Understanding Low Testosterone: From Bees to Basics

Understanding low testosterone: From bees to basics

Endocrinology, Medicine, Testosterone

Having a low level of testosterone in the blood  can have a significant impact on a man's health, affecting libido, muscle mass and strength.

Testosterone is a hormone made by both men and women. In a male, testosterone is produced by the testicles and in a female by the ovaries. In men, testosterone is present at much higher levels – most notably during the time of puberty.


In males, testosterone is an important hormone related to reproduction, libido, bone health and the maintenance of muscle tone.

To understand testosterone better we will peek in at 2 male bees (also called drones) working for their queen. During normal conditions, bees respond quickly to their queen and stay focused with one goal in mind – to keep their queen happy and producing baby bees (or larvae).

In males, testosterone is a very important hormone because it assists with:
  • Libido and reproduction

  • Keeping energy and muscle tone normal

  • Protecting bone health

Testosterone production is under the control of the pituitary gland (often called the master gland). The pituitary gland sits high up in the brain. The pituitary sends messages to the testicles through the blood, via hormones called FSH and LH. In a male, these two hormones stimulate sperm and testosterone production, respectively.

Back to the beehive! The pituitary gland is like the queen bee. She controls her drone bees through pheromones (which is a super-fancy type of hormone). Normally, male drone bees are at their queen’s disposal. In the human body, the testicles act the same way as male bees. They listen to the pituitary (via messages sent by hormones) and respond by keeping libido and fertility working like it should (by producing testosterone).

The pituitary, known as the mother gland, controls the production of testosterone in the testicles through hormones called FSH and LH that stimulate the production of sperm and testosterone respectively.
Due to the importance of testosterone in a male, an individual with low levels might experience any of the following symptoms:
  • Decreases in body hair
    Decreases in body hair
  • Weight gain in the abdomen (belly)
    Weight gain in the abdomen (belly)
  • Loss of muscle mass
    Loss of muscle mass

Other symptoms related to low testosterone levels include:  Low libido (sexual interest) or problems with obtaining or keeping erections, fatigue, day time sleepiness, and swollen and tender breasts.

To diagnose a low testosterone, a doctor will likely recommend blood testing. Testosterone levels are best drawn very early in the morning, when testosterone is normally at its highest. If testosterone is low at that time it is more likely that there is an issue that needs further evaluation. However, a low testosterone late in the day is actually normal.

There are two main causes for low testosterone in the adult male:
In primary hypogonadism, the testicles lose the ability to produce testosterone and the pituitary gland increases the levels of FSH and LH to counteract.

A problem with the testicles producing testosterone – what doctors call primary hypogonadism.

In this case, the worker bees (the testicles) might have become injured or have an infection. The queen bee (pituitary gland) would be upset with their lack of work and she raises her pheromone levels (FSH and LH), but the male bees are too sick to respond.

A problem with the pituitary gland and its control over testosterone – what doctors call secondary hypogonadism.

The queen bee (the pituitary gland) can also get old or become ill. If this were to happen, the male  drone bees (testicles) would not have anyone to work for or listen to. This would  eventually lead to the male bees being less productive. (low testosterone)

In secondary hypogonadism the pituitary gland does not produce the hormones necessary to stimulate the testes and this leads to a decrease in testosterone production.
About the Author

Chris Palmeiro D.O. M.Sc.


Dr. Palmeiro is Chairman of Endocrinology at the HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley, he also serves patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities at the Westchester Institute of Human Development in Valhalla, New York. He has a Masters of Science degree in clinical nutrition and is a diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine. His interests within the realm of endocrinology include nutrition support, obesity counseling and the progressive management of diabetes.

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Last Modified: Jun 17, 2017 @ 3:22 pm

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