Low Testosterone May Be to Blame for Men Who Struggle with Emotions

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If you're a guy who finds it hard to talk about your feelings, the problem might lie with your testosterone levels, a recent study suggests.

A psychological condition called alexithymia is found in people who have an extraordinarily difficult time conveying emotions to others and interpreting others' feelings. Past studies have shown that alexithymia and depression are closely related, and the condition has long been associated with aging.

Depression, low testosterone and erectile dysfunction are all known to become more common in men as they age. Researchers from Finland wanted to see if alexithymia is a result of aging itself, or if it is actually caused by other factors that typically come with aging, like a lower sex drive.

In the study, nearly 1,400 men ages 25 to 65 filled out questionnaires during a three-year period, beginning in 1998, and reported difficulties they had in expressing thoughts and emotions, symptoms of depression and general life-satisfaction levels.

Out of those 1,400 men, researchers chose 116, half who had symptoms of alexithymia and half who did not, and asked them to complete a follow-up survey and report their alcohol intake, smoking status, and other information, and were also given a blood test to check their testosterone levels, said study researcher Kirsi Honkalampi, a professor at the Kuopio Psychiatric Center in Finland.

The researchers found that, no matter what age they were, men with hypogonadism a condition in which the body doesn't produce enough testosterone scored significantly higher on a test used to measure alexithymia than men who didn't have hypogonadism.

"Alexithymia has often found to be associated with old age, but not in our study," Honkalampi told MyHealthNewsDaily. Instead, men with hypogonadism were the ones who had a history of depression and had difficulty expressing their emotions.

However, the biological mechanisms that link testosterone and the condition aren't clear, according to the study, though obesity, metabolic disorders and decreased sexual appetite that comes with low testosterone and depression are all possible reasons.

Alexithymia is considered a risk factor for other psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety, as well as substance-use disorders, according to a 2009 study in the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) One.

The finding, published in June in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, was not widely reported. The researchers recently issued a press release on their work.

Amanda Chan
Amanda Chan was a staff writer for Live Science Health. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.