Hormone imbalance is a common cause of low libido. Fortunately, a diminished sex drive caused by low testosterone levels can easily be treated.
What Testosterone Is, and How It Works
Testosterone is often considered to be the defining male sex hormone. Although women also produce testosterone, normal levels of testosterone in men can be up to 70 times greater than women’s normal levels. This hormone has a wide variety of effects. As levels of this hormone change, your libido, physical health, mental health, energy levels, aggression, personality, cognition and even language can fluctuate.
Both men and women produce small amounts of testosterone in the adrenal glands, which are located on top of the kidneys. Women additionally produce small amounts of it in the ovaries, while in men it’s produced in large amounts by the testicles. The pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain, controls testosterone production. It does so by producing the luteinizing hormone, which in turn tells the testicles to produce more testosterone.
Testosterone’s many effects begin even before birth. The levels of testosterone that a fetus is exposed to while in the womb affect the way different brain regions develop in relation to one another, causing differences between men and women when it comes to things like spatial tasks and language ability.
Testosterone levels increase drastically when puberty starts. This is what causes teenage boys to get acne, deeper voices, facial hair and a sex drive. After puberty, testosterone levels stay mostly the same until after age 40, when they may start to gradually decline. Throughout a man’s life, testosterone remains responsible for things like libido, aggression, red blood cell production, muscle mass, body fat and bone density.
Testosterone levels vary throughout a man’s life. In fact, levels fluctuate throughout the day, usually being higher in the morning and lower in the evening. However, dramatic fluctuations that don’t resolve by themselves can cause undesirable health effects.
Abnormally high testosterone levels are commonly caused by hyperthyroidism, anabolic steroids and adrenal tumors. Too-high testosterone levels can increase the prevalence of risk-taking behavior, aggression, heart disease, sleep apnea, acne and prostate cysts.
However, high testosterone is actually rarer than low testosterone, or “low-T.” One of the biggest side effects of low-T is a lack of desire for sex. A low testosterone sex drive is actually fairly common among men. A large study found that about 11 percent of men reported having a low sex drive, and 28 percent of men with low testosterone had a low libido. Lack of testosterone can even contribute to erectile dysfunction, worsening a man’s sex life further. Low testosterone levels have a variety of causes, including:
- Klinefelter syndrome, a congenital condition in which a man has an extra X chromosome
- injuries, especially to the testicles
- hemochromatosis, or abnormally high blood iron levels
When left untreated, abnormally low testosterone levels can cause fatigue, depression, infertility, physical weakness and osteoporosis in addition to the low sex drive commonly seen. If a man’s testosterone levels are low enough to cause obvious symptoms, the imbalance should be treated in order to prevent further complications.
How to Improve a Low Testosterone Sex Drive
Living a healthy, balanced lifestyle goes a long way for many issues. If you suffer from low libido, you may need to make lifestyle changes. These may include reducing stress, eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and exercising regularly. Managing psychological issues such as anxiety and depression is also important, as mental health can affect libido greatly.
However, if you think your sex drive may be a low testosterone sex drive, you should talk to your doctor. Blood tests can determine whether your blood testosterone levels are abnormally low. If this is the case, your doctor may prescribe treatments such as testosterone gel or testosterone patches.
In addition to getting great nutrition through diet, many men suffering from a low testosterone sex drive can benefit from dietary supplements. Some plants famous for boosting libido include maca, ginseng and fenugreek.