OBJECTIVE Mild hypoandrogenism in men is associated with features of the metabolic syndrome, but the association with the metabolic syndrome itself using an accepted definition has not been described. DESIGN Men with the metabolic syndrome were identified and testosterone and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) levels were determined in a population-based cohort of 1896 non-diabetic middle-aged Finnish men. RESULTS Calculated free testosterone and SHBG were 11% and 18% lower (P<0.001) in men with the metabolic syndrome (n=345, World Health Organisation definition). After categorisation by tertiles and adjusting for age and body mass index, total and free testosterone and SHBG were inversely associated with concentrations of insulin, glucose, triglycerides, C-reactive protein (CRP) and CRP-adjusted ferritin and positively associated with high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Men with free testosterone levels in the lowest third were 2.7 (95% confidence interval (CI) 2.0-3.7) times more likely to have the metabolic syndrome in age-adjusted analyses, and 1.7 (95% CI 1.2-2.4) times more likely even after further adjusting for body mass index. Exclusion of men with cardiovascular disease did not alter the association. The inverse association of SHBG with the metabolic syndrome was somewhat stronger. CONCLUSIONS Low testosterone and SHBG levels were strongly associated not only with components of the metabolic syndrome, but also with the metabolic syndrome itself, independently of body mass index. Furthermore, sex hormones were associated with inflammation and body iron stores. Even in the absence of late-stage consequences such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, subtle derangements in sex hormones are present in the metabolic syndrome, and may contribute to its pathogenesis.