Dr Anju Soni and Farazdak Nasrulla
Testosterone is a male sex hormone. It affects the way the male brain develops and is associated with sex drive, muscle mass and strength, body hair and prevents thinning of the bones. Women also produce testosterone from the ovaries and adrenal glands but the levels are lower than in males.
Exercise releases testosterone in both sexes which in turn promotes sex drive in both males and females and improves bone density.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic hormones which resemble testosterone in promoting the growth of the muscles. As these hormones increase muscle bulk and strength and reduce fat, these are also used medicinally to treat some forms of weight loss. Anabolic steroids are popular among many athletes and players who use these to enhance their physical performance though it is not legal. These are used by a significant number of gym enthusiasts as well.
Many fitness fans also use herbal testosterone boosters. These can naturally increase the testosterone levels to build bigger and stronger muscles. It is said these supplements also help people to recover faster from exercise fatigue.
While these boosters, steroids and supplements have many obvious benefits, these also have several adverse effects. So these should be used only for medicinal purposes under a doctor’s guidance by people suffering from serious sickness or low-weight issues who need to build muscle tissue fast if they are losing it due to some illness.
In fact, testosterone boosters should only be used if the testosterone levels are low otherwise the adrenal glands above the kidney get fatigued and the level of female hormone oestrogen increases that can result in adverse effects in males.
Moreover, testosterone boosters will not work unless a person modifies his/her diet as well in terms of high protein, low-fat, low carbohydrates, including low sugar.
Use vs abuse
Abuse of anabolic steroids or testosterone boosters is now recognised as a major problem among both male and women athletes especially bodybuilders and people fighting the natural ageing process. In the corporate world some senior women executives are known to use testosterone patches to make them more assertive.
However, abnormally high levels of testosterone levels in women, whether natural or enhanced through boosters, can cause many medical problems. Women who jog over about 22.5 km (14 miles) a week may have cessation of their periods due to increase in testosterone levels. Increased testosterone has been found to be protective against breast cancer in women though. It is also known that some female athletes purposely get pregnant and then go in for abortions to increase their testosterone levels to enhance their performance as athletes. This behaviour is described as abortion doping.
Testosterone supplements may also be used by men who suffer from various mental health conditions, including low self-esteem, when they are not happy with their body image. These conditions vary from mild depression, eating disorders to personality difficulties. There may be people suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder who indulge in body building due to their preoccupation with the need to be physically strong and to appear more sexually attractive.
Taking steroids helps a body builder to bypass years of training and get extra bulk and defined muscles in a short period. Even teenagers are obsessed about getting a six pack and since they are not usually happy with their looks they use steroids and amino acids tablets (from which protein is built) to increase the bulk and power of their muscles.
These products can be effective for increasing muscle bulk but these can’t take the place of a solid resistance-training programme. The key to best results is having an appropriate training program under expert guidance.
Tampering with temper
Steroids characteristically affect the mood causing “steroid rage” (road rage) which is a condition in which people have tremendous difficulty in controlling temper. In the past, anabolic steroids used by American football players have resulted in them killing/injuring others in a temper.
An abuser of these steroids may end up as a bald, bulky muscular man with enlarged breasts who is having difficulties with his sex life and who characteristically tends to be angry and snappy. This type of a person may also need to consult their physician and take other medication which have their own side effects. This man is akin to being a gun powder keg about to explode.
If uncharacteristic mood swings, low mood or aggressive behaviour are noticed, it may be a signal to stop taking your testosterone boosters or anabolic steroids and seek medical advice. The key to a stable mood is keeping an optimal level of testosterone.
Truth about testosterone
- Men experience a rise in testosterone at night regardless of whether they are sleeping or not and this has been put forward as a factor to explain the increase in fights at clubs late at night.
- Adopting a “superman pose” for one minute raises testosterone levels in both males and females and reduces stress.
- Fenugreek is used in various testosterone boosters. It has been claimed to be the single most effective natural compound to raise male testosterone levels and improve body composition and even bedroom performance. However, it can also lead to elevated levels of the milk-producing hormone (prolactin) which counters the effect of testosterone.
- Testosterone can cause shrinking of the genitalia leading to impotence, hair loss, heart and liver damage, breast enlargement in males, acne or oily skin and increased risk of liver cancer. Overall, it raises risk of premature death.
- It can also produce anxiety, psychotic mental illness, difficulty in sleeping and result in mood swings.
- Falling in love decreases the testosterone levels in males while increasing the testosterone levels in females. But after the so-called honeymoon period ends after about four years these changes in testosterone levels are no longer seen.
- Testosterone is released in both genders when they see someone to whom they are attracted and results in feelings of lust.
But naturally ...
Some tips to help you to improve your performance in a natural manner:
- Move from large to small muscles for instance push-ups, bench press, squats and overhead press followed by smaller isolation movements produce greater testosterone response.
- Exercising in the morning tends to result in weight loss while exercising in the evening helps to build muscle bulk and power.
- Exercise when your energy levels are high. This reflects when your testosterone levels are high. For some people it’s in the morning, some in the evening.
- Do a short but intense workout. Shorter workouts less than 60 minutes with rest periods of no more then 30–90 seconds produces higher levels of testosterone.
- Forced reps, negative reps and dropsets will help increase testosterone levels.
— Soni is a London-based doctor with the National Health Service and Nasrulla is a marathon runner
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