It often seems that not a day goes by on social media without someone posting something along the lines of: "Men should optimise their Testosterone levels", "Become a higher testosterone man" or "This is the highest testosterone thing you can do!".
These posts often include an encouragement to get your testosterone tested regularly because "low T results in all kinds of health conditions that you don't want".
I've also been party to discussions in which influential trainers and coaches far younger than me have told the world that as soon as they can, they're going to get on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
I'm not convinced and in this short article I'll tell you why, as well as what I consider to be a better way.
Focusing in the Wrong Place
The ability to measure the levels of an isolated substance in blood or saliva is a fairly recent development in human history. Never before did any member of the human evolutionary lineage obsess about hormone, LDL cholesterol, vitamin or mineral levels in their blood. There was no point, they couldn't measure them anyway.
The Perils of Blood Tests
Don't get me wrong, blood tests are a marvellous invention.
They allow physicians to confirm and differentiate their diagnoses of a range of medical conditions when, in their absence, they might simply have been guessing.
This is where blood tests are useful: in confirmation of a diagnosis that was made based on symptoms.
Unfortunately, like so many things in the field of medical science, someone spotted an opportunity to make money by offering blood testing to healthy individuals, ostensibly so that they could spot potential health problems early and treat them before they became a problem.
But, would these "deficiencies" have become a problem at all? In the vast majority of cases, I would argue they wouldn't.
In fact, "optimum" will vary from one individual to the next. Blood levels cannot tell you what is optimum FOR YOU.
Instead of serving the purpose for which they're genuinely useful, much of the time these tests are simply being used as a way to sell a product to the "worried well" (in this case, Testosterone Replacement Therapy) which they don't need.
Could Those Symptoms Be Caused By Something Else?
Levels of testosterone in the blood could vary based on a range of factors. Symptoms that are bandied about as signs of low testosterone are things like...
- Lack of enthusiasm for life
- Erectile dysfunction
- Low Sex Drive
- Hair Loss
- Loss of Muscle Mass
- Increased Body Fat
- Low Mood
- Memory Problems
- Loss of Bone Mass
This is just the short list. In fact, I've seen almost everything blamed on low testosterone over the last year. But, is it really the low testosterone, or are the symptoms actually signs that something else is going on?
Consider the effects of...
- Work Stress
- Lack of Sleep
- Poor Nutrition
- Lack of Exercise
- Relationship Conflict
When things get tough (or boring) at work, you're less likely to enjoy having to head out the door every morning. And because you spend a large chunk of your day working, this is going to have a knock-on effect on your enthusiasm for life and your general mental health.
Add in poor sleep because you're worried about what's going on and you'll be tired all the time.
If you eat poorly and don't get an appropriate amount of exercise, you're likely to suffer a decrease in muscle and bone mass with an increase in body fat levels.
Even if you choose to have a blood test and turn out to have low testosterone, you'd have to ask whether the low T is the cause or the effect. I'd suggest it's the latter in most cases.
The Hunter-Gatherer Experience
Generally speaking, I'm not one to post studies and articles as "proof" of anything because I recognise that there are two sides to every story and I believe research fraud is rife.
Having said that, I found this article about the Tsiname people to be an interesting addition to the testosterone debate.
There could be a number of reasons why hunter-gatherer populations have periodically low testosterone and lower average testosterone than western populations, anything from food pressures to parasite infestation and immune challenges.
What's not in doubt is that such people live long, healthy lives with far less chronic disease than we in the western world do. And at no point do they worry about what their testosterone levels are.
It might even be possible that higher average levels of testosterone in western populations turn out to be a health hazard as opposed to a benefit; no, I'm not saying it is so, I'm noting a possibility.
There is a Better Way
I believe that a better way to approach the testosterone debate is not to obsess about blood test numbers and TRT to correct them. To my mind, this is just tinkering with a symptom rather than fixing the cause.
The better approach to testosterone (and any health marker really) is to assess what would constitute a healthy human and work to achieve that. Yes, the results will take time to achieve, but I'm fairly confident that in doing so, you'll achieve the optimum testosterone levels for you.
The items to focus on are simple, but they're not easy to achieve; they will take consistent work on your part.
- Get more than enough good quality sleep.
- Eat a human-appropriate diet that is based around high quality animal products.
- Through your nutrition, achieve a healthy body composition; 12-15% body fat.
- Do some sort of resistance training, be that body weight or some kind of gym programme.
- Do an appropriate amount of cardiovascular conditioning.
- Get control of the stressors in your life.
Most people who test low for testosterone don't have these areas sorted. Even if you have a medical condition that is driving a low testosterone condition, without sorting out your lifestyle, TRT will only ever be a band-aid.
I have no doubt that gurus on social media will continue to push the idea that chemical meddling with your testosterone is the key to a happy and fulfilled life. I will also continue to believe that they're wrong.
We must get to a point where we rediscover that health is the condition of looking, feeling and performing like a healthy person, not an ideal blood panel. I know there are those who say we're "better safe than sorry", but as I noted earlier, a deficiency in something or an irregular value, based on a blood test result might well never turn out to mean anything at all in the context of your individual case.
[An example, although not related to testosterone, is that of statin drugs used to lower LDL cholesterol: the best case outcome for life extension primary and secondary prevention is 3-4 extra days of life!!! For this half a week, you have to accept all the side effect risks and the inconvenience of taking a daily pill for the rest of your life.]
The better way is simple: to be a man with the optimum testosterone levels for you, live like a man with optimum testosterone levels. Let your body take care of the chemistry.