A Guide to Understanding Testosterone Levels by Age

A comprehensive guide to understanding the natural changes in testosterone levels among men as you age. Learn how testosterone levels decrease, when testosterone levels can be considered “too low,” the symptoms associated with low testosterone, and how you can test your testosterone levels at home.

A Guide to Understanding Testosterone Levels by Age
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Testosterone is a hot topic among men. The male sex hormone plays a number of important roles in men’s health and well-being, and it has multiple, complicated effects on the male body — for instance, on sex drive and erectile function, on how the body stores fat, and on muscle and bone mass.  Testosterone production peaks in ones late teens, around age 18 or 19 in most men. From around age 40, levels usually start to decline at an average rate of 1% to 2% per year. Although this decline may seem slow, by age 70, a man’s testosterone level will have decreased to 30% below its peak. Age, genetics, and lifestyle choices all contribute to testosterone levels, and tracking testosterone levels can help identify areas where lifestyle changes can be made to improve overall health.

What is the role of testosterone?

Testosterone is a hormone carried by the bloodstream, and it affects almost every part of the body as it circulates through the organs. In most males, it’s created in the testes and adrenal glands, and it’s released in two major surges. The first happens when a fetus is around seven weeks old: this surge helps the penis and testes to develop. The second happens during puberty: this second testosterone surge spurs muscle and bone growth; development of the genitals; thickening of the vocal folds, which leads to a deeper voice; body hair growth; and the beginning of sperm production.

Testosterone plays a major role in:

  • Regulating sex drive
  • Regulating sperm production
  • The production of red blood cells
  • Maintaining muscle mass and bone strength
  • Fat distribution
  • Regulating mood and memory
Because testosterone plays a role in many bodily processes, it’s crucial for men’s health. Levels that are too low (or too high) can affect physical and mental well-being in a number of ways.
Low testosterone production is called, in clinical terms, hypogonadism or testosterone deficiency syndrome (TDS). The condition can be triggered by diseases of the hypothalamus, of the pituitary gland — which controls the release of the hormone — or of the testes. Long-term effects of low testosterone levels include depression and anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, brain fog, and excessive sweating.

What causes changes in testosterone levels?

Testosterone levels naturally decrease as men grow older, so age is a primary factor when it comes to lower testosterone production. Most men can expect to see total testosterone levels fall at a steady rate of around 1.6% a year after the age of 40 — this process is sometimes referred to as “male menopause” or “andropause.” This is usually a natural part of the aging process, but sometimes reduced testosterone in older men is linked to pituitary dysfunction, abnormalities in the hypothalamus, or problems with the testicles.
Aside from age, weight also directly influences testosterone production: a 2007 study revealed that for men aged 40 and above, each one-point increase in BMI, testosterone decreased by 2%. This reduction is thought to happen because fat cells metabolize testosterone into estrogen, as well as increased reductions in sex-hormone-binding globulin.
A sedentary lifestyle has also been proved to lower testosterone levels in men, as has stress: a 2016 study showed that students under exam stress saw their testosterone levels fall.

What are normal testosterone levels in men by age?

The amount of testosterone in the blood varies from person to person, day to day, and even hour to hour, making it difficult to benchmark exactly what a normal testosterone level is. When determining what is an average testosterone level for your age, many factors play a role, including the amount of exercise you do, your age, and your BMI, as mentioned above.
As a result, if you’re providing a sample of blood or saliva for testing, certain conditions are usually recommended — for example, the ideal time is the morning, usually between 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m, as testosterone levels change in line with the circadian rhythm, and as a result tend to peak during these times. Men over the age of 45 may not need to take a sample at this time though, as a study found that their levels varied much less during the day than those of younger men, due to the fact that natural diurnal variation in levels diminish with age.
The reference total testosterone range for non-obese adult men is between 240 and 950ng/dl (nanograms per deciliter), but this is a rough guide, and levels outside of this range are not always cause for concern. However, men usually begin to feel the effects of low testosterone when levels fall below 200ng/dl.
While testosterone levels decrease naturally with age, other factors do play a part. For instance, a physically fit 56-year-old is likely to have higher testosterone levels than a sedentary 35-year-old.

Is a testosterone level of 200ng/dL too low?

Although testosterone levels between 200 and 1000ng/dL are in the normal range, a low reading alone isn’t enough to be a cause for concern. If you have symptoms of low testosterone that concern you, it’s recommended that you consult your doctor. Treatment could be beneficial.

What are the signs of low testosterone?

Symptoms of low testosterone may include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Lower sex drive
  • Reduced frequency and maintenance of erections
  • Weight gain
  • Lower bone density
  • Low sperm count
  • Reduced muscle mass and strength
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed feelings

How to test testosterone levels at home?

Previously, you could test your testosterone levels only by visiting your doctor or a specialized clinic . However, products like Vital’s Lab Testing API are empowering companies to make tracking testosterone levels easier and more convenient.

There are two main ways to measure testosterone levels:

  1. Blood test: Testosterone travels through your blood stream either attached to a protein (albumin or sex-hormone-binding globulin) or freely (not attached to a protein, free testosterone). A typical blood test will measure the total amount of testosterone in your blood.
  1. Saliva test: You can also measure levels of free testosterone— that is, testosterone that is not attached to a protein, meaning that that it can circulate freely and enter cells and act on tissues — in saliva. This type of test measures only testosterone not attached to protein, not the total amount of testosterone.

Vital’s Lab Testing product serves both methods across three ways of testing:

  1. At-home test kits: A kit is mailed to your house with instructions on how to provide a few drops of blood or a saliva sample.
  1. At-home phlebotomy: A registered phlebotomist comes to your home to take a blood sample
  1. Visiting a local lab: Walk in to a lab near you to provide a saliva or blood sample.
Providers vary in terms of what they test and how they test. Companies working with Vital are able to put their customer preferences first and offer everything in one place.

What is the best treatment for low testosterone?

Depending on what your testosterone levels are, there are a variety of ways to boost your body’s testosterone production.

Natural interventions

Certain lifestyle changes can naturally increase testosterone levels.
  • Exercise: Strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) have been linked to higher testosterone levels among older men.
  • A diet rich in the right nutrients:  It’s also been found that certain nutrients play a role in boosting testosterone levels. These include zinc, vitamin D, and magnesium. As a result, foods with high levels of these nutrients are thought to help raise testosterone levels — if someone wants to increase testosterone levels, they might consider eating foods like fatty fish such as sardines and salmon, eggs, leafy greens such as spinach and kale, and avocado.
Before making major changes to your diet or activity level, talk to your healthcare provider. Also discuss any new supplements you are considering, as some supplements may interact poorly with certain medications.
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Other interventions

There are a number of therapies that have been shown to boost testosterone levels.
  • Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT): TRT boosts testosterone levels via oral medication, creams or gels, patches, or injections.
  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG): HCG is often used alongside TRT to ensure that the body continues to produce its own testosterone during TRT. HCG instructs the testes to continue to produce testosterone. It’s often used by people who want to maintain fertility during TRT.
  • Clomiphene citrate (Clomid): This medication stimulates the body to increase its testosterone production. Unlike some TRT treatments, it doesn’t involve injections or gels, and it helps the body produce more testosterone by blocking estrogen’s message to the pituitary gland to stop producing it.

Are there risks with medical interventions to raise testosterone levels?

In some cases, high testosterone levels have been linked to side effects including changes in mood, increased aggression and irritation, increases in muscle mass and body fat, and even potential cardiac problems including an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.
Testosterone therapies in the forms of testosterone supplements, gels and injections are relatively new, so possible long-term complications therapies are still unknown. If you’re concerned about low testosterone levels, discuss the benefits and potential risks of treatment with your physician or healthcare provider.

How often should you test testosterone levels?

Traditional medicine advises testing your testosterone levels only if you’re experiencing adverse symptoms; however, to better understand your baseline levels (particularly during your 20s), getting an annual test is helpful.
Frequency of testing also depends on whether a patient is being treated for low testosterone, and the type of treatment they are receiving. For example, TRT requires more frequent testing: testing typically starts at every three months, and then once testosterone reaches a healthier range, testing is reduced to every six months.

The importance of lab testing in maintaining healthy testosterone levels

There’s no escaping that for adult men testosterone levels begin to decline from around age 40. Although lower testosterone levels may come with a lot of unpleasant symptoms, they can be alleviated with proper treatment. If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms described in this article, testing your levels will help you determine next steps.
Lab testing is a convenient and straightforward way to measure and track testosterone levels from the comfort of your home or at a walk-in clinic.
Vital’s Lab Testing Platform is designed to automate and orchestrate all the complexity of lab testing. Companies focused on men’s health use the platform to test and diagnose low testosterone and offer bespoke treatment plans to help combat the issue.
Medically reviewed by: Naiara Dussan BSN, RN

Written by

Simba Deu
Simba Deu

Growth @Vital

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