What Does Testosterone Do?

Testosterone, the "male hormone," is often misunderstood. While it is associated with men and masculine behavior, it fills a far more specific role in the body. Understanding testosterone and how it works will help both men and women take control over their hormonal health.

What is Testosterone?

Testosterone is produced in the ovaries in women, the testes in men, and the adrenal glands in both genders. It is an androgen, or a hormone that stimulates the development of male characteristics. While men have it in higher amounts, men and women have testosterone to some extent.

What Testosterone Does

Testosterone is the hormone that initiates the internal and external development of a male fetus, including the reproductive organs. It plays an important role during male puberty, sparking growth spurts, hair growth and genital changes. It can also cause aggressive and sexual behavior in men.

For men and women, testosterone signals the body to make new blood cells, so the muscles and bones stay strong during and after puberty. It enhances libido for both genders. Testosterone regulates the secretion of the luteinising hormone and the follicle-stimulating hormone in both genders.

What Problems Are Associated with Low Levels of Testosterone?

Low levels of testosterone in children can cause problems during puberty, such as a failure to grow pubic hair or experience a growth spurt during puberty. Boys with too little testosterone may notice disproportionate growth, with arms and legs growing out of proportion with the rest of the body, and decreased strength and endurance.

Once a man reaches adulthood, low testosterone levels may cause a loss of body hair and a wrinkling of the skin. It can cause increased body fat, poor sexual performance and mood disturbances.

Problems Connected to Too Much Testosterone

Men rarely have physical struggles if they have too much testosterone, naturally. Anabolic steroids can lead to high levels of artificial testosterone, and this can cause a decreased sex drive, shrinking of the testes, infertility and breast growth. It can also cause behavioral changes, like increased irritability.

High testosterone levels in women can trigger increased acne, body and facial hair, increased muscle bulk, voice deepening and balding. It can also indicate polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that could affect fertility.

Early puberty or a false growth spurt can occur in boys who have high testosterone levels. Girls who have high testosterone may experience changes in their genitals. Too much testosterone can cause precocious puberty, or an extremely early onslaught of puberty, or infertility later in life, in both boys and girls.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Testosterone

If you are concerned that you may be suffering from high or low testosterone levels, or are concerned for your child, consider asking your doctor these questions:

  • Could my testosterone levels be out of balance?
  • What are my testosterone levels? Are they normal for my age and gender?
  • Are testosterone levels causing my health concerns?
  • How can I balance my testosterone levels?
  • What are the dangers when taking anabolic steroid supplements?