Can Low Testosterone Cause Depression

Male mental health is worse than it has ever been, and so are average Testosterone levels. Is it a coincidence, or can Low Testosterone cause Depression?

Ever feel down for no reason? irritable? low in energy? You might be surprised to know that your testosterone levels might have something to do with it.

Testosterone is often associated with strength, virility, and aggression. But it’s also essential for mood, memory, and overall well-being. Some studies have even suggested that low testosterone may be linked to depression.

The good news is, if low T is the reason you’re feeling down, there is treatment available.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the relationship between testosterone and depression. Spoiler alert: the two are related. Keep reading to learn more!

Key Takeaways

  • It’s not unusual for older men to have low testosterone, but it can happen at any age.
  • The link between testosterone and mental health exists but it is not fully understood.
  • If you have low testosterone and are experiencing depression, testosterone therapy may help.

Testosterone and Men

Testosterone is the hormone responsible for male development, so it’s no surprise that testosterone and man go hand in hand. It’s what makes boys become men.

During puberty, testosterone levels increase dramatically, which leads to the physical changes we associate with manhood, such as deepening of the voice, growth of facial and body hair, and an increase in muscle mass.

Even after puberty, testosterone levels continue to rise through a man’s 20s and 30s. After that, they start to decline gradually, about 1% every year. This natural decrease in testosterone levels can lead to some undesirable changes, such as decreased muscle mass and strength, increased body fat, reduced sex drive, and even erectile dysfunction.

Low T in Young Men

Normal testosterone levels for boys stays relatively low until about puberty, where it spikes up..

And, despite low T being more common in older men, it can occur in younger men as well.

Can Low Testosterone Cause Depression
Figure 1: Testosterone levels according to age (perfect situation)

According to the American Urological Association (AUA), who published their study in 2020, testosterone levels have shown a decline over the past two decades.[1]

While the evidence is still limited, there are a few well known factors that can contribute to low testosterone in young men.

Genetics

Remember from high school biology, men inherit one X chromosome and one Y chromosome. But in certain cases, like Klinefelter syndrome, men can inherit two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome. This extra X chromosome can lead to having low levels of testosterone, otherwise known as male hypogonadism. [2]

Although, it is the one of the most common genetic disorders that causes low T in adolescent men, it is still rare.

Lifestyle

Poor lifestyle choices can also lead to reduction in testosterone in young men.

Men with poor eating habits and that are moderate to severely obese have been shown to have lower levels of testosterone than those of normal weight and ate a healthy diet.[3]

Plus, eating right not only prevents low T but can also improve your mental health, which we’ll get into later.

Other causes of Low T in Young Men

  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Using anabolic steroids for aesthetic purposes or enhancing athletic performance
  • Excessive drinking
  • Excessive drug use, particularly with opiates.
  • Damage or infection to the testicles.

Does Low Testosterone Cause Depression?

The truth is, the link between testosterone and depression is not an easy one to answer, even with all the research that’s been done.

The one factor that makes it difficult to link testosterone with depression is that they share many of the same symptoms. For example, low energy levels, poor sleep, and lowered sex drive are all common with both low testosterone and depression.

The same goes for the physical symptoms. A man with low testosterone may experience decrease in strength or muscle mass, weight gain, and erectile dysfunction. But so can a man who is depressed.

How is Testosterone Linked to Depression?

One study in 1992 was the first of its kind to show a correlation between testosterone and depression. The research discovered that testosterone was lower in men with depression. Additionally, they were able to show that lower levels are associated with an increase in severity of depression. [4]

Figure shows the inverse relationship between testosterone and depression (inverse meaning, as testosterone levels are lower, depressive symptoms increase).
Figure 2: Studies have shown that there is a link between depression and Low Testosterone

Another more recent study looked at a much larger population of men and found the same relationship between testosterone and depressive symptoms; men with higher depressive symptoms appeared to have lower levels of testosterone. [5]

However, studies so far have not clearly outlined whether low T directly causes depression, rather that men (typically middle aged men and higher) who are depressed tend to have lower levels of testosterone.

Can Low Testosterone Treatment Treat Depression?

Since studies show that the connection between low testosterone and depression is that depressed men have lower levels, it would make sense that treating low testosterone could help treat depression, right?

Well, it really depends.

Studies are still ongoing to determine whether low T can be a root cause of depression. However, one thing is certain: from the research that has been conducted, it appears that testosterone replacement therapy can help alleviate symptoms associated with depression and improve mood overall.

This conclusion was later verified by a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which performed a meta-analysis (a study of studies) on all previous research on testosterone and depression. The study found that testosterone therapy can, in fact, help improve depressive symptoms in men.[6]

The research also showed that higher doses of testosterone had more improvement in mood than those on much lower doses.

The Bottom Line

There is still so much to learn about the relationship between testosterone and depression. However, the available evidence does suggest there is a link between low testosterone and depression in men – especially older men.

If you’re a man with low T who is experiencing depressive symptoms, reach out to a local hormone specialist to help measure your hormone levels and see exactly where they are. They can also help determine whether TRT might help turn that frown upside down.

Can Low Testosterone cause Anxiety?

Some studies have suggested that low testosterone may be linked with anxiety, but it is still unclear as to whether it is low testosterone or the symptoms associated with having reduced levels that cause anxiety and anxiety symptoms.

Can Testosterone Cure Anxiety?

Testosterone therapy is not considered a viable treatment option for people with anxiety, but it can help with anxiety-related symptoms when used in combination with low testosterone levels.

Can I take Testosterone if I am depressed but have Normal Hormone Levels?

Having very high levels of testosterone (often associated with steroid use) have been linked with an increased risk for developing depression. So, there is the risk that it could potentially worsen depressive symptoms.[7]

Lokeshwar SD, Patel P, Fantus RJ, Halpern J, Chang C, Kargi AY, Ramasamy R. Decline in Serum Testosterone Levels Among Adolescent and Young Adult Men in the USA. Eur Urol Focus. 2021 Jul;7(4):886-889. doi: 10.1016/j.euf.2020.02.006. Epub 2020 Feb 18. PMID: 32081788.

Nieschlag E. Klinefelter syndrome: the commonest form of hypogonadism, but often overlooked or untreated. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2013 May;110(20):347-53. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2013.0347. Epub 2013 May 17. PMID: 23825486; PMCID: PMC3674537.

Fui MN, Dupuis P, Grossmann M. Lowered testosterone in male obesity: mechanisms, morbidity and management. Asian J Androl. 2014 Mar-Apr;16(2):223-31. doi: 10.4103/1008-682X.122365. PMID: 24407187; PMCID: PMC3955331.

Davies RH, Harris B, Thomas DR, Cook N, Read G, Riad-Fahmy D. Salivary testosterone levels and major depressive illness in men. Br J Psychiatry. 1992 Nov;161:629-32. doi: 10.1192/bjp.161.5.629. PMID: 1422612.

Kheirkhah F, Hosseini SR, Hosseini SF, Ghasemi N, Bijani A, G Cumming R. Relationship between testosterone levels and depressive symptoms in older men in Amirkola, Iran. Caspian J Intern Med. 2014 Spring;5(2):65-70. PMID: 24778779; PMCID: PMC3992230.

Walther A, Breidenstein J, Miller R. Association of Testosterone Treatment With Alleviation of Depressive Symptoms in Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019;76(1):31–40. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.2734

Booth, Alan, et al. “Testosterone and Men’s Depression: The Role of Social Behavior.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, vol. 40, no. 2, 1999, pp. 130–40. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2676369. Accessed 7 Oct. 2022.

Jimmy Diaz M.S.

Hi I'm Jimmy. I was born and raised in sunny Los Angeles, California and love everything about the west coast lifestyle - the beach, the mountains, and the desert. Like many California natives, I can be a bit of a lot of things. Completed my undergraduate studies in Chemistry from University of California, San Diego and pursued a masters in Reproductive Clinical Science from Eastern Virginia Medical School. I primarily work as a clinical scientist and am also a baby maker (through IVF). I'm also a freelancer, ghostwriter, former D1 athlete, and enjoy everything I do.

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