We also blame it for “typical” male tendencies and behaviors, but how much of this is really true?
The Hormonal Truth
First, a little bit about testosterone. As the major sex steroid hormone in men, its effects are wide-ranging and powerful. In the life of a human male, testosterone spikes occur during fetal life, several months after birth and then again for a final time during teen years. It makes boys into men at puberty. It sparks the development of facial and pubic hair, the Adam’s apple, deeper voices, bigger muscles, broader chests. In adults, testosterone is important for sexual desire, erections, and sperm production. It also affects other important body functions not directly related to sex like maintaining normal blood counts, bone strength, muscle mass, and mood.
Debunking the Myths
The fact that testosterone is so important may be the reason there are so many myths about it. One common falsehood is that excessive testosterone can make a man uncontrollably aggressive. However, men actually tend to feel moodier and more anxious with lower testosterone levels, and there is evidence to suggest that testosterone treatment can reduce negative feelings and improve depression. It is also untrue that high testosterone levels cause male pattern baldness and prostate cancer. Baldness is not a sign of virility and is not associated with high testosterone levels. Rather, it reflects inheritance, either from the mother’s side of the family (male pattern, crown-centered baldness) or the father’s side (overall baldness). Prostate cancer, meanwhile, appears to be associated with low levels of testosterone, and not high ones. So, although it may be the cause of hairiness, sweatiness, and smelliness in men, it is also essential for a normal, healthy life.
Does testosterone deserve the bad rap it gets? Taken appropriately, as replacement for naturally low levels, testosterone is not dangerous, nor is it illegal. In fact, it can be outright healthy. However, if taken as a supplement to increase normal testosterone levels, things get murky. Anabolic steroids are synthetically produced variants of natural testosterone. Some common street or slang names for anabolic steroids include arnolds, gym candy, pumpers, roids, stackers, weight trainers, and juice. There are about 100 different anabolic steroids circulating nowadays, and you will get several million results on Google by entering “buy steroids.” When anabolics are taken to boost normal testosterone levels, interesting side effects can happen: sperm counts fall, breasts get tender, and acne can return like when you were fourteen years old. In addition, the more testosterone, the thicker the blood – and the thicker the blood, the higher chance of dangerous blood clots and strokes. And with full-on steroid abuse, you compromise the health benefits of normal testosterone balance, like cholesterol balance, liver and heart health, blood pressure, and mood. So, think twice before considering taking testosterone to become either a “healthier” person or to live longer, as it may have the exact opposite effect.
BY PAUL TUREK, MD, FACS