As you read this, over 50 different hormones are cruising around your body, each on its own journey with a sole or combined purpose and destination. Hormones are responsible for maintaining the balance and control of essential systems within the body, such as metabolism, sexual activity, smooth muscle, and cardiac muscle function. They also directly affect growth, sexual development, mood, stress, sleep, and blood pressure.
Typically, when men reach their 40's, their hormone levels will have dropped enough for them to start noticing a difference. Weight gain, lethargy, difficulty losing weight, and lack of sexual desire are common symptoms. Younger men are full of the 'correct balance' of hormones; their bodies run like clockwork, and they feel on top of the world, but as your hormones start to dwindle with age, symptoms begin to set in.
Sadly, most primary care doctors have very little training in hormone therapy. Many simply do not understand how hormone therapy can help avoid obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Not only a potent form of preventative medication, but hormone therapy can also improve many aspects of your life.
Many of our patients start on their HRT journey looking to lose weight, increase lean muscle, and regain their libido, all great 'short' term benefits. Little do they realize a year or two later, they are converts for life. They feel brighter, more alert, cope better at work (even better in bed) and most importantly, regain the body they had in their youth.
What are the Main Male Hormones?
Men and women share the same hormones, albeit at different levels of concentration. Interestingly men and women at age 20s typically have the same estradiol level (a form of estrogen). Women tend to cycle their hormones, depending on where they are in their period. Androgens generally are called 'male sex hormones' with estrogen and progesterone being called the 'female sex hormones.'
These 'sex hormones' produce the male and female characteristics that set the sexes apart.
The most well-known and influential of the androgens is testosterone; men have around ten times the levels than females. However, any imbalance in hormone levels can dramatically impact a man or woman's life, so keeping abreast of your levels should be a priority as you start to get older.
Which are the Most Important Androgens?
Testosterone is considered the most important male hormone. It is directly involved in bone development and maintenance, muscle development, fat distribution, metabolism, red blood cell production, sperm production, and sex drive. Decreased testosterone levels can affect physical and mental health, particularly low libido, depression, and body composition, and can cause brittle bones (osteoporosis). Several studies show that it protects against heart disease and prostate cancer via estradiol (estrogen) production.
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulphate (DHEA-S)
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is the most abundant hormone in the human body, produced by the adrenal glands; it triggers male characteristics in men and women. DHEA and DHEA-S are what are known as precursor hormones. These hormones are converted into other hormones, for example, testosterone into estradiol via aromatase conversion.
DHEA converts in the adrenal glands and liver into the much longer-lasting DHEA-S. Doctors, therefore, test DHEA-S levels as an indicator of levels of DHEA in the blood. In both men and women, raised DHEA-S levels can indicate Cushing's Disease. This rare condition can result from long-term steroid tablet use or rarely a benign tumor in the pituitary gland or one of the adrenal glands. These tumors are more common in young women but remain very rare.
Cushing's disease causes elevated cortisol, which can have a host of annoying side effects. DHEA is diametrically opposed to cortisol, so it is incredibly beneficial at helping with stress. In Cushing's disease, it is elevated to try to counter the overproduction of cortisol.
If your DHEA-S levels are low, this may be due to an adrenal gland issue and can often lead to fertility problems and reduced libido.
About 10% of the testosterone produced in a man's body converts into DHT in the testicles and prostate. The rest is either converted to more DHT at the base of the hair follicle by the 5-alpha reductase enzyme or converted to estradiol via the aromatase enzyme. DHT (being an androgen) is responsible for male characteristics such as body hair and a deeper voice.
Everybody has a different tolerance to DHT, some guys can have really high levels, and others can be hypersensitive to it. It is not the DHT amount that causes hair loss; it is the sensitivity of the hair follicle to the DHT. Some men can be at high levels of DHT and never lose a hair, whereas another man can take a small drop of it, and it makes them shed like no tomorrow.
Women also can experience pattern balding, but this is far less common. In the USA, around 50 million guys suffer from male pattern balding compare to (a still significant) 30 million women.
DHT is derived from testosterone but is much more potent, 10 to 100 times more potent. It also plays a role in some of the same sexual functions and physiological processes. DHT also binds to androgen receptors, but for longer than testosterone. This process increases the positive impact on the body.
Other Important Hormones
Estrogen is the umbrella term for a group of the primary female hormone, estradiol, estriol, and estrone. As with testosterone, these hormones are present in both sexes. These hormones are required in men and required to maintain sexual function, libido, and fertility. Produced via aromatization, estradiol is the most influential and beneficial of the estrogen group of hormones. In fact, estriol and estrone have a negative or neutral effect on the body.
The aromatization process can derive estradiol from visceral fat (which is why obese people tend to have high levels) or testosterone. Estradiol derived from either source is not necessarily bad; however, what the estradiol from fat tells the brain that you have enough estradiol. As a result, the body drops the production of testosterone. This is the negative effect, but it is not because of estradiol but because of the fat. Guys with low testosterone levels tend to have low estrogen levels; however, estrogen levels will usually be high if they are overweight.
Estrogen gets a bad rep due to the assumption that these hormones are feminizing in men; this argument holds very little water. The health benefits of this vital hormone should be at the forefront of any hormone treatment. You see a decreased risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and osteoporosis. You see a reduced risk of prostate cancer, reduced belly fat, and improved sexual function.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
Follicle-stimulating hormone is a gonadotrophic hormone produced in the pituitary gland. It regulates the function of the ovaries and testicles. If hormone levels are either too high or too low, it can cause infertility and difficulty in conceiving.
In men, FSH helps the testicles produce molecules and nutrients that help regulate sperm production. If your testicles have too much FSH, this could be a sign of malfunction in the testicles instead of low levels, indicating an issue in the pituitary gland. In women, FSH stimulates ovarian follicle growth before the release of an egg (ovulation). It also increases estradiol production
Luteinising Hormone (LH)
Luteinising Hormone (LH) is vital for male and female fertility. Produced in the anterior pituitary gland, LH stimulates the testes to produce testosterone by binding to Leydig cells in the testicles, releasing testosterone, vital in sperm production.
In women, LH stimulates the ovarian follicle, causing an egg to grow and to produce estrogen, which in turn tells the body to slow FSH follicle-stimulating hormone production, which starts the process of ovulation.
Low levels of LH in men can be a sign of problems with the pituitary gland and can cause infertility because LH's critical level is required to support testicular function. Low levels can be a response of the pituitary gland to high levels of testosterone in the blood, a common effect of testosterone replacement therapy or anabolic steroid use.
The thyroid gland regulates your metabolism and energy production on a cellular level, so any lack of function can profoundly affect your body. It is responsible for controlling heart, muscle, digestive function, brain development, and bone maintenance. It plays a vital role in extracting and absorbing iodine from your blood and incorporating it into the essential hormones it releases.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone made in the adrenal glands and then released into the blood. Most cells have receptors for this hormone, which works in your body in several ways. This hormone helps control your body's blood sugar levels and metabolism and influences water and salt balance, blood pressure, memory, and the ability to fight infection. Like many other hormones, cortisol affects the circadian rhythm (sleep and wake cycle), with the highest levels in the morning and lowest around midnight.
Cortisol also is released in stressful situations, which is often called 'the stress hormone.' As the adrenal glands release cortisol into your bloodstream, your body automatically produces a surge of insulin, which helps push sugar into your muscles enabling you to jump into action. This surge in sugar can be harmful when you are not utilizing the sugar, and therefore, your body will store the sugar as fat. For this reason, it is so important to exercise when you are stressed. Your body also produces another hormone called epinephrine (adrenaline), which increases your heart rate and awareness.
Oxytocin has to be one of the most important hormones to all of humanity. This may be a bold statement, but it is one of the building blocks to emotional attachment, relationships, sexual reproduction, childbirth, and love.
It is usually associated with women, where oxytocin plays a vital role in labor and milk production (lactation). Oxytocin is also present in men, where it helps with male reproduction and testosterone production in the testicles.
When you get that rush of excitement, meeting the love of your life, your brain releases oxytocin into your bloodstream, organs, and spinal cord. It binds with receptors around your body, giving you that unforgettable sense of euphoria, essentially influencing how you feel towards that person and 'in love.' What is super cool is that the simple act of spooning (if you're naked, it helps) signals your body to naturally release oxytocin helping you both achieve a more loving bond. This response isn't surprising, especially when doctors and midwives encourage the skin to skin contact with newborns to promote bonding.
Sex Hormone-Binding globulin (SHBG)
Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) is considered the transport molecule for the major hormones like estradiol and testosterone. It is also a biologically active hormone that plays a vital role in how hormones work. It binds tightly to the steroids testosterone, estradiol, and DHT and transports them in the blood in an inactive form, meaning they are not available for the body to use. Increased levels of SHBG are associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, strokes, and cancer.
Disclaimer: The information provided on this page is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please consult a doctor.