What are androgens?

Androgens are hormones that control the development and function of male 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 male development or function. Note that while androgen hormones are defined as controlling "male" characteristics, these hormones are present and active in both women and men.

One of the first things 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 develop into ovaries or testes. In the presence of androgen hormones, the gonads are induced to become testes. Once the gonads have differentiated into testes, they will begin to produce androgens themselves. As these hormones are activated in the developing fetus, they control the development of the penis, scrotum, and other structures of the male reproductive system.

Androgens play an important role in development during puberty, supporting sperm production and the final stages of maturity of the sexual organs. The role 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, men tend to have less body fat and more muscle than women.

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

Androgen hormones produced in the testes 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 lower androgen levels and slow the growth rate of prostate tumors. This treatment cannot cure the cancer but it can slow its progression.

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

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