Why are hormones important for men's health?
We look at ten hormones in more detail and the role they play in men’s health and wellbeing.
Hormones are chemical messengers produced by the endocrine glands (the part of the endocrine system that produces and releases hormones). They carry information through the bloodstream to our organs and body tissues.
Over 50 hormones circulate in the body, each with its own goal. They’re responsible for the balance and control of the body’s major systems including:
- Homeostasis (keeping the body’s systems in balance)
- Sexual activity
- Blood pressure
- Growth and development
What are male hormones?
Hormones are commonly labelled as either male or female hormones, when really both men and women make both types of hormones. Each sex, however, produces more of certain hormones that distinguish the sexual characteristics of men and women.
For men, the production of higher male hormones (also known as androgens) is responsible for the development of male characteristics such as a deeper voice and facial hair. The most significant and well-known of the male hormones is testosterone.
Hormones important for men’s health
It’s not just male hormones that are important. Many other hormones influence men’s overall health and wellbeing.
In this chapter, we’ll look at some of these in greater detail:
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
- Dihydrotestosterone (DHT)
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
- Luteinising hormone (LH)
- Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG)
Produced in the testicles, testosterone is one of the major sex hormones in men.
Testosterone is responsible for:
- Changes during puberty (development of the penis and testes, deepening of the voice, facial, and pubic hair growth)
- Maintaining bone and muscle mass
- Regulating body composition, including the muscle-to-fat ratio
- Sex drive (libido)
- Sperm production
- Red blood cell production
Having low testosterone levels can impact both physical and mental health.
Symptoms of low testosterone include:
- Low mood or energy levels
- A reduced libido
- Erectile dysfunction
Raised testosterone levels can also have an impact on your health, most often seen with anabolic steroid use. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects of anabolic steroid use.
You can check your testosterone levels at home with our Testosterone Blood Test. If you’re taking testosterone replacement therapy, we recommend a more thorough screen with our Advanced TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy) Blood Test. As well as making sure your testosterone levels are within normal range, this test screens for potential side effects of treatment.
2. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulphate (DHEA-S)
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a steroid hormone produced mainly by the adrenal glands (two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys).
DHEA is a precursor hormone, meaning it is converted into other hormones (such as testosterone and oestradiol) which then act upon specific tissues.
The liver and adrenal glands convert DHEA into DHEA-S. DHEA peaks in the morning but is quickly excreted by the kidneys, whereas DHEA-S stays around in the body much longer, which is why most tests measure DHEA-S levels.
In both sexes, raised DHEA-S levels may be due to:
- Cushing's disease (when the body produces too much cortisol)
- Use of DHEA supplements
- A possible adrenal tumour (though rare)
However, low levels of DHEA-S may indicate adrenal dysfunction and could contribute to low libido and fertility problems.
You can find out your levels of DHEA-S with our DHEA Sulphate (DHEAS) Blood Test. Or, if you are looking for a more thorough screen of all your hormones, it’s also included in our Ultimate Performance Blood Test.
3. Dihydrotestosterone (DHT)
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is the hormone that contributes to male pattern balding and prostate growth.
DHT plays a critical role in the sexual development of males (such as the development of the penis and scrotum) from the prenatal period through to adolescence and adulthood. It also helps to maintain overall muscle mass and sexual health.
DHT is made through the conversion of testosterone using the enzyme, 5-alpha-reductase. The circulating level of DHT is usually about 10% of the circulating level of testosterone. Therefore, as testosterone levels increase, so too does DHT .
Generally, DHT is measured to monitor patients receiving certain therapies, including chemotherapy or 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors (such as finasteride), or to evaluate patients with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. It is sometimes useful in the investigation of male pattern baldness.
You can measure your DHT levels with our Dihydrotestosterone Blood Test.
Androstenedione is sometimes described as a pro-hormone — it has minimal effects itself but acts as a precursor before being converted into other stronger-acting hormones. It mainly acts as a steppingstone in the manufacture of testosterone and oestrogen in the body.
Androstenedione can be used as a marker of:
- Adrenal gland function
- Male hormone production
- Testicular function
Too much androstenedione in men may lead to an imbalance in oestrogen and testosterone production, which could produce changes such as breast development or shrinkage of the testes.
In male adults, low androstenedione levels can cause similar symptoms as too little testosterone, such as reduced libido and fatigue.
If you would like to check your androstenedione levels, you can take our Androstenedione Blood Test at a London clinic (as samples are not suitable for posting).
Oestrogen is the collective term for a group of hormones primarily responsible for the development of the female reproductive system. However, men also produce small amounts of oestrogen.
Oestradiol is the strongest of the three naturally produced oestrogens. Oestradiol is a steroid hormone made from cholesterol and is produced at low levels in the testes.
Oestradiol in men is essential for:
- Regulating libido
- Erectile function
- Sperm production
Oestradiol levels can be raised in men due to excess body fat or linked to an age-related decline in testosterone.
Symptoms of raised oestradiol include:
- Excess growth of breast tissue
- Loss of libido
6. Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is produced in the pituitary gland. In men, FSH is involved in stimulating the testes to provide the nutrients and other important molecules needed for sperm production.
Most often, raised levels of FSH in men are a sign of a problem with the testes.
Low levels of FSH can be a sign of a problem in the pituitary gland and may cause issues with sperm production and fertility. They can also be a response to high levels of testosterone in the blood due to anabolic steroid use or testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
7. Luteinising Hormone (LH)
Luteinising Hormone (LH) is produced by the pituitary gland and is vital for fertility. In men, LH stimulates the testes to produce testosterone.
High levels of LH may point to decreased sex steroid production from the testes, which can affect fertility.
Low levels of LH can be a sign of problems with the pituitary gland. If levels are not sufficient to support testicular function, this too may cause infertility.
Raised testosterone — which can be caused by anabolic steroid use — prevents the pituitary gland from creating LH, so may also cause a reduction in LH levels.
8. Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG)
Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) is a protein made by the liver. It binds tightly to testosterone, oestrogen, and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), making them inactive until they’re ready to be used and act on specific tissues.
SHBG levels are a useful investigation in men who have reduced libido or erectile dysfunction, particularly if their testosterone levels are within the normal range.
SHBG levels may be decreased in men who:
- Are obese
- Have an underactive thyroid
- Have adrenal dysfunction
- Use anabolic steroids
High levels of SHBG mean that more of your sex hormones will bind to SHBG making them unavailable to your cells. This means that even if your total testosterone level is normal, you might still have symptoms of low testosterone. It’s for this reason that labs use SHBG to estimate the levels of free (unbound) testosterone.
SHBG levels may be raised in men who:
You can check your SHBG levels with our Ultimate Performance Blood Test.
Prolactin is a hormone produced in the pituitary gland that plays a role in reproductive health. Its primary purpose is to stimulate milk production in women after childbirth. In men, its function is less well understood, but it plays a role in reproduction and mood.
Low prolactin levels in men are very rare. However, raised levels in men can interfere with the function of the testicles and cause problems.
Symptoms of raised prolactin can include:
- Reduced sex drive
- Lack of energy
- Erectile dysfunction
- Breast tissue tenderness and enlargement
- Fertility problems
If you are looking to investigate your prolactin levels, they can be measured with our Prolactin Blood Test.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that regulates many of the vital processes throughout the body. Almost every cell has cortisol receptors, so it can do many things depending on the cell it is affecting.
Cortisol has many essential roles, including regulating:
- The body’s immune response
Persistently raised cortisol — due to stress, adrenal gland tumours, or steroids — is harmful to the body. It inhibits testosterone production and can lead to Cushing’s syndrome.
Symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Loss of libido
- High blood pressure
- Thinning of the bones
Low levels of cortisol can also have an impact on the body. Low levels may be due to conditions like Addison’s disease — where the adrenal glands fail to produce enough cortisol.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease include:
- Abdominal pain
- Physical weakness
- Weight loss
If you are experiencing symptoms of high cortisol levels or would like to investigate your cortisol levels because you’re feeling stressed, you can do so with our Stress Cortisol Saliva Tests (4).
- Kinter KJ, Anekar AA. 2021. Biochemistry, Dihydrotestosterone. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557634/?report=classic