Testosterone replacement therapy offers an opportunity to balance hormones and get your body back to homeostasis. Testosterone replacement therapy has several benefits and some side effects that are important to be aware of.
Keep reading to learn more about what testosterone therapy is, who can use it, the main benefits, and the most common side effects.
What Is Testosterone Therapy?
Testosterone hormone replacement therapy or testosterone therapy involves taking a medication that mimics the structure of natural testosterone — it’s usually administered as a testoterone injection, but testosterone therapy can also be administered as implants or pellets, patches, or gels.
Testosterone therapy can help to replace low levels of testosterone in the body. The goal is to restore the natural testosterone levels, and in the process, you may notice a decrease in the symptoms that are associated with low testosterone.
There is also a comprehensive approach to testosterone that uses additional medications to reduce side effects and support the body in producing its own testosterone as well. Some of the comprehensive medications that are used are human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) and estrogen blockers, such as aromatase inhibitors.
The combination of medications and dosages will vary from person to person, so always follow the guidance and testosterone prescriptions given by your healthcare provider.
Who Can Use Testosterone Therapy?
Testosterone therapy may have a reputation for being used as a performance-enhancing drug. Steroids are indeed testosterone medications, but this is not the same way that hormone replacement therapy is or should be used.
Testosterone therapy should only be used by people with a true testosterone deficiency. The way this is determined is by having lab testing done such as a blood or urine test.
By drawing these labs, the sample can be analyzed and the level of testosterone that your body is making can be assessed.
If it is determined that you have lower testosterone than the normal range of testosterone, testosterone replacement therapy may be an option for you. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved testosterone therapy specifically for low testosterone levels due to male hypogonadism, although it is often used for men with low testosterone due to aging or problems in the hypothalamus, testicles, or pituitary gland.
Another part of the assessment process is a standard physical exam. This will be used to understand the symptoms you may be experiencing and make a treatment plan accordingly. An androgen deficiency questionnaire can also be used to aid hypogonadism diagnosis.
What Are the Main Benefits of Testosterone Therapy?
For people with testosterone deficiency, there are certain benefits that are likely to come along with testosterone therapy.
When testosterone levels are low, you may feel out of sorts. You may notice that you have less muscle tone or even have a difficult time thinking clearly.
When testosterone levels are returned to normal, you may experience an improved quality of life. Some of the benefits of testosterone replacement therapy include supporting mental clarity, sexual function and libido, energy levels, blood sugar balance, and muscle growth.
Having mental clarity is something that many of us take for granted. It is sort of like when you have a stuffy nose you think of all of the time you took breathing clearly for granted.
When your mental state feels cloudy or you feel like you have brain fog, it can feel difficult just to get through the day. You may have difficulty remembering simple things, or you might simply feel out of whack. This is what can happen when testosterone levels diminish.
However, testosterone therapy may help to bring mental clarity back into your life. You may be able to think clearer and have a more positive outlook regularly.
Sexual functioning is a broad term to describe one aspect of the sexual experience that is not working well. This could mean your sex drive is low or you are having trouble conceiving because of infertility issues.
Testosterone is the main male sex hormone, so low free or total testosterone levels can have a big impact on the reproductive system.
Testosterone is a key player in sex drive and arousal, so when levels drop, you may feel less interested in having sex, getting an erection, or maintaining an erection.
The hormone is also is important for sperm production. When testosterone is not present in high enough amounts, sperm production may decrease, making it more difficult to conceive a child.
Luckily when your testosterone levels get back to normal, you may get your sex drive back and improve your long-term sexual health as well.
Your energy level throughout the day can be dependent on many things, including how much sleep you got, the vitamins that you have taken, your food intake, and even your hormone levels.
Testosterone can play a role in balancing your energy throughout the day. A large benefit of testosterone replacement therapy is supporting your energy levels to make it easier and more enjoyable day-to-day. When your energy levels are where they should be, everything just feels a lot easier to do.
Having depleted energy stores is something that many people just get used to, but the truth is you don’t have to settle.
You may not have considered that testosterone levels have anything to do with the way your body balances blood sugar, but testosterone does play a role in the way the body uses and balances blood sugar in the body.
There is an association between levels of testosterone and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when the cells become less sensitive to the hormone insulin, which is responsible for moving the sugars from the blood into the cells for energy.
When the levels of testosterone are low there is an association with increased insulin resistance, and the opposite effect when the testosterone levels are higher. Insulin resistance over time may lead to complications such as consistently high blood sugar.
Testosterone replacement therapy may help to balance insulin resistance and therefore support healthy blood sugar levels.
Support Muscle Growth
It is probably no surprise that one of the benefits of testosterone therapy is its ability to support muscle growth.
Testosterone works to support the building up of muscle fibers, so when levels decrease, you may notice less muscle mass or even less strength.
Testosterone replacement therapy may help to boost muscle mass and strength, however, you will have to put some work in too if you want to see clear results. It is important to note again that while this may be a benefit, it should never be the main reason that you take testosterone replacement therapy.
What Are Some of the Side Effects of Testosterone Therapy?
Testosterone therapy does have many benefits, but there are some side effects as well. The side effects of testosterone will be different for each person, but some are more common than others. Testicular atrophy, injection site reactions, gynecomastia, and skin changes are just some of the side effects that may occur with testosterone therapy.
Testicular atrophy is a side effect that commonly gets talked about with TRT. Testicular atrophy is when the testicles begin to shrink because of lack of use. The reason this happens sometimes with testosterone therapy is since you are taking in synthetic testosterone, the body is not signaled to make as much of its endogenous testosterone. Since the testes are not being used as much for testosterone production, they may begin to shrink over time.
Luckily, some things can be done to prevent this and even potentially reverse some of the atrophy as well. When doing a comprehensive approach to testosterone therapy, the concurrent use of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) may help to prevent this from occurring.
This works by stimulating the body to continue releasing its own testosterone so the testicles are still working and less likely to atrophy.
Gynecomastia is a side effect of testosterone replacement that can occur. Gynecomastia is the growth of breast tissue in men and is sometimes called man boobs. It can occur because of the process of aromatization, which is when testosterone is turned into estrogen, the primary female sex hormone.
Because testosterone replacement therapy is significantly increasing the amount of testosterone in the body it increases the amount that is aromatized and can end up leading to a high amount of estrogen. Estrogen can result in the growth of the breast tissue and tenderness in the breasts.
Again, with gynecomastia, some things can be done with comprehensive therapy to prevent this side effect. Using aromatase inhibitors can help to block the process of aromatization and increase levels of free testosterone to prevent side effects like gynecomastia.
In some cases, testosterone therapy may raise hematocrit levels, which measures the ratio of red blood cells to total volume of blood (i.e. the thickness of blood).
This higher thickness causes an increased risk of blood clots or increased risk of heart attack.
Speak with your doctor before beginning testosterone replacement therapy to see if TRT is right for you.
Testosterone replacement therapy has many benefits and a few side effects. TRT should be used for people with testosterone deficiency under the care of a licensed health care provider.