TESTOSTERONE ∙ 2 minute read

Free testosterone: What actually is it?

By Joe Young | Medically reviewed by Dr Luke Pratsides

If you've ever done a blood test, you've likely come across two key indicators of testosterone levels: total and free testosterone. But what sets them apart? Let's delve into the details.

The crucial role of testosterone

Before we explore the nuances of free and total testosterone, let's look at why this hormone matters. 

Testosterone, primarily produced in the testes, is the linchpin of growth, development, fertility, and muscle and bone maintenance. Its reach extends into mood, energy levels, and sexual function. 

What’s the difference between total testosterone and free testosterone?

Total testosterone: Think of total testosterone as the big picture - the sum of all testosterone circulating in your bloodstream. It offers a snapshot of your overall testosterone production. But this doesn't tell the whole story. 

It encompasses both “bound testosterone”, which is attached to proteins like sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) and “free testosterone,” which is the biologically active form.

Free testosterone: This is the active form of testosterone, which regulates mood, libido, muscle mass, and more. But here's the kicker: only roughly 2-5% of your total testosterone is in the free form.

Why does free testosterone matter?

Total testosterone levels can be deceiving. High total testosterone may seem impressive, but if most of it is bound by SHBG, it won't yield the same benefits. You'll be the proud owner of a powerful engine without a key – all that potential going to waste. 

Several factors influence the balance between total and free testosterone. Age-related increases in SHBG can limit free testosterone. Additionally, certain medications and medical conditions such as liver problems or HIV can elevate SHBG levels, further restricting free testosterone.

While total testosterone provides a glimpse into your hormonal status, free testosterone reflects your body's potential for strength and virility. 

How to boost your free testosterone

Now that you know the difference between free testosterone and total testosterone, let's see how you can increase your levels so you can operate at your best. 

  1. Regular exercise: Hit the gym, run, or engage in strength training. Exercise is a proven method to boost free testosterone levels.

  1. Balanced diet: Fuel your body with zinc, vitamin D, and healthy fats. These nutrients promote healthy testosterone levels.

  1. Adequate sleep: Your body produces most of its testosterone during sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality rest each night.

  1. Stress management: Chronic stress can disrupt hormones. Incorporate stress-reduction techniques like meditation or yoga into your daily routine.

  1. Moderate alcohol and caffeine: Excessive alcohol consumption is known to reduce testosterone and caffeine consumption may hinder testosterone production. Moderation is key.

  1. Take a blood test: If you suspect low testosterone levels, find out for sure. A doctor can then recommend appropriate treatments.

Testosterone Blood Test.

Testosterone Blood Test.

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The numan take

While understanding the difference between free and total testosterone is important, what really counts is how you feel. If low testosterone is dragging you down, don't wait for it to get worse. Take charge and make a change.