When you think of weight gain, perhaps what comes to mind is being physically inactive or regular consumption of junk or processed foods. Rarely do we ever think that a hormone in our body may have something to do with weight gain. As such, you may discover that most people, including you, perhaps do not know of the effects of various hormones. This may explain why questions like “does testosterone really make you gain weight?’ have become quite common nowadays.
The truth of the matter is that the hormone testosterone (T) does have a profound impact on your body weight. It may either result in weight gain or weight loss, depending on its levels and your gender. With this in mind, quit blaming the crunches or mountain climbers for the delayed weight loss. The culprit may actually be inside your body.
The good news is that research has discovered how to counteract harmful T levels to avoid weight gain. In this article, we will dive deeper into the nature of this hormone and determine its role in both men and women. Most importantly, we will discuss how it affects your body weight and if it can make you gain weight.
What Is Testosterone?
When most people hear of the term testosterone, they automatically relate it to the male gender. Contrary to what you may think, testosterone is present in both males and females. The only difference is in the amount produced by both genders. Women tend to produce this hormone in small amounts.
Medical News Today defines testosterone as the hormone responsible for the development of male sexual features (16). This hormone is an androgen that is specifically produced by the testicles in cells known as the Leydig cells.
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The Role Of Testosterone In Both Men And Women
In men, this hormone is greatly known for sperm production. However, it also has other functions, which include:
- Producing red blood cells
- Regulating the sex drive
- Growth of body hair
- Helps with muscle size and strength
- Helps with bone mass and fat distribution
In women, testosterone is combined with estrogen to help with the growth, maintenance, and repair of various women’s tissues. Both of these hormones are produced in the ovaries (7). However, estrogen is also produced by the body’s fat tissue.
According to the Medical News Today website, the normal total T range in adult females is 8.37–48.8 ng/dl (14). Anything else above this limit is considered to be an abnormally high testosterone level.
Such high abnormally high T levels can be caused by several factors. They include(14):
Steroid use and abuse, be it in male or female athletes can result in high testosterone levels.
Tumors either in the ovaries or adrenal glands can result in these abnormally high levels of this hormone.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS ranks among the major causes of high T levels in adult females. It refers to an endocrine system disorder affecting women in their reproductive years. The symptoms of this disorder include excessive hair growth and changes in the menstrual cycle (15). If this disorder is not treated, it can lead to several health complications, including infertility.
Read More: How To Lose Weight With PCOS: 5 Easy Dietary Tweaks
Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH)
It is an inherited disorder that arises from genetic variation (1). However, the symptoms may not appear straight away, making the disorder difficult to notice at first.
In adult males, high testosterone levels rarely occur naturally. Instead, such abnormal high rates occur from the use of anabolic steroid (14). These drugs are sometimes misused and abused by athletes who are looking at ways to enhance their muscle mass and athletic performance.
Whether or not such drugs are acquired legally, the fact remains that they can spike the T levels in men. Similarly, high testosterone levels in men can also be caused by existing tumors in the testicles or adrenal glands.
Testosterone Side Effects
High testosterone levels in women cause various side effects. They can result in (14):
- Increased acne
- Deepening of the voice
- Darkened and thickened skin
- Depression or anxiety
- Excess body and facial hair
- An enlarged clitoris
- Increased muscle mass
- Weight gain
- Loss of libido
- Irregular menstruation patterns
- A reduction in the breast size
- Thinning of the hair
- Increased risk of type 2 diabetes, breast and endometrial cancer
In men, high levels of testosterone tend to have different effects. For this reason, experts recommend physicians to be quite cautious when generalizing the impact of high T levels.
According to Medicine Net, high levels of testosterone reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in men (2). The website analyzes a study that discovered that high testosterone levels in males reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes. However, researchers still call upon more research on this concept before acting upon such findings.
The high testosterone levels in men have also been linked with reduced risk of heart attacks and high blood pressure (6). Low T levels in males also result in various side effects. It results in a condition known as male hypogonadism.
Hypogonadism refers to a condition implying a decreased functional activity of the gonads (testes or ovaries) (5). This can negatively affect a man’s quality of life. It has also been present in the loss of multiple livelihoods through either separation or divorce (5).
Similarly, low testosterone levels in men can lead to infertility, absence of secondary sexual features, muscle wasting, and other abnormalities.
Counteracting Testosterone Side Effects
You can avoid such side effects by taking a testosterone test to determine that your levels are within the correct range. It will help avoid high testosterone in women and low testosterone in men.
There are two types of testosterone tests you can choose to take. They include (11):
- The total testosterone test. This one measures both free and attached testosterone.
- The free testosterone test. As the name suggests, this test only measures free testosterone. Free testosterone tends to give more insight into various medical conditions.
The results of such tests can either be too low testosterone (low T) or too high (high T). In men, such a test is highly ordered if they have suspected low testosterone levels. You can determine you have such levels is you also experience the following symptoms (11):
- A low sex drive
- Weak bones
- Fertility problems
- Loss of muscle mass
- Difficulty getting an erection
- Development of breast tissue
- Hair loss
On the other hand, women get a testosterone test when their testosterone levels are suspected to have increased. Such an increase can also be signified by the following symptoms:
- Weight gain
- A deepened voice
- Menstrual irregularities
- Excess facial and body hair growth
The results of the testosterone test will vary depending on your gender. They may result in different things. For example, low testosterone levels in men may indicate a chronic or genetic disease or an issue with the pituitary gland (11). The same results in women may indicate normal levels. However, extremely low levels may signify Addison’s disease.
Testosterone, Body Weight, And Muscle Mass
The question remains: Does testosterone make you gain weight? The reality is that the T hormone tends to have an impact on your body weight and muscle mass. As such, you may discover you are adding weight, even when you are not eating more calories. The reasoning behind this comes down to the production and levels of this hormone. Let us evaluate each of these factors on their own.
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Testosterone And Weight Gain/Loss
Obesity is among the most common diseases in today’s society. The most known cause of obesity is from sedentary lifestyles. Due to its massive influence on this disease, other obesity causes have been overlooked. What you may not know is that testosterone may lead to either weight gain or loss, depending on its levels.
Impact On Women
Perhaps you are doing thousands of burpees and jumping jacks and still cannot figure out why you are still not losing weight? The answer might not be due to the intensity of the form of these exercises. Instead, it can be a result of your hormones.
As mentioned earlier, women tend to produce the testosterone hormone in small amounts. In case these levels abnormally increase, then the result could be weight gain. So, as much as you may be breaking your back in the gym, you might still end up gaining weight.
In such a case, the best solution may not be going on a calorie deficit, intermittent fasting, or a keto diet. Instead, your efforts ought to relate to stabilizing your testosterone levels. The best method to help with lowering your T levels would be suggested by your physician.
As such, do not jump into the testosterone boosters or supplements head first. Similarly, do not consider testosterone replacement therapy first without seeking professional advice. In some cases, the solution may be as straightforward as ceasing steroid usage.
Above all else, listen to what your doctor has to say about these T levels before assuming the best intervention for yourself.
Impact In Men
In another case, low testosterone levels in men or male hypogonadism may lead to obesity regardless of age (5). Not only that but such low levels of this hormone in men also make it very challenging to lose weight, and especially belly fat.
One reason behind is that reductions in the testosterone levels are associated with reductions in sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). This is due to obesity-associated insulin resistance (4).
To help in getting a more accurate obesity result, you are advised to get a free testosterone test instead of the total testosterone test. This is because the SHBG levels tend to be within the reference range when you take the free testosterone test.
According to Medicine Net, research suggests that obese men with low testosterone levels can shed extra pounds and boost this hormone naturally (12). These findings also concur with others acknowledging weight loss can reduce the prevalence of low T levels in middle-aged men with pre-diabetes by 50% (10).
To help with weight loss, experts first recommend men with low T levels try dieting and exercising before resorting to other measures. They should also only practice such measures after talking to a licensed healthcare provider. If these efforts do not work or the physician sees the need for other interventions, then they will recommend the measures. Such measures may include:
Testosterone Replacement Therapy
Testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) entails having this sex hormone being replaced artificially (13). It is believed that this practice can help in restoring various affected functions by the low testosterone levels.
TRT may be administered in several ways, depending on what the doctor recommends. T could be given through skin gels and patches, tablets absorbed through the gums, or injections. All these may have various side effects including acne, breast and prostate enlargement and increased red blood count.
Despite these cons, Medical News Today also acknowledges that this therapy may have some added advantages. According to the site, TRT may help in the following ways (13):
- Improving bone mineral density and estimated bone strength
- Improving the hemoglobin levels in individuals with anemia
- An extra benefit for stroke and overall mortality in men who have used this therapy method to normalize their testosterone levels
Taking Testosterone Supplements
The other proposed method of balancing testosterone levels is by taking testosterone supplements. These boosters may help with increasing the level of testosterone your body produces. According to Medical News Today, some of these recommended supplements include (16):
- D-aspartic acid (DAA). It is an amino acid that helps in creating and releasing various hormones, including testosterone. It acts on the hypothalamus, which triggers an increment in gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Availability of GnRH makes the pituitary gland release the luteinizing hormone, which is responsible for producing testosterone.
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). The DHEA is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It is a precursor hormone, meaning it has little effect on the body before its conversion into hormones such as testosterone or estrogen. Due to its massive benefits, it has become a popular ingredient in testosterone supplements.
Ceasing Steroid Use
In cases where steroid use is affecting testosterone levels and promoting weight gain, the answer is to stop the use of these drugs. Eventually, your T levels may stabilize, and it may not affect your weight gain. You are required to seek medical supervision before and after stopping using these substances to determine if you need to use the T supplements.
A doctor may also recommend various medications to help with stabilizing your T levels. There are those medications that work best for high and those better suited for low testosterone levels. Knowing this, never buy such medicine off the counter without first seeking medical advice. You ought to first talk to a professional to determine whether you are taking medications for high or low T levels.
Testosterone And Muscle Mass
When it comes to muscle mass, men tend to lose more muscle mass and strength than women as they age. Experts acknowledge that various sex hormones, specifically testosterone, highly contribute to these body composition and functionality changes (8).
According to these experts, men with lower testosterone levels lose more muscle compared to those with higher testosterone levels. They specifically reduce muscle mass in their legs and arms. It means that high testosterone levels in men as they age may help in preventing muscle loss. It may delay frailty, which may reduce muscle wasting and loss.
To help in naturally boosting these testosterone levels, Mayo Clinic suggests making healthier lifestyle choices and treating medical conditions (3). WebMD also recommends older men try some weight lifting exercises to help in maintaining their muscle mass (9).
They must, however, remember to seek professional advice and guidance when coming up and undertaking any weight lifting program. Due to the incorporation of weights, such workout routines tend to increase your risk of injuries.
The Bottom Line
Does testosterone make you gain weight? The answer is yes it can. The T hormone tends to exert effects beyond helping with sperm production in males and repairing tissues in women. It does affect weight gain and loss in both genders.
In women, this hormone causes weight gain when the T levels are abnormally high. On the other hand, weight gain in men occurs when the T levels are low. Luckily, there are various recommended methods of stabilizing these hormone levels to avoid gaining weight.
They range from taking T supplements, seeking testosterone replacement therapy, stopping steroid use, to taking medications. Only your doctor can determine the best intervention depending on your T levels and their root causes.