Written on August 1, 2023 by Lori Mulligan, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Before we address the question, is testosterone a steroid, let’s cover the basics of what testosterone is and the important role it plays.
Testosterone is a sex hormone. Hormones are the body's chemical messengers. They travel from one organ or another place in the body, usually through the bloodstream, and affect many different bodily processes.
Testosterone is the major sex hormone in males. It is essential to the development of male growth and masculine characteristics.
Signals sent from the brain to the pituitary gland at the base of the brain control the production of testosterone in men. The pituitary gland then relays signals to the testes to produce testosterone. This feedback loop closely regulates the amount of hormones in the blood. When testosterone levels rise too high, the brain sends signals to the pituitary to reduce production.
Testosterone plays multiple important roles in the body, such as:
Adolescent boys with too little testosterone may not experience normal masculinization. For example, the genitals may not enlarge, facial and body hair may be scant, and the voice may not deepen normally.
Testosterone may also help maintain a normal mood. There may be other important functions of this hormone that have not yet been discovered.
Natural testosterone is a steroid — more precisely, an anabolic-androgenic steroid. "Anabolic" refers to muscle building, and "androgenic" refers to increased male sex characteristics.
However, when you hear people use the term “anabolic steroids,” they are generally referring to synthetic (made in a lab) variations of testosterone that are injected into your body.
Healthcare providers use synthetic testosterone to treat and manage various medical conditions.
Synthetic testosterone is the main drug of masculinizing hormone therapy, which is a gender-affirming treatment that someone assigned female at birth (AFAB) uses to produce the secondary sex characteristics associated with being assigned male at birth (AMAB).
Some athletes and bodybuilders misuse synthetic testosterone (anabolic steroids) by taking very high doses of them in an attempt to boost performance or change their physical appearance.
Misuse of anabolic steroids, especially over a long period of time, has been linked to many health problems, including:
In men, it can also cause:
In women, it can also cause:
Even though they don't cause a high, anabolic steroids can be addictive. You can have withdrawal symptoms if you stop using them, including:
Behavioral therapy and medicines can be helpful in treating anabolic steroid addiction.
Testosterone is used for men with low testosterone levels caused by certain medical conditions, including disorders of the testicles, pituitary gland (a small gland in the brain), or hypothalamus (a part of the brain) that cause hypogonadism.
They are also of value in various types of wasting syndromes, for example, in patients suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), anorexia, or alcoholism, and for those with severe burns, muscle, tendon, or bone injury, osteoporosis, certain types of anemias, and hereditary angioedema.
Testosterone has also recently been discussed in connection with longevity. As a person ages, their physiological levels of testosterone decrease. Testosterone decline has been associated with aging symptoms such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, overall fatigue, depression, and cognitive decline.
Despite their abuse potential, these drugs are legal in some countries while being treated as controlled substances in others. Their legal status has also an impact on the availability of these drugs for medicinal use. Even though these agents are regarded as older-generation drugs, and their efficacy/side-effects ratio may be questionable, they display valuable and often irreplaceable pharmacological properties, which makes them still medicinally useful.
The at-home testosterone test with sample collection at home and sample testing in a lab can serve as a good first step to learn if you have low levels of total testosterone.
Another option is to talk with a provider about your health concerns. Have symptoms like low energy, low sex drive, or poor sleep? Book a men's health online appointment so a provider can evaluate your symptoms and offer guidance on next steps, which may include prescriptions, test recommendations, or lifestyle changes.