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Total and Free Testosterone – What is the Difference?

When something isn’t working quite right, men typically have the response of trying to find the cause of the issue with the intention of “fixing” it. Many men who are experiencing an issue in the bedroom might turn to the internet to search for answers or solutions. Most men who are surfing the web will end up on pages that are geared towards fixing unruly testosterone levels in men. If this sounds familiar to you, you may have come across the term “free testosterone” or “total testosterone.”

These terms can be quite confusing to the average person, and some terms are easier to understand than others. When trying to understand testosterone issues, some concepts can be downright confusing. To help you to better understand the difference between total and free testosterone, here is a helpful guide to the numbers behind the two and why they are essential.

 

Free and Total Testosterone: What’s the Difference?

The majority of testosterone that is produced by your body (about 98%) is bound to either albumin or the sex-hormone binding globulin. This is also known as “bound testosterone.” The remaining 2% of the testosterone that your body produces is known as “free testosterone.”

This “free” or unbound testosterone is what connects with the testosterone receptors that are located within the body’s cells. If a cell absorbs the free testosterone, the hormone then enables the cell’s functionality. This functionality typically involves the replication of muscles or bones. It is the free testosterone that is generally responsible for the creation of “secondary sexual characteristics” present in men. These characteristics include a more resonant voice or body hair.

On the other hand, total testosterone is the overall total of all possible hormone immediately available in the bloodstream. Many traditional testosterone tests only account for the total testosterone levels. This might not be very helpful for a straightforward reason.

A proportion of 98% bound testosterone is average, however, certain anomalies can occur. If a test is limited to looking for total testosterone levels, it will overlook the genuine possibility that the hormone is excessively bonding to albumin or SHBG. If there is a possibility that the hormone is bonding excessively, it means that testosterone levels will appear normal, while still having an insufficient amount of free testosterone that is necessary for the body to perform essential functions.

If the body is experiencing a deficit of free testosterone, this can lead to poor muscle development, low sex drive, irritability, among a host of other testosterone-related issues.

Even though total testosterone levels may appear to be normal and healthy, a lower than average level of free testosterone can lead to a preliminary diagnosis and incorrect treatment plans. For instance, a patient might not necessarily need any more testosterone. That patient might just need a lower amount of substances that could convert testosterone into estrogen. This is the main reason that it is vital to test for free testosterone levels rather than merely total testosterone alone. 

Conclusion

Most tests tend to check for only total testosterone levels. However, free testosterone, making up around 2% of overall hormone levels, is critical for enabling normal bodily functions. If you are testing your testosterone levels, be sure to note the differences between total and free testosterone.