Because cardiac disease is one of the primary causes of mortality in the U.S. understanding and preventing it is critical to our longevity. February marks Heart Health Month, which provides an opportunity to look at several aspects of what keeps one’s heart healthy.
One important element of maintaining a healthy heart is regulating testosterone levels. This hormone is the primary androgen produced in the testes. It is produced by women as well but not to the same degree. Although it is necessary for men and women, gender-specific qualities of this hormone are suggestive of the greater occurrence of cardiac disease in males. Many studies have found that with reduced testosterone levels, men experience an increase in heart-related disease and all-cause mortality. In addition to heart disease prevention there are other benefits provided by testosterone.
Testosterone and Its Benefits
Although many associate testosterone with virility, likely because it is produced in the sex organs (the testes and ovaries) as well as the adrenals, this hormone is responsible for many important bodily functions. When properly balanced in the body, testosterone promotes:
- Muscle growth and mass
- Fat burning
- Sex drive/libido
- Better sense of well-being
Perhaps most important of all, testosterone is associated with reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiac events such as stroke and heart attacks. It is important to keep one’s levels within appropriate ranges to avoid a testosterone deficit.
Deficiency may be more prevalent than some would think. At about age 30, testosterone levels begin to decline continuously unless preventative action is taken. Unfortunately, studies conducted in the U.S. found that testosterone levels in males have dropped by 15-20% over the past 15 years. Interestingly, this appears to be a global phenomenon as studies conducted in Scandinavia have produced similar results. Young men in the region have shown roughly a 20% decrease in testosterone levels. The degree of deficiency varies depending on the study population but some groups, specifically those with type 2 diabetes, can have rates of deficiency as high as 40%. There are a number of possible reasons why this occurs.
A decrease in overall testosterone may be due in part to environmental factors such as pesticides, BPA plastics, pollutants, and personal care products that contain phthalates which inhibit hormone production; including testosterone. Furthermore, stress, poor sleep quality and duration, poor diet, and the natural decline in hormone production as one ages all contribute to testosterone deficiency. Because of these side-effects of life, many men experience some degree of testosterone deficiency during their lifetime. By age 70, most men have testosterone levels resting about 75% lower than the recommended level. This information is disconcerting as testosterone deficiencies have been linked to increased risk of cardiac disease.
Another factor that may lead to testosterone imbalance is an increase in aromatase. Excessive amounts of this enzyme can lead to over-conversion of testosterone into estrogen. An improper estrogen to testosterone ratio can leave one deficient and lead to symptoms of low androgen. Symptoms of low androgens share similarities with testosterone deficiency and include:
- Decreased Sex Drive
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Difficulty Urinating
- Poor Concentration and Memory
- Weight Gain and/or Breast Enlargement
- Increased Sweating
- High Blood Sugar and Insulin
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
At Risk for Heart Disease?
Reduced levels of testosterone can bring a bevy of bothersome symptoms. Recognizing the signs of deficiency can lead one to pursue proper treatment. According to the European Male Aging Study (EMAS) there are three primary symptoms associated with low testosterone levels: erectile dysfunction, reduced sex drive, and loss of morning erections. Other common symptoms that men may experience with reduced testosterone include:
- Hair Loss
- Muscle Weakness
- Inhibited Sexual Performance
- Insulin Resistance
- Visceral Adiposity
- Weight Gain
- Reduced Bone Density
- Sleep Disorders
At risk persons for testosterone deficiency should regularly have their levels tested. Those at increased risk include any who fit the following categories or have any of the following conditions:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Chronic or Severe Lung Disease
- Have a History of Infertility
- Take Steroids, Opiates, or Anticonvulsants
- Abuse Alcohol
- Are Elderly
If anyone finds themselves experiencing the previous symptoms or identifies as being part of one of the groups listed above, it is important for them to regularly have their testosterone levels checked. They may be at greater risk for a serious heart condition.
Testosterone and the Heart
A study conducted by the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute showed that testosterone therapy aids in reducing the risk of severe cardiac episodes including stroke, heart attacks, and even death, in elderly men with reduced testosterone levels. Participants (men between the age of 58 to 78 who all had serious coronary artery disease) that did not receive follow-up treatments of testosterone were 80% more likely to experience a cardiac event.
Another study populated with those who had type 2 diabetes showed promising data supporting testosterone supplementation for increasing longevity. The study was divided into three separate groups. Those with normal testosterone levels had a mortality rate of 9.1%. those with low testosterone levels had a mortality rate of 20%. But, those with low testosterone levels that were treated with testosterone replacement therapy for two or more years had a notably reduced mortality rate of 8.1%. Seeing this impressive difference in numbers based on testosterone supplementation suggests great possibilities for future testosterone treatment.
Keeping Heart-Healthy with Hormone Balance
Being more informed of the impact of testosterone on one’s heart can help avoid serious heart conditions. A significant body of research has associated low testosterone levels with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Increasing awareness of the importance of maintaining proper testosterone levels may allow for greater availability for preventative measures. Treating hormone deficiencies, including testosterone, through hormone replacement therapy or other methods may prevent one from experiencing a devastating cardiac event. It is critical to take care of our hearts by taking care of our hormones.