Most people are already aware of the crucial role that testosterone plays in building muscle and for overall sexual health.
Despite the recent advancements in medical technology, however, we are still far from being able to completely understand the organizational and activational impact that this hormone (or lack thereof) has on our physiology, let alone on the most elusive tissue of all, the human brain. As one of the more academically debated and investigated topics, the effect of testosterone on our behaviour and thinking is still a domain of great contradiction.
Because of this, the public remains largely unaware as to the symptoms or effects of variations in their levels of testosterone, and often have to deal with them without knowing their cause or cure.
Overarching theories have not yet taken a foothold, but several kernel facts have emerged from trials that have focused on testosterone. At this point, there is enough evidence to indicate that low or lack of testosterone has a definitive impact on brain function, as well as on several fundamental aspects of sexual and physiological health.
This is the reason why prostate cancer patients have to undergo artificial hormone treatment.
Testosterone and Cognitive Function
Of all the physiological changes that are brought about by alterations of our normal levels of testosterone, the most distressful ones are often those that directly affect our thoughts and intelligence.
Some people might still hold on to an essentialist view of human identity, and although there is nothing inherently wrong with such a belief, those who experience neurodegenerative diseases are living proof of the fact that the brain plays a major part in the process of consciousness – and, therefore, in who we are. When our brains are gone, so are we.
This is why medical doctors are often empowered by the judiciary to declare clinical death when there is no brain activity.
This article will focus on the ways in which testosterone changes our brains by boosting intelligence, mood, as well as our perception and understanding of space.
A reputable study conducted throughout the 1990s was the first to more seriously assert the correlation between lower levels of free testosterone and a noticeable decrease in verbal and visual memory.
Just several years later, another group of scientists arrived at the same conclusion, while the argument was reinforced once more in a 2004 study on prostate cancer patients. In this instance, both memory and attention performance decreased in direct proportion to the decline of serum testosterone.
This affected, for instance, the time it took for a patient to conduct a subtraction, but also their ability to use the episodic function of their memory to remember an object.
In addition, a fairly recent meta-analysis has pointed out that moderate dosing of testosterone was firmly associated with an improvement in memory.
This was the case with both men and women, showing that the cognitive enhancing physiological trigger associated with this hormone is not sex dependent.
More importantly, the investigation effectively reconciled contradictory results with respect to testosterone administration by identifying the necessity for a moderate in-take.
The association between lower testosterone and depression is yet another widely acknowledged bearing that the hormone has on our cognition. All of the trials that kept a record of changes in mood for their subjects documented a definite on-set of depression as a result of reduced testosterone.
Although depression is more prevalent in women, men are not spared either as they increase in age.
Aside from apathy and decreased levels of energy, depression was confirmed to have strong repercussions not only on our attention and memory, but also on our decision-making abilities and information processing.
Unfortunately, depression in elderly people is further associated with a lower life expectancy.
Although more studies are necessary in this regard, incipient data confirms that, just as in the case of memory, the right dosage of testosterone might be the determining factor when it comes to contradictory results.
Research from the field of psychology seems to confirm this aspect, while also indicating that highly fluctuating levels of testosterone during puberty might be at the root of disordered eating behaviour in young boys.
3.) Spatial Abilities and Reflexes
Finally, testosterone is known to boost and/or lower our spatial memory and processing abilities. In the case of patients with low testosterone levels, this effect is often paired with a decrease in their ability to visually scan their surroundings, the fact that they take more time to perform the same tasks, but also that they display a higher rate of mistakes.
The findings in this respect, however, are sometimes just as contradictory as with other studies on testosterone.
Still, meta-analyses indicate that there is a definite trend which can be isolated if academics appropriately adjust their results and findings according to divergences in methodology.
Concluding Thoughts – Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Ultimately, if we’ve learned anything from the study of this complex hormone, it’s that all of its dimensions can have a combined detrimental effect on our cognition.
This article effectively highlights two major issues for how testosterone works in human physiology: (1) that there is a need for a more rigorous testing methodology for individual trials in order to better fundament our assumptions and knowledge of the hormone’s impact, and (2) that imbalances in our level of testosterone will absolutely have an effect on our cognitive function.
We’ve not even had a chance to account for the complexity that genes and biological sex Yto the equation, which serves to indicate that the field is still in its incipient phase. It’s likely, however, that this will drastically change in the following two or three decades.
Until then, everything we can do is rely on piecing together the vast amount of information that is currently available in order to discern whatever facts may be common from one trial to another.
- A curvilinear relationship between testosterone and spatial cognition in humans: Possible influence of hand preference: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0306453095000518
- Associations between Serum Testosterone Fall and Cognitive Function in Prostate Cancer Patients: http://clincancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/10/22/7575
- On the effects of testosterone on brain behavioral functions: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2015.00012/full
- More than sad: Depression affects your ability to think: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/sad-depression-affects-ability-think-201605069551
- Is Testosterone a Food for the Brain?: https://www.smr.jsexmed.org/article/S2050-0521(15)00008-6/pdf
- Effect of Testosterone Replacement Therapy on Cognitive Performance and Depression in Men with Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5209560/