What is Hypogonadism?
Hypogonadism occurs when your sex glands produce little or no sex hormones. The sex glands, also called gonads, are primarily the testes in men and the ovaries in women. Sex hormones help control secondary sex characteristics, such as breast development in women, testicular development in men, and pubic hair growth. Sex hormones also play a role in the menstrual cycle and sperm production.
Hypogonadism may also be known as gonad deficiency. It may be called low serum testosterone or andropause when it happens in males.
Primary hypogonadism means that you don’t have enough sex hormones in your body due to a problem in your gonads. Your gonads are still receiving the message to produce hormones from your brain, but they aren’t able to produce them.
Low testosterone (low T) affects 4 to 5 million men in the US.
What Causes Low Testosterone?
On the one hand, increased diagnosis of low testosterone is driven by an aging population, less stigma, and more precise tests.
Underactive testes cause primary hypogonadism. That’s because they don’t manufacture sufficient levels of testosterone for optimal growth and health. This underactivity can be caused by an inherited trait. It can also be acquired by accident or illness.
Inherited conditions include:
- Undescended testicles: When the testicles fail to descend from the abdomen before birth
- Klinefelter’s syndrome: A condition in which a man is born with three sex chromosomes: X, X, and Y.
- Hemochromatosis: Too much iron in the blood causes testicular failure or pituitary damage
Types of testicle damage that can lead to primary hypogonadism include:
- Physical injury to the testicles: Injury must occur to both testicles to affect testosterone levels.
- Mumps orchitis: A mumps infection can injure testicles.
- Cancer treatment: Chemotherapy or radiation can damage testicles.
Secondary hypogonadism is caused by damage to the pituitary gland or hypothalamus. These parts of the brain control hormone production by the testes.
Inherited or disease conditions in this category include:
- Pituitary disorders caused by drugs, kidney failure, or small tumors
- Kallmann syndrome, a condition connected to abnormal hypothalamus function
- Inflammatory diseases, such as tuberculosis, sarcoidosis, and histiocytosis, which can impact the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus
- HIV/AIDS, which can affect the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and testes
Acquired circumstances that can lead to secondary hypogonadism include:
- Normal aging: Aging affects production and response to hormones.
- Obesity: High body fat can affect hormone production and response.
- Medications: Opioid pain meds and steroids can affect function of the pituitary gland and hypothalamus.
- Concurrent illness: Severe emotional stress or physical stress from an illness or surgery can cause the reproductive system to temporarily shut down.
Symptoms of Low Testosterone Levels
Symptoms of abnormally low testosterone can be bothersome. Some symptoms can have an impact on your quality of life. These symptoms can include:
- decreased body hair
- decreased muscle mass
- low sex drive
- erectile dysfunction
- growth of breast tissue
Treatments for Low Testosterone
There may be certain lifestyle changes to help increase testosterone levels. Adding resistance exercise and losing weight are two changes that can have an effect.
Some foods may play a role in helping your body moderate your testosterone levels. Making sure you get enough foods that are rich in zinc and vitamin D may help to keep your testosterone at a normal level. Here are eight testosterone-boosting foods that could help you get the vitamins and minerals you need to keep your testosterone levels healthy.
Garlic has also been credited for increased testosterone levels. Results of one study in rats fed diets that were supplemented with garlic or a compound found in garlic noted an increase in testosterone levels in the testicles.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy
Testosterone replacement therapy is used to help treat people with abnormally low levels of testosterone. These abnormally low levels usually affect normal body functions, which can contribute to decreased muscle mass and a lower sex drive, among other effects.
For this treatment, testosterone medication is prescribed. This medication is testosterone in pills, patches, and gel that you apply to your skin, and liquid that you inject into your body. It helps to increase your body’s overall testosterone level and eliminate or decrease certain symptoms of low testosterone.