You can’t turn on the television or go online without seeing someone suggesting that men with low testosterone should take an herbal replacement, underarm replacement or bioidentical replacement – as if this will magically restore sex drive and help with weight loss.
Unfortunately, treating low testosterone isn’t as simple as the old “pill for every ill” approach to medicine. That approach is on its way out. More on that later.
Before you decide to start testosterone replacement therapy, you need to understand what testosterone is, how the presence of testosterone changes in our bodies during our lifetime, and what impacts our hormonal levels.
Testosterone is a hormone that stimulates the growth and development of the male sex organs and the maintenance of sexual characteristics. Testosterone is produced mostly in the testes, but also in the ovaries. Yes, women have testosterone just like men have estrogen.
Men experience a surge in testosterone during the teenage years, which leads to the development of lean muscle tissue, the loss of excess body fat, a deeper voice, growth of the male sexual organs and a strong sex drive. As adults, testosterone helps to maintain bone density, muscle strength and sex drive.
Testosterone levels in men will slowly decrease after the age of 30. It’s not like menopause in women when estrogen levels just crash. With testosterone in men, it’s a slow decrease.
This decrease in testosterone affects the testosterone-estrogen ratio in our bodies. As testosterone levels decrease, men become more estrogen-dominant and can actually take on more female characteristics. Similarly, women can take on male characteristics as they become more testosterone-dominant during menopause.
I recommend that men over the age of 40 should have their testosterone levels checked regularly, as low testosterone can indeed result in weight gain and low sex drive, as well as other symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, irritability and depression.
However, it’s important to realize that testosterone is just one hormone in an orchestra of hormones. I always say that the endocrine system is like an orchestra of hormones working in unison, not individually.
There is a place for bio-identical testosterone replacement therapy, but only after taking a hard look at the other factors that can contribute to the most common symptoms of low testosterone – weight gain and low sex drive.
We need to look at our lifestyle – how we eat, how we exercise, how much sleep we get, what our stress levels are, what our relationships are like and whether or not we’re dealing with chronic pain. All of these factors have an impact on our hormonal levels. It’s very common to discuss hormonal imbalance in women, but this is a woefully overlooked topic for the over-40 male population.
It’s important to work with a healthcare provider who is experienced with bio-identical hormonal replacement. This provider should have an understanding of the science behind functional medicine and hormonal balancing, and conduct testing, measuring and a detailed lifestyle assessment before recommending any type of treatment program.
After a physical exam and consultation, a specific blood test will show us your testosterone level and provide insight into how the entire hormonal orchestra is working. I love going to see my children play in the elementary school orchestra, but I’d rather listen to the New York Philharmonic. The endocrine system should work together like the New York Philharmonic. Once we learn how yours is working, we can determine whether or not testosterone replacement is right for the individual.
Like I’ve said previously, it’s not as simple as a pill for every ill. Our hormones work together and must maintain a certain balance. You can’t just rub some testosterone under your arm and expect all of your problems to go away.
For example, the biochemical pathway in the human body that produces cholesterol is the same pathway that produces testosterone. As a result, if you’re taking a cholesterol-inhibiting drug, like a statin medication, to lower your cholesterol, you’re also going to impact your testosterone production. How you treat one hormone will have an effect on other hormones.
This is the year of the family, and the “pill for every ill” approach to medicine is finally coming to an end because it’s not an effective way to treat human beings. You can’t keep adding medications for one condition because you’ll impact other hormones and create another problem.
Low testosterone is no different. Let’s take back our health by looking at the big lifestyle picture and how our daily decisions are affecting our health before deciding whether or not to start testosterone replacement therapy.
Dr. James Proodian is an accomplished chiropractic physician and health educator who founded Proodian Healthcare Family of Companies to help people feel better, function better, and live longer. His expertise for the past two decades has been in physical rehabilitation, and he has successfully established himself as a spinal specialist. In his practice, he advocates the science of functional medicine, which takes an integrative approach to treating patients by addressing their physical, nutritional, and psychological needs. Alarmed by the escalation of complex, chronic illness in our country, Dr. Proodian has been speaking to companies and organizations through his “Wellness at Work” program since 1994, motivating thousands of people to make positive lifestyle choices and lead healthier, more productive lives. He can be heard weekly on his radio program, “Proodian Healthcare By Design,” on Tandem Radio.