We’ve become a low testosterone America. Pussycats? More research needed, stat!

Summary: There are many threats revealed by science. We obsess about some, such as climate change. Others we ignore, such as falling testosterone levels in men. This loss of our manliness might explain many things. America’s falling crime rates? The increased frequency of women filing for divorce (why hang around with a low-T beta?). Perhaps even our defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the contempt of migrants for our borders.

Testosterone formula on the chalkboard

CNN reports the news, with mockery: “Modern life rough on men“, 18 August 2011 — Opening…

“Didn’t men use to be more masculine? They were more ready to fight back, right? They walked with more swagger, and just did more things their way. Researchers can’t measure swagger – but they can measure testosterone, the male sex hormone most responsible for masculine behaviors – and studies show that testosterone levels in men have been on the decline for decades.

Two major studies have confirmed the phenomenon, one in U.S. men and another in Danish men. In the U.S. study, the total testosterone levels measured in men’s blood dropped approximately 22% between 1987 and 2004.

Of course testosterone levels drop as men get older, but what makes the study shocking is that men today actually have less testosterone than men used to have at the same age. The challenges to men’s health may not be limited to testosterone levels. The amount of sperm in ejaculated semen may be falling too. …”

There are other dimensions to the problem: “Why are men’s sperm rates falling?” by Dr. Phil Hammond in The Telegraph, 17 March 2014 — “Men’s sperm production is decreasing rapidly and the scientific community is struggling to find an explanation.”

Something is happening. Thousands of papers in the past few years examine the dynamics and effects of this powerful hormone. It responds to changes in a person’s social and physical environment. It influences men’s health and behavior in many ways.

Below the fold are summaries of eight papers, among the few that examine the changes during the past few decades in testosterone levels and male fertility. These longitudinal studies are of great value — but complex and expensive — and hence rare. They have been ignored by policy makers, but deserve attention. Lead poisoning helped bring down the Roman Empire. It was one of many factors in its decline, but one that they were unable to see (they knew about the danger of lead pipes, but not other sources of lead poisoning).

Testosterone gauge

Research about changes in men’s testosterone levels

These studies paint a confusing picture. The research strongly suggests that something is happening, but its magnitude and causes remain unknown. Red emphasis added.

(1)  “Evidence For Decreasing Quality Of Semen During Past 50 Years” by Elisabeth Carlsen et al, British Medical Journal, 12 September 1992 — Abstract…

“Objective: To investigate whether semen quality has changed during the past 50 years.

“Design: Review of publications on semen quality in men without a history of infertility selected by means of Cumulated Index Medicus and Current List (1930-1965) and MEDLINE Silver Platter database (1966-August 1991).

“Subjects: 14,947 men included in a total of 61 papers published between 1938 and 1991.

“Main outcome measures: Mean sperm density and mean seminal volume.

“Results: Linear regression of data weighted by number of men in each study showed a significant decrease in mean sperm count from 113 x 10(6)/ml in 1940 to 66 x 10(6)/ml in 1990 (p < 0.0001) and in seminal volume from 3.40 ml to 2.75 ml (p = 0.027), indicating an even more pronounced decrease in sperm production than expressed by the decline in sperm density.

“Conclusions: There has been a genuine decline in semen quality over the past 50 years. As male fertility is to some extent correlated with sperm count the results may reflect an overall reduction in male fertility. The biological significance of these changes is emphasised {sic} by a concomitant increase in the incidence of genitourinary abnormalities such as testicular cancer and possibly also cryptorchidism and hypospadias, suggesting a growing impact of factors with serious effects on male gonadal function.”

(2)  “Secular variations in sperm quality: fact or science fiction?” by Luc Multigner in Reports in Public Health, March/April 2002.

“The debate concerning the possible degradation in human sperm quality began in the 1970s, was revived at the beginning of the 1990s and has continued to mobilize the scientific community ever since. After the meta-analysis by Carlsen et al. (1992) showing a decline in human semen quality over the last 50 years, several groups investigated the sperm characteristics of more or less homogeneous groups of men who had provided semen at the same center for 10 to 20 years.

“A significant decrease in sperm concentration was reported in some studies, but not in others. Meanwhile, there is an increasing number of reports suggesting that physical and chemical factors introduced and spread by human activity in the environment may have contributed to sperm decline. At the end of the 20th century the debate on declining semen quality is not closed. The lack of certainty and the serious consequences that such a decline would have on the fertility of human populations make this an important public health issue at the start of the 21st century. For this reason, intensive research should be developed in both fundamental and epidemiological domains, particularly in South America, where industrial and agricultural pollution pose a serious threat to the population.”

(3)  “Measuring male infertility: epidemiological aspects” by Fábio Firmbach Pasqualotto et al, in the Revista do Hospital das Clínicas, 2003 (3) — Abstract…

Evidence suggests that human semen quality may have been deteriorating in recent years. Most of the evidence is retrospective, based on analysis of data sets collected for other purposes. Measures of male infertility are needed if we want to monitor the biological capacity for males to reproduce over time or between different populations. We also need these measures in analytical epidemiology if we want to identify risk indicators, risk factors, or even causes of an impaired male fecundity that is, the male component in the biological ability to reproduce.

“The most direct evaluation of fecundity is to measure the time it takes to conceive. Since the time of conception may be missed in the case of an early abortion, time to get pregnant is often measured as the time it takes to obtain a conception that survives until a clinically recognized pregnancy or even a pregnancy that ends with a live born child occurs. A prolonged time required to produce pregnancy may therefore be due to a failure to conceive or a failure to maintain a pregnancy until clinical recognition.

Studies that focus on quantitative changes in fecundity (that does not cause sterility) should in principle be possible in a pregnancy sample. The most important limitation in fertility studies is that the design requires equal persistency in trying to become pregnant and rather similar fertility desires and family planning methods in the groups to be compared. This design is probably achievable in exposure studies that make comparisons with reasonable comparable groups concerning social conditions and use of contraceptive methods.”

(4)  “Is human fecundity declining?” by Niels E. Skakkebæk et al, in the International Journal of Andrology, February 2006 — Gated. Abstract…

The decreasing trends in fertility rates in many industrialized countries are now so dramatic that they deserve much more scientific attention. Although social and behavioural factors undoubtedly play a major role for these trends, it seems premature, and not based on solid information, to conclude that these trends can be ascribed to social and behavioural changes alone. There is evidence to suspect that changing lifestyle and increasing environmental exposures, e.g. to endocrine disrupters, are behind the trends in occurrence of male reproductive health problems, including testis cancer, undescended testis and poor semen quality. These biological factors may also contribute to the extremely low fertility rates.

“However, the necessary research is complex and requires non-traditional collaboration between demographers, epidemiologists, clinicians, biologists, wild life researchers, geneticists and molecular biologists. This research effort can hardly be carried out without major support from governments and granting agencies making it possible to fund collaborative projects within novel research networks of scientists.”

(5)  Press release: “Testosterone Levels in Men Decline Over Past Two Decades, Study Shows“.  Study: “A Population-Level Decline in Serum Testosterone Levels in American Men” by Thomas G. Travison et al, in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, October 2007.

“Age-specific estimates of mean testosterone (T) concentrations appear to vary by year of observation and by birth cohort, and estimates of longitudinal declines in T typically outstrip cross-sectional decreases. These observations motivate a hypothesis of a population-level decrease in T over calendar time, independent of chronological aging.

“The goal of this study was to establish the magnitude of population-level changes in serum T concentrations and the degree to which they are explained by secular changes in relative weight and other factors. We describe a prospective cohort study of health and endocrine functioning in randomly selected men of age 45–79 yr. We provide three data collection waves: baseline (T1: 1987–1999) and two follow-ups (T2: 1995–1997, T3: 2002–2004).

“This was an observational study of randomly selected men residing in greater Boston, Massachusetts. Data obtained from 1374, 906, and 489 men at T1, T2, and T3, respectively, totaling 2769 observations taken on 1532 men. The main outcome measures were serum total T and calculated bioavailable T.

We observe a substantial age-independent decline in T that does not appear to be attributable to observed changes in explanatory factors, including health and lifestyle characteristics such as smoking and obesity. The estimated population-level declines are greater in magnitude than the cross-sectional declines in T typically associated with age.

These results indicate that recent years have seen a substantial, and as yet unrecognized, age-independent population-level decrease in T in American men, potentially attributable to birth cohort differences or to health or environmental effects not captured in observed data.

(6)  “Secular decline in male testosterone and sex hormone binding globulin serum levels in Danish population surveys” by Anna-Marie Andersson et al, in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 1 December 2007 — Abstract…

“Adverse secular trends in male reproductive health have been reported to be reflected in increased testicular cancer risk and decreased semen quality in more recently born men. These secular trends may also be reflected by changes in Leydig cell function. The objective of the study was to examine whether an age-independent time trend in male serum testosterone levels exists.

“Testosterone and SHBG were analyzed in 5350 male serum samples from four large Danish population surveys conducted in 1982-1983, 1986-1987, 1991-1992, and 1999-2001. Free testosterone levels were calculated. The effects of age, year of birth, and time period on hormone levels were estimated in a general linear statistical model.

“Testosterone, SHBG, and calculated free testosterone levels in Danish men in relation to age, study period, and year of birth were measured. Serum testosterone levels decreased and SHBG levels increased with increasing age. In addition to this expected age effect, significant secular trends in testosterone and SHBG serum levels were observed in age-matched men with lower levels in the more recently born/studied men. No significant age-independent effect was observed for free testosterone. Adjustment for a concurrent secular increase in body mass index reduced the observed cohort/period-related changes in testosterone, which no longer were significant. The observed cohort/period-related changes in SHBG levels remained significant after adjustment for body mass index.

“The observed age-independent changes in SHBG and testosterone may be explained by an initial change in SHBG levels, which subsequently lead to adjustment of testosterone at a lower level to sustain free testosterone levels.”

(7)  “Is human fecundity declining in Western countries?” by Egbert te Velde et al, in Human Reproduction, June 2010 — Abstract…

“Since Carlsen and co-workers reported in 1992 that sperm counts have decreased during the second half of the last century in Western societies, there has been widespread anxiety about the adverse effects of environmental pollutants on human fecundity. The Carlsen report was followed by several re-analyses of their data set and by many studies on time trends in sperm quality and on secular trends in fecundity. However, the results of these studies were diverse, complex, difficult to interpret and, therefore, less straightforward than the Carlsen report suggested.

The claims that population fecundity is declining and that environmental pollutants are involved, can neither be confirmed nor rejected, in our opinion. However, it is of great importance to find out because the possible influence of widespread environmental pollution, which would adversely affect human reproduction, should be a matter of great concern triggering large-scale studies into its causes and possibilities for prevention.

The fundamental reason we still do not know whether population fecundity is declining is the lack of an appropriate surveillance system. Is such a system possible? In our opinion, determining total sperm counts (as a measure of male reproductive health) in combination with time to pregnancy (as a measure of couple fecundity) in carefully selected populations is a feasible option for such a monitoring system. If we want to find out whether or not population fecundity will be declining within the following 20–30 years, we must start monitoring now.”

(8)  “International web survey shows high prevalence of symptomatic testosterone deficiency in men” by Tom R. Trinick et al, in Aging Male, March 2014 — Abstract…

Though the clinical significance of testosterone deficiency is becoming increasingly apparent, its prevalence in the general population remains unrecognised. A large web-based survey was undertaken over 3 years to study the scale of this missed diagnosis.

“An online questionnaire giving the symptoms characterising testosterone deficiency syndrome (Aging Male Symptoms-AMS-scale) was set up on three web sites, together with questions about possible contributory factors.

“Of over 10,000 men, mainly from the UK and USA, who responded, 80% had moderate or severe scores likely to benefit from testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). The average age was 52, but with many in their 40s when the diagnosis of ‘late onset hypogonadism’ is not generally considered. Other possible contributory factors to the high testosterone deficiency scores reported were obesity (29%), alcohol (17.3%), testicular problems such as mumps orchitis (11.4%), prostate problems (5.6%), urinary infection (5.2%) and diabetes 5.7%.

In this self-selected large international sample of men, there was a very high prevalence of scores which if clinically relevant would warrant a therapeutic trial of testosterone treatment. This study suggests that there are large numbers of men in the community whose testosterone deficiency is neither being diagnosed nor treated.

For More Information

Also see this post about the effect of Xenoestrogens. hormone-disrupting or so-called ‘gender-bending’ chemicals in the environment, and the implications for human health. Also see Martin van Creveld’s provocative book Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West (see the posts about it — Introducing his new radical book: Pussycats and Why our armies are becoming pussycats.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about women and gender roles, especially these…

A last comparison of past and present, illustrating our collapse in testosterone levels.

Pussification of American men.

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20 thoughts on “We’ve become a low testosterone America. Pussycats? More research needed, stat!

  1. That picture you have at the end there makes me wonder if things like getting a hot shave at the barber’s were considered effeminate and queer by the older men of that period.

    Have you encountered studies that looked into the impact of physical exercise (or a lack thereof), or perhaps general stress? Those seem like they could be significant factors too; we are in general doing less physical activity and experiencing more stress (especially economically).

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    1. Dana,

      “That picture you have at the end there makes me wonder if things like getting a hot shave at the barber’s were considered effeminate and queer by the older men of that period.”

      I doubt every town in the 19th C west even had a barber. And people living outside towns only went to town occasionally. Also, money was scarce.

      Re causes of falling T

      Lots and lots of possible causes. We have to wait for scientists to sort them out. But in an America where threats are prioritized for their crowd appeal, potential profits, and political utility — not their probability and potential impact — low T of the population is grossly underfunded. Since there is possible big money in treating low T, there are hundreds of studies per year on that.

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    2. @Fab: All those city-slickers! (I think taking care of your appearance is a very common desire, though, and it’s amusing to me how newer manifestations of the impulse get called “sissy” — at least in men. But that’s its own cultural digression.)

      Re the other stuff, though, I’m not clear. There are hundreds of studies per year but they’re grossly underfunded? Is this a case where there’s tons of little studies but no big ones, or did you mix a sentence up a little there?

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    3. Dana,

      “taking care of your appearance is a very common desire”

      In the pre-modern era, staying clean by our standards was often difficult. Using a straight razor was hazardous before antibiotics — when a simple cut could get infected, leading to disfigurement, cripping injury, or death. I used a straight razor for a while, and often cut myself. Hence use of barbers for shaving, when available and affordable (often neither on the frontier, where people were often isolated or broke).

      “There are hundreds of studies per year but they’re grossly underfunded?”

      I meant there were hundreds of studies about treatment of low T individuals — fueled by the potential for big profits (and push-back by scientists to exaggerated claims). There are few studies of falling T levels in the population. These are complex, slow, and expensive — and so lightly funded. It’s just America’s health at stake. Similar to the long slow recognition of the dangers of lead (esp in gasoline) and tobacco — both of which were visible but understudied a generation or two (or more) before finally the government acted (and by acting to protect us, earned the undying hatred of conservatives).

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  2. Id like to c if it’s happening in other countries as well. I hear defeated men have lower testostorone, another byproduct of feminism?

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  3. My understanding is that there are many estrogen mimicking chemicals in the environment today. Not testosterone mimickers, just estrogen. Also statin medications block the formation of cholesterol, which is the basis for our hormones.

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  4. I saw an article a couple of months ago by a journalist who went for a month hike on the Pacific Coast Trail. He took blood tests before and after. * hours of walking with a 40 pound pack a day doubled his testosterone. Body fat went from 14% to 6%. Weight from 150 pounds to 140. Cortisol levels (a marker of stress) dropped.
    As I can determine, it could have been the daily low intensity exercise. or the negative calorie intake, or the drop in body fat, or the exposure to nature, or the lack of pollution, or a combination, that produced this result.

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  5. The chemicals we use affect women as well. There is a small but fascinating literature about effects of birth control bills on women’s choice of men. The pill simulates aspects of pregnancy, which some studies suggests tilts women’s preferences toward betas.

    Hence the anecdotes about married women going off the pill to conceive, then feeling disgust at this beta in the bedroom.

    The degree of truth to all this remains speculative. I believe the correct context for this is “lead poisoning in the Roman Empire”. That is, effects of chemicals to which we pay little attention — don’t well understand — or don’t even see.

    We’re playing with powerful chemicals whose effects we don’t fully understand, from birth control pills to massive doping of boys with psychoactive drugs. We’re like children pushing buttons on controls of powerful machinery.

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    1. Breton,

      “Waiting for definitive science in a multi faceted world could be a bit retarded.”

      Getting your T levels checked is useful only if you consult a doctor about the results. Taking treatment with weak scientific basis — relying on what promoters say — is quite “retarded”. But then, as I’ve said so many times, modern Americans might be among the most gullible people to ever walk the Earth.

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  6. You assume so much in your contradictions.
    The link I sent is from an established firm. Staffed on site by MDs, blood tests are conducted regularly as in every six to 12 weeks depending on the case. Results are now produce on in house testing stations or standard Testing houses. PAs conduct interviews every visit to seek direct input from clients prior to any approval of that days injection. One can also have a full spectrum analysis of lipids if desired. Not only are Testosterones and SBHG monitored but also PSA Tests are are a part of the standardized blood analysis.
    One can also find various Urologists and Endocrine people to do such testing and administer T in various forms.
    It is unfortunate that some men do not know this is a normal and growing standard for hormone replacement for men.
    Perhaps you might avail your self of such a set of procedures. You are past the age of significantly declining T. At least you can be a little circumspect about applying a denigrating adjective to those who do take a proactive stance on their own health….gullible is as one does and does NOT do.
    ……
    The gold standard of Experiments and meta analysis can take a period of time such that you have missed a chance for your own benefit.. Life is full of unknowns and it might behoove one to read this in that regards:

    https://www.propublica.org/article/when-evidence-says-no-but-doctors-say-yes

    Breton

    Like

    1. Breton,

      “You assume so much in your contradictions.”

      Looks like you didn’t read what I said.

      (1) Consult a doctor before applying treatment.

      (2) Be aware that the literature on this does not appear to show (so far as I can tell, fwiw) much consensus about the effectiveness of treatments for low T (although it seems to have value for some specific problems). There is a long history of doctors advocating treatments — often expensive treatments — that are eventually proven to have little or no effectiveness. This is one reason for the slowly increased regulatory reach of the FDA.

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  7. Interesting that there’s such a concentration on fertility rather than considering the effects of lowered testosterone in later years. Low testosterone levels are associated with poor mood, muscle loss, lower bone density, increases in body fat.

    Blokes over 60 should be able to get their testosterone tested and have it supplemented to a level normally associated with, say, a 30 year old. AFAIK there are no long term side effects of this sort of supplementation, but the benefits are, comparatively, well known, but we get side tracked by the whole fertility/manliness thing. Being the go-to drug for gym hounds doesn’t help either.

    It’s also worth noting the circular relationship between fat levels and testosterone. According to WEB Md 40% of obese men have depressed testosterone levels. Best way to raise testosterone levels is to lose weight.

    Like

    1. Steve,

      “there’s such a concentration on fertility rather than considering the effects of lowered testosterone in later years.”

      When people want to have a child, that’s a serious matter. The effects of low T — and even more so, the value of various therapies — are still a subject of active research (despite the confident claims).

      Like

    2. @FabMax

      Didn’t say it wasn’t important, but virility, fertility and aggression are usually the sole topic of discussion, as if that’s all testosterone does.

      I suspect, though I’ve not researched it, that there’s a social aspect to this. Testosterone has become associated with aggression and aggression is seen as a Bad Thing (there’s another discussion to be had about that). Therefore there’s a tendency to see testosterone as a Bad Thing. So why would anyone want more of it? Indeed, why wouldn’t one be happier with less of it…

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b084bpjy “How Much Testosterone Makes You a Man?” The programme is worth a listen, but from the strapline: “Testosterone has been claimed as one of the most important drivers of human life – through the agency of sex and aggression.”, so that’s it, that’s all testosterone is good for, sex and violence. Happy days :-)

      Also, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03szh9r starting about 1.10 minutes, and http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b040hy5p starting at about 10.40 minutes. The second programme extends the discussion in the first. Both programmes deal with testosterone therapy.

      Like

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