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What Is Testosterone? And How Does It Work?


Testosterone is a natural hormone produced in the body, in the testes in men and ovaries in women. While it is used by both sexes, in males the hormone is produced in larger quantities and is primarily responsible for the development of sexual characteristics, for the deepening of the voice and facial hair. Testosterone production is at its peak during puberty or when a boy turns into a man and for a few years thereafter.

Testosterone production

When a male child is conceived, and testosterone production in the body starts, the hormone is responsible for the development of male genitals even in the fetus. At puberty the hormone production spikes and is responsible for the testes descending, the growth of the penis, the production of sperm and other male characteristics.

Testosterone is produced largely in the testes, and in smaller quantities in the adrenal glands. The levels of testosterone are regulated by the hypothalamus which gives the message to the pituitary glands as to how much testosterone is needed. With complex messages and chemicals the testes then produces that much testosterone. This androgenic hormone is also important for muscle building and the generally bigger build of males when compared to females.

All the hormones are kept in delicate balance by the body and the testosterone production is never allowed to go too high – at a certain predetermined point the testes will stop testosterone production if levels are too high.

What else does testosterone do?

While testosterone is known for it sexual effects, and these are vital for male psychological, emotional and physical health, testosterone is also useful for many other bodily processes. It is necessary for:

  • Bone health
  • Muscle development
  • Maintenance of reproductive tissues
  • Body hair
  • Energy levels
  • Mood
  • Heart health

Bodybuilding and Testosterone

The majority (if not all) of professional bodybuilders use anabolic steroids, including testosterone. They are more often than not, obtained illegally, through underground steroid suppliers. A large percentage of steroid cycles are built around the use of testosterone. A steroid cycle is a period of time the user stays on the steroids, where two or more steroids are often ‘stacked’ together. Testosterone is often used as the base of a steroid cycle because of how many positive benefits it has. Not only is it great for building mass and strength, it also helps burn fat, and increases energy, libido, aggressiveness/intensity (in the gym), and overall mood.

The three most common testosterones are propionate, cypionate, and enanthate. Testosterone propionate is a faster acting testosterone and needs to be injected either every day, or every other day. Testosterone cypionate and enanthate are similar, and only need to be injected every 5-7 days.

When used in bodybuilding, users take a great deal more than what testosterone therapy patients would take. The higher the dosage, the more visible the steroid side effects become. Steroid users will use anywhere from 500-1,500mgs of testosterone per week. Considering most steroid products come in 200-300mg dosages, it takes a lot of injections and liquid to reach those dosages!

Testosterone is not only used in bodybuilding, but the majority of sports, and even average gym goers looking to improve their physique. Anabolic steroids are illegal in the US, so users have to be cautious when acquiring the drugs.

Read Also: How to Get Rid of Gynecomastia Fast & Naturally Without Surgery

How does testosterone work?

If you were to think that there is testosterone coursing through your body via your blood constantly you would be wrong. As a matter of fact, only 2 percent of the total testosterone in your body circulates in the blood, hence the importance of free testosterone blood tests. Out of the rest, 40 percent binds to a protein which is a sex hormone binding globulin and the remaining 58 percent sticks to the albumin and is used by tissues.

So if you have low testosterone levels, these can affect your body at many different levels.

Testosterone levels

Testosterone levels in normal males vary a great deal. They are dependent on age, physical fitness, race and many other factors. And sometimes sexual activity will not have much to do with testosterone levels. For instance, your testosterone levels may be normal, but you may be taking some medicines or have psychological problem, stress or many other factors which are causing you any erectile dysfunction or impotence or even infertility.

The normal range of testosterone levels in the body ranges from 300 to 1200 nanograms per deciliter of blood. Testosterone levels also vary at the time of the day when blood is taken for testing – the highest levels are to be found in the morning. And testosterone production is affected by illness, particularly if there is a tumor or inflammation or any other disorder in the hypothalamus or pituitary glands or even the testes.

If your testosterone levels are below normal

If you have symptoms of low testosterone levels or you have general feeling of malaise, you should get your testosterone levels checked. For low levels or subnormal levels of testosterone there are therapeutic testosterone supplements which can be used to bring the levels up.

Testosterone is available in an injectable form, as oral supplements, creams and gels, pellets, transdermal patches and in a sublingual form. Depending on your health and testosterone levels your doctor may advise you to take one form or even a combination. Usually if testosterone levels are extremely low then injections are the best way to take in testosterone.

Testosterone supplements have many side effects as well, so it really depends on your threshold and which supplement suits you. Apart from local problems like a rash by using topical testosterone, injections too can cause problems particularly since they are taken with long gaps, thus resulting in highs and lows in testosterone levels which have their own side effects.

Research studies:
1. Brooke JC & Jones TH. Low testosterone and severity of erectile dysfunction (ED) are independently associated with poor health related quality of life (HRQoL) in men with type 2 diabetes Endocrine Abstracts 25:P152; 2011, [link]
2. Crawford, E. David; Barqawi, Al Baha; O’Donnell, Colin; Morgentaler, Abraham (2007). “The association of time of day and serum testosterone concentration in a large screening population”. BJU International 100 (3): 509–13. doi:10.1111/j.1464-410X.2007.07022.x. PMID 17555474. Lay summary – UroToday (12 July 2007).
3. Nieschlag E, Swerdloff R, Behre HM, et al. (2006). “Investigation, treatment, and monitoring of late-onset hypogonadism in males: ISA, ISSAM, and EAU recommendations”. Journal of Andrology 27 (2): 135–7. doi:10.2164/jandrol.05047. PMID 16474020.
4. Rosner W, Auchus RJ, Azziz R, Sluss PM, Raff H (February 2007). “Position statement: Utility, limitations, and pitfalls in measuring testosterone: an Endocrine Society position statement”. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 92 (2): 405–13. doi:10.1210/jc.2006-1864. PMID 17090633.
5. Morris PD, Malkin CJ, Channer KS, Jones TH (August 2004). “A mathematical comparison of techniques to predict biologically available testosterone in a cohort of 1072 men”. European Journal of Endocrinology 151 (2): 241–9. doi:10.1530/eje.0.1510241. PMID 15296480.
6. Morgentaler (2006). “Testosterone and prostate cancer: an historical perspective on a modern myth”. European urology 50 (5): 935–9. doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2006.06.034. PMID 16875775.
7. Chudnovsky, A.; Niederberger, C. S. (2007). “Gonadotropin Therapy for Infertile Men with Hypogonadotropic Hypogonadism”. Journal of Andrology 28 (5): 644–6. doi:10.2164/jandrol.107.003400. PMID 17522414.
8. Whitten, S; Nangia, A; Kolettis, P (2006). “Select patients with hypogonadotropic hypogonadism may respond to treatment with clomiphene citrate”. Fertility and Sterility 86 (6): 1664–8. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2006.05.042. PMID 17007848.
9. Laughlin, G. A.; Barrett-Connor, E.; Bergstrom, J. (2007). “Low Serum Testosterone and Mortality in Older Men”. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 93 (1): 68–75. doi:10.1210/jc.2007-1792. PMC 2190742. PMID 17911176. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=2190742. Lay summary – The Endocrine Society (5 June 2008).

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