If you were asked to name a hormone that you associate with men, the odds are you'd say 'testosterone'. It's the king of the male species' reproductive system, with profound powers - both physically and mentally.
This potent chemical messenger is responsible for the deepening of the voice and facial hair growth during puberty, and also takes a leading role when it comes to muscle development and sexual performance.
In a man, the testicles are the main producer of the hormone. Testosterone's kingdom is not limited just to men though, as it is also produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands of women, albeit in comparatively small quantities.
Low testosterone can affect the libido of both genders, but is much more common for men. Mood swings, muscle loss and tiredness are just some the other effects that can signal a man's testosterone could be running low.
Testosterone levels generally tend to naturally start falling when a man reaches the age of 30 or 40, from which point it dips about two per cent every year. That's not to say every man is going to experience problems though.
There are many reasons why people develop a testosterone deficiency. It could, for example, be linked to type 2 Diabetes, being overweight or stressed, or damage to the testicles due to illness or medical treatment. In some cases there is no obvious cause.
It's more likely to happen when you're older, but isn't exclusive to older age groups. I've known many young patients to have low testosterone - some in their early twenties.
What to look out for
There are various symptoms that could suggest a man is not producing sufficient levels of testosterone. Erection problems and lack of sex drive are the ones people generally suspect could be linked to testosterone. That's true, but it can also be associated with irritability, low mood, increased fat levels, lack of motivation and energy, and loss of strength and muscle mass.
These warning signs are by no means exclusive to the condition and could have a multitude of other causes. It's easy to diagnose by a simple blood test though, which can be arranged via a GP or using a home testing kit. It's a condition I regularly help people with at the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service. Some feel embarrassed to seek help, but treatment is very effective and straightforward.
Medication won't necessarily be needed - changing lifestyle factors, like losing weight or not putting yourself under so much stress could help. In fact, when you are under stress, your body will produce the cortisol hormone, which reduces your testosterone levels.
Hormones have a critical job in our overall wellbeing and the power to play havoc with our bodies. It's important to keep these influential body regulators in check.