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Hormone Replacement Therapy Questions
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is a steroid hormone which is made in the testes in males and in the ovaries in women (a minimal amount is also made in the adrenal glands). Testosterone has two major functions in the human body.
Testosterone production is regulated by hormones released from the brain. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland located in the brain produce hormonal signals that ultimately result in the production of testosterone. The hypothalamus is located just above the brain stem, and among its many functions, it produces gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GRH). GRH then travels a short distance to the pituitary gland, which is located in the base of the brain, and stimulates this gland to release FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone). These hormones travel through the bloodstream to activate the sex organs in both men and women. Subsequently, these hormones have a role in regulating testosterone levels in the bloodstream.
The majority of testosterone circulates in the blood bound to a carrier protein (many hormones that are produced in one area and affect another area have a carrier protein that helps their travel through the bloodstream). In this case the carrier protein is called "sex hormone binding globulin," or SHBG. When testosterone is being carried by SHBG, it is considered "bound". Bound testosterone does not play an active role in the body; only the unbound or "free" testosterone is able to enter the different cells of the body and exert its androgenic and anabolic effects. Thus, anything that affects the function or the amount of SHBG can also affect the total circulating amount of active testosterone.t for low testosterone?
What is low testosterone?
The human body functions within a relatively narrow range of normal. When chemicals such as hormones fall outside those normal levels, there can be consequences that affect the body at a cellular, organ, or systemic (body-wide) level.
Blood tests used to measure testosterone are usually performed in the morning. Testosterone sampling is difficult since the levels normally tend to bounce around a fair bit during the course of the day. The normal value for total testosterone in males is 270-1070 ng/dl. However, this depends to some extent on the individual laboratory being used, and the range can vary as a result. In women, there is debate about the accuracy of testosterone measurements, because the circulating values are so much lower than in males and are harder to accurately measure.
With advancing age, in both men and women, the amount of testosterone the body produces gradually falls. Free testosterone levels can be measured and normal levels depend upon an individual's age. Interestingly, menopause itself does not seem to play a role in a reduction of testosterone levels in women beyond that of advancing age.
What are the causes of low testosterone?
Low testosterone levels may be caused by a number of factors. For example ? there may be a problem at the level of the hypothalamus or pituitary to produce appropriate amounts of LH and FSH to stimulate testosterone production. Another possibility is that the organs that make testosterone do not function normally or are not able to respond to stimulation by the brain. Also, as mentioned, changes in SHBG can account for the amount of testosterone that is available to exert its effects.
Some common causes of primary hypogonadism or failure of the gonads (the medical term for the sex organs, or testes and ovaries) may include the following:
It should be noted that obesity also can be a cause of low testosterone. While it can be associated with other causes, obesity specifically enhances the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. This is a naturally occurring process in both men and women, and this conversion occurs predominantly in fat cells. In the case of obesity, the large amount of fat cells enhances this process, and testosterone levels may fall due to excessive conversion to estrogen.
There are rarer causes of hypogonadism that can occur, dealing with cellular mechanisms and receptor binding. These are beyond the scope of this discussion.
What are the complications of low testosterone?
Complications of low testosterone levels depend upon when in life the situation occurs. Low testosterone levels in infants can lead to poor development of sexual organs. Near puberty, it can lead to failure of development of secondary sexual characteristics. In adulthood, osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, and decreased sexual function including erectile dysfunction and decreased libido may occur.
How is low testosterone diagnosed?
Many of the symptoms that lead to the diagnosis of low testosterone are nonspecific, and the health care practitioner may want to take a history of symptoms and perform a physical examination prior to ordering blood tests to assess for low testosterone levels in the body.
The diagnosis also depends upon at what age the concern occurs. Many times the diagnosis in the pediatric age group occurs because of the ability of the parent and health care practitioner to observe abnormalities in physical development that may occur.
If the diagnosis of low testosterone or hypogonadism is considered, blood tests to measure testosterone levels may be ordered. The level of testosterone varies depending upon the time of day, and most often, early morning testosterone levels are measured.
Based upon the clinical situation, further tests may be considered to determine whether the low testosterone is due to primary or secondary hypogonadism.
03/23/2011, AndroSmart.com featuring NeoGraft.
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