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What Are Androgens? - Definition, Types, Function & Effects

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  • 0:00 What Are Androgens?
  • 0:31 Types of Androgens
  • 1:39 Androgen Functions & Effects
  • 3:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Do you have androgens? The answer is YES, but the amount will differ. Read more to find out what I'm talking about! In this lesson, we'll learn what androgens are, how many different types there are and what they do.

What Are Androgens?

Androgens are hormones responsible for the male features and reproduction. Some are naturally produced in the body, and if the body doesn't make them properly, they can be obtained through prescription medication. Androgens are responsible for sexual development in males and are produced by the testes. Women have smaller amounts of androgens too, and the ovaries produce these.

Types of Androgens

The primary group of androgens is called adrenal androgens, and they function as weak steroids. These include dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S), and androstenedione. DHEA is produced in the adrenal cortex from cholesterol, and androstenedione is produced in the testes, adrenal cortex, and the ovaries (in women, obviously).

The most well known androgen is testosterone, which is responsible for developing the secondary sex characteristics in men. Another well-known androgen is dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The presence of DHT in the developing embryo is what causes the formation of the penis, scrotum, and prostate. During mid-life, DHT is responsible for male balding, prostate growth, and sebaceous gland activity. This is actually a metabolite of testosterone produced in the skin and reproductive tissues.

Androgen Functions & Effects

So, what do androgens actually do in the body? Let's break it down by individual function.

  • Testes formation

In embryos of mammals, the young can either become male or female, meaning that either testes or ovaries will develop. When certain Y chromosomes are present, indicating a male, the penis, scrotum, and prostate will develop, making the embryo a male. Once the embryo is male, the body will begin producing more androgens to continue male development.

  • Spermatogenesis

Once puberty hits in males, androgens are partly responsible for the production of sperm and this production is supported throughout the rest of life. However, if androgen levels are too high, then it can actually inhibit the production of sperm and eventually cause infertility.

  • Inhibition of fat deposition

Here's a lesser-known function: androgens prevent certain fat cells from actually storing fats. Males usually have less body fat than females and this is one reason why.

  • Muscle mass

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