What is a normal testosterone level for your age?
Testosterone levels drop naturally with age — but what’s a normal rate of decline?
Search interest for testosterone has surged in recent years, increasing by over 70% from March 2020 to March 2022 . But why the increased interest in testosterone?
In the UK, testosterone prescriptions shot up by nearly 90% between 2000 and 2010 . The medical media may be behind a lot of this furore. But it’s also possible that testosterone deficiency is genuinely on the rise.
One study showed that men’s testosterone levels have gradually been declining with time on a population level (meaning that a 60-year-old in 2004 typically has lower testosterone levels than a 60-year-old in 1987 would have) . And it’s not overly clear why. It might be partially explained by the rise in other associated conditions like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
Are declining testosterone levels not just a normal part of ageing?
The answer is yes, to a certain extent. But levels of testosterone vary significantly between men - so knowing how to tell if your testosterone is high or low is not always straightforward.
In this article, we look at how testosterone levels change with age, how to check your testosterone levels, and when it’s worth exploring further.
- What is testosterone?
- Testosterone levels throughout your lifetime
- Why do testosterone levels drop with time?
- What is a normal testosterone level?
- How to check your testosterone levels
- How can I minimise the rate of decline?
- Low testosterone treatment
- Testosterone levels and age
What is testosterone?
Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men. It’s best known for its role in the development of male sexual characteristics and helps to regulate:
- Sex drive (libido)
- Muscle mass and strength
- Body composition and fat distribution
- Body hair growth
- Red blood cell production
- Sperm production
Testosterone has different functions at different stages of your life. It’s particularly important during puberty, where it triggers many physical and metabolic changes in the body. For this reason, testosterone levels naturally change with time.
Testosterone levels throughout your lifetime
Even well before you’re born, your testes start to produce small amounts of testosterone . Levels increase throughout childhood and, perhaps unsurprisingly, spike during adolescence. By your early 20s, your testosterone levels are the highest they’ll ever be naturally.
From here, testosterone levels gradually decline for the rest of your life in most men, but perhaps differently to what you might expect.
One study that looked at over 50,000 male blood samples found there was only a very gradual decline in testosterone levels until about the age of 80, after which there was a more marked decline (Graph 1).
Adapted from Handelsman 2015 .
Why do testosterone levels drop?
To understand why testosterone levels decline, it’s useful to understand how testosterone levels are controlled.
Two areas of the brain are involved called the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. The hypothalamus instructs the pituitary gland to release luteinising hormone (LH) which prompts the Leydig cells in the testes to produce testosterone.
As you age, this process is affected, both in the brain and in the testes :
- Leydig cells decrease in number and become less responsive to LH.
- The hypothalamus releases less gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH is required to stimulate the pituitary gland to release LH.
Getting older also makes you more prone to certain conditions which can also affect the way these organs and glands communicate, such as:
- Liver and kidney disease
Normally, when testosterone levels get too high, the body detects this and prevents more being made. Finally, it’s thought that this negative feedback loop becomes overly sensitive with time, preventing testosterone release, even when testosterone levels are not particularly raised .
Find out more about causes of low testosterone.
So, what is a normal testosterone level?
Most laboratories give a single fixed reference range for normal testosterone levels — around 8.7 – 29 nmol/l depending on the laboratory. These values don’t take age-related decline into account.
But doctors will consider your age when interpreting results. For example, a testosterone level of 8 nmol/l at age 80 would be less concerning than at 20.
How can I test my testosterone levels?
You can check your testosterone levels at home with a home Testosterone Blood Test. Or, for a more comprehensive check of your hormones, a Male Hormone Test looks at a broader range of male hormones.
Both tests are finger-prick tests that you can take at home. Make sure you take your sample in the morning (ideally 7 – 10am) as testosterone levels are highest at this time of day. If your result is borderline or abnormal, you may be asked to repeat it to confirm.
Find out more about how to take a finger-prick blood test.
How can I minimise the rate of decline?
There’s no need to panic if your testosterone levels are gradually declining — this is a normal part of ageing. However, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to prevent testosterone levels from dropping more quickly:
- Lose weight if you’re overweight — Being overweight decreases testosterone by increasing insulin resistance, reducing sex hormone binding globulin, and suppressing the testosterone regulating centres in the brain. Having low testosterone itself leads to an accumulation of body fat over lean mass creating a self-perpetuating cycle .
- Keep active — Both aerobic activities and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are good ways to increase testosterone levels for older men [8, 9].
- Reduce alcohol intake — Alcohol abuse reduces testosterone levels  and can lead to weight gain. So, avoid drinking over the recommended 14 units per week.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet — Cut down on fried and processed foods. Instead, opt for plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, and wholegrain produce .
- Avoid anabolic steroids — Anabolic steroids can lead to long-term problems including decreased testosterone levels in later years [12, 13].
Visit our male hormone guide for more ways to boost your testosterone levels naturally.
Even if you’re living the healthiest lifestyle possible, for a very small percentage of men, their levels will still drop into a range that causes symptoms. This is often due to an underlying cause. In these cases, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) may be beneficial.
Low testosterone treatment
A low testosterone level alone isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. For example, a 50-year-old man with testosterone levels of 8.5 nmol/l but no symptoms would unlikely benefit from treatment, even though his levels are outside the normal range. And often, switching to a healthier lifestyle is enough to improve testosterone levels naturally.
The decision to start testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) will depend on the outcome of your assessment with your doctor. But these thresholds might be useful to help you understand your results:
- Testosterone levels greater than 12 nmol/l typically don’t require treatment
- Testosterone levels between 8 – 12 nmol/l might require a trial of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) if there are symptoms of testosterone deficiency. In these cases, it’s useful to check free testosterone levels, often with other male sex hormones.
- Testosterone levels less than 8 nmol/l usually require treatment
Occasionally, testosterone levels are normal but there are still symptoms of testosterone deficiency. In these cases, a full sex hormone screen is useful, including free testosterone (FT), luteinising hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). In these instances, LH may be raised or SHBG may be low.
Finding that your testosterone levels are very low, though, doesn’t automatically mean that you need treatment.
Testosterone levels and age
Despite the growing trends in testosterone therapy, there’s no need to worry or obsess over your testosterone levels.
If you have symptoms of testosterone deficiency, by all means check your levels and consult your doctor. Otherwise, be reassured that declining testosterone levels on their own is just a normal part of growing older.
Where to get tested for low testosterone
If you’re concerned that your testosterone levels are low and you’d like to get tested for low testosterone, then a simple home blood test to measure your T levels is a good place to start.
- Google. 2022. Google Trends - Testosterone. [online] Available at: <https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&geo=GB&q=testosterone> [Accessed 11 April 2022].
- Gan, E. H., Pattman, S., H S Pearce, S., & Quinton, R. 2013. A UK epidemic of testosterone prescribing, 2001-2010. Clinical endocrinology, 79(4), 564–570.
- Travison, T., Araujo, A., O’Donnell, A., Kupelian, V. and McKinlay, J., 2007. A Population-Level Decline in Serum Testosterone Levels in American Men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 92(1), pp.196-202.
- Scott, H., Mason, J. and Sharpe, R., 2009. Steroidogenesis in the Fetal Testis and Its Susceptibility to Disruption by Exogenous Compounds. Endocrine Reviews, 30(7), pp.883-925.
- Handelsman, D. J., Yeap, B., Flicker, L., Martin, S., Wittert, G. A., & Ly, L. P. 2015. Age-specific population centiles for androgen status in men. European journal of endocrinology, 173(6), 809–817.
- Golan, R., Scovell, J. M., & Ramasamy, R. 2015. Age-related testosterone decline is due to waning of both testicular and hypothalamic-pituitary function. The aging male : the official journal of the International Society for the Study of the Aging Male, 18(3), 201–204.
- Fui, M. N., Dupuis, P., & Grossmann, M. 2014. Lowered testosterone in male obesity: mechanisms, morbidity and management. Asian journal of andrology, 16(2), 223–231.
- Yeo, J. K., Cho, S. I., Park, S. G., Jo, S., Ha, J. K., Lee, J. W., Cho, S. Y., & Park, M. G. 2018. Which Exercise Is Better for Increasing Serum Testosterone Levels in Patients with Erectile Dysfunction?. The world journal of men's health, 36(2), 147–152.
- Hayes, L. D., Herbert, P., Sculthorpe, N. F., & Grace, F. M. 2017. Exercise training improves free testosterone in lifelong sedentary aging men. Endocrine connections, 6(5), 306–310.
- Duca, Y., Aversa, A., Condorelli, R. A., Calogero, A. E., & La Vignera, S. (2019). Substance Abuse and Male Hypogonadism. Journal of clinical medicine, 8(5), 732.
- Kurniawan, A. L., Hsu, C. Y., Rau, H. H., Lin, L. Y., & Chao, J. C. 2019. Dietary patterns in relation to testosterone levels and severity of impaired kidney function among middle-aged and elderly men in Taiwan: a cross-sectional study. Nutrition journal, 18(1), 42.
- Rasmussen, J. J., Selmer, C., Østergren, P. B., Pedersen, K. B., Schou, M., Gustafsson, F., Faber, J., Juul, A., & Kistorp, C. 2016. Former Abusers of Anabolic Androgenic Steroids Exhibit Decreased Testosterone Levels and Hypogonadal Symptoms Years after Cessation: A Case-Control Study. PloS one, 11(8), e0161208.
- Kanayama, G., Hudson, J. I., DeLuca, J., Isaacs, S., Baggish, A., Weiner, R., Bhasin, S., & Pope, H. G., Jr. 2015. Prolonged hypogonadism in males following withdrawal from anabolic-androgenic steroids: an under-recognized problem. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 110(5), 823–831.