The Role of Testosterone in Male Fertility Health
The brain and pituitary gland control testosterone production by the testes, where it is produced at the highest levels. Testosterone is also produced by the adrenal glands. Testosterone is the hormone responsible for male sexual characteristics – external and internal sex organs (penis, testes, prostate, seminal vesicle, etc.), sperm production, body hair growth (face, chest and back), muscle mass, bone health and broad shoulders, as well as deeper voice and more aggressive behaviors. Testosterone also plays a role in male libido, erectile function and male fertility health.
Normal testosterone levels are between 300 and 1,200 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dl) and fluctuate throughout the day, with highest circulating levels being in the morning. Testosterone levels vary from man to man and are known to decrease by 1% per year after the age of 30.
Symptoms of Low Testosterone Levels
For many men experiencing low testosterone levels, there are no symptoms. Low testosterone is known to be a cause low sex drive and erectile dysfunction, or impotence, as well as low sperm count and enlarged male breasts. Some men with low testosterone may also experience the following symptoms:
- hot flashes
- mood swings (irritability)
- low energy levels
- reduction in the size of the testes
- sleep disruptions
- loss of body hair
- reduced muscle mass and strength
When a variety of these symptoms become bothersome, doctors will perform blood tests to determine testosterone levels and investigate possible causes.
Causes of Low Testosterone Levels
While testosterone levels naturally decline as a man ages, there can be other contributors to low testosterone levels that include:
- Injury to, or infection/inflammation of the testes
- Diseases of, or a tumor on the hypothalamus or pituitary gland related to inflammation, cancer or autoimmune diseases
- Cancer treatments – radiation and chemotherapy
- Testicular cancer
- Medications – painkillers (opiates), morphine and anabolic steroids
- Aging – sometimes called “andropause”
Upon determining contributing factors, your doctor may suggest further investigation with an endocrinologist, or offer testosterone replacement therapy (gel or patches placed on the skin, injections or pellets implanted under the skin). Testosterone treatment comes with risks, the most serious being prostate cancer. Other risks of testosterone treatment are breast or prostate enlargement, acne, sleep apnea, edema (swelling of the ankles, feet, or legs) and high red blood cell count.
Depending on the cause of low testosterone levels, there may also be natural ways to support the body in promoting healthy testosterone levels.
How to Naturally Boost Testosterone Levels
1. Eat Right
Diet is critical for male fertility health. What a man eats prior to conception may not only impact his hormone levels, sperm health and overall fertility, but the early development and health of an embryo as well. Zinc deficiencies and exposure to xenohormones are known to impact testosterone levels in men, in turn affecting hormone balance and sperm health. Click here to learn more about the Male Fertility Diet…
2. Manage Stress
During times of high and chronic stress, levels of the stress hormone cortisol increase within the body. This increase in cortisol causes the body to stop releasing its main sex hormone gonadotropin releasing hormone, GnRH, which is responsible for sexual activity and sperm count. Some healthy ways to manage stress include exercising regularly, finding a hobby, meditation and Yoga.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Adipose tissue (body fat) produces and stores estrogen, slowly releasing it into the bloodstream. It has been found that men with a body composition with a higher ratio of fat to lean muscle mass have elevated estrogen levels and lower testosterone levels. Chronic low levels of testosterone affect how the testes function causing hormonal imbalance, sexual dysfunction and abnormal sperm which can increase the chance of miscarriage and genetic defects in a developing embryo. Eat a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods and exercise! Consider seeking weight loss support from a personal trainer or nutritionist.
4. Get Moving – Exercise
Regular, moderate exercise supports weight loss efforts and promotes detoxification, increases energy levels, mood, strength, muscle mass, enhances sleep and body image, prevents depression and anxiety, may even increase libido, as well as support bone and heart health. All of these benefits make regular, moderate exercise essential for improving male fertility.
5. Consider Male Fertility Herbs
Maca root (Lepidium meyenii): increases libido in men by increasing blood flow to the pelvic region and encourages healthy testosterone levels. Learn more about Maca here…
Tribulus, aerial parts and fruit (Tribulus terrestris): increases LH and testosterone levels, and aids male sex hormone production, all of which may help increase sperm count, motility, and health. Learn more about Tribulus here…
We encourage men to not be shy or intimidated if one suspects low testosterone levels and wishes for help. It is important to a man’s health to determine any possible underlying cause(s) for low testosterone levels. In the end, regardless of the cause of the low levels, a man who changes his diet and lifestyle first is going to be positively impacting his hormone balance, sexual function, sperm health and overall health.
1. Barton-Schuster, D. (n.d.). How to Use Fertility Herbs To Enhance Your Fertility Naturally. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://natural-fertility-info.com/fertility-herbs
2. Barton-Schuster, D. (n.d.). Restore Hormonal Balance for Improved Fertility. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://natural-fertility-info.com/restore-hormonal-balance-for-improved-fertility.html
3. Cunningham, G., Matsumoto, A., & Swerdloff, R. (Eds.). (2010, March 1). Fact Sheet. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from http://www.hormone.org/questions-and-answers/2010/low-testosterone-and-mens-health
4. Low Testosterone. (2013). Retrieved March 27, 2015, PDF from www.X-Plain.com