Confused about the difference between total testosterone vs free testosterone? Learn the two main types of T, the differences between them, and what to do if you notice symptoms of low T.
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Testosterone is a hormone produced in men's testes, women's ovaries, and adrenal glands. The hormone is responsible for creating and repairing male reproductive tissue and supports muscle and bone strength. It also deepens men’s voices, builds muscle, and supports chest hair growth and penile growth during puberty. Testosterone aids in sperm production and libido throughout a man’s life. Testosterone is often called "the male hormone" because males typically have more than females.
Levels of testosterone typically surge in men during their teenage years. Men often have different testosterone hormone levels in their bodies along with different types of testosterone.
Most of the testosterone in men is created in the testes from cholesterol. A small percentage of testosterone is also created in the adrenal glands. There are two primary types of testosterone produced into the bloodstream: total testosterone vs. free testosterone.
Total testosterone refers to the summation of all the testosterone hormones in your bloodstream. Total testosterone accounts for 98% of the testosterone in the blood, which is bound to globulin (sex-hormone binding protein) or albumin. It is also known as "bound testosterone.” The other 2% of testosterone is referred to as free testosterone.
Free testosterone actively connects testosterone receptors all over the body and is not bounded to any proteins. Free testosterone is absorbed into body cells such as muscle tissue and bones to improve their functionality. It is also responsible for secondary sexual characteristics such as facial hair, chest hair, and a deeper voice in men.
Insufficient free testosterone in the bloodstream could lead to adverse symptoms such as excessive weight gain, poor muscle development, low sex drive, and irritability. While these and more issues are rarely attributed to the little free testosterone, it is often the culprit.
You may experience symptoms of hypogonadism (an androgen deficiency syndrome caused by low testosterone), yet still have a normal total testosterone level. That's because the total testosterone in your blood is not the only factor in symptoms of testosterone deficiency.
The excessive bondage of testosterone to either globulin or albumin could result in low levels of free testosterone. Consequently, you may begin to experience symptoms of low testosterone.
Fortunately, a normal screening test measures the levels of both free and bound testosterone. The test can help resolve low sex drive in men. In women, the test can find solutions to late or missed periods, patterns of facial or chest hair, or difficulty getting pregnant.
A low testosterone test could also signify underlying problems in the pituitary or hypothalamus gland, which control the levels of testosterone in the body.
Neither type is more important than the other. That's because low total testosterone levels often result in similar symptoms to low free testosterone levels. Nevertheless, it is particularly essential to keep track of the balance between your total and free testosterone levels. That way, you can take prompt action whenever there is a discrepancy in your testosterone levels.
If you notice signs like low sex drive, fatigue, hair loss, swollen breasts, and weak bones, it is probably time to get a testosterone test. Your physician may prescribe supplements or injections to normalize your testosterone levels.
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