There’s a growing body of evidence to show that low testosterone levels can cause mental health problems for men.
While people are familiar with the idea that low testosterone levels can be responsible for erectile dysfunction, low libido and weight gain, there is less awareness of its impact on mental health.
Low testosterone (low T) is linked with depression and anxiety through anecdotal and clinical evidence. Men dealing with low T, whether through the natural ageing process or some other reason, will usually have to deal with mood swings. In some cases, these mood disorders can be bad enough to severely disrupt their daily life.
Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) from May 2021 shows the extent of the levels of depression among people in the UK. One in five adults in the UK report symptoms of depression, and while the pandemic has increased these numbers, the rates of depression are always high.
In fact, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is one of the biggest factors and causes of bad health and disability on a global level. And while there are some treatments available for depression, around a third of sufferers report getting no relief.
These traditional treatments generally include prescribed antidepressants, and while they can help many people, some need something else. And this is where the increasing scientific research into hormone replacement therapy comes in.
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) involves a blood panel screening to ensure that the person is experiencing low T. When that’s been established, the patient is given bioidentical replacement testosterone to directly replace the missing or low testosterone.
It’s natural and normal for hormone levels to change as men age, meaning that most men will experience a fall in testosterone levels as they get older. However, this doesn’t impact everyone in the same way.
For those who are impacted badly then there are all sorts of negative symptoms associated with it. These range from gaining weight and not being able to lose it, losing muscle tone or struggling to build lean muscle to low libido and erectile dysfunction.
Testosterone is known as a neuroactive steroid. This means that it directly impacts the central nervous system. Researchers think that this is why low T can affect a person’s mood so detrimentally.
Research using animals has also demonstrated that testosterone treatments can help to increase serotonin (the ‘happy chemical) levels. This indicates a direct link between the two.
Antidepressants commonly prescribed to deal with depression are a class of drugs called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). When combined with talk therapy, such as CBT, they can be successful. This has led researchers to believe that it’s likely that low T treatments can also increase serotonin levels and therefore treat anxiety and depression.
The physical symptoms suffered by men with low T, including weight gain and low libido, also contribute to depression and anxiety. Scientists are still researching exactly how testosterone levels are linked with depression, but it does seem definite that the link is stronger than previously believed.
A range of studies based in North America shows definitive links between low T and depression. Broadly speaking, results show that men who are middle aged and older with low T are more likely to deal with depression than men with normal testosterone levels.
A team in Toronto found that most of a group of depressed men also had low levels of bioavailable testosterone, which is the testosterone that the body can use. A separate research team in Washington also showed that 56% of a group of men with depression also had low T. It concludes that anyone with low testosterone levels should automatically be investigated for symptoms of depression.
Something that further complicates the diagnosis of depression and low T in men is that the symptoms of both are very similar. Symptoms of low testosterone levels can include any or all of the following list, which are also symptoms of depression and anxiety.
We can see then that there is strong evidence to show that testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) could feasibly improve depression in men with low T. Studies appear to show that it works best for middle aged men and in those suffering from less severe depression.
Research is ongoing, which is great news for people looking for alternative treatments. This is particularly relevant when we consider that many traditional treatments for depression, such as SSRIs, actually lower testosterone levels.
There are also steps to take at home for anyone who thinks they may be dealing with low T. A healthy, balanced diet, lots of exercise and adding high-quality testosterone supplements to their diet. A healthy lifestyle can always help symptoms of depression in some people.
However, if these steps don’t work, it could be worth heading to the doctor for further help and treatment.