When considering the differences between free testosterone and total testosterone, it’s important to first understand what testosterone is.
Testosterone is the primary sex hormone found in males. Testosterone production is regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain. These two glands signal the secretion of testosterone from its storage site, the Leydig cells of the testes. Aside from that, small quantities of testosterone are also produced in the adrenal glands of both sexes.
It is essential for males’ physical and sexual development, as well as muscle growth, bone density, and strength. While it’s dominantly found in a male body, women produce it too but in much smaller amounts compared to men.
Testosterone’s effects range from the development of physical characteristics to mental or behavioral changes. These include:
- Sex drive regulation (or libido)
- Bone mass density
- Production of red blood cells
- Production of sperm cells
Total testosterone production naturally peaks during adolescence and early adulthood. Testosterone levels remain stable in a man’s 20s, then begin to gradually decline after the age of 30 by about 1.6% per year.
Moreover, it’s a misconception to think that testosterone’s only function is to boost libido. According to a study performed by Dr. Joel Finkelstein at the Massachusetts General Hospital, patients aged 20 to 50 who were given less testosterone underwent a significant reduction in lean mass, muscle size, and leg-press strength.
Needless to say, testosterone is crucial in a man’s body. But testosterone isn’t just a singular hormone—there are multiple types of it with their own distinct functions.
Let’s explore them.
What is Free Testosterone?
Free testosterone is the unbound form of testosterone in your body. Unlike total testosterone which has SHBG or albumin chemical receptors bound to it, unbound testosterone can act as receptors to any cell in the body.
As free testosterone can readily combine with any available receptor site on a cell, it can freely combine with any T molecule and execute functions such as regulate metabolism and execute cellular functions. Under normal circumstances, the cellular function can’t be performed when testosterone is bound to a protein already.
If you have more SHBG in your body, it means that there are more chemical receptors attached to SHBG (or bound testosterone) rather than free testosterone.
Only 1 to 2% of circulating testosterone around your body is classified as free testosterone. An average of 80% of testosterone found in men is bound to sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), while smaller percentages are bound to albumin and cortisol-binding globulin.
It’s also important to differentiate free testosterone from bioavailable testosterone, although they are fairly similar. Bioavailable testosterone is the combination of free and weakly bound (such as T bound with serum albumin) testosterone circulating the body.
What is Total Testosterone?
Your total testosterone level includes both bound and unbound fractions of testosterone. These are calculated in a simple blood test that determines whether you have low testosterone levels (aka testosterone deficiency) or normal readings.
According to the American Urological Association (AUA), the current clinical threshold for low testosterone in men is less than 300ng/dL.
How Does Free vs Total Testosterone Affect Male Health?
Total testosterone levels have been the main indicator of a man’s health and fertility for many years.
Now, as doctors are starting to learn more about free testosterone, it is becoming apparent that the true indicators of a man’s strength and virility include both bound and unbound fractions of this hormone.
What does this all mean? Suppose that you feel symptoms of low testosterone levels, such as:
- Poor muscle development
- Increased irritability
- Lowered sex drive
Then, suppose that you took a testosterone test that only accounted for the grand total testosterone levels – and it shows that you have normal total testosterone levels.
Without taking into account your free testosterone levels, your doctor may wrongly attribute these symptoms to another condition and prescribe treatment plans for said condition.
While in fact, the problem may lie in the insufficient amount of free testosterone circulating your body.
Since free testosterone is important since it helps in cell replication and bone and muscle strength, it plays a vital role in a man’s body.
If you worry about worsening sexual health, consulting your doctor to gain normal testosterone levels is recommended.
How Can I Check My Testosterone Levels?
There are many factors that need to be analyzed together before an accurate diagnosis can be given, including SHBG levels, erectile dysfunction due to low testosterone, testosterone deficiencies, among other conditions.
As such, it’s critical for patients to tell their doctors of any medications and their history to fully account for these variances.
Advanced medical technology is capable of extracting your testosterone count from your blood sample. Fortunately, there are now many labs offering testosterone blood tests for men.
Male health clinics, such as Prestige Men’s Medical Center, provide testing for testosterone and low-T treatment for patients struggling with low-T levels.
How to Increase Free Testosterone Levels
There are several methods to improve free testosterone levels in men. As a rule of thumb, the majority of healthy methods for elevating total testosterone also work for increasing free testosterone.
- Lift Weights: Increase muscle mass to speed up your metabolism rate.
- Eat Healthily: Avoid trans and saturated fats. A good diet that helps to unclog arteries and overall health is always a healthy choice to boost your free testosterone.
- Take Vitamin D: Take foods rich in Vitamin D such as fortified dairy and beef, or opt for a D3 supplement.
- Medical Therapy: Aside from the aforementioned techniques, medical intervention in the form of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) could also be considered for some men.
Consult a Medical Clinic Specializing in Low Testosterone for a Professional Diagnosis
Free testosterone is a small but important component of the total testosterone in a man’s body. It’s responsible for key cellular functions since, unlike bound Ts, they can act as receptors for many cells in the body to perform functions like cell replication.
Many factors need to be analyzed together before an accurate diagnosis can be given. Some of these factors include SHBG levels, estrogen levels, prolactin levels, thyroid levels, and DHEA-S levels.
Before you begin supplementing with any testosterone booster or drug, it’s important to have an accurate diagnosis for low T first.
For more information on the matter of low or high testosterone, erectile dysfunction, hormone imbalances that may require therapy, or other sexual issues, call the team at Prestige Men’s Medical Center now to schedule an appointment to have a consultation with an experienced and specially trained medical staff for a clinical diagnosis.