To explore if there is a link between testosterone and depression, it is important to answer the question of what is testosterone and its functions in the body. Testosterone is often referred to as the male hormone mainly because it is produced by men in the testes.
The hormone is also produced by women in the ovaries but only at low levels. It is produced in much higher levels in men. It is responsible for the distinctly male features and characteristics like a deep voice and hair on the chest and face. It is also the hormone that maintains a healthy libido, good energy levels, and building muscle mass in men.
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Symptoms of High Testosterone
Testosterone levels are measured by blood tests. Normal levels of the hormone range between 270 and 1,070 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). The average level is 679 ng/dL. Approximately 40 percent of men aged above 45 years will have levels that are lower than the ideal.
It is infrequent that men experience problems related to high testosterone levels. When it does occur, it is in middle-aged and elderly men who aren’t receiving testosterone or other steroid treatments. When the levels are just a little higher than average, there is the benefit of normalizing blood pressure. It also reduces the likelihood of obesity and heart attacks.
High testosterone levels are also associated with men being more likely to:
- Alcoholic drinks
- Participating in risky behaviors including sexual and physical such as overexercising
Symptoms of Low Testosterone
Problems with low testosterone are more common. Typically, testosterone levels peak at the age of 20 years before it starts declining gradually with age. The decline is estimated to be about one percent per year from the age of 30 years and older. Typically, this decline is gradual and hardly noticeable. However, when the decline is steep, it may cause noticeable symptoms. This is medically known as hypogonadism or andropause. Less formally, it is referred to as male menopause or low-T.
It presents with the symptoms of:
- Reduced physical energy, strength, and stamina
- Reduced mental aggressiveness
- Increased joint aches and pains
- Increased vulnerability to osteoporosis or brittle bones
- Weight gain
- Reduced libido and erections
- Increased vulnerability to depression
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Is It Low T or Is It Depression?
One problem with differentiating between depression and low T is that the two present with similar symptoms. Another challenge is that depression may or not be linked to low T. This is true for men and it is also true regarding low T and women.
Symptoms of Depression
- Reduced interest in activities that were previously enjoyed frequently
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Reduced appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
- A persistent and feeling of sadness or hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
Testosterone Booster and Depression
Studies have shown that just like cases of high testosterone are rare, cases of high testosterone and depression are also rare. It has also been established that older men are at risk of depression due to low testosterone more than other reasons. To this end, men found to have low testosterone levels are treated with testosterone replacement instead of or in addition to antidepressants.
Testosterone replacement and depression treatment are effective. Testosterone is a neuroactive steroid which means it influences mood. In animal studies, testosterone therapy worked to increase serotonin. Other studies have shown that older men with reduced levels of testosterone also benefit from testosterone therapy.
Regarding testosterone cypionate and depression, it has been found that it has been successful to alleviate symptoms of depression in some men. Testosterone cypionate is injected into the muscles. It is available under the brand name depo-testosterone. A generic version is also available. It can be self-administered at home under the supervision of a doctor.
However, other studies found that low levels of testosterone and depression were not related. The conclusion was made that the cause of depression in these participants was not low testosterone levels.
Testosterone Therapy for Depression in Women
The findings of a study published in the NEJM Journal Watch indicate that testosterone therapy is not effective for women. It was found that adjunctive testosterone patches did not do better in middle-aged women who had medication-resistant depression than placebos.
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The Way Forward with Testosterone Therapy for Depression
Following the findings that testosterone therapy worked for some and not others, more research continues to be done into it. As this is being done, therapists are taking the use of the therapy on a case-by-case basis. Hopefully, research will lead to the discovery of which depression patients would benefit from testosterone therapy and which ones would not. It is also hoped that research will lead to the discovery of more effective forms of testosterone therapy than testosterone cypionate.