Testosterone is a hormone that helps regulate reproductive functions and secondary sex characteristics in both men and women. Men require testosterone for the development of male sexual characteristics and maintain libido.
Plasma donation involves extracting plasma from blood, which is the liquid component that carries cells and proteins through the body. Donating plasma regularly can impact hormone levels, including testosterone, because hormones travel through the bloodstream and plasma contains proteins that influence hormone concentrations. Therefore, plasma donation may potentially lower testosterone levels for a short period of time in donors.
What is Testosterone?
Testosterone is a steroid hormone produced mainly by the testicles in men and the ovaries in women, although men produce significantly more of it than women. Testosterone is responsible for the development of male sexual organs before birth and during puberty.
In men, testosterone impacts:
- Development of reproductive organs like testes and prostate
- Production of sperm in testes
- Redistribution of body fat
- Increase in muscle mass and strength
- Development of secondary sex characteristics like facial hair and deepening of voice
Normal testosterone levels in adult men range from 280 to 1,100 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). In women, testosterone levels range from 15 to 70 ng/dL.
As men age, testosterone levels slowly decrease by about 1% to 2% annually after age 30. This can lead to symptoms of low testosterone.
What is Plasma Donation?
Plasma donation involves extracting plasma from a donor’s blood. Plasma is the liquid component of blood that carries cells and proteins throughout the body. Plasma also contains antibodies that help fight infection.
During plasma donation, whole blood is drawn from the donor and passed through a machine that separates out the plasma and returns the red blood cells and other components to the donor. On average, plasma donors can donate up to two times per week since plasma replaces itself within about 48 hours.
Components of blood that are returned to the donor during plasma donation include:
- Red blood cells: Carry oxygen throughout the body
- Platelets: Help blood clot
- White blood cells: Fight infection and disease
- Other proteins and electrolytes
Plasma itself contains over 7,000 different proteins that serve many functions, including regulating water balance, blood clotting, immunity, and hormone transport. Many of these proteins, including hormone-binding proteins, can be affected by frequent plasma donation.
How Can Plasma Donation Affect Testosterone Levels?
Plasma donation can potentially affect circulating testosterone levels through several mechanisms:
1. Changes in hormone-binding proteins
Hormone-binding proteins like sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) and albumin regulate the amount of free, active testosterone in the bloodstream. Plasma donation removes some of these important binding proteins that transport testosterone. This can initially lower the amount of usable testosterone, though binding protein levels tend to recover within 1-2 weeks.
2. Effects on testosterone-producing cells
Plasma donation removes proteins and nutrients that support the function of testosterone-producing cells in the testes and ovaries. These cells rely on proteins and nutrients carried by the blood to synthesize testosterone. Removing some of these components through plasma donation could temporarily impair testosterone production.
However, since binding proteins and nutrients replenish quickly, any effects are likely short-lived and production typically returns to normal within days to a few weeks.
3. Changes in circulating testosterone
Several studies have found that testosterone levels may decrease by 10-30% for a short period after plasma donation. This is likely due to both reduced binding proteins and temporary impairments in hormone production.
However, these changes seem to be transient. In most donors, testosterone levels return to baseline within 1-3 weeks as binding proteins and hormones normalize.
4. Possible contributing factors
Factors that may contribute to potentially lower testosterone after plasma donation include:
- Removal of hormone-binding proteins
that regulate free testosterone
- Extraction of amino acids and nutrients
needed for testosterone synthesis
- Stress of the donation process itself,
which can briefly influence hormones
- Individual variations in donors’ ability to
maintain hormone levels after plasma loss
5. Impact depends on donation frequency
The degree of effect on testosterone likely depends on how often donors give plasma. Occasional donations may have minimal impact while frequent donations of 2 times per week could increase the risk of lower testosterone over time. However, for most donors testosterone recovers quickly between donations.
In summary, plasma donation may transiently lower testosterone levels for some donors, particularly with frequent donations. However, testosterone typically returns to normal within 1-3 weeks as proteins and hormones replenish. Long-term complications are considered rare.
Concerns and Precautions
While temporary decreases in testosterone after plasma donation are common, very low testosterone levels over the long term are a concern. Frequent plasma donors should be aware of potential risks and take precautions.
1. Risks of very low testosterone
Prolonged deficits in testosterone due to frequent plasma donation could increase the risk of:
- Loss of bone mineral density and osteoporosis
- Reduced muscle mass and strength
- Fatigue, decreased libido and erectile dysfunction
- Mood issues like depression and anxiety
- Metabolic syndrome and diabetes
Therefore, donors with frequent donations should monitor for symptoms of low testosterone and have their levels checked periodically.
2. Recommendations for concerned donors
If you’re a frequent plasma donor worried about your testosterone levels, consider the following:
- Have your testosterone measured before starting donations as a baseline
- Get tested 3 to 6 months after starting regular donations to identify any significant decreases
- Limit donations to 1 to 2 times per week to help testosterone recover between sessions
- Take basic steps to support testosterone production like getting enough sleep, managing stress, exercising regularly and eating a nutrient-rich diet
- Discuss medication options with your doctor if testosterone levels become very low despite lifestyle changes
- In rare cases where lifestyle adjustments and reduced donations are not effective, testosterone replacement therapy may be needed. But this should only be considered as a last resort.
- Stop donating plasma temporarily if symptoms of low testosterone emerge and have your levels retested. Resume at a lower donation frequency if needed.
- Be aware that testosterone levels may vary naturally over time, so one low reading may not require immediate action. Follow-up testing is important.
In summary, plasma donation carries a small risk of lowering testosterone levels, especially with high donation frequencies. Potential risks include both temporary changes and, rarely, long-term complications. Donors can minimize risks by testing baseline and follow-up testosterone levels, limiting donation frequency, and making lifestyle changes to support hormone production. Taking a proactive approach with the guidance of a healthcare provider can help identify issues early and determine the best course of action.
While donating plasma is safe for most people, it can potentially influence hormone levels, including testosterone. Any effects are usually mild and temporary as proteins and hormones rebalance after donation. However, frequent plasma donors should be aware that prolonged deficits in testosterone are possible, especially with donations of 2 times per week or more. Following recommendations to limit donation frequency, support testicular function, and monitor hormone levels can help mitigate risks. With proper precautions and medical oversight, the majority of plasma donors can safely continue donations without significant impacts on testosterone.
1. Does donating plasma decrease testosterone permanently?
No, testosterone levels usually return to normal within 1 to 3 weeks after plasma donation as binding proteins and hormones replenish. Permanent decreases are rare among occasional donors but possible for those who donate plasma very frequently.
2. How long does it take for testosterone to return to normal after donating plasma?
Testosterone levels typically begin to recover within a few days after plasma donation. Full recovery usually occurs within 1 to 3 weeks as hormone-binding proteins and hormones replenish in the blood. However, this varies between donors.
3. What are the symptoms of low testosterone from plasma donation?
Common symptoms of low testosterone due to frequent plasma donation include decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, mood changes, and muscle loss.
4. Can women’s hormone (estrogen) levels be affected by plasma donation?
While effects are less studied in women, plasma donation may potentially affect hormone-binding proteins and hormone production in the ovaries. Some women donors report changes in menstrual cycle regularity and symptoms of low estrogen. However, further research is needed.