Article at a Glance
- Optimizing your hormone levels increases productivity and helps maintain good health, but first you need to know your current hormone levels.
- Testosterone is the most well-known male hormone, but many other hormones can affect men's health.
- Any treatment to optimize your hormones should only proceed under the watchful eye of a hormone optimization expert.
Getting your hormones tested is a great way to optimize your daily performance, but it can become anxiety-inducing when you don’t understand what’s being tested and whether your results are good or bad. Men’s hormone test results can be confusing to decode. To help make this easier to understand, let’s look into some common hormones that are tested and what their values mean.
1. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)
DHEA is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands as well as the gonads. It serves as an intermediate component in the production of androgens such as testosterone and dihydrotestosterone, as well as estrogens like estradiol. DHEA is also thought to have important effects on the central nervous system, though the exact science is yet to be determined [R]. DHEA levels peak in a person’s 20s and slowly fall after that, which can partly explain declining levels of testosterone in men as they age.
The “normal” level of DHEA in a man, which is measured as DHEA sulfate in the blood, will vary according to his age, but usually falls between the range of 125 μg/dL to 321 μg/dL, with older men falling to the lower end of the spectrum and younger ones on the higher end [R].
If results fall slightly above or below the above ranges, it may not have a noticeable effect, but a large difference may be cause for concern. In particular, if a man has very low DHEA levels, he may experience, among other things:
- Low libido
- Low immunity toward diseases
- Fatigue and/or depression
- Reduced body hair
- Loss of muscle tone and decreased endurance during exercise
- Dry skin
Low DHEA levels can be treated with oral supplements, a cleaner diet, and good stress management [R, R]. In an effort to decrease the effects of aging that is brought on by low DHEA, consult an experienced doctor to get the right supplementation plan based on your individual serum levels.
2. Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG)
SHBG isn’t exactly a hormone, it’s a glycoprotein that binds to androgens and estrogens in the body. It is produced mainly in the liver and released into the bloodstream in order to bind to free testosterone and estradiol. This helps keep the concentration of active androgens and estrogens in the blood at a normal level so the receptors for these hormones in the body are not overstimulated.
The normal level of SHBG in the blood for adult men is between 10 to 57 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L). With increased age, levels of SHBG rise as testosterone levels drop, as this means that more of the testosterone is bound to the protein and less of it is bioavailable.
However, having SHBG levels that are too low can also be an issue, as it can cause too much testosterone to be in the bloodstream, leading to acne, fluid retention, low sperm count, or mood swings. There is also some evidence that low SHBG levels may result in increased risk of metabolic syndrome [R]. The level of estrogens in the blood would also be high, which can result in erectile dysfunction and the development of larger breast tissue.
For most older men, the emphasis may be on reducing the levels of SHBG to free up more testosterone for more optimized well-being. For this purpose, visiting a physician experienced in hormone optimization to get a personalized treatment recommendation would be the best way.
Estradiol is one of the main female sex hormones, but men also have it in a smaller concentration. While the exact role of estradiol in men is still up for debate, this hormone seems to play a role in maintaining the male libido and increasing the sperm count [R].
In normal, healthy men, estradiol levels can vary widely, however, high amounts of estradiol can be problematic in men as it can cause a variety of symptoms including:
- Gynecomastia (enlarged breasts)
- Sexual dysfunction
- Metabolic disorders (i.e. type 2 diabetes)
- Increased abdominal fat
Overly low levels of estradiol can also wreak havoc on a man’s sexual function, body fat distribution, and even bone strength. This can result in less-than-ideal body composition, weaker performance in the gym, and a general inability to perform in the bedroom [R]. Therefore, checking your estradiol levels is an important part of optimizing your hormones.
Testosterone is the most well-known and frequently-tested male sex hormone. It is produced mainly in the testes and adrenal gland. Testosterone peaks in a man’s early 20s and starts to decline from there.
Having both too little or too much testosterone in the body can both cause health concerns. Some troublesome issues faced by men with low testosterone include fatigue, mental fogginess, a decrease in strength, libido issues, weight gain, loss of stamina, and osteoporosis [R].
High levels of testosterone are linked to less anxiety, reduced depression, optimized spatial abilities, stronger memory, as well as increased mental alertness [R]. That being said, overly high levels of testosterone may result in low sperm count, impotence, an increased risk of heart-related problems, weight gain, increased aggression, and mood instability, among other things.
Treatment for low testosterone can range from lifestyle changes to intensive testosterone therapy. As other hormones may also need to be balanced along with testosterone, the course of treatment is best left to a knowledgeable professional.
5. Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1)
IGF-1 is hormone similar to insulin, but it functions more to mediate bodily growth triggered by growth hormone (GH). IGF-1 is available in the body in high levels during childhood and puberty; afterward, the volume available can be affected by a variety of lifestyle factors. High levels of IGF-1 have been implicated in potentially causing cancer and accelerating signs of aging; however, in the right quantities, it can also optimize muscle growth and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis [R, R].
Like many of the hormones on this list, losing weight, eating a healthy high-protein diet, and sleeping well can increase levels of IGF-1 in the body naturally [R, R]. Supplementation with selenium and coenzyme Q10 can help, as can IGF-1 injections, but they should only be taken on upon advice from an expert physician [R].
Hormone testing can be a valuable tool when you understand what the numbers on your report mean and what you can do to try to restore hormones to optimal levels. To access the best hormone optimization experts, take a look through the directory on our website.
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