Cause and Effects of Low Testosterone
By Dr. Richard A. DiCenso
What is Testosterone?
Testosterone is one of a family of hormones called androgens. Best known for their masculinizing effects, androgens first kick into action during the embryonic stages of life. An embryo is conceived when a female egg is fertilized with a male sperm. Androgens are a naturally occurring sex hormone that is produced by the ovaries, adrenal glands and other tissues. Androgen plays a key role in regulating certain bodily functions, including the growth spurt at puberty. It is believed to regulate the function of many organs, including the reproductive tract, kidneys, liver and muscles. The egg and sperm each donate a single sex chromosome to the embryo, an X chromosome from women, and an X or Y chromosome from men.
If the combination of these sex chromosomes is XX, then the embryo will be female. If it’s XY, the embryo will be male. Though in fact, it’s not until the sixth week of development that XX or XY embryos are anatomically defined. Before this the human fetus is essentially sexless, possessing a set of “indifferent” genitalia. One interpretation of this is that all embryos begin as female. Testosterone makes the difference, influencing the growth of male genitalia, while the female component of the indifferent genitalia degenerates.
Testosterone tends to be identified with masculine stereotype
According to some, the intimate association between testosterone and male identity starts early. This inference that testosterone equals male, while absence of testosterone equals female, is well-entrenched in the layers of our culture. But, the reality is that testosterone is a girl’s hormone, too.
We have been conditioned to box our hormones into those that belong to men, and those that belong to women. Estrogen and progesterone are the so-called female sex hormones, and testosterone, the so-called primary male sex hormone. With that we assign our hormones impossible gender roles. But of course, gender is not that simple and nor are our hormones.
It turns out men and women produce exactly the same hormones, only in different amounts. Men’s bodies generate more than twenty times more testosterone than women, an average of 7 milligrams per day. Women, via mainly their ovaries and adrenal glands, make a tiny 3/10 of 1 milligram of testosterone per day.
But it may come as a surprise to know that women’s ovaries primarily produce testosterone, from which estrogen is then made. This ovarian production accounts for one-quarter of the total circulating testosterone in a woman’s body. At first glance, this might appear to suggest that women naturally have less estrogen than men.However, with the help of an aromatase enzyme, estrogen is also produced in your fat and muscle cells both before and after menopause. Aromatase is an enzyme found in the liver, responsible for the conversion of the androgens into the estrogens. Inhibiting aromatase can cause the body to produce less estrogen and maintain a higher testosterone state.
Your estrogen levels are not totally dependent on your ovaries, there are a lot of other factors that come into play, like your diet and body composition.
While these numbers may appear to be a bit confusing at first, they basically translate to the fact that women have about 1/10 the amount of testosterone found in men.
Conversely, men’s bodies produce their own estrogen, converted by their tissues from their testosterone. In reality, testosterone is as much a woman’s sex hormone as it is a man’s.
Testosterone is considered to be the principal male hormone, playing an important role in the development and maintenance of typical masculine characteristics, such as facial hair, muscle mass and a deeper voice. In men, testosterone plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues such as the testis and prostate, as well as promoting secondary sexual characteristics such as increased muscle, bone mass and the growth of body hair.
So, why would women want testosterone? The fact is, women produce it too, and it has more positive influences than you might think. Testosterone is essential for health and well-being in women, as well. In women, studies show that it helps maintain muscle and bone and contributes to sex drive or libido and aids in the prevention of osteoporosis.
Is More Testosterone Better?
Not necessarily! In fact, over the past decade researchers have found elevated testosterone levels to influence a person’s tendency towards
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