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What are Androgens?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Androgens are hormones which control the development and function of masculine tissues and characteristics. This term can refer to both natural and synthetic androgen hormones. There are several different types of androgens, the most important of which is testosterone. Each androgen controls one or more aspects of masculine development or function. Note that while androgen hormones are defined as controlling “male” characteristics, these hormones are present and active in females as well as in males.

One of the first aspects controlled by androgen hormones is the growth of the gonads of a developing fetus. At around four weeks of age, the gonads of a human fetus have begun to develop, and may become either ovaries or testicles. In the presence of androgen hormones, the gonads are induced to develop into testes. Once the gonads have differentiated into testes, they will themselves begin producing androgens. As these hormones become active in the developing fetus, they control the development of the penis, scrotum, and other structures of the male reproductive system.

Androgens play a major role in development during puberty, supporting the production of sperm, and the final stages of maturity of sex organs. The function of androgen hormones in sperm production continues throughout adulthood. These hormones also inhibit the deposition of excess fat, and promote the deposition of muscle tissue. As a result, males tend to have less body fat and more muscle than females.

In addition to regulating the development of physical masculine characteristics, androgen hormones are also thought to play a role in psychological characteristics. For example, it has been suggested that aggression and libido are linked to androgen levels. Masculine hormones alone do not control psychological characteristics such as these; rather the answer lies in a much more complex interplay between female and male hormones, and other factors.

Androgen hormones produced in the testicles are strongly implicated in prostate cancer, and have been shown to promote the growth of prostate cancer cells. Because of this, a common treatment for prostate cancer is androgen therapy, used to reduce androgen levels and lower the growth rate of prostate tumors. This treatment cannot cure the cancer but can slow down its progression.

In other situations, androgen therapy may also be used to treat women. Around menopause, many women have symptoms such as fatigue, low libido, reduced sense of well-being, reduced motivation, and other symptoms which can signify reduced androgen levels. Taking prescribed androgens as a means of therapy can help reduce the severity of these symptoms.

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Discussion Comments

By hanley79 — On Aug 04, 2011

@SkittisH - Try not to take it personally -- nature's got your survival in mind, not your butt size. Women naturally cling to body fat because we are made to have children and need more energy to burn to nourish them, especially while nursing. I think we were designed to nurture and to stay home for long periods of time while we have young children.

Men, meanwhile, get more androgens that keep body fat levels low. I don't know if this is scientifically proven, but it makes sense to me that men were designed to have less fat and more muscle because they probably went out and actively hunted and had food more frequently than women back when our society was all Hunter-Gatherer style.

So I guess what I mean is, women are "predestined to fatness" as you call it because we're like bears. We pack on fat to prepare for a long time without food. Androgens keep men slim sot hat they can go hunt food and eventually bring some back for us, or at least that's how it used to be.

Then we got all modern, men and women stopped playing set roles in a household, and women started worrying when their butts got too big.

By SkittisH — On Aug 03, 2011

Ah, so androgens are the hormones I can blame for the fact that men naturally retain less body fat than women! I always thought that was so unfair. My brother and I are a year apart in age, and growing up we both ate whatever we pleased and never gained weight. Sounds great, right?

Well, now we are young adults, and he's still skinny as a rail, while I have to watch my carbohydrate and sugar intake or it goes straight to my butt. And he doesn't work out any more than I do, and he has a similar job that involves sitting at a desk all day, so why? Why does nature have to make women predestined toward fatness?

By Malka — On Aug 02, 2011

Isn't the human body fascinating? I find it really interesting that androgens control the growth of "male" aspects of the body, and yet women also have them active in their bodies. These hormones aren't exclusive to any particular gender, they simply influence the body's creation of ells that are gender-specific, like sperm.

Despite having more than enough examples right in front of them, scientists still have so much to learn about how we tick. Why are we male or female? We know we need to be to reproduce but why did we turn out one way or the other? Is it just random?

By TheGraham — On Aug 01, 2011

The start of the word "androgens" -- "andro" -- means "male". That's why the word "android" was original exclusively for male robots -- a female android is technically called a "gynoid". Sounds familiar, doesn't it? "Gyno" or "gyn" means "female", hence "gynecology".

With that in mind, are female hormones called "gynogens"?

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