In this guide, we take a look at how testosterone levels change with age and some of the effects that this powerful sex hormone has on our mind and bodies.
The male androgen testosterone plays an important part of how our bodies develop and can also influence our behaviour. Occurring in both men and women, testosterone affects muscle mass, energy and sex drive. Depending on your age and base levels, a reduction in testosterone can have a huge impact on your physical and mental well-being.
With testosterone levels reportedly decreasing by 1% each year after the age of thirty, the decline in this vital male hormone is considered a natural part of the aging process. But when does this reduction start happening, what is normal and what can we do to prevent this change?
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Testosterone Levels by Age
Babies are exposed to testosterone in the womb many months before they are born and is the driver behind the development of the male sex organs as well as how our brains are masculinized. Both male and female babies are subject to the effects of this androgen as well as the female hormone, oestrogen.
Though there is no way to control what levels of testosterone a foetus is exposed to, high levels have been linked to a greater chance of being born on the autistic spectrum whilst low levels may be a factor in developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
A male infant will start his life with a normal range of testosterone in his system of around 10-30 nano-grams per deciliter (ng/dL). Girls should register at under 10 ng/dL but, at this stage, gender does not have a huge impact on the amount of testosterone in our bodies. In some instances, girls can have greater quantities and boys can have what many would consider to be low levels.
Testosterone levels in both boys and girls changes as we develop before puberty. In early childhood, there is little or no difference between the genders with both falling into the ‘normal’ range with levels of 7-20 ng/dL.
However, after the age of 9-10, as testosterone levels begin to rise in readiness for puberty, boys experience a threefold increase whilst girls can expect their levels to double.
As boys start to progress through puberty, testosterone in the system really starts to get a boost and levels can be anything between 7 and 500 ng/dL aged between 13 and 15. This level increases as we move through adolescence with 16 to 19 year olds usually having testosterone readings of between 200 to 970.
Levels in girls do not tend to increase from those surges experienced in late childhood. This is a result of their own hormones, oestrogen, kicking in instead.
The effects of testosterone on boys during adolescence are the most marked and result in permanent changes including the thickening of the vocal cords and growth of the larynx. This manifests as the deepening of the voice and is an irreversible side effect of the hormone. Additional changes at this time include hirsutism and muscle mass increase as well as growth of pubic hair and of the genitals.
Behavioural changes include an increased sexual desire, aggression and can even affect the way we approach dangerous situations with high testosterone levels in teenagers being blamed for greater risk-taking.
Though many men believe that their testosterone levels were at their highest during their teenage years it is actually the period between 20 and 30 when we reach our peak. The normal range for men during this period of early adulthood can be anything from 270-1080 ng/dL – that’s over twenty times more than the maximum levels considered normal for a 14 year old boy!
Of course, some men do not experience peak levels anywhere near this range but those that do can attribute many of the characteristics of their behaviour to the powerful influence exerted by this hormone.
As men hit the age of thirty testosterone levels begin to decrease by an estimated average of 1% each year. This can occur earlier or later depending on the individual. Whatever age this starts, the change is hard to detect but does have a cumulative effect as you progress through this natural state of decline.
For example, if your testosterone levels in your peak age of 25 were 500 ng/dL then by the time you reach 40, these may have decreased to 452. By the time you reach 50, this will have dropped to 409. We can extrapolate this further:
|Age||Level ng/dL (Base at Peak 500 ng/dL)||% Reduction against Base|
Such decreases may not felt in incremental annual changes but as each decade passes, the effects will be more prominent.
Symptoms of the Decline of Testosterone Levels
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center the typical normal range for testosterone levels in an adult male is 280 to 1,100 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). With such a wide range of testosterone levels being considered normal it can often be difficult to know whether some side effects are a result of a decrease in androgens or a symptom of some other underlying condition. Unclear as this is, it;s important to know what level of testosterone is normal for you. Men who have been operating at the top end of the scale for much of their life may suffer from the side effects of a drop in testosterone but have healthier levels than other individuals.
Symptoms of low (or comparatively, lower) testosterone include:
- Reduced libido
- Erectile dysfunction
- Decrease in the frequency of spontaneous erections
- Problems sleeping
- Decreased bone density
- Low levels of energy or problems getting motivated
- Depression or low self-confidence
- Reduced strength
Preventing Decline in Testosterone Levels
As well as the inevitable decrease in testosterone levels as a result of age, there are many other factors which can effect testosterone production. Understanding what can influence your levels of this androgen can help combat the onset of early decline and even boost your base levels.
Containing isoflavones, soy is known to raise the levels of oestrogen in the body whilst lowering testosterone. You can find soy in products like tofu as well as imitation milk, breaded products and as a filler in many meat products, meal replacements and vegetarian dishes.
…and other things
As well as soy, chemicals in air fresheners, pesticides, lead, some plastics, excitotoxins (chemicals found in some foods) and parabens (used in some cosmetics) can all negatively impact your androgen production.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Simple but oh so effective is the importance of undisturbed quality sleep. Scientists in Northshore report that sleep apnoea can contribute to lower testosterone levels by preventing the pituitary gland from instigating production.
Depending on the reasons you are taking iron, you should avoid (where possible) overproduction of this essential mineral as this can deplete the body’s ability to produce healthy levels of testosterone.
Watch Out for Radiation
Whilst a radioactive spider bite might be good for your superhero alter-ego it will not do your body any good in terms of testosterone production. Sources of radiation range from therapeutic forms such as for the treatment of cancer to environmental which can include x-ray devices such as those found at airport security or hospitals, CRT monitors and TVs, fluorescent lamp starters, some construction materials and ceramics as well as old style smoke detectors, luminous watches and lantern mantles.
Cut Out the Steroids
Anabolic steroids have long been known to cause reductions in testosterone levels with side-effects from abuse ranging from testicular shrinkage to erectile dysfunction and decreased libido. There are other ways to boost your bodybuilding performance naturally.
As well as avoiding those things that are known to decrease the body’s testosterone levels, there are also ways to naturally restore your levels. We’ve put together a separate guide on how to naturally boost testosterone levels.
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