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Is there a link between low testosterone levels and depression?

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People across the world are starting to understand mental illness. For many years people refused to acknowledge mental problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and tried to avoid diagnosis by professionals and treatments. But today, more people are starting to understand the real problem of mental ailments and take the necessary treatments for the same.

Depression is among the most common mental ailments faced by many throughout the world. There are various treatments available, varying from counseling to medications in case of severe depression. But, there has been no solid evidence to prove what could be causing this chemical imbalance in the body. In men, though not completely understood, depression could be the effect of low testosterone levels in the body.  Here we will understand what the reason behind linking these two could be.


What is testosterone?

Testosterone is a natural hormone produced in the human body. Commonly thought of as a male hormone, testosterone is naturally produced in both men and women. But in the case of men, the quantity is 20 times more than that of women. This hormone is the main sexual development chemical in males and plays a huge role in both primary reproductive development as well as secondary sexual characteristics like beard or body hair, muscle mass, deep voice. The level of testosterone has various effects on the human body and is directly related to our health. It affects not just your sex drive but also muscle mass, bone density, body fat distribution, muscle strength. Low testosterone levels could cause various health problems in both males and females.

What causes a drop in testosterone levels?

drop in testosterone levels
drop in testosterone levels

About 30 percent of men above the age of 55 suffer from low testosterone levels. The condition with low testosterone in the body is known as Hypogonadism. Various reasons could cause primary Hypogonadism. These include injury to the testicles, cancer radiation treatments, improper iron content in the body, mumps. But low testosterone in many people across the world is only secondary Hypogonadism. This condition is primarily due to bad lifestyle choices such as smoking, obesity, unhealthy food habits, the use of opioid medications, aging, tuberculosis, diabetes, blood pressure. In women, testosterone levels tend to drop during pre or post-menopausal stages.

How to identify low testosterone in the body?

Low levels of testosterone could affect physical and mental health in many ways — one of the major giveaways about low testosterone levels in low sexual function. Low testosterone causes a huge drop in sex drive and problems in getting or maintaining erections. This is also related to low sperm count and infertility. Men also face problems such as a reduction in testicular size and content.  There are various other symptoms associated with this condition too. Hair loss, low muscle or bone mass, difficulty sleeping, low energy in the body, mood swings are a few symptoms to look out for.

Can low testosterone trigger depression?

low testosterone trigger depression
low testosterone trigger depression

The majority of the adult population suffers from depression. Various treatment options are arising for countering this problem. Yet linking it to what could be causing it has still been a difficult task. One of the most important questions that scientists have been trying to offer an answer to is if there is a correlation between low testosterone level and depression. Fluctuating levels of hormones in the body can be responsible for mood swings. Many studies have shown improvement in mood, especially in older men following testosterone treatments.  Similar results were conclusive from the rodents model of depression, where testosterone therapy helped boost the production of serotonin or the happy chemical in the body. This helped in mood elevation in these cases. So does that mean there is a link between the two?

A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry involved 278 men whose medical records over two years were put to use. The men were of age 45 and above and had no diagnosis of depression before the period of study. During the two years of study, men suffering from low testosterone levels were four times more likely to suffer from clinical depression.  This study supports the link between testosterone levels and depression.

But the relationship between testosterone and depression is rather confusing. Both these problems have a lot of common symptoms. Some of these symptoms are irritability, low sex drive, mood swings, fatigue. A possible explanation to understand the same could be that many symptoms of low testosterone such as low sex drive and irritability could negatively affect the person’s mental health, causing depression. Testosterone, as we learned from the rodent study, influences the levels of serotonin in the body and hence, mood swings and other symptoms of depression could be related. And with age, our body’s ability to absorb serotonin also falls low, which could combine with the low testosterone levels and affect the individuals.

One of the largest studies conducted to understand the relationship is available in the JAMA Psychiatry journal. A total of 1890 participants were part of the study. The subjects, exposed to a mixture of different dosages of testosterone, were a part of 27 placebo-controlled studies. The observation from the same suggested that higher doses of testosterone could, act like antidepressants in the body.  Benefits, including reduced mood swings, were visible from the very beginning of the study within a few weeks.

Although the study gave a piece of conclusive evidence to link the use of testosterone therapy for treating depression, the side note includes that the same may not be effective in all cases. More clinical trials will be necessary to understand if testosterone therapy could help the male population cope with depression.

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