Most men are already familiar with their biological clocks.
They know that sometime around middle age—typically ranging from their late thirties through their seventies—they’ll experience a decline in their physical capabilities. They’ll gradually lose muscle tone and gain fat. They’ll likely lose some of their unbridled ambition. Though they may not want to admit it, they may even experience less zest for private time with their partners in the bedroom.
These are all expected, though not necessarily welcome changes that will occur as they age. It’s all a result of their testosterone gently decreasing. It happens to all of us, but some of us end up with lower testosterone (low-T) levels than others, in which case, other unwanted developments can occur—like erectile dysfunction.
However, what men may not expect from low testosterone due to age are mental health struggles in the form of mood swings, anxiety, and depression. There is a growing body of research that suggests men who have lower than normal testosterone levels and are entering middle age are at an increased risk for depression.
In case after case, low T coincides with these mental health illnesses—but the silver lining appears to be that treating hypogonadism may also have positive effects on depression as well.
More than 16 million Americans experience depression. Cases of low testosterone are also on the rise. For this reason, researchers are taking a close look at the potential relationship between the two.
How Testosterone Affects the Body and Mind
Testosterone is an androgen and is primarily associated with your testicles and your pituitary gland. This hormone is responsible for a lot of good things in both men and women—and for men in particular, is the source for many of the things that define our masculinity, such as:
- Muscle tone and strength
- Sex drive
- Bone density
- Body fat distribution
- Sperm production
This naturally means that if we’re suffering from lower levels of testosterone, we find ourselves at increased risk for ED, low libido, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Additionally, testosterone is a neuroactive hormone, which means it has an effect on how your central nervous system functions. Because of its potential influence on our temperament, mood swings that you may normally chalk up to stress or natural aging can actually function as an early warning sign of low T.
There’s some scientific evidence behind this theory: in several animal studies, an increase in testosterone coincided with an increase in serotonin, aka, the body’s natural happy hormone. This may or may not prove to translate to humans, but if so, it would make sense from a biological perspective.
Can Low Testosterone Cause Anxiety or Depression?
Your age can have an outsized effect on whether or not your low T may correspond with depression. Though lower than average testosterone levels can occur within men of nearly any age, it is most common in those of us who are middle aged or older. Men with lower levels of testosterone may be more likely to experience symptoms of depression.
The results of one study originating from Toronto indicated that many of the participating men who were diagnosed with depression also had lower amounts of bioavailable testosterone, and lower T throughout their bloodstreams.
Backing that up was another study conducted in Washington, which found that more than half of the participating men with borderline average T levels also had depression. Psychology Today also recently published an article finding that some depressed men who otherwise had no other family history of the ailment exhibited hypogonadism.
However, determining which came first, or even whether you’re experiencing one or the other prior to a medical diagnosis can be difficult. Both low T and depression share the following symptoms:
- Lack of focus
- Difficulties with memory
- Low libido
Some of the only differences can be found in physical manifestations; men with normal hormone levels who are experiencing depression rarely also encounter the weight gain and loss of muscle mass and strength associated with low T.
Those dealing with depression mainly report physical characteristics like headaches and back pain. Because the two can be hard to distinguish between, it is essential that you consult with your doctor and potentially screen for both.
Treating Low Testosterone and Depression
Naturally, if the symptoms and potential causes may be shared between low testosterone and depression, then it stands to reason that treatments might as well. However, this may not be the case, at least in one instance; many antidepressants actually further lower testosterone and can result in further sexual dysfunctions.
However, Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) may be a viable option to fight both hypogonadism and depression.
A review of 27 different clinical trials was able to draw some promising conclusions. Men who underwent TRT treatment demonstrated clinically significant reductions in symptoms of depression compared with those in the control group treated with a placebo.
This review also found that TRT was most effective as a treatment against depression in middle aged men who already exhibited lowered levels of testosterone. Finally, TRT may have a greater effect on men with less severe forms of depression.
This breakthrough means that a combination of TRT—which can aid in negating the sexual dysfunctions associated with certain drugs—and antidepressants may help increase the quality of life for men fighting depression. In any case, a full physical exam and bloodwork are necessary prior to starting TRT or any treatment for either low T or depression.
Men who do pursue TRT as a potential treatment should be aware that positive effects won’t be experienced for between two weeks and three months. Fortunately, TRT is simply one of a myriad of options for increasing testosterone levels. Synthetic T can be administered through injection, or through less invasive methods like a gel, cream, or skin patch.
Treatment for depression is more varied however, ranging from group, couples, and individual talk therapy sessions to cognitive behavioral therapy, mindful meditation techniques, and prescribed medications.
The men’s health experts at Prime Men’s Medical Center in Jacksonville are here to help you determine the best treatment for your needs, goals, and physical and mental health including low testosterone treatment that can lead to depression. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.