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Men's Health

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Keep Testosterone in Balance

By Tony Rehagen
WebMD Feature

Testosterone is the male sex hormone. As men get older, their bodies produce less of it. Starting in middle age, it often drops below levels that doctors consider normal.

Low testosterone -- also known as hypogonadism or low T -- can affect your overall health. But some doctors say it’s just a normal, harmless part of aging.

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Here’s what you need to know to keep your concerns and your hormones in proper balance.

How Low Is Too Low?

Testosterone levels are measured through blood tests. Most doctors agree that a “normal” reading falls anywhere between 300 to 1,000 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). About 40% of men over age 45 will have levels that come in below that range. But a low reading by itself isn’t enough to warrant alarm.

In fact, it’ll likely have a lot to do with the time of day doctors test your blood. The best time for testing is between 7 and 10 a.m. “Different hormones have different patterns of secretion,” says Ronald Swerdloff, MD, chief of endocrinology at Harbor UCLA Medical Center. “Normal testosterone ranges are based on morning samples, when the average person is at a higher level. Afternoon tests may give a false impression of low levels.”

Swerdloff says you should get multiple tests -- at least two over the course of a couple of weeks or months. You’ll want to make sure you have low T before you take any action.

More Than Just a Number

Even if your testosterone levels are below the recommended range, you still might not have to worry. Doctors say that a reading between 200 and 300 ng/dL is sort of a gray area.

Levels that are just slightly low aren’t a cause for concern by themselves. But if you have other symptoms, you’ll want to see your doctor. “Everyone agrees that if you have a phenomenally low level, you’d benefit from treatment. But if it’s just slightly low, as is more common, you’d definitely want to have symptoms,” says Bradley Anawalt, MD, chief of medicine at the University of Washington.

Those symptoms include:

  • Lower sex drive or desire
  • Lower quality and frequency of erections
  • Lower bone density
  • Reduced muscle mass and strength
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed feelings

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