I think I know how the human race is going to end. It won’t be by a cataclysmic comet, and it won’t be by the domino effect of climate change, although either of those might suffice, given time. Nope, it’ll be because of the rapidly declining testosterone levels of young men.
Soon, tell-tail signs will emerge. They’ll begin to lack ambition. They’ll be plagued by feelings of ennui. They’ll be unable to motivate themselves to do anything except play video games or sit passively in front of a screen as the world scrolls by.
Oh-oh, that stuff’s going on right now, isn’t it?
And it’ll likely get worse. Eventually, the idea of sex, reproductive or otherwise, will become something that requires too much effort, as daunting as climbing Everest or, perhaps more accurately, putting on their pants and leaving their parents’ house. Gradually, there’ll be fewer and fewer humans. The last one won’t even bother to turn out the light because it’ll require too much effort.
Okay, I’m kidding about civilization ending because of low testosterone. Sort of. But a recent paper does document the rapidly and puzzling declining levels of testosterone in young men.
A Thirty Percent Drop in 17 Years
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is a program of studies initiated by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). It combines interviews, physical examinations, and even tests of physical activity and fitness to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the U.S.
The most recent survey covered the years 1999-2016, and buried in the data were the total testosterone (TT) blood levels of thousands of Americans. However, Sodum Lokeshwar and his colleagues, all scientists from North America, were interested in the TT blood levels of a specific subsection of American men: ages 15 to 39.
What they found no doubt made them gasp, or at least arch their eyebrows.
Back in the years 1999 and 2000, the average TT level of young men was close to 600 nanograms per deciliter, which is probably smack dab in the sweet spot for anybody except porn stars, nightclub bouncers, serial killers, or competitive bodybuilders.
However, when Lokeshwar looked at 2015-2016 levels, he found that the average TT levels had dropped to approximately 400 nanograms per deciliter. Ruh roh. That’s a drop of about 30 percent.
After Lokeshwar picked his jaw off the floor with sterile forceps, he looked at the numbers again, this time accounting for confounders like unhealthy body mass index, chronic diseases, smoking, alcohol intake, and exercise. None of that affected his initial findings.
The testosterone levels of young men had, in a very short time, plummeted like watermelons dropped off the roof of an office building.
What Did the Scientists Think Is Causing This Epidemic?
The authors of the paper weren’t sure why today’s young men are so low in testosterone and, I assume, have the steely resolve of single-ply toilet paper.
The scientists offered up a couple of guesses, the first of which was an abundance of phytoestrogens in their diets. That’s definitely a possibility.
There are five major crops in the United States that make up 90% of all harvested acreage: corn, wheat, cotton, hay, and soybeans, the last of which is notorious for containing estrogen-like phytochemicals. Young men don’t necessarily have to be quaffing watery quart after quart of soymilk to absorb an appreciable amount of soy because, hell, it’s everywhere.
Lokeshwar also considered the possibility that the growing popularity of marijuana might have something to do with this epidemic too, as the drug can lower testosterone and elevate estrogen.
Forget That. Here Are Some More Plausible Explanations
While the researchers pointed their finger at phytoestrogens as being a possible cause, xenoestrogens are a more likely cause. These chemicals mimic estrogen and accumulate in more and more tissues every year. Examples include synthetic chemicals like DES and DDT and industrial chemicals like phthalates.
Xenoestrogens are found in foods, adhesives, fire retardants, detergents, drinking water, perfumes, waxes, household cleaning products, lubricants… virtually everywhere.
Although we don’t know the exact scope of damage caused by these chemicals, we have seen widespread reports of biological anomalies in both animals and humans in the last couple of decades (mutations, indeterminate sex organs, lessened fertility, more people listening to light jazz, etc.).
There’s plenty of evidence that these chemicals are in all of us. Researchers found that 75% of the samples taken from 400 adults contained significant levels of industrial xenoestrogens, whereas 98.3 percent of samples contained DHT and its derivatives. To make matters even more troubling, different xenoestrogens appear to act synergistically so that their effects are magnified.
As far as marijuana being a possible cause, the testosterone-lowering and estrogen-elevating effects are usually marginal and temporary, more likely to plague men who spend the bulk of their days peering through a smoky haze or chewing THC gummies like they were Starburst candies.
But there are other things that could be turning the blood of these men into weak tea. For that, we can again look at NHANES and/or CDC statistics. The most recent findings show that approximately 78% of men are either overweight, obese, or morbidly obese – an increase of almost 50% from 1999-2000.
Yes, most men are regular fatties, and there’s a connection between body fat and testosterone. Growing weight problems in males results in elevated aromatase ranges, which irreversibly converts testosterone to estradiol, leading to decrease TT and elevated estrogen ranges.
After which there’s the likelihood that this low TT has to do with psychology. There’s a robust hyperlink between depression and low testosterone and these are considerably miserable instances for lots of younger males, enjoyable video video games however. Wages are usually low and housing and meals are costly, forcing tens of millions of younger adults (roughly 46%, in line with the latest stats) to dwell at dwelling with their dad and mom.
Understandably, there’s typically an absence of goal, an absence of feat, an absence of successful. No marvel the testicles shut down.
Or, hell, possibly it’s the results of skinny denims, the sort that smush your balls up towards your physique in order that the testicles are baked like a few tuna casseroles, albeit with out the parmesan and breadcrumbs?
There’s another possibility that might explain the precipitous drop in TT and it has nothing to do with the biology or psychology of the men in the study. In fact, it may exonerate many of those supposedly low-T men.
It has to do with technology, more accurately, the streamlining of technology.
Accurate testing for TT, according to researchers Margaret Le, requires time-consuming extraction steps and purification with column chromatography followed by radioimmunoassay (Le, et al, 2016). This has largely given way to automated immunoassays, which comes at the price of accuracy and sensitivity.
That suggests the possibility that some of the earlier TT readings were derived from more accurate testing procedures and the modern methods give inaccurate readings.
However, it would hardly explain all of “the big drop,” as I’ve coined this low TT phenomenon.
It’s difficult to figure out how to fix a problem if you don’t know the exact cause, but here are a few suggestions:
BMI is a poor measurement of body fat for most readers of this website as having an appreciable amount of muscle screws up the BMI, giving a false “fatty” reading. However, you get the point: Stay lean.
While there are several powerful prescription aromatases on the market, good luck finding a doctor open-minded enough to give you one. Besides, proper dosing of these powerful drugs is difficult and problematic. An alternative is to use a natural aromatase blocker like resveratrol.
This is the heavy artillery. Testosterone replacement, whether through injections, pellets, capsules, or creams doesn’t care if you’re fat, depressed, slovenly, or ugly. It’ll crowbar your testosterone levels up.
Pro-testosterone supplements are sometimes maligned as being ineffective. It’s true they gained’t increase testosterone ranges to supra-physiological ranges (past regular blood values) like testosterone alternative, however they do wonders in males who’re within the low to middlin’ ranges.
I’m aware that telling someone to fight depression is like telling a person inclined to take drugs to “just say no.” As far as testosterone levels go, several clinical trials and studies have shown that men with below-average T levels are more prone to depression than the general population.
However, that might be a “chicken and egg” thing – did the low T cause the depression, or did depression cause low T? After all, sometimes being depressed is just good common sense, as in when you buy a puppy and it gets run over, and then you buy another puppy and it too gets run over. (For a physical representation of depression, see Elliot Page’s face in nearly any scene from “Umbrella Academy.”)
As muscle mass increases, so, generally, does testosterone. Of course, part of that may also have to do with the depression-fighting properties of exercise in general.
No Erections, No Muscle, No Hope?
The world isn’t going to end because younger Americans are suffering from a comparative testosterone drought. After all, you don’t need to be overflowing with male hormone to produce sperm and conceive offspring.
Of course, low T can result in an inability to achieve an erection or, for that matter, recognize the appeal of anything that might normally cause an erection in the first place.
I do, however, think that having low testosterone levels can have profound implications on the health of these men (if indeed the testosterone drought really exists and isn’t a product of differing or inconsistent laboratory testing), as low T has been implicated in heart disease, osteoporosis, or really, as studies show, increased deaths from all-cause mortality.
Oh yeah. Low TT can also have a profound negative effect on muscularity or athletic abilities, but you already knew all that.
- Lokeshwar SD et al. Decline in Serum Testosterone Among Adolescent and Young Adult Men in the USA. Eur Urol Focus. 2021 Jul;7(4):886-889. PubMed.
- Le M et al. Present Practices of Measuring and Reference Vary Reporting of Free and Complete Testosterone in the USA. J Urol. 2016 Might;195(5):1556-1561. PubMed.