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The effects of testosterone on the brain of man

The effects of testosterone on the brain of man

June 19, 2024

Testosterone is a hormone that, although also present in women, appears in the collective imagination as the main substance associated with the masculine. Since its discovery it has been related to aggressiveness, competitiveness, muscular and physical development and sexual appetite. We know that all this is influenced by the action of this hormone.

But... How does testosterone affect the brain? Different investigations help to know the implication of this substance in the functioning of the male nervous system.

What is testosterone?

Testosterone is a steroid hormone , which penetrates through the cell membrane and are coupled to certain proteins and pass along with them to the nucleus to be able to synthesize different proteins.

It is also one of the main sex hormones that is part of the group of androgens . It is a fundamental substance for development and is involved in a large number of processes. It emphasizes among them its great importance for the sexual development (the sexual characteristics so much primary as secondary of the men depend to a large extent of this hormone) and in the libido or sexual appetite.

But its functions are not only sexual, but it also has an effect on cognitive abilities, on emotions, on growth and formation of bones and muscles and in the state of mind.

The main organs that release testosterone are the testicles, which release the Leydig cells along with other hormones . This release is governed by the pituitary gland, located in the brain. However, the testicles are not the only organ that secretes testosterone. In fact, both men and women possess testosterone (although the latter to a lesser extent). This is because some cells of the adrenal glands also synthesize and release it, and some ovarian cells in the case of women.

Although it is secreted naturally, in some individuals with different problems you can carry out treatments with synthetic testosterone . This is the case of people with hypogonadism, some biological causes of erectile dysfunction or hormone therapy carried out by people in the process of sex change (specifically, in those cases in which the subject seeks to reassign to the male sex). Patches of this hormone are also used for the treatment of osteoporosis and decreased sexual desire. They have also been used in other areas, such as sports, although their use is considered doping.

Performance at the cerebral level

Testosterone is a hormone that acts at different levels and in different brain structures. The investigations reveal that concretely causes at the brain level an increase in the activity of the limbic system , a set of parts of the brain that participate in the creation of emotions.

In this sense, the amygdala, the hypothalamus or the periaqueductal gray matter will be those that are affected by testosterone, which causes it to be more reactive to stimulation. Keep in mind that these brain areas are very linked to ancestral survival mechanisms , which activates the aggressive response as a way to guarantee one's own security.

In addition, testosterone has different mechanisms of action to promote and increase the production of different neurotransmitters. Specifically, it has been observed that the secretion of dopamine and acetylcholine is greatly influenced by the level of testosterone.

Effects of testosterone in the brain

Testosterone has a series of effects at the brain level of great importance that in turn cause different effects on the behavior and capabilities of the individual. Several are specified below.

1. Increase the level of aggressiveness and competitiveness

The performance of testosterone at the amygdala level and limbic system in general causes the subject to manifest a high reactivity to external stimuli, awakening aggressive reactions more easily It has also been observed that as the concentration of this hormone increases, the level of competitiveness of the subjects tends to be higher.

2. It is linked to energy

The greater presence of testosterone in man is also associated with a higher level of energy and activity. This relationship is bidirectional: testosterone can make us more active, but at the same time the more active we are the more testosterone we generate . This fact makes it advisable to exercise frequently to people who have low levels of this hormone.

3. Power the libido

Another of the most known and visible effects of this sex hormone is precisely the increase in libido. Both men and women. In fact, Patches of this hormone are often prescribed in women who have lost their sexual appetite after menopause.

4. Has influence on mood and anxiety

By increasing the production of dopamine, testosterone has an effect on the maintenance of the state of mind and the sensations of pleasure . Men with low testosterone tend to manifest a greater number of depressive symptoms. In the same way, they also tend to show a higher level of anxiety than subjects with normative or high levels.

5. The capacity for empathy may decrease

People with an excessive amount of testosterone may be less empathetic, more egocentric and with less ability to bond emotionally . This is associated with a possible inhibitory effect of this hormone with oxytocin.

6. Effect on memory

As with dopamine, testosterone causes an increase in acetylcholine levels. Being a hormone involved in brain function, can influence the ability to keep information in memory and later evoke cognitive aspects such as memory.

  • You may be interested: "Types of memory: how does memory store the human brain?"

7. Fosters neurogenesis

Different investigations suggest that the presence of testosterone causes the birth and growth of new neurons, especially in the case of the hippocampus.

  • Related article: "Neurogenesis: how are new neurons created?"

Bibliographic references:

  • Janowsky, J.S. (2006). Thinking with your gonads: testosterone and cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10 (2): 77-82.
  • Zarrouf, F.A .; Artz, S .; Griffith, J .; Sirbu, C & Kommor, M. (2009). Testosterone and Depression: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Psychiatric Practice: 15 (4): 289-305.

Patient Education Video: Low Testosterone (June 2024).

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