Testosterone – What is it? How does it work? Why have it?

Testosterone – What is it? How does it work? Why have it?

What is it?

Testosterone is the hormone needed for male development and maintenance of secondary sexual characteristics and is essential for maintaining sperm production with its actions being broadly classified as androgenic and anabolic.

ANDROGENIC = influence sexual characteristics (extra muscle, deepening voice, body hair)

ANABOLIC = cellular action of building (tissue)

How does it work?

Testosterone biosynthesis occurs in the Leydig cells (in the testes) from cholesterol. Oestrogen contributes to the many actions of testosterone. Testosterone also acts as a prohormone that amplifies the effects of existing hormones. Circulating testosterone levels in men peak at around 7:00 and lower during the day and reach the lowest levels of about 60% by early evening.

Behaviour greatly affects testosterone production. Stress, depression and threatening behaviour from others lowers it.

Another interesting fact is androgens (testosterone and oestrogen) can be readily converted to oestrogens by an enzyme called aromatase which is active in lipid tissue (fatty tissue). Men with a high BMI due to fat have an increased risk of producing higher levels of oestrogen due to increased fatty tissue resulting in femising features when compared to leaner men.

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Why have it?

A fundamental role of testosterone is the maintenance of sperm production (spermatogenesis). About 120 million sperm are produced each day by a healthy young male. The activity of sperm increases with increasing temperature but this also shortens their life considerably.

Testosterone establishes and maintains the function of the adult male and maintains libido in the female. Testosterone is also needed for bone health (low levels cause osteoporosis), increases lean body mass, red blood cell production, effects electrolyte/water balance and growth of skeletal muscle. High levels of testosterone are needed for sperm production and only low levels are needed for sexual arousal and maintenance of secondary male characteristics.

The seminal vesicles and the prostate gland rely on testosterone for proper maintenance and function. These organs produce ejaculate and the nutrients needed for sperm to survive and swim to their target.

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Some issues involved with lowered testosterone levels include a lowered libido, failure of the male sexual organs to mature, erectile dysfunction, feminization, osteoporosis, moodiness and hot flushes.

Gynaecomastia is breast enlargement in males that occurs through abnormal internal or external oestrogen sources such as having too much fat tissue or a diet high in plant estrogens i.e. soya. Gynaecomastia sometimes occurs in ageing men, which may be because of an increasing oestrogen/ androgen ratio in the blood. Gynaecomastia can also be stimulated by smoking cannabis, which is known to decrease testosterone synthesis and to drive down libido.

The prostate gland depends on testosterone for proper functioning. Prostate cancer is dependant on testosterone which acts upon the cancer cells causing expression.

Androgens can be used relieve hypogonadism (low levels of testosterone secretion due to genetics) but, for most men, usage would come in the form of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS’s). AAS’s are usually taken to help improve body image through increasing muscle mass along with enhanced endurance and recovery. These benefits are short lived as aggression, testicular atrophy (since the body is getting testosterone in higher doses they wither away) and infertility are risks of prolonged use and abuse. Liver damage can also occur when taking AAS’s orally increasing risk of liver cancer.

What can you do to help boost testosterone levels?

  • Physical work
  • Regular weight training that involves
    • explosive movements
    • recruitment of large muscle groups
    • 60 – 90 second rest periods (try varying within the same session)
  • Lactic acid production – feeling the burn is good for you!
  • Follow a concurrent training program – both endurance & strength training
  • States of fasting/semi-fasting
  • Psychological factors – keeping stress at bay, preventing confrontations
  • Sexual desire – Improve fertility by wearing looser clothing and avoiding hot baths

Testosterone is very important in keeping us men virile and healthy. By ensuring you do the above, along with a varied and nutrient dense diet, and getting check ups if you have any concerns regarding your manly parts you should feel energised, strong and positive to tackle what life throws at you!



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Hinson, J. (2010). The endocrine system: basic science and clinical conditions (2nd ed.). Edinburgh ; New York: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier

Marieb, E. N. (2013). Human anatomy & physiology (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson

Mirghani, S. J., Alinejad, H. A., Azarbayjani, M. A., Mazidi, A., & Mirghani, S. A. (2014). Influence of strength, endurance and concurrent training on the lipid profile and blood testosterone and cortisol response in young male wrestlers. Baltic Journal Of Health & Physical Activity, 6(1), 7-16.

Stanković, A., Đorđević-Nikić, M., Kukić, F., Petrović, M., Cvijanović, N., & Todorović, N. (2013). THE EFFECT OF STRENGTH TRAINING ON THE TESTOSTERONE LEVEL IN MEN. Physical Culture / Fizicka Kultura, 67(2), 157-166.

Wardlaw, G. M. (2013). Wardlaw’s perspectives in nutrition (9th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill

I'm currently studying a Bachelor in Health Science - Nutritional Medicine with a background in dance and fitness. I believe sharing knowledge is the key. I hope my love for food, fitness and well-being along with my studies helps you in finding something useful. Enjoy!

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