Health markers

Demystifying testosterone: Setting the story straight

There’s more to testosterone than you might think. Let’s debunk some common misconceptions.

When it comes to human biology, few hormones get as much coverage as testosterone. Often solely linked with ideas of masculinity, this misunderstood hormone actually plays a complicated role in many areas of human life: from how the brain works to well-being and social dynamics. 

Having balanced testosterone levels is important for your health, so in this article, we want to help you get to know this sex hormone a little better. Let’s kick off by debunking a few common testosterone misconceptions and then explore the real impact of testosterone on health.

3 common testosterone misconceptions

Do only men have testosterone?

Often referred to as the “male sex hormone”, it’s easy to see how people might conclude that testosterone is only present in male bodies. But that’s not the case.

Testosterone is created in both the testes (male sex organs) and ovaries (female sex organs.) From these organs, it travels around the body as a chemical messenger, affecting several bodily functions including hair growth, sex drive, and body composition.

The reason it’s often referred to as a “male” sex hormone, is because it is produced at much higher levels in male bodies. It’s also responsible for the development of male reproductive organs during puberty and plays a role in sperm production.

Does high testosterone make you more aggressive?

A common misconception is that people with high testosterone are naturally more aggressive. But that’s not the full story. 

While testosterone levels may influence behaviors linked to dominance, the idea that high levels of the hormone lead to aggression is overly simplified. Research shows that the relationship between testosterone and aggression depends on other biochemical factors, such as levels of the hormone cortisol. 

In truth, aggression is a complicated aspect of human behavior. On top of hormones like testosterone, it comes down to upbringing, genetics, mental health, and more.

Does more testosterone mean better physical performance?

As is so often the case with human biology, the situation is more complicated than it seems. While testosterone does play a role in muscle growth and physical performance, there’s more to the story than a simple correlation between natural testosterone levels and performance.

Researchers haven’t quite cracked the link between testosterone and performance yet. What they do know is that athletic performance comes down to many factors, including genetics, training programs, and more. So it’s difficult to draw a direct link between natural testosterone levels and performance.

In recent years, testosterone-boosting supplements have become popular in the sport and fitness world. While they appear to work for some, the jury’s out on how effective they really are. One thing’s for sure though: long-term use can have serious consequences for your health. It is not recommended to start taking testosterone-boosting substances like these unless your doctor says to.

A word on different types of testosterone 

Testosterone comes in 2 main forms in the human body: 

  • free testosterone, which is the biologically active form, and accounts for just 2-5% of total testosterone in the body 
  • bound testosterone, the inactive form, which is attached to a carrier protein, usually one called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG)

Why does Aware test for 4 different testosterone-related biomarkers?

We test several biomarkers related to testosterone to get a more complete picture of what’s going on inside. Here’s a quick breakdown of what we test.

  • Total testosterone: This biomarker offers an overall picture of the body's testosterone level.
  • Free testosterone: Even if total testosterone levels are within the expected range, low levels of free testosterone can still lead to symptoms of testosterone deficiency, as only free testosterone is biologically active.
  • SHBG: High SHBG levels can lead to lower levels of free testosterone, even if total testosterone levels are within the expected range. On the other hand, low SHBG can result in higher levels of free testosterone and may increase the risk of certain conditions such as hirsutism or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in females.
  • Free testosterone index (FTI): An estimation of biologically active androgens, including free testosterone. FTI is often used in the assessment of androgen imbalances in females.

How do testosterone levels affect my health?

Testosterone plays several roles in both male and female bodies. These include:

  • Development of the penis, testes, and sperm
  • Ovarian function
  • Voice deepening and appearance of facial and pubic hair during puberty in males
  • Muscle development
  • Bone growth and strength
  • Sex drive 

Testosterone levels vary by age, sex, and on an individual level. However, in male bodies, the range of healthy testosterone levels is 7.60 - 31.40 nmol/l. And for female bodies, it’s a little lower at 0.22 - 2.90 nmol/l.

What happens if my testosterone levels are too high?

In male bodies, it’s unlikely that testosterone levels will get too high on their own. In general, this happens when people take anabolic steroids or other testosterone-boosting substances.

Symptoms of high testosterone caused by taking substances can include:

  • Low sperm count and sexual dysfunction
  • Heart problems, including increased risk of heart attack, and high blood pressure
  • Trouble urinating
  • Liver disease
  • Acne
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings, poor judgment, and delusions

In female bodies, high testosterone can occur due to medical conditions or taking substances. Many of the symptoms of high testosterone are the same as for males. Also, high testosterone is often seen in females with PCOS, which affects how ovaries function. 

What happens if my testosterone levels are too low?

As we mentioned before, testosterone levels vary between healthy people. However, once they go too low in male bodies, it can cause health problems, including:

  • Hair loss
  • Reduced muscle mass
  • Low sperm count and sexual dysfunction
  • Increased breast size
  • Reduced mood
  • Weakened bones

When testosterone levels are too low in female bodies, it can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weakened bones
  • Problems with concentration
  • Depression

Low testosterone has many potential causes, including genetics, medications, certain conditions, body weight, and sedentary lifestyle.

What can I do about a testosterone imbalance?

If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of high or low testosterone, you should speak to a doctor. 

Depending on the cause, testosterone levels can be balanced through lifestyle changes. Exercising regularly, sleeping well, and maintaining a healthy, balanced diet rich in zinc can help for many people. If those don’t work, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) may be the best option. 

TRT can have unwanted side effects, so it’s important to speak with a doctor before starting treatment.

The bottom line

Testosterone is a hormone that affects many parts of human health and behavior. However, misunderstandings about testosterone lead to an oversimplified understanding of what it does. 

Getting familiar with your testosterone levels through blood testing is a great way to make sure you can act fast if yours go out of balance.

Did you know that testosterone isn’t the only hormone that’s linked to male health? With our brand new Male Hormone test, AwarePro members can test and track their levels of the following biomarkers linked to male health:

  • Testosterone
  • Free testosterone
  • Free testosterone index (FTI)
  • Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG)
  • Prolactin
  • Estradiol
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS)
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH)
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)

To find out more about becoming an Aware member and how you can take a deep dive into your male hormones, head over to our website.

Share this article