Top Ten Testosterone Facts
The other kids spent most of their time outside playing street baseball, but 11-year-old TC—nerdy, bespectacled 11-year-old TC—was usually down in the basement tending to his beloved plants.
Yep, I fancied myself a botanist. The years of study ahead of me and the resultant degrees were just a formality.
I read all I could about plants. I even stole botany textbooks from the library. I was obsessed with making them grow faster and I ran experiments using different fertilizers and even different wavelengths of light! One side of my pasty basement-white face was usually bathed in red light and the other blue. My imaginary friend had a hunchback and called me Master.
Then I learned about auxinsplant hormones. You rub one type of auxin on one side of the stem, and the stem bends and grows in the opposite direction! Yes, yes! Thats how plants bend towards the sun! Its elementary, elementary, you other 11-year-old fools! Cant you see it, or do you have the minds of 10-year-olds?!?
But then came the discovery that ultimately spelled doom for my plants and my aspirations. I found something that had the potential of giving me control over growth itself! I readeyes wide open and breath quick and shallow—about a super plant hormone called gibberellic acid that had been used in Vietnam to make crops grow at an incredible rate.
Big hand-rubbing plans!
So I got some...well, stole some—anything in the name of science—but I was an undisciplined young scientist. Rather than using small amounts on a select number of plants, I applied it to all of them! Dr. Frankenstein, wherever you are, you understand, dont you?!?
That night, I slept fitfully, fully expecting that when I awoke, Id be greeted by dozens of man-eating Audreys populating my personal Little Shop of Horrors, all screaming "Feed me, TC! Feeeeeed meeeeee!"
But instead I woke up to the killing fields. The plants were dead or dying, the victims of youthful exuberance.
That pretty much ended my botany phase, but the experience didnt end my fascination with growth factors and hormones. Rather, my fascination just transitioned from plants to humans and instead of courting gibberellic acid, I fell in love with Testosterone.
Thats a love affair thats lasted all of my life. Oh, I like reading about nutritional biochemistry and exercise physiology almost as much as the other writers on the Testosterone Nation site, but studying the male hormone remains my special thang.
Testosterone, for being a relatively simple molecule, is at the root of human desire, human ambition, and even human history itself. Its effects are part biology, part psychology, and part mythology. Beowulf wouldnt have fought the dragon without Testosterone. Helen of Troy wouldnt have launched a dingy, let alone a thousand ships. Without Testosterone, thered have been no exploration; everyone would have stayed home to hang drapes. No conquest! No invention! And definitely no whoopie!
And, of course, to an athlete, Testosterone is what stirs the competitive drink. Its what makes us win, and more importantly, makes us want to win. It is also what makes men look like men and the more you have, chances are the more man you are. And, to those that are lacking in Testosterone, its the ultimate recreational drug; its the nectar of the gods.
So, in honor of my love affair with Testosterone, Id like to present my 10 favorite little-known Testosterone facts, some having to do with Testosterone history and others having to do with its chemistry and effect on human physiology. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Testosterone and Estrogen: So alike and yet so different.
Testosterone and estrogenmiles apart, the yin and yang of human behavior and development, right? Well, they may have different effects, but they sure dont look much different.
Take a look at the graphic below. Testosterone is on the top and estrogen is on the bottom. The molecules are so similar that they could be merged into one three-dimensional figure! The molecules are pretty much identical except for one solitary, extra hard-on of a carbon atom that stands straight up, illustrated in red below.
Doesnt it seem appropriate that Testosterone itself would have a penis?
Science writer James McBride Dabbs describes the similarity between the two molecules as a metaphor for the similarity of men and women:
"Men and women are similar in many waysin their bodies, their minds, their hopes and fears. We should remember this underlying similarity when thinking about the ways in which they differ."
2. "Spermatic Economy"
Prior to the isolation of Testosterone in the 1930s, maleness was thought to be represented by that which was visible; in other words, sperm and seminal fluid.
It was commonly believed that male secondary sexual characteristicslike muscle mass and genital growth—were associated with the production of sperm.
This led to the predictably but horribly sad notion that sperm shouldnt be squandered. The medical profession warned men not to have excessive sexual intercourse or heaven forbid, masturbate, lest they deprive the body of this vital substance. Furthermore, sperm was thought to exist in a limited supply. Your tank supposedly only had so much gas, and youd best not be riding around on the sexual Autobahn burning up that precious bodily fluid and, along with it, your masculinity.
Pity the poor skinny, sickly men who were assumed by every sniggering onlooker to be chronic masturbators who had discharged all their masculinity into their sisters bloomers.
Of course, thats pretty much what we think today when we look at some of the specimens of manhood walking around campuses today.
3. The Primitive Beginnings of Testosterone Therapy
In 1869, a French physiologist named Charles Edouard Brown-Séquard theorized that injecting the sperm of a healthy young animal into the veins of an old man would produce vitality. Twenty years later at the age of roughly 72, the crazy old coot tried it.
Brown-Sequard revealed to a startled audience at the Société de Biologie in Paris that he had reversed his physical decline by injecting himself with the liquid extract derived from the testicles of a dog and a guinea pig. He insisted the injections had increased his strength, improved his mental acuity and even lengthened the arc of his urine stream by 25 percent so he could blast cockroaches off le toilette wall.
The procedure caught on in France and soon spread to the United States, where William Hammond, a former surgeon general, reported that the preparation reduced pain, improved cardiac function, and restored potency.
Meanwhile, Brown-Séquard continued to "refine" his formulas:
"Cut bull testicles into four or five slices, mix with one liter of glycerine, store for twenty-four hours turning frequently, wash in boiling water, pass the liquid through a paper filter, and then sterilize at 104 degrees."
We now know that Brown-Séquards formulations relied heavily on the placebo effect. Regardless, he inspired laboratory research and clinical applications that led to the discovery of Testosterone.
4. Testicle Transplants
In 1913, a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago performed the first testicle transplant on a 33-year old man who had lost one testicle through an accident and the other through a botched hernia surgery. Its believed that the donor testicle was purchased from a 3rd party who apparently couldnt wait until payday.
Four days after the operation, the patient insisted on leaving the hospital so that he could "satisfy his desire."
Amazingly, testicle transplants became relatively common place soon after. In 1918, the chief surgeon at Californias San Quentin Prison began "engrafting human testicles from recently executed prisoners to senile recipients."
Soon after, he switched to using animal testicles.
The physician, L.L. Stanley, ended up doing 21 transplants with human testicles and over 300 with animal testicles. San Quentin inmates were literally lining up to get the procedure and recipients reported "a feeling of buoyancy, a joy of living....."
About the same time, and inspired by Stanleys work, a French physician began transplanting monkey testicles into patients who complained of loss of sexual drive. He declared that the procedure promoted physical and mental prowess and advocated that it be performed on children to create a "new super-race of men of genius."
While that never happened, reports appearing much later in 1949 showed that doctors gave oral and injectable forms of Testosterone to premature infants, both male and female. A year later, a study found that methyl Testosterone made babies grow faster with no apparent ill effects.
Probably as a result of the aforementioned study, docs began giving Testosterone to anorexic and underweight children as a "general growth stimulant." This occurred as late as 1961, but luckily, the practice didnt last much longer as scientists became aware of the side effects of relatively indiscriminate use of Testosterone.
5. Gonad Tablets
The Testosterone craze of the early 20th century led to the development of several over-the-counter formulations of dubious effectiveness. Among the most popularoften prescribed by physicians of the daywas Henry Harrowers Gonad Tablet. It contained 0.25 grams of adrenal; 0.50 grams of thyroid; 1 gram of pituitary, and 1.5 grams of prostate and Leydig cell extracts. The label said it was to be taken 3 to 8 times a day.
Also popular were "Ovacoids" and "Testacoids" (that "curiously strong" bulge in your pants lets you know its working!), along with "Concentrated Orchitic Solution" that contained tissue from the "small, hard testicular gland of the healthy young, live Goat, Ram, or Monkey," dissolved in alcohol and water.
6. The Discovery of Testosterone
In 1929, researchers discovered that male urine contained the mysterious male hormone. Two years later, a professor at the University of Gottinggen named Adolf Butenandt, in conjunction with the Schering pharmaceutical company, isolated minute amounts of the substance and named it androsterone.
In 1934, another researcher purified the hormone from cholesterol, and he and Butenandt were later named co-winners of 1938 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work.
In-between those events, in 1935, a professor named Ernst Laquer, with his colleagues and the Dutch pharmaceutical company, Organon, purified the hormone even further from bull testes and gave it the namequeue up sound of heavenly choirTestosterone!
7. Horny Baby Boys?
So innocent the baby boy!
We like to think so, but during the first 4-6 months of a male babys life, his Testosterone levels are almost at pubertal levels! While were not sure why this occurs, some scientists think that the high levels have something to do with "brain masculinization."
Oh, the babys crying! Hes hungry! Maybe, maybe not. Could be that he just wants to grab some tit. Fortunately, nature, in her wisdom, has designed it so that infants of this age cant walk; otherwise, theyd be humping the family schnauzer.
Luckily, Testosterone levels decline to normal childhood levels after these first few hormonally tumultuous months.
8. Athletes and Low Testosterone
It seems counterintuitive, but male athletes typically have lower Testosterone levels than couch potatoes!
Comparative studies have shown again and again that free and total T concentrations in chronically trained athletes (runners, weight lifters, rowers, cyclists, and swimmers) are surprisingly low. In fact, the Testosterone levels of trained subjects were only 60-85% of untrained men.
While FSH and LH levels of trained men did not differ from untrained men, T levels were significantly affected. Some researchers attribute the discrepancy to alterations in hepatic and extrahepatic (muscles, skin) metabolism of Testosterone, which cant be compensated for by the athletes gonads.
And, while exercise of any kind for as little as 5-30 minutes results in a significant increase in Testosterone, levels decline below baseline 15-60 minute later. Whats more, this reduction below baseline can last up to three days, depending on the duration and intensity of the exercise!
So does this mean that fat bastards are more virile than rock-hard athletes? God I hope not.
9. Testosterone Levels and Sex Ratios of Children
A student at Georgia State University named Jonathan Bassett had read implications in the scientific literature that indicated that females with higher Testosterone levels gave birth to more boys than girls.
While this doesnt make much sense off-hand, high levels of Testosterone in fertile females might affect the viability of male and female zygotes after conception.
In any event, Bassett decided to do a study of female trial lawyersa field typically populated by high-Testosterone femalesand beauty queens. Using waist-to-hip ratios, Bassett figured that curvaceous figures might correlate with low levels of Testosterone, and that the sex ratio of their children might differ significantly from that of female trial lawyers.
He was right. Fifty-eight percent of the children of female trial lawyers were boys, while former Miss Americas had twice as many daughters than sons.
Want some sons to help you with the farm work? Marry the girl on the next farm that looks like Warren Sapp.
10. Testosterone, Finger Length, and the Isle of Lesbos
Look at your hands. Hold them up in front of you as if you were trying to catch a strippers just-flung panties. Is your ring finger (the fourth finger, counting the thumb) longer that the index finger (the second finger)?
If it is, and youre male, good for you. In the first trimester of pregnancy, when you were firmly entrenched in mommas womb, hormones started to roll up their sleeves to help build your body. Its this early exposure to T that seems to make a difference between the lengths of those two fingers.
Biologists call this the 2D:4D ratio.
No one really knows why this happens, but its been known for a long time that some bone growth is determined by Testosterone.
Researcher John Manning of the University of Liverpool has even done studies that indicate that exceptional athletes and math whizzes have extra long ring fingers, perhaps suggesting that they might haven gotten extra doses of T when they were in the womb.
Equally amazing and downright compelling about this whole 2D:4D discussion is the fact that women generally have digits of similar length, with the notable exception of lesbians. They tend to have ratios that are similar to those of men.
Its certainly not foolproof, though. Dont look at your girlfriends hands, discover that shes got a conspicuous 2D:4D ratio and automatically start rifling through the drawers of her nightstand in a frantic search for a box that contains sexy pictures of J-Lo and a Martina Navratilova signature-model vibrator. What researchers have found, though, is that when look at hundreds of straight women and hundreds of lesbians, many more lesbians had ring fingers that were longer than their index fingers.
Somehow, these women, like men with similar dynamic digits, might have gotten an extra dose Testosterone during their first trimester in the womb. As a result (and this is just one theory), their sexual preferences leaned strongly toward other women. Were it not for their lack of penises and an affinity for LPGA-sponsored events, they might as well have been men.
You know, I probably could go on all day about what I think are interesting facts about my favorite hormone, but Ive got to go downstairs and check on my latest experiment.
You see, (chuckle), what Ive done is, (chuckle), chained Tim Patterson, Cy Willson and Chris Shugart to the wall and sort of injected them with TestosteroneI mean, more Testosterone than anyones ever injected into anyone before!
The hope is that Ill create a new race of supermen! Of course, theres always the possibility that I got carried away again and gave them too much, but lets not go there.
1. Dabbs, James McBride, Heroes, Rogues and Lovers, McGraw-Hill, 2000.
2. Griffin, James, and Ojeda, Sergio, Textbook of Endocrine Physiology, Oxford Press, 1996.
3. Hoberman, John, Testosterone Dreams: Rejuvenation, Aphrodisia, Doping. University of California Press, 2005.
4. Luoma, TC, Luomas Big Damn Book of Knowledge, Oxford Press, 2005.
5. Nieschlag, E., et al, Testosterone: Action, Deficiency, Substitution. Springer, 1998.
6. Rothman, Sheila and David J, The Pursuit of Perfection, Pantheon Books, 2003.
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