More men suffer from low testosterone levels than from high testosterone levels. Because of this, testing for high testosterone is rare. You may have heard horror stories of men with excess testosterone becoming Hulk-like beasts. As you’re about to see, this is a myth. While excess testosterone can have adverse side effects, the condition is easily treated.
What Causes High Testosterone Levels?
Testosterone levels peak when a man is in his late teens and early 20s, and begin to naturally decline when a man is in his 30s. They continue to decline as a man ages, typically around 2% or less per year. Usually, this age-related decline is nothing to worry about and many men continue to have healthy, active sex lives well into their senior years.
Some men develop low testosterone levels (hypogonadism) which can lead to a decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, depression, weight gain, lack of concentration, low energy, mental fogginess, and osteoporosis. Many men are seeking medical advice for erectile dysfunction and low libido, and an increasing number are being directed toward testosterone replacement therapy or taking testosterone boosting supplements like the ones we review here.
It’s ironic that the leading cause of high testosterone levels is actually testosterone replacement therapy.
Whether testosterone levels are too low or too high, it’s essential to rule out underlying conditions that contribute to unhealthy testosterone levels.
In the case of middle-aged men, aside from injury or adverse effects of medical conditions that contribute to high testosterone levels include hyperthyroidism, adrenal or testicular tumors. These conditions are relatively rare.
What High Testosterone Does NOT Do
Excess testosterone has a bad reputation. Many claim it is the reason some men behave badly. Aggressive sexuality, extreme competitiveness, being power-hungry and volatile – they sound like they would be due to excess testosterone. However, Dr. Andjela Drincic, an endocrinologist at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and associate professor in internal medicine at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, doubts it: “I don’t know of any studies that link specific male behavior to excess testosterone.”
The culprit in bad behavior among men could actually be anabolic steroids.
“Many people mistake the symptoms of anabolic steroid abuse with symptoms of high testosterone,” says Drincic. Anabolic steroids have a reputation for being abused by competitive athletes and bodybuilders, are essentially synthetic testosterone. It is well known that anabolic steroids cause behavior and mood changes. These can include irritability, uncontrolled rage, paranoia, and poor judgment.
Drincic explains, “These drugs shut down the production of natural testosterone. You can tell these men by their big muscles and tiny testicles.”
What High Testosterone Does
Testosterone levels in the high range of normal (up to 800 ng/dL) are associated with confidence, strength, energy, mood, concentration, ambition, and a strong sex drive. High testosterone can help you be more resistant to stress, and develop better body composition (more muscle, less fat).
Testosterone levels higher than 1000 ng/dL are considered above the normal range. Symptoms of excess testosterone can include:
- Reduced fertility
- Acne and oily skin (primarily on the shoulders and back)
- Testicle shrinkage
- Hair loss
- Enlarged prostate
In 2010, a University of California San Francisco study of 65+ year old men found that the higher a man’s testosterone levels, the higher his risk of heart disease. However, the EPIC-Norfolk study in Europe concluded that low testosterone may be a marker for men at high risk of cardiovascular disease. Given the inconclusive nature of these conflicting studies, it’s vital to look at other health conditions such as obesity as potential contributors to heart disease.
Treatment for Excess Testosterone
Since the medical conditions that can cause excess testosterone are relatively rare and the most common cause is testosterone replacement therapy, the best way to lower testosterone levels to within the normal range is to decrease the testosterone replacement therapy so that testosterone levels don’t elevate outside the normal range. This should be done on the advice of a doctor who can monitor testosterone levels and take corrective measures as needed.
Dr. Drincic believes that because of the increased attention being given to low testosterone, some men are being over-treated with the result being excess testosterone.
Common side effects seen with testosterone replacement include:
- Acne or oily skin
- Prostate swelling
- Breast enlargement
- Worsening of sleep apnea (trouble breathing while sleeping)
- Fluid retention
- Decreased testicle size
- Decrease in sperm count
- Increase in red blood cells
Symptoms like decreased testicle size and breast enlargement are due to the fact that excess testosterone is converted into the female hormone estrogen, which enhances the “female” attributes of the body (breasts) and diminishes the “male” attributes of the body (testicles).
Barring the conditions that can lead to excess testosterone, the simplest way to prevent excess testosterone levels is to avoid testosterone replacement therapy unless it’s truly necessary. Low testosterone can often be mitigated through lifestyle changes. These include increased exercise (particularly high-intensity exercise), a healthier diet, vitamin D supplementation, and stress relief.
While high testosterone levels are not typically considered dangerous per se, the body’s hormonal system is a delicate balance. Tipping the scale too far in any direction can cause long-term problems. Supporting this balance through excellent self-care is essential, whether you are undergoing hormone replacement therapy or not.
Related, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. If you are suffering from low testosterone, it may be time to combatting that with a supplement. Here are our two favorite testosterone boosters to get the most bang for your buck: