It was supposed to be the fountain of youth for men. The holy grail of top performance at an advanced age. A chance to cheat father time for a few more years. Testosterone therapy was supposed to be an easy fix for sagging muscles, waning energy and a slowing sex drive. A clinical trial was performed called the T trials which studied the effects of testosterone therapy (#testosteronetherapy) on men 65 and older who had blood testosterone levels below 275 nanograms per deciliter of blood. Meh.
To provide a basic understanding, testosterone(#testosterone) is a hormone produced by the testicles and is responsible for a variety of functions. Testosterone helps maintain bone density, controls fat distribution, increases muscle mass/strength, responsible for all types of body hair, red blood cell counts, sex drive (libido) and sperm production. When men reach puberty, their hormones start to increase and reach their peak by the late 20s. Keep in mind that around that age, men are at their optimal peak shape and reproductive ability. As we age and pass our prime, our hormone levels gradually drop and along with it the functions that testosterone control. Most men can accept baldness, weight gain and loss of strength but the one thing that men have trouble with losing is the loss of sex drive.
A low testosterone level has been known to be a primary cause of erectile dysfunction. No guy wants to flop when the opportunity arises. Even later in life, we want to perform like in our youth. There are prescription medications for erectile dysfunction but who really wants to use those on a consistent time frame. Not to mention, if you miss a signal or time it wrong, you are in a pickle so to speak. So testosterone therapy was intended to increase your hormone levels in your blood to the levels established in a young average male. In theory, this should bring back muscle strength, get your sex drive up and give you energy to be productive throughout the day.
The latest clinical trials, assessed the potential beneficial effects of testosterone therapy for older men with abnormally low levels of the hormone. Scientists followed 790 men age 65 and older with low hormone levels. We are talking about well below the average for healthy young men of the same age group. The men also experienced symptoms reflecting their low hormone levels, like loss of sex drive. Half the participants were treated with testosterone gel, and half were given a placebo gel.
The studies reported mixed results, finding that over the yearlong study period, testosterone therapy corrected anemia (low levels of red blood cells), They found that testosterone therapy slightly improved sexual function in older men with low levels of the hormone but disappeared over time. The researchers even noted that for erectile function, drugs like Viagra or Cialis are more effective. It didn’t help older men walk farther, temper fatigue nor increase a sense of vitality. Testosterone therapy did improve mood slightly and increased bone density.
The Warning Sign?
So the information about wasn’t all bad news except that during the trial there were possible risks to the heart. Imaging tests found a greater buildup of non-calcified plaque in the coronary arteries of men treated with testosterone for a year compared with those who were given a placebo gel. This is an indicator of a cardiac event such a heart attack. This was not surprising since the FDA requires testosterone products to carry warnings of an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.
It should be noted that older men with low testosterone levels often have other chronic health conditions, like obesity. This can affect hormone levels but can be managed by lifestyle factors like diet and exercise. There have been trials performed on older postmenopausal women with hormone replacement therapy. Those results also showed that hormone therapy did not prevent heart disease and posed serious health risks. The silver lining in this is that more studies were needed to assess all the risks.
The next time you see television ads for testosterone gels, patches and injections, think twice before ordering. The claims of youthful revitalization comes with a price. There is a need for larger and longer-term studies assess testosterone’s safety. The ability to determine whether testosterone increases the risk of problems like heart disease or prostate cancer long term is important from a consumer point of view. Keep in mind that testosterone prescriptions in the US nearly doubled from 2010 to 2013. The trend is expected to double into 2017 as more middle-aged and older men seek the magic fountain of youth.
Before you consider the benefits (based on current studies), consider just diet and exercise to boost your hormone levels. There are men who require testosterone therapy because of medical conditions, like genetic defects, chemotherapy or problems with the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in the brain. Don’t be like some younger men who take the hormone for bodybuilding purposes. Just so you know, testosterone for bodybuilding or for normal age-related declines in hormones is not approved by the F.D.A.
Has any hormone therapy worked for you?