while at other times it could be part of the natural aging process or damage or dysfunction of the pituitary, the hypothalamus, or the testes glands.
Men should always resist the urge to self-diagnose and attempts to treat on their own. Even in the best of circumstances – and with a doctor’s careful supervision and guidance – it can be difficult to balance hormone levels.
Stress, lifestyle, and diet may also affect the endocrine system because of its association with the metabolic system. Both of these can have an impact on sexual health and wellness.
So, if the body produces its own testosterone hormone, why would someone want to take a testosterone supplement?
One of the reasons is that testosterone can greatly affect health and wellness of male organs including the pituitary gland and the testicles.
Testosterone not only aids in the maturation of sperm and the development of reproductive organs, but also encourages muscle growth and strength, stamina, and endurance, among other functions.
Another male hormone known as dihydrotestosterone is produced from testosterone and can have an influence on prostate growth and loss of hair resulting in male pattern baldness.
Dihydrotestosterone is a metabolite of testosterone. It’s an androgen and male hormone, so it has strong androgenic properties. Androgen and properties influence male sex characteristics.
Small amounts of testosterone are converted into dihydrotestosterone. Dihydrotestosterone is stronger or more potent than testosterone.
Levels of dihydrotestosterone are determined by levels of testosterone on a day-to-day basis and, like testosterone, production of dihydrotestosterone is controlled by the pituitary and hypothalamus gland.
Elevated levels of dihydrotestosterone can have different effects on men as well as women.
Women might experience development of male characteristics such as increased growth of facial or body hair (hirsutism), cessation of menstruation (amenorrhea) and increased in acne.
Some men may be genetically sensitive to dihydrotestosterone, which can result in male pattern baldness.
This occurs because dihydrotestosterone converted from testosterone with help from an enzyme known as type II 5-alpha-reductase, which is found in the oil glands of hair follicles. Dihydrotestosterone can shrink those hair follicles.
A number of testosterone treatment and therapy options are available: topical creams and ointments, oral tablets or pills, and injection forms.
Prescription-strength testosterone injection solutions are often purchased from underground labs or black-market resources by bodybuilders and athletes taking testosterone for non-medical reasons.
Always be aware of the potential for adverse side effects, not only to exogenous testosterone supplementation, but because underground labs may produce testosterone supplements that are contaminated, expired, or contain fillers or other ingredients that can cause a number of side effects and adverse reactions.
As men age, hormone production decreases and can have an impact on reproductive hormones. Testosterone injections or natural dietary supplements may boost testosterone levels for some.
Testosterone levels are generally checked through blood tests and are typically higher in the morning and lower in the evening.
Low testosterone levels can not only contribute to low sperm count, decreased sex drive, and erectile dysfunction, but have been linked to high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
However, low testosterone might not be the culprit of some of these conditions, but rather poor health contributing to low testosterone levels. Continued studies and analysis of such questions are being assessed through medical research.
Testosterone boosters or supplements available over-the-counter are designed to promote pituitary gland health and wellness.
The importance of the pituitary gland and its functions should not be underestimated when it comes to increasing levels of testosterone or maintaining the health of other hormones glands and hormone levels in the body.
A healthy pituitary gland can promote increased levels of testosterone production and secretions.
The best testosterone boosters will contain herbal and nutritional components that provide support to the pituitary gland and other glands of the endocrine system to help maintain optimal balances.
Ingredients to look for include amino acids, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D, and ginseng. Of course, milligram strength of ingredients and dosage recommendations can also have an influence on testosterone booster efficacy.
Not all testosterone supplements are created equal. The form of the testosterone in any testosterone booster/supplement is also an important consideration.
For example, testosterone supplements like tablets may take longer to absorb into the bloodstream.
Some components of testosterone tablets may be broken down and left relatively ineffective following digestive processes.
Testosterone creams and gels absorb through the skin into the fine capillaries underneath, which may provide faster results than tablets, but testosterone injections are the most effective because of the immediacy of its delivery into the bloodstream.
Safety considerations with each form of application should be observed.
When deciding whether to buy testosterone supplements or injections, it’s recommended that you visit your health care provider first. A blood test can definitively analyze normal testosterone levels based on age, weight, and health status.
Too much testosterone in the bloodstream can lead to side effects and adverse reactions, so caution is always advised when it comes to hormonal supplements.
Ask your doctor what testosterone can do for you (or not) to determine whether you need a boost.
Too much of a good thing can be detrimental to health. Testosterone is a potent hormone that can affect and disrupt a number of organ and body system functions.
Such cases are especially true when individuals are diagnosed with metabolic conditions such as diabetes. Obesity, any form of heart disease, or a chronic illness can also have a negative influence in combination with testosterone in any form.
High testosterone levels can contribute to:
When the pituitary gland senses that testosterone levels are adequate (as can occur with exogenous testosterone) it signals the testes to cease production of the hormone.
This contributes to shrinkage of the testicles, which also has a negative impact on volume of sperm production and can lead to potential impotence.
Use caution when considering use of testosterone for non-medical reasons. In some cases, the potential testosterone side effects and adverse reactions more than outweigh benefits.
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