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Testosterone and Weight Loss: Is There A Connection?
Published on September 15, 2021 and last updated for accuracy on August 13, 2022
Testosterone is the key male sex hormone that promotes muscle growth, but it is naturally-occurring in both genders. It regulates fertility, fat distribution, and red blood cell production. It is also responsible for some of the typical male characteristics, both physical and sexual. Females produce testosterone but in much smaller amounts.
Produced by the testicles and ovaries and regulated by the pituitary gland, testosterone is a type of androgen that manages the sex drive (libido) and other sexual functions. If the amount of testosterone is not enough, it may lead to men becoming infertile; this is because testosterone also helps in the development of mature sperm cells. In women, testosterone mostly contributes to bone density and muscle strength. An excess of this hormone, however, may cause women to experience pattern baldness and infertility.
Some believe that testosterone may help in losing fat. Testosterone-deficient men seem to be more prone to excessive fat gain than those with normal testosterone count. Does this hormone have any special role in weight loss and obesity?
Testosterone Deficiency and Weight Gain
Aside from promoting muscle growth, testosterone also suppresses fat gain. Because of this, some men who have deficiency in this hormone tend to gain weight more easily. Among all other possible health risk factors, obesity is the most effective sign of detecting low testosterone levels in men.
Muscles are responsible for burning calories. Thus, lack of muscles puts people at a higher risk of storing excess calories as fat. Reduced muscle mass is the primary reason men gain weight. In a weird vicious cycle, obesity itself may also suppress testosterone levels.
Obese men have 30% lower testosterone levels than their healthier peers on average. Most of obese men suffer from testosterone deficiency, also known as hypogonadism. Aromatase is stored in the belly fat; this enzyme converts testosterone into estrogen, the female sex hormone. Higher estrogen levels are common in obese men.
Aromatase builds estrogen out of testosterone molecules. High aromatase and estrogen activity reduces the production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GRH), which in turn leads to lower levels of luteinizing hormone that helps in the production of testosterone.
High and low levels of testosterone both lead to the dysfunction of other parts of the body that are normally regulated by the hormone. In addition to obesity, low testosterone may cause erectile dysfunction, reduced sex drive, low sperm count, and enlarged or swollen breast tissue. If left untreated, these symptoms may develop into mood swings, loss of body hair, reduced strength, loss of muscle mass, and increased body fat.
Chronic low testosterone due to castration testicular injury, infection, opiate analgesic medications, hormone disorders (pituitary tumors, high prolactin levels, etc.), and chronic diseases (type 2 diabetes, HIV/AIDS, kidney or liver disease, etc.) may also cause complications such as osteoporosis and testicular shrinkage.
On the other hand, too much testosterone may lead to the triggering of puberty before 9 years old. This case is much rarer, though.
However, in women, high testosterone levels may cause the deepening of the voice and irregular menstrual cycles. Other results include the growth and swelling of the clitoris, reduction of breast size, changes in body shape, oily skin, acne, and body hair growth. Excessive testosterone has also been recently linked to the risk of uterine fibroids in women.
Imbalances in the testosterone levels can be determined with a blood test and treated accordingly.
Testosterone Production and Aging
A decrease in testosterone levels is to be expected when a man ages. This is known as late-onset hypogonadism.
Hypogonadism hinders the sex organs or the pituitary gland of producing and releasing normal amounts of testosterone needed by the body. Because of this, men might experience a number of changes when they age.
Various physical changes may manifest in several different ways, such as reduced muscle bulk and strength and also bone weakness. Loss of energy is possible. Gynecomastia or the swelling of the breasts may also occur.
Mentally and emotionally, a steady decrease in testosterone count may contribute to having low self-esteem and motivation. Depression may also happen, as well as troubles in concentration and remembering things.
Generally, the production of testosterone peaks during adolescence and early adulthood. For most men beyond the age of 40, the concentration of circulating testosterone gradually falls by 1.6% every year. By 60, low testosterone levels would be diagnosed as hypogonadism, and the number of cases of older men getting diagnosed has been increasing by 170% since 2012. About 40% of men acquire this condition just by the time they reach 45 years of age.
Mortality in old men has been increasingly associated with hypogonadism. Although many of the symptoms have always been more related to normal aging, late-onset hypogonadism has been recognized as a legitimate health risk and medical condition.
Some of these symptoms are diminished erectile quality (particularly at night), mood swings, decreased libido, fatigue, anger, depression, reduced cognitive behavior, skin problems, thinning and loss of hair, decreased bone mass and density, and increase in abdominal fat. Late-onset hypogonadism may also lead to metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.
While the declination of testosterone levels varies between men, an increasing percentage have reported to experience the effects of hypogonadism. On the bright side, because of proper treatment and therapy, the life expectancy for this condition has increased and many men now live beyond 60.
However, declining testosterone levels may not even be the only telltale signs or cause of many symptoms of aging. Other factors may be at play here, including thyroid problems, medication side effects, obstructive sleep apnea, diabetes, and depression. It is important to note that these conditions may contribute to the decrease in testosterone production, and treating these illnesses may also cure the hormonal imbalance.
Although some men firmly believe that testosterone therapy helps in promoting youth and rejuvenating the body, there are no proven studies to back up this claim. It is unclear whether this specific therapy has any positive effects on healthy old men, though it can clearly reverse the effects of hypogonadism.
In addition, this treatment may even complicate or cause other conditions. It may cause acne or other skin problems. It may worsen sleep apnea, a dangerous sleep disorder in which one’s breathing repeatedly pauses and continues. The testicles may also shrink and sperm production may be compromised.
The prostate is also at risk as the treatment may contribute to the enlargement of the gland (benign prostatic hyperplasia); existing prostate cancer may also be exacerbated.
Also, the probability of forming blood clots internally may be increased. Too much red blood cells produce blood clots, which may escape into the bloodstream and reach the lungs, clogging the passageways and blocking the blood flow (pulmonary embolism). Some studies also show that the therapy may lead to a number of heart diseases.
Treatment and Therapy
Treatments for low testosterone vary between late-onset hypogonadism and disease complication.
Testosterone supplements are one form of treatment for hypogonadism. Methyltestosterone, a type of testosterone supplement, has recently been approved by the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), but doctors are not advised to prescribe this certain drug as it may pose serious health risks to the liver. Until a deeper study confirms the benefits and safety of methyltestosterone, only those who have severe clinical symptoms of hypogonadism should be considered for this specific treatment.
According to the FDA, old patients that have been diagnosed with late-onset hypogonadism should not be subjected to this supplement as they are more susceptible to liver toxicity. A doctor should only prescribe it to those who have already determined the cause of their low testosterone activity.
Anabolic steroids are another form of testosterone supplements. They are also called synthetic steroids. Some bodybuilders use these to boost testosterone and muscle growth beyond normal levels.
Those who have normal testosterone count should not use these anabolic steroids in any form as long-term misuse of these drugs may help develop adverse side effects (sexual dysfunction, aggressive behavior, heart and liver diseases).
While anabolic steroids may be used as an alternative for the sex hormone, any synthetic derivatives of testosterone are mainly responsible for these symptoms. Abusing anabolic steroids is not a recommended weight loss strategy; excessive muscle mass may do more harm than good since maintaining such a huge bulk of muscles would be difficult in the long term and unused muscles may be converted into fat through time.
Testosterone plays an important role in treating other medical conditions. For example, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) may be used as a remedy for normalizing the testosterone levels of an obese man as it promotes muscle growth and helps restore some affected functions of hypogonadism.
Testosterone replacement therapy is legally prescribed and performed under medical supervision. Administered as a supplement, injection, cream, or skin gel or patch, TRT mainly impacts bone strength and hemoglobin levels in the blood.
A study of a hundred men under a reduced calorie diet showed that injections have improved weight loss by 2.9 kg compared to those who did not get the treatment. Both groups lost muscle mass and fat because of low calorie intake, but the therapy caused significant muscle gain during the weight maintenance period, with weight loss being caused by the muscles burning more calories.
The treatment may also reduce fatigue and enhance motivation for more physical activity, both are major factors for weight loss. Another study suggests that it provides men who have already undergone the treatment more security for overall mortality and stroke. However, it can also trigger side effects such as acne, increased red blood cell count, prostate and breast enlargement, breathing difficulties, and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Pursuing testosterone replacement therapy involves weighing the pros and cons of the treatment. Do the perceived benefits outweigh the other health risks? The Endocrine Society has advised the doctors not to prescribe TRT to younger men, even if they have hypogonadism, claiming that both risks and suggested benefits are unclear.
These studies about TRT only examined the effects of testosterone in deficient men; no evidence has been recorded about the treatment being administered to healthy men with normal levels of testosterone. More research about this treatment is clearly necessary to fully understand its effects on the human body; most studies have been conflicting. Identifying the individuals that may be the perfect fit for this therapy should also be done.
Testosterone boosters are also called “natural testosterone supplements.” They increase the natural production of the hormone within the body. They are usually plant-based and do not really contain any testosterone. Ashwagandhda, D-aspartic acid, and fenugreek seed extract are examples of boosters that may help raise testosterone levels and enhance muscle growth in men.
Another variety of anabolic steroids is prohormones. They also aid in muscle-building and weight loss. Several prohormone supplements, such as dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and the herbal medicine Tribulus terrestris, are specifically marketed at men as a remedy to low testosterone levels. In 2014, a bill was passed to prevent and ban these designer anabolic steroids.
Since then, legal variants of these steroids have emerged. Still, there is little to no evidence that indicates that these prohormone supplements help in increasing testosterone levels. A research from 2016 has failed to prove that Tribulus terrestris has any effect on hypogonadism.
Prohormones may boost testosterone production but also increase the female hormone estrogen. An imbalance in blood cholesterol may arise, causing a decline in “good” cholesterol count.
In addition, such supplements may cause health risks; herbal supplements do not need any clearance from the law to be proven safe for the market. Caution is advised. Prohormones’ unproven clinical studies and potential side effects may make it a risky option for improving testosterone production.
Aside from gaining weight, other main symptoms of testosterone deficiency are low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, and less intense orgasms. Fatigue and low motivation are also common. Replacement therapy may be the most effective treatment for hypogonadism, but is both controversial and risky to administer.
Fortunately, there are several natural ways to increase testosterone levels.
Striving to lose weight should be a priority; in fact, taking off some of that excess fat is one of the best ways to regulate testosterone production. And as it turns out, losing weight boosts testosterone levels. When the fat tissue has been shed off, the aforementioned “vicious cycle” would be interrupted.
Any way to lose weight—dieting, regular exercise, bariatric surgery—should all be effective in helping eliminate testosterone-destroying fat tissues.
Resistance exercises, in general, are the best kind of exercise for increasing hormone levels. Strength training, like weightlifting, has been proven to improve muscle development, but it needs to be maintained for 6 months to see a significant difference in testosterone production.
Deficiency in vitamin is associated with low levels of the sex hormone; taking supplements may bring its production back to normal. Zinc also aids in improving hypogonadism. Getting adequate amounts of this nutrient by eating zinc-rich foods such as nuts, meats, and seeds may normalize testosterone levels.
Poor sleep also contributes to drop in testosterone production. Getting enough sleep helps in acquiring the hormonal balance needed to lose weight. Cortisol, a hormone caused by chronic stress, may also suppress testosterone development in the body. Relaxing and minimizing stress should help in reducing cortisol; meditation and other relaxing pastime activities are a prerequisite to having a healthy lifestyle.
The Conclusion and Takeaway
Weight loss can increase the testosterone levels, and the opposite is also true. To put it simply, both testosterone levels and weight are inversely proportional to each other; when one factor increases, the other decreases, and vice versa.
This has been proven multiple times among men who are experiencing hypogonadism. Testosterone treatments have been found to reduce fat mass, waist circumference, weight, and BMI.
Enough testosterone production is a sign of good health, as the hormone aids in maintaining muscle mass, increasing the amount of calories one can burn. It also enhances motivation to stay physically active, all factors in lowering the risk of weight gain and obesity.
But for men, while testosterone levels are important to maintain, they naturally decrease over time. Consulting the doctor once symptoms are noticed is advised; severe and chronic hypogonadism symptoms may be caused by an active underlying illness or complication. Talking with professional healthcare about symptoms is a great first step to identifying and specifying the actual problem. It also helps in determining which treatment is best to administer.
A simple blood test is needed to diagnose the condition.
In some cases in which there is a serious hormonal imbalance in the body, testosterone replacement therapy may be prescribed by the doctor, which is the most effective method of normalizing the testosterone levels.
However, this treatment may cause unwanted side effects that may disrupt other bodily functions. It is crucial to weigh in on both risks and benefits of this method, and it is also important to have a thorough understanding of how this treatment works. Talking to a professional helps in learning what steps are best and recommended to take.
Oftentimes, low testosterone levels may not even lead to harmful physical effects or require medical treatment. It can just be treated and boosted by lifestyle changes involving weight loss and other healthier habits. Obesity may be remedied by strength training, regular physical activity, meditation, and getting adequate amounts of sleep. The doctor may even recommend an ideal weight loss strategy to elevate testosterone levels.