If you are (or know) an older man, you’ve probably seen advertisements on the web and in lifestyle magazines that list the supposed benefits of taking supplemental testosterone. Claims have ranged from reversing aging to preventing cancer to weight loss, but almost none of these claims are backed by much science. New research published this week hammers another nail into the coffin of taking testosterone if you’re a healthy older man by casting doubts on a few of the often-touted benefits.
How do testosterone levels change with age?
Testosterone levels normally ramp up to their highest levels during the teen and early adult years from which point they level off and start to slowly decrease at around 30 to 40 years of age. While testosterone plays a role in growth, development and hormonal regulation in both men and women, it’s thought to play a more prominent role in men, especially when it comes to sexual function, aging and health over time. As a result, companies making testosterone supplements have focused their advertising on older men who may feel that their lower testosterone levels account for some of the negative changes they experience as they get older.
Is lower testosterone linked to health issues?
Some health issues have been linked to lower testosterone. For example, decreasing testosterone levels seem to be linked to lower sex drive in men, lower muscle mass, and increased body fat. But these changes are often most noticeable among men who have diseases that lower their testosterone more than is typically seen with the aging process. Testosterone has been found to have some health benefits in men with dramatically lowered testosterone levels, but big questions remain about the effectiveness of testosterone in men who are healthy and have low to normal testosterone.
Why might I worry about taking testosterone supplements?
Like many drugs, supplementary testosterone comes with risks as well as potential benefits. For example, testosterone can increase the risk of blood clots and prostate cancer and can contribute to sleep apnea, a sleep disorder than can lead to weight gain and high blood pressure. For most men, the possible benefits of taking testosterone are likely far less than the potential harms that could result.
What did this study examine?
This study, called the Testosterone’s Effects on Atherosclerosis Progression in Aging Men (TEAAM) trial, aimed to look at how taking testosterone affected the buildup of cholesterol in the blood vessels of men who took it, their sexual function and their quality of life as it related to their health. The researchers recruited 306 healthy men over 60 with testosterone levels on the low side of normal. They gave 151 of them testosterone while the rest received a placebo drug. The men took these supplements for three years and the team followed their testosterone levels, cholesterol levels, and blood chemistry, their self-rated sexual function and their self-rated quality of life.
What did this study find?
After three years, the research team found that testosterone supplements didn’t seem to affect the amount of cholesterol buildup in blood vessels that can lead to heart disease. In addition, the data also showed that taking testosterone had no effect on erectile or ejaculatory function, sexual desire, partner intimacy, or how good a person rated their health-related quality of life.
How does this study affect me?
Testosterone supplements can be tempting because their advertisements offer to reverse many of the problems that come along with aging. Women, as the partners of aging men, often also suffer with these changes and are often involved in their partner’s decision to take hormones. This study shows that while testosterone may not boost your risk of heart disease, it also won’t help with your sex life or make you feel better about your health. Fortunately, there are well-tried ways of boosting sexual function and overall health with age, including a better diet, more exercise, and certain medications. Have a conversation with your doctor if you’re concerned about how aging is affecting your sex life or health.