Supplements that help to increase your testosterone levels are big business. To be precise, such supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry, which shows that they are in high demand. But the question remains- do they really work?
They may, or they may not, but much of this depends on one fundamental piece of information- your current testosterone levels. What? You’ve never had your testosterone levels checked? The results of doing so could have far reaching implications, since if you don’t know where you currently are, how will you know where to go?
This is especially true when it comes to your attempts at increasing testosterone. There is the real possibility that you aren’t seeing benefit from consumption of testosterone boosters because your levels are already optimal; or on the flipside, because the supplement is under dosed and you need something stronger to compensate for your low serum levels of this hormone.
By now, you’re probably starting to see how important getting to know what your testosterone levels are, right? Great! But we’re just at the tip of the iceberg, since there’s a lot more you need to know. And guess what? You’re in the right place, as below we have compiled what you need to know to ensure that you can get your levels where they need to be, pronto.
Table of Contents
Why You Should Test Your Testosterone Levels
The fact of the matter is that all adult men (and even some women) should be checking their testosterone values at least annually, though there is the general consensus of a “wait and see” approach.
What does that mean? Simply that most men will wait until certain signs and symptoms start to manifest before considering doing a test. Not ideal, as pre-emptive checks done regularly could have possibly averted the issues you are now experiencing altogether.
It is recommended that men begin routine testosterone checks after the age of 40, though with the rate the average testosterone levels are decreasing nowadays it would serve you well to start much sooner.
Nonetheless, here are a few of the more common reasons why you should have your testosterone levels checked:
You Notice Reduced Sex Drive
There are many contributors that lend themselves to reducing your libido, but many of the factors affect androgens as their end effect. Testosterone and DHT (a metabolite of testosterone) play critical roles in determining and maintaining sex drive. An acute reduction in your sex drive mandates testing of your testosterone levels to rule out or confirm if this is the cause.
while it is true that erectile dysfunction (ED) does not occur solely as a result of low testosterone levels, it can be a primary cause if you have a history of hypogonadism or are a man of advancing age (usually 40+, but becoming more prevalent in men 30 and older these days). It becomes especially important to check testosterone levels if other interventional techniques have failed, such as the use of nitrate based medications such as Viagra or Cialis.
You Suffer From Low Energy And Foul Moods
Testosterone regulates a man’s health in many ways, including energy levels and overall sense of wellbeing. If your energy levels have become noticeably worse than it was a short while ago, or you find yourself prone to bouts of moodiness, endocrine disruption could be the likely culprit.
A study published by the Journal Of Therapeutics And Clinical Risk Management in 2009 found that exogenous testosterone administration improved relative energy levels in hypogonadal men, or those with abnormally low endogenous levels of the hormone.
What are Average Testosterone Levels By Age?
When investigating where your testosterone levels should be it is important to realize that these values are not static, but naturally vary to an extent based on age. This is critical to understand as you are likely to become panicked if you are a 40 something-year-old and observe lab readings that are significantly lower than someone in their 20s.
Natural testosterone production peaks in a man’s early 20s, then slowly declines after this. What is interesting to note, is that it was previously thought that age alone was the major contributing factor to testosterone decline, when in fact age is not the main culprit.
Rather, it is a combination of co-morbidities men develop as they age, including metabolic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and an ever-expanding waistline. These findings were brought to light in a 2017 cohort study published in the Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, which indicated that healthy aging men would retain testosterone values considered good, and not exhibit significant variations as previously believed.
The average values based on age, according to these updated findings and placed into lower (2.5) and upper (97.5) percentiles are:
Age 19 to 39 – 229 to 902 ng/dl
Age 40 to 49 – 208 to 902 ng/dl
Age 50 to 59 – 192 to 902 ng/dl
Age 60 to 69 – 190 to 902 ng/dl
Age 70 to 79 – 192 902 ng/dl
Age 80 to 99 – 119 to 902 ng/dl
What these findings indicate is the fact that it is possible to maintain an almost identical testosterone profile regardless of age, even though environmental and genetic influences play a very important part.
The findings also show that testosterone decline is very real as well, as evidenced by the reduction in values displayed by men placed in the lower percentiles (from 229 ng/dl down to 119 ng/dl).
What is considered the “normal range” for your age can simply be taken to be approximately the lower and upper percentiles and everything in between (but a small number for deviation above and below endpoints).
Testosterone Blood Test
A testosterone blood test is the most common and accurate way of determining what your current levels of this hormone are.
When performing a testosterone blood test, it is usually done early in the morning, as this is the most accurate way of emulating the normal pulsatile release pattern of testosterone (higher in the morning, and lower as the day progresses).
Testosterone Blood Test Results Explained
Got back your testosterone lab results? Good, but before you try to self-diagnose and interpret what the results mean, you need to understand what is typically referenced on each sheet. Often times, you can find the following:
Testosterone, Serum, Total
This is an indication of your total testosterone levels, usually with the stated reference range next to it. It is important to know this number, but the reference range can be a little misleading. For instance, it could have a stated reference range of 250 to 1009 ng/dl, and if your value comes in at 255 you would be considered “normal”.
Of course, you know that you feel horrible, lack energy, motivation and any sex drive so there is nothing normal about this.
The second scenario is that the ranges are broadly for adult men, and even though as previously mentioned age can have a minimal impact on your levels, lower percentiles can change a lot. In such a case the reference range becomes irrelevant altogether.
This is the amount of bioavailable testosterone in your blood, which is the actual testosterone able to interact with receptors and initiate effects associated with male health. In reality, free testosterone may not all be technically free, as it may be loosely bound to a protein known as albumin, which acts as a sort of transporter. However, albumin easily disassociates from this hormone when needed and is not a hindrance in the least.
Protein, Total, Serum
This represents the combined total of albumin and SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) found in the blood. This may further be broken down into the respective proteins, primary albumin and SHBG.
SHBG and testosterone have an inverse relationship, with higher levels of this protein associated with lower free testosterone levels. According to an article; Steroid-Protein Interactions Revisited , published in the Monographs On Endocrinology, over 70% of testosterone is bound to SHBG and is unable to exert biological activity as a result.
In contrast to albumin, however, SHBG does not willingly let go of testosterone and can be seen as a barrier in your quest for optimal testosterone levels.
Your test may or may not also include your luteinizing hormone levels, follicle stimulating hormone and estradiol. While not mandatory, tests that include these values may very helpful for determining other endocrinological issues that you may have without realizing it (such as secondary hypogonadism)
Saliva Testosterone Tests
As the desire to have your testosterone levels checked increases as more people become actively involved in their health, there’s a natural tendency to opt for methods that are regarded as less invasive. Not to mention the fact that many people are intimidated by needles, and what you have is increased reliance on alternative hormonal testing methods, especially saliva testosterone tests.
Are They Accurate?
In terms of overall accuracy of saliva testosterone tests, there is a mixed verdict. While overall the number of studies available on the topic is limited, three studies investigated the potential.
Two of the studies conducted in men found that the tests offered a good correlation to blood values, making them a decent alternative. A review of research published in the Journal of Clinical Chemistry in 2008 confirmed that saliva remains viable and accurate for testing hormones and in a few cases, even superior.
However, one conducted in postmenopausal women using exogenous testosterone therapy to treat hypoactive libido found that they did not share positive correlations.
They are viewed as less reliable than blood tests, however, since a high degree of variability can still occur especially when guidelines are not strictly adhered to.
Saliva Tests Explained
Saliva tests can typically investigate levels of cortisol, estradiol and more importantly free testosterone. Saliva tests only reference free testosterone (the bioavailable amount) since saliva is a body fluid which does not contain the binding globulin (SHBG) found in blood.
Saliva testing can be done in labs, or in the comfort of your own home in which are required to fill a vial with saliva and subsequently sent in to a lab for analysis. The tests must be done at a specified time, most often in the morning in order to accurately determine your testosterone levels.
Salivary testing failure can occur if you have active gingival bleeding (bleeding from the gum), since in such a case high levels of SHBG and albumin make their way in and contaminate your saliva sample.
Blood Vs Saliva Testosterone Test
When deciding if to opt for blood or saliva testosterone analysis, if accuracy of results is of paramount importance to you (and it should be), then nothing can beat good old blood testing done via a blood draw. This is in fact the standard recommended by The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists for checking hormones, as it is the most comprehensive method to analyze them.
Saliva tests offer convenience above all else, and may be better suited for individuals that have a phobia of needles, or if you desire to test multiple times in order to observe patterns in testosterone level fluctuations over the course of the day, or multiple days in a stretch.
Is There A Home Test For Testosterone Levels?
Home testosterone kits are becoming more popular these days and appear especially attractive owing to the convenience and privacy they offer.
Contrary to popular belief, home-based testosterone testing kits are not only of the saliva testing variety, but can also check actual blood levels of the hormone via blood finger prick testing. If you are familiar with the way diabetics routinely check their blood glucose levels, this method reflects that methodology in a nutshell.
Upon completion of the test, often samples are usually mailed to a lab for analysis in the provided collection containers and biohazard storage bags, with results usually made available in less than a week after your samples are received.
Home testosterone kits are not necessarily more cost-effective, as many of them run in excessive of over $100 to purchase.
DIY Indicators Of Testosterone Levels
Before using these indicators to roughly gauge your testosterone levels, it is important to understand that even though generalizations do hold true, not because a certain indicator applies to you or does not will it indicate abnormal or optimal testosterone levels. They are to be used for APPROXIMATIONS and not definitive value judgments.
Rather, instead of looking at these indicators as standalone guides to overall testosterone levels, it is a better idea to see how many of them apply to you and then form a picture.
Let’s check out what a basic DIY testosterone analysis looks at:
Frequency Of Erections
Your frequency of spontaneous erections is a good indicator of overall testosterone level, with a higher frequency associated with high normal levels, in many cases. While testosterone is not the sole determinant of erection frequency or potency, if you have gone a long time without experiencing random, nocturnal or morning “wood”, there is a possibility that your levels may be low and you should be checked.
Measure Your Body Fat
Men with higher amounts of body fat frequently report lower testosterone levels and associated symptoms, owing to the fact that the conversion of testosterone into estradiol increases significantly, as referenced by a study published in the Asian Journal of Andrology in 2014.
Much of the production of this female hormone occurs in fat cells where the highest density of the aromatase enzyme is present. In effect, fat cells are considered estrogen factories – not beneficial to your androgen profile.
Testicular Size And Ejaculate Volume
While we know that overall testicular size is strongly controlled by genetic factors, that does not go to say that larger testicles are outside of your reach. Larger testicles are strongly correlated with higher levels of testosterone synthesis, rate of spermatogenesis and semen volume, according to findings published in the Journal Andrologia in 2018.
This is clearly evident in men who use anabolic steroids and in response, experience transient (or permanent) testicular atrophy. After stopping use of these compounds, these men do their best to kick start natural hormone production once again and look for as the primary indicator, you guessed it – testicular size.
Sometimes the truth can be hard to swallow, but there is also a good likelihood that you know when your lifestyle is having an adverse impact on your testosterone levels. From consumption of low quality foods that do not support testosterone production (that is, a diet low in mono unsaturated and saturated fats), to chronic sleep deprivation and use of recreational drugs, inclusive of cigarettes and alcohol.
Not to mention the fact that you scarcely partake in resistance training and what you have created is the perfect storm for estrogen dominance and suboptimal testosterone levels.
By now, you should have realized the importance of getting your testosterone levels checked, as it is every man’s business, since the time comes when the elephant in the room needs to be addressed.
However, don’t get overwhelmed by it all. If you are a young man (under the age of 30), a great way to get a rough indication of what your levels are would be to analyze the DIY factors mentioned above.
Then, subsequently, when ready to officially check your levels, if you are intimidated by needles start with an at home saliva kit. This way, you are able to develop a picture in your head of roughly where you are.
Finally, above all else by the time you reach the age of 40 you should start performing complete testosterone profiles which give an indication of total, free hormone as well as binding proteins, estradiol and cortisol which all interplay in how you feel and your overall androgen balance.
Given that you do not have a medical condition that predisposes you to hypogonadism, you have the power to optimize your testosterone levels, but it all starts with knowing where you are right now.