These last 5 years major pharmaceutical companies like AbbVie and Eli Lilly have spent millions promoting the use of testosterone supplements for otherwise healthy men. Ads replete with claims of improved athletic prowess, bigger muscles, increased energy and a revived sex drive have bombarded men across all media. Instead of working out hard in the gym, these ads promise an easy and quick fix to achieve sound health, a new vitality and a more rugged masculinity. In 2011 an estimated 5.3 million prescriptions were issued to American men. Most claims are for the most part unfounded:
CLAIM: Testosterone supplements will remedy erectile dysfunction and boost libido!
FACT: Several clinical trials have found the supplements have NO effect on erectile dysfunction and a very modest improvement on the male libido.
CLAIM: If you’re always tired and sluggish, it could be due to low testosterone! Our supplement will revive your lethargic life!
FACT: No studies of these supplements have been done to measure their effects on fatigue and energy levels.
CLAIM: Increase your muscle mass, overall strength and athletic ability with supplements and gels!
FACT: Only very slight increases in muscle growth have been observed in numerous studies. No significant changes in lean body mass and overall weight were noticed in studies when compared to men taking a placebo.
A critical factor in assessing these supplements is that there is no standard measurement as to what testosterone levels are “normal” for men at each stage of life. There is no consensus in the medical community as to what is a too low or too high level of testosterone, and as a result if treatment is needed. Ronald Swerdloff, chief endocrinologist at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in California, further notes: “There’s also a problem that the normal ranges for one laboratory may be decidedly different than they are for another laboratory.”
Urologist Daniel Shoskes of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio advises caution: “The medical community and patients are abusing testosterone therapy in ways that are completely outside of the evidence. A drug with such potential for both benefit and harm shouldn’t just be thrown around like this.”
Swerdloff agrees: “These frequent TV ads showing happy couples walking into the sunset may be good marketing, but there are no guidelines advocating testosterone as a treatment for general aging.”
The FDA has issued several warnings: “One recent study found a 30 percent increased risk of stroke or heart attack in a group of men recently prescribed testosterone therapy. Another found that men 65 and older experienced a two-fold increase in heart attack risk within the first three months of receiving a testosterone prescription, according to the agency.”
The FDA has also discovered many doctors are ignorant of proper testing:
“Unfortunately, doctors who aren't hormone experts are performing testosterone level tests at the wrong time of the day, which can lead to over-diagnosis of low T. Testosterone levels are at their peak early in the morning and decline naturally throughout the day. Because of this, endocrinologists know to perform testosterone tests first thing in the morning. But some doctors have been performing hormone tests at all times of the day, diagnosing some men as having low testosterone when in fact their levels are normal.”
As for attaining a robust testosterone level, many preliminary studies assert that being physically fit and maintaining a healthy weight is all that is needed for a vigorous masculinity.
Arlene Weintraub, “Bigger Than Butch” New Scientist, July 5, 2014
Arlene Weintraub, “Safety Concerns Slow Sales of Testosterone Therapy” Bloomberg Businessweek, November 06, 2014 http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-11-06/safety-concerns-hurt-sales-of-testosterone-replacement-therapy
FDA to Probe Testosterone Therapy Claims, Safety: http://www.webmd.com/men/news/20140916/fda-to-probe-testosterone-therapy-claims-safety
Photo: Lingdingyi (deviantart CC)