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Testosterone Therapy: What is It? Plus Risks, and Alternatives

Testosterone Therapy

Testosterone

Testosterone is a word we hear all the time, but do you really know what it means? Testosterone is the male sex hormone that kick starts the development of boys’ male sex characteristics in puberty. This hormone not only regulates libido and sperm production, but it also has a hand in regulating your mood, your metabolism, your fat storage mechanism, your red blood cell development, and your muscles and bones.6

Testosterone is made in the testes, which is controlled by the brain and the pituitary gland. The hormone is then dispersed throughout the body to carry out all of its various functions. As men age our levels of testosterone go down, which can create some health problems. Testosterone Deficiency (TD) is approximately 30% in men between the ages of 40-79 years of age.11 This is a syndrome that is difficult to diagnose at times, because its symptoms can be somewhat vague. Its most common treatment is Androgen Replacement Therapy.

Why do testosterone levels drop?

Testosterone levels do drop naturally and gradually as men get older, about 1% a year starting at around 30 or 40 years of age. Young men may also be low in testosterone for several reasons, but that is much less common. Some of the symptoms associated with testosterone deficiency include exhaustion, low libido, erectile dysfunction, memory difficulties, gaining body fat, and weak muscles. Research has found that depression can also be a symptom of low testosterone. A 2012 study in the Journal of Endocrinology concluded that low testosterone and depression tend to cooccur.1

A decrease in testosterone can also happen as a result of a medical condition related to the pituitary gland or the testicles. When that is the case, the condition is referred to as hypogonadism.7 If the pituitary gland is damaged, for example, it won’t send a message to the testes indicating that it should produce testosterone. In addition, testosterone deficiency very often appears along with diseases like obesity, hypertension and diabetes. It also exists along with metabolic syndrome, which is a group of medical problems that tend to appear together. This syndrome greatly increases the chance of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. These medical problems are high blood sugar and blood pressure, too much body fat around the waist, and elevated levels of cholesterol or triglycerides.

What is Testosterone Therapy?

The current standard medical treatment for testosterone deficiency is a procedure called androgen replacement therapy. Additional testosterone is transmitted to men via transdermal patches, gels, subcutaneous pellets, injectables, and transbuccal delivery systems. Oral transmission is not used because it can damage the liver.5

This treatment works extremely well with men who have hypogonadism, raising testosterone levels back to where they should be. However, with men whose testosterone levels are decreasing normally with age, the results are more difficult to determine. Currently, there haven’t been very many studies that have looked at the success of androgen replacement therapy on normal men who are just losing testosterone as they get older. Research has been unable to confirm as of yet if androgen replacement therapy is an effective treatment for this population.7

Possible Risks of Testosterone Therapy

There has been a lot of marketing from the pharmaceutical industry directed at older men touting the benefits of androgen replacement therapy. Naturally, this is very enticing to those of us who are getting older and losing testosterone by the day. The problem with this advertising is that it doesn’t provide men with adequate information about the potential risks of the treatment.4 The truth is, there are some pretty serious potential risks.

Some research has found a link between androgen replacement therapy and a higher risk of heart disease, although the results have sometimes contradicted each other. The treatment can also increase the chance of getting a deep vein blood clot. This type of clot is at very high risk of developing into a pulmonary embolism, and that can be fatal. Although it is not associated with causing prostate cancer, one known risk of androgen therapy is that it can stimulate a non-cancerous growth to develop in the prostate. If you have sleep apnea, this therapy can make it worse, and it can initiate the problem in people who didn’t have it previously. Other possible risks include acne or skin rash, shrinking the testicles, limiting sperm production, and enlarged breasts.7

Alternatives to Testosterone Therapy

If you have been diagnosed with hypogonadism by a medical professional, then testosterone therapy is the right treatment for you. However, if you’re a normal man who is just losing testosterone because of age, you may want to consider using a supplement that supports the body’s production of testosterone naturally, like . There are a number of natural ingredients that are known to accelerate levels of this key hormone.

Zinc is a nutrient which already exists naturally in the body. Its role is to boost the immune system and metabolic functioning. Zinc deficiency has been linked with hypogonadism in men in research. For example, one study found that zinc can modulate testosterone levels in normal men.10

Tribulus Terrestris is a plant that is associated with many health benefits. One example is that it may increase testosterone levels in men who already have a deficiency.9

Horny Goat Weed is an herb that both boosts testosterone and increases sex drive. Its main active ingredient is called Icariin, a substance that is thought to raise testosterone in men at high doses.3

Saw Palmetto is a palm tree native to Florida and the surrounding area. Some research has shown that it can increase libido by preventing testosterone from disappearing. It also shifts the balance of free testosterone in the body and this may increase fertility.2

There are many other natural substances that are thought to raise testosterone levels, so be rest assured there is a solution out there that is right for you.

References

  1. Amore, M., Innamorati, M., Costi, S., Sher, L., Girardi, P., & Pompili, M. (2012). Partial androgen deficiency, depression, and testosterone supplementation in aging men. International journal of endocrinology2012, 280724. Retrieved at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3376477/
  2. Cirino, Erica (2017). Does Saw Palmetto Affect Testosterone? Healthline. Retrieved online at https://www.healthline.com/health/testosterone-saw-palmetto
  3. Examine.com (August 2013, last updated June 2018). Horny Goat Weed. Retrieved online at https://examine.com/supplements/horny-goat-weed/
  4. Harvard Men’s Health Watch (2017). Is Testosterone Therapy Safe? Take a Breath Before You Take the Plunge. Harvard Health Publishing.
  5. Kester, M. & Vrana K.E (2012). Endocrine Pharmacology in Elsevier’s Integrated Review Pharmacology (Second Edition). Retrieved online at https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/androgen-replacement-therapy
  6. Kumar, P., Kumar, N., Thakur, D. S., & Patidar, A. (2010). Male hypogonadism: Symptoms and treatment. Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research, 1(3), 297–301. http://doi.org/10.4103/0110-5558.72420.
  7. Mayo Clinic Staff (2018). Testosterone therapy: Potential benefits and risks as you age. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved online at https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/sexual-health/in-depth/testosterone-therapy/art-20045728
  8. Mayo Clinic Staff (2018). Zinc. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved online at https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-zinc/art-20366112
  9. Perez, Sylvia (August 2010). Low Testosterone Linked to Fatigue in Men. ABC Eyewitness News. Retrieved at https://abc7chicago.com/archive/7619927/
  10. A.S. Prasad, C. S. Mantzoros, F. W. Beck, J. W. Hess, G. J. Brewer.

Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults (1996).

Nutrition, 12(5), 344–348. Retrieved at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/fe71/8342155fef41075de234e6dbc3164b5db4c7.pdf

  1. Traish, Abdulmaged M. et al. (2011). Testosterone Deficiency. The American Journal of Medicine, 124:7, 578 – 587. Retrieved at https://www.amjmed.com/article/s0002-9343(11)00274-9/abstract
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