Everyone knows testosterone is one of the most influential hormone in the human body. It helps in increasing muscle mass, decreasing body fat, strengthening your heart and bones, and one of the most well-known benefits of testosterone is that it helps in increasing your libido. However, there is a lot of conflicting information out there when it comes to normal levels of testosterone and how to get it tested. On some websites, you will read that a particular number is the right testosterone level whereas you'll find completely opposite information on another, equally reputable, website.
Like you, I was also confused with the sheer amount of conflicting claims about the levels of testosterone and hormone testing. One of the reasons for this chaos, as I discovered during my research, was that hormone testing or testing of testosterone levels isn’t standardized. A wide variety of methods are used by different laboratories and that leads to a lot of confusion. If you ask 10 different doctors, you might get 10 different answers on the optimal levels of testosterone and what a particular number in a lab report means.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of things, let me clarify that what might be a perfect/ideal level of testosterone for one individual might be considered low or completely abnormal for another person. I'm writing this short guide to help you understand some of this confusing stuff and how you should go about testosterone testing. However, I don't claim to be a doctor or a scientist or someone from the medical profession, and if you want technically accurate information, it is best for you to consult a medical professional.[/vc_column_text]
Different Types of Testosterone Levels
Here is when things start to get confusing. There are different types of testosterone levels in your body including albumin bound testosterone, SHBG bound testosterone and free testosterone. If you have ever gotten tested for testosterone levels, your lab results would have shown free testosterone and total testosterone.
Total testosterone refers to the overall level of testosterone in your blood when the test was conducted. It combines all 3 types. Usually, it's measured in nanograms per deciliter.
The level of free testosterone refers to the free testosterone in your blood and it also includes the albumin bound testosterone as it can be easily converted to free testosterone. This number is usually defined in picograms per milliliter. However, it is extremely hard to get a really accurate measure of the free testosterone levels as it makes up only an insignificant or small percentage of the total T levels. This is the reason, the numbers you will find in this post mostly refer to the total T levels.
Is there an ideal testosterone level?
When you go to a laboratory for testing, the results will mention your testosterone levels along with the normal range of testosterone. There is no universal normal range and it only refers to the testosterone levels of patients who have chosen to get tested with that lab. In medical terms, it is known as a reference range.
For instance, if you get tested at a lab and your results show that you have a testosterone level of 400 ng/dl along with a reference range of 350 to 1200 ng/dl. It really doesn't mean anything. You might find that you are at the lower end of testosterone levels but that reference range doesn't tell you anything. The reference range does not take into account age of the men who have chosen to get tested at that lab. They consider everyone including men who are extremely fit or men who are obese or men at the age of 25 as well as men at the age of 85 or men with problems with pituitary glands or men with absolutely no issues. In short, you can't really compare your T levels to the reference range in isolation.
There is another big problem with these numbers. As you might be aware, androgen sensitivity is something that really matters for your testosterone levels. Not everyone is equally sensitive to testosterone and genetics play a huge role in androgen sensitivity. You can't really do anything to modify your androgen sensitivity.
The amount of testosterone you need in your blood depends on your androgen sensitivity. It is perfectly possible for you to feel completely healthy and not have any symptoms of low testosterone levels for your particular age even though your test results show levels close to the lower end of the reference range.
Based on the lab results mentioned above, you might think that your testosterone levels are normal but it doesn't really mean anything if you have low motivation and are suffering from low energy. This is the reason, the testosterone levels labeled as normal by testing labs and doctors should not be taken as the ideal yardstick. It should be used as a reference as it is only one of the things that should be considered when testing for testosterone levels. In addition to the test results, you need to take into account your emotional health, your physical health as well as your age.
If you are feeling fine and your lab results show low levels of testosterone, it doesn't really mean anything.
Age and Testosterone Levels
When you're trying to figure out normal testosterone levels, the most important numbers you need to look at is the reference range for men who are in your age range. It is widely known that the level of testosterone go down by around 1% each year once you reach your mid 30s. In case you are 30 year old, you won't get any useful information by comparing your levels to a 70 year or a 75 year old man as their testosterone levels are likely to be extremely low.
This is exactly the problem with considering the lab results in isolation. The reference range is shared by many laboratories does not break them by age. Thankfully, there are researchers who have done just that.
In one research study done by a group of researchers in 1996, they grouped men into 7 different categories based on their age. The total testosterone for men in the age group of 25 to 34 was 617, 35 to 44 age group was 668, 45 to 54 age group was 606, 55 to 64 age group was 562, 65 to 74 age group was 524, 75 to 84 age group was 471, and 85 to 100 age group was 376. It gives you some reference data for comparison sake.
In another research study conducted by another group of researchers in the same year, the team of researchers came up with the data which is as follows. For age group of less than 25, the mean total testosterone was 692, 25 to 29 age group was 669, 30 to 34 age group was 621, 35 to 39 age group was 597, 40 to 44 age group was 597, 45 to 49 age group was 546, 50 to 54 age group was 544, and 55 to 59 age group was 552.
In this study, they also shared testosterone levels at 5th, 10th and 95th percentile for comparison sake. A wide range of testosterone levels in the same age group was reported in this study. It study should give you a good idea of what is considered a normal reference range of testosterone levels for men in your age group.
When it comes to free testosterone levels, you should know that 2 to 3% of the total testosterone is the normal number. In case you get your testosterone checked and your free testosterone levels are significantly below this range, you must be experiencing low testosterone symptoms even though your total testosterone might be above average or average for that age group.
Optimal Levels of Testosterone
Now, you have got tested and you know the total level of testosterone in your system. If your numbers match up with the average numbers shared above, it means that you have adequate amount of testosterone. However, as mentioned earlier, your numbers in isolation don't really mean anything and you also need to take into account how you feel physically and emotionally.
Everyone is different which means everyone's optimal level of testosterone is also different. Someone with a total testosterone level of 520 ng/dl might feel great whereas others feel perfectly fine with testosterone levels of 420 ng/dl. While a lot of research has happened in this field but researchers haven't been able to figure out a particular level of testosterone below which an individual starts feeling the symptoms of low testosterone. However, there have been research reports which indicate that men might start feeling the symptoms of low T if their total testosterone levels are below 320 ng/dl.
In short, if your total T is above 320 ng/dl, you should be fine when it comes to testosterone levels. However, it does not mean that’s the optimal level for you. Also, high testosterone levels are not essentially a good thing. Sometimes, these can cause some side effects you do not really want such as sleep apnea and blood that is too thick. Usually, there is absolutely nothing to worry about high testosterone levels but it might be of concern to individuals who are undergoing testosterone replacement therapy. If you plan to increase your testosterone level through lifestyle and diet changes, you are unlikely to have any problems.
Testing for Testosterone
Testing for testosterone levels happens in 3 different ways including through urine sample, saliva sample and blood sample. All these methods of testing have their own pros and cons.
The biggest advantage of urine and saliva tests is that these are fast and inexpensive. In fact, a saliva testing kit is available online for around $30. You just need to spit in the cup and send that cup through mail, and you will get your testosterone results in around a week. The biggest problem with urine and saliva tests is that their accuracy isn't really good and this is the reason, endocrinologists recommend using blood serum tests to determine your testosterone levels.
Blood tests are more sensitive and accurate but also cost a lot more. You can expect to spend anywhere up to $130 for a blood serum test. However, things get further confusing as there are different types of blood serum tests. Not all the blood tests are equally accurate and then, there is the issue of lack of standardization among testing labs.
CDC has been recommending a particular blood test in order to standardize hormone testing. Also, the free testosterone measurements you get from lab results are just estimates as it's extremely difficult to measure it accurately.
Testosterone Testing – Different Types of Blood Tests
Essentially, there are 2 methods for testing testosterone using blood. There is the electro-chemiluminescent immunoassay method and it is popularly called ECLIA method. This method can accurately measure total testosterone levels in the blood. It is affordable and fast. Many labs preference it as most of the work is automatic and lab technicians do not need to do much.
The other method is the liquid chromatography mass spectrometry test which is popularly known as LC/MS method. Many researchers consider this to be more reliable. It is considered the gold standard and CDC is also recommending this method to be used for standardized testing of total testosterone. Doctors prefer to use this method over the other as it is much more sensitive and they need to test patients who show symptoms of really low testosterone levels. While this method is more sensitive and accurate, it costs more money and takes longer.
As far as choosing the method for testing your testosterone levels is concerned, ECLIA method is just fine in case you are not experiencing the symptoms of low testosterone levels. However, LC/MS method is the gold standard as it is the most accurate. Most laboratories offer both types of tests and you can choose whatever method you want.
Free Testosterone Levels – Different Types of Testing
Measuring free testosterone is hard. One of the reasons is that there is so little of it in your body that it's almost impossible to measure it directly. Here are a few methods that are available to measure the levels of free testosterone in your body.
RIA Direct – This is a cheap and fast method but as is the case with such methods, accuracy suffers. In fact, many researchers don't really consider it to be accurate at all. However, many labs continue to use it as it's inexpensive. Due to it being inexpensive, many people call it an adequate method to measure for free testosterone levels for routine tests.
Equilibrium Ultrafiltration Method – Specialists in the field of endocrinology consider this to be a far more accurate and superior method. However, it’s a time consuming method and well-trained technicians are needed to perform this test and this is the reason, not many commercial labs offer this test. If you want to get your free testosterone levels measured accurately, this is the test you should choose. It costs a bit more as compared to the RIA Direct method.
The Calculation Method – In this method, free T levels aren’t measured directly but a rough estimate is given by calculating the amount of total testosterone, SHBG and albumin in your body. Needless to say, it isn't accurate and you will need to get 3 different tests done in order to use this method. In short, it can be really expensive and not that accurate.
It must be clear to you by now that they are is a huge variation when it comes to testosterone testing. If you ask, I will recommend using the LC/MS method for measuring total testosterone and using any method that is readily available and is within your budget for measurement of free testosterone.
Testosterone Testing – Where to Get It Done
Now, you know everything there is to know about testosterone testing. However, you must be wondering where you can get tested for testosterone.
Let's get to the most obvious part first. You should ask your doctor for blood tests in case you are experiencing low testosterone symptoms. The cost of blood test might be covered by your insurance. In case you are not feeling any symptoms but you still want to know more about testosterone levels in your body, there are plenty of options available for you to get yourself tested.
Like most other things, you can also buy a blood test online. There are a few reputable websites that sell all kinds of blood tests to ordinary consumers. Don't worry as you don't need to send them your blood sample. Many of these websites have contracts with laboratories spread across the country. You will go to these accredited labs for blood tests. These online websites are the middlemen that match you, the test seeker, and the medical laboratories, the test conductor.
There are quite a few reputed websites that connect you with testing laboratories. Use your favorite search engine to find a reputed one.
In addition to the total testosterone test, you can also order SHBG and albumin tests. These tests will allow you to measure free testosterone levels but these tests will also cost you a bit of money.
Once you have bought a blood test, the website will direct you to a local lab. You'll get this information through an email. There are many national testing companies that have presence in almost all the major cities. In case you have ever needed a blood test done to apply for a job, you have probably been to such a lab.
In the lab, a trained technician will draw blood samples and if you have ever given a blood sample, you already know that everything is over in less than 2 minutes. It’s recommended to get your blood samples drawn in the morning as your testosterone levels are at the highest levels in the morning.
The laboratory will perform the tests and you will get the results through email in 2 to 3 days. Check the test report carefully and keep the above discussed things in mind when drawing conclusions from your test results.
If your T levels are low, it does not mean that you have absolutely low testosterone levels. Environmental factors play a huge role and this is the reason, it is recommended to get tested multiple times if you're trying to diagnose low levels of testosterone. It's completely normal to have low levels of testosterone for a few days but an above-average level for the next couple of days. Multiple tests are essential in case you are considering testosterone replacement therapy. That therapy shouldn't be taken based on the results from one single test. Check out our complete guide on HGH products such as Genf20 plus, Hgh2x, and GenFX.
We have reached the end of this quick guide on testosterone levels in men at all ages including how to test for testosterone levels. If you think that this is a lot of information to process, I completely agree. Here is a quick summary of the things we have discussed so far.
Use the Equilibrium Ultrafiltration test to measure your free testosterone levels as it's the most accurate test. The RIA Direct method also works in case the other test isn't available at your local lab. Blood test is the gold standard when it comes to measuring the total testosterone levels. You can go to your doctor to get this test done or you can get tested on your own by signing up online.
For total testosterone measurement, the LC/MS test is the most accurate and is considered the gold standard. The reference range shared by the lab doesn't mean much in isolation and you shouldn’t think that your testosterone levels are low based on the reference range mentioned in the lab results. Use the data discussed earlier for particular age ranges to compare your testosterone levels.
There is nothing called an ideal level of testosterone that one should strive to achieve. Everybody is different and even if your test shows lower than normal numbers, but you are feeling completely fine, there is nothing for you to worry.
Even if your testosterone levels are perfect, you can still benefit from lifestyle changes that are known to enhance testosterone levels. These lifestyle changes can do a lot of good for your all-round health.
Overall, testosterone testing is just a way to get an idea about whether you need to make some lifestyle changes in case you are experiencing low libido, low energy levels and brain fog which are common symptoms of low testosterone. The lab test results don't really mean much in isolation. The more important thing is how you feel physically and mentally. So, don't take any rash decisions based on the lab results. Focus on living a healthy lifestyle and you will soon be full of energy and vitality.