By Jack Gates
Low testosterone has emerged as an umbrella cause for numerous male health problems. Bombarded by advertisements suggesting insufficient testosterone could be causing everything from depression to low sex drive, men are increasingly seeking information on the male sex hormone.
However, not all of the available information is accurate.
Even in the nutrition and healthcare industry, trending topics generate just as many myths as usable truths. And because many people turn to testosterone for a boost in strength and athleticism, men must also sift through marketing claims when assessing testosterone. Unfortunately, these irrational beliefs and fears have kept men from trying hormone replacement therapy and testosterone-boosting supplements to improve flagging testosterone levels.
To dispel these common misconceptions about testosterone, here are five myths and the truths behind this hormone. Hopefully this dispels any fears you have about seeking treatment, or even trying a testosterone supplement to boost athletic performance.
1. Only Older Men Struggle with Low Testosterone
While it’s true that older men disproportionately struggle with low testosterone thanks to andropause, low testosterone levels can affect men at any age. Even teenagers may suffer from low testosterone: known as hypogonadism.
During youth, testosterone is produced at a relatively steady rate. It helps trigger the onset of puberty and maintains bones, muscles and sex drive. However, after age 30, most men start to experience a gradual decline in testosterone. Because testosterone declines progressively, most men don’t notice symptoms of low testosterone until their late 50s or early 60s. However, if the decline is too steep, testosterone can dip below recommended levels at a young age .
This means that, however remote the chances, every man is potentially at risk for low testosterone. Fortunately, medication and nutritional supplements are available to correct the imbalance. Not so fortunately, additional testosterone myths prevent some men from trying them.
2. Testosterone is Illegal and Dangerous Because it’s a Steroid
Testosterone is technically a steroid, which leads many men to erroneously assume using testosterone is illegal and even dangerous. However, neither assumption is true. Testosterone is not illegal in the US. In fact, it’s entirely possible to obtain legal prescription medications or injections in the US. There are also hundreds of supplement companies vying for your attention with advertisements for supplements that supposedly trigger greater testosterone production—all within the bounds of the law.
However, many sports organizations do have rules about substances like testosterone that influence athletic performance. Violating such organizational rules may have severe consequences, especially for professional athletes.
The second claim – that testosterone supplementation is dangerous – is also untrue. Steroids are simply molecules with four rings of carbon. Following that definition, even cholesterol is a steroid. While testosterone may be classed as an anabolic steroid because it builds muscle, it is relatively safe, even in high concentrations. While abuse of any anabolic steroid is potentially dangerous, testosterone is relatively safe and doesn’t cause life-threatening side effects when used appropriately.
3. Supplementing with Testosterone Causes Aggression
Even men who know testosterone supplementation isn’t life-threatening, are kept away by fear of lower-risk side effects. Perhaps the most common side effect-related misconception is supplementing with testosterone increases aggression, causing uncontrollable and even violent behavior.
However, there is absolutely no reliable evidence supporting these claims. In fact, a 2000 study conducted by Harvard researcher Harrison Pope finds no difference in mood between men supplementing with testosterone and men in a control group. During the study, 50 men were given high testosterone doses, higher than was needed for hormone therapy. However, only two men developed measurable aggression as a result . What’s more, the opposite appears to be true: men with low testosterone are more likely to be irritable and short-tempered . This condition even has a name: irritable male syndrome.
4. Testosterone Use Leads to Baldness
Another commonly-cited testosterone side effect is male pattern baldness. Because baldness treatments typically block conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), many men assumed testosterone is the root cause of a receding hairline. However, this is not the case. In fact, men with male pattern baldness generally have the same testosterone levels as men with a full head of hair .
Men who are already pre-destined to go bald typically do so when testosterone concentrations are especially low or high. To prevent these wild fluctuations, baldness medication limits testosterone levels, which affects the amount of testosterone that converts to DHT. Because the scalp needs very small amounts of DHT to carry out tasks pre-programmed in the genes (such as losing hair), an excess of testosterone and DHT can trigger earlier and greater baldness. Thus, limiting DHT becomes helpful in preventing baldness.
If your family history suggests you’ll go bald, high testosterone levels may increase the likelihood of the unhappy event. Fortunately, many testosterone boosters contain ingredients specifically inhibiting DHT, keeping you safe from this side effect.
5. Testosterone Increases Prostate Cancer Risk
Perhaps the most insidious testosterone myth is increasing testosterone levels through supplementation or injection increases your risk of developing prostate cancer.
This myth originates from studies in the 1940s in which men with metastatic prostate cancer exhibited improvements when they were castrated. Scientists pointed to testosterone as the likely cause of these benefits . However, subsequent research reveals men with existing cancer are the only ones affected by high testosterone levels. Furthermore, more recent studies have failed to establish testosterone suppression provides a clear decrease in prostate cancer risk .
This suggests you should see a doctor before beginning testosterone supplementation, as testosterone exacerbates cancer and triggers metastasis. However, if you don’t have cancer, increasing testosterone will have no effect on your prostate or your likelihood of developing cancer.
Using Testosterone in the Correct Way
If you suffer from low testosterone levels, consult your doctor about treatment methods. He or she will be able to direct you to the best possible treatment for your condition. This way, you won’t have to worry about user error or any other variable that may cause side effects.
As for testosterone supplementation, most test boosters use accurate dosing levels. If you follow manufacturer instructions, you shouldn’t have to focus on anything other than the benefits.
If you have questions or concerns, consult your doctor before beginning a testosterone supplement.
- McMillen, Matt. 2013. Low Testosterone: How Do You Know When Levels Are Too Low? WebMD.com: https://men.webmd.com/features/low-testosterone-explained-how-do-you-know-when-levels-are-too-low
- Pope, Harrison G., Elena M. Kouri, and James I. Hudson. 2000. Effects of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone on mood and aggression in normal men: A randomized controlled trial. The Archives of General Psychiatry: Vol. 57, 133-140.
- Finn, Christian. 2013. Low Testosterone Levels: What Are The Symptoms? Accessed 27 June 2013: https://muscleevo.net/low-testosterone-levels/
- wiseGEEK Writers. 2013. What Is the Link Between Testosterone and Baldness? Accessed 27 June 2013: https://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-link-between-testosterone-and-baldness.htm
- Huggins, C., Hodges, C.V. 1941. Studies on prostate cancer. I. The effect of castration, of estrogen and of androgen injection on serum phosphatases in metastic carcinoma of the prostate. Cancer Res: Vol. 1, 293-297.
- Morales, A. 2002. Androgen replacement therapy and prostate safety. European Urology: Vol. 41, 113-120.