Testosterone could be good for more than men’s sexual health and strong muscles and bones. A new study has found those with low levels of the hormone could be more likely to suffer from chronic illness.
Even the under-40s are at higher risk of obesity-related conditions like diabetes and heart disease thanks to modern sedentary lifestyles, and low testosterone means they are more likely to have more than one at once, according to the research.
One researcher warned that all men should be worried about falling testosterone levels – which could cause ‘a silent decline in overall health’ – even if their level of the hormone is not low enough to have been diagnosed by a doctor.
The study involved men with and without testosterone deficiencies and looked for type 2 diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), high triglycerides – an excess of a type of fat found in the blood, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and clinical depression.
Studies have shown that low levels of testosterone are associated with obesity-related illnesses, even when the results took participants’ body weight out of the equation
The conditions were more common among the men with lower than normal testosterone levels, researchers found, and the same men were also more likely to have more than one.
Published in Scientific Reports, the findings come as British experts have warned that nearly half of over-50s in the UK are living with at least one serious health condition, and the proportion of people in their 20s and 30s who are is rising, in part because of unhealthy lifestyles.
Lead author of the study and assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Michigan Medicine, Mark Peterson said: ‘A lot of men may not be aware of the risk factors for testosterone deficiency because of their current lifestyle.
‘And more importantly, that declining levels could be contributing to a silent decline in overall health and increased risk for chronic disease.
‘Men should be concerned about declining total testosterone, even if it has not reached a level to warrant a clinical diagnosis.’
Researchers said in the findings that obesity and a lack of exercise meant even young men were being affected by risks posed by a testosterone deficiency, something which is normally associated with growing old.
What is testosterone and why do we need it?
Testosterone is the male sex hormone and is mostly made in the testicles, but also in adrenal glands near the kidneys. It causes the voice to deepen, body hair to grow and the genitals to become larger during puberty.
As well as affecting sex drive and sperm production, it also plays a role in developing strong bones and muscles. Women also create small amounts of the hormone in the ovaries and adrenal glands.
Low testosterone in men can cause erectile dysfunction, low sex drive and muscle weakness.
Their research found that men with low testosterone were more likely to also have more than one chronic illness at once – a condition known as multimorbidity – when compared with men with normal testosterone levels.
This link was even stronger among men aged under 40 or over 60.
The drop in testosterone among young men could be due to lifestyle factors such as leading a sedentary lifestyle; a lack of exercise has in the past been shown to cause levels of the hormone to fall.
Mr Peterson added: ‘It has become evident over time that chronic disease is on the rise in older males.
‘But we’re also finding that a consequence of being obese and physically inactive is that men are seeing declines in testosterone even at younger ages.
‘Previous research in the field has shown that total testosterone deficiency in men increases with age, and studies have shown that testosterone deficiency is also associated with obesity-related chronic diseases.’
A co-author of the study and family medicine professor at Michigan, Aleksandr Belakovskiy cautioned that the findings did not prove a link and called for more research, but said it showed a ‘robust association’ and could change the way doctors look at testosterone.