Is testosterone supplementation safe?
In the last 100 years, life expectancy for men has increased nearly two
fold, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the year 1900 men lived until
about age 46. By 2014, that age jumped to 76. There’s no question that men are
redefining what it means to be 50, 60, and even 70 years old or more.
Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate rest all help maintain energy
and vitality for this age group. But men are also turning to one of the most
advanced aging solutions around. Over the last decade, testosterone use among
middle-aged and senior men has exploded. Known as testosterone therapy, the
hormone reportedly helps to:
- boost energy levels
- increase muscle mass
- restore sexual prowess
Despite its popularity, scientists caution patients and doctors about using testosterone
therapy. There isn’t enough information yet to determine the safety of regular
testosterone supplementation. Fortunately, there are other options.
Testosterone is the hormone responsible for the development of the male
external genitalia and secondary sexual characteristics. It's produced by the
testicles. Testosterone is important for maintaining:
- muscle bulk
- bone density
- red blood cells
Adequate testosterone supports sexual and reproductive function. It also
contributes to a man's sense of vitality and well-being.
As men age, their bodies gradually produce less testosterone. This natural
decline starts around age 30 and continues throughout the rest of a man's life.
According to Harvard
Medical School, doctors still aren't sure about the significance of this
decline. They’re also undecided if testosterone therapy is the best way to counteract
the natural waning of the hormone.
Some men have a true testosterone deficiency, called male hypogonadism. This
is a condition in which the body doesn't produce enough testosterone. It may be
caused by problems in the:
- pituitary gland
Men who are at risk include those who have had an injury to the testicles
and have HIV/AIDS. If you’ve gone through chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or
had undescended testicles as an infant you are also considered at risk for
Symptoms of male hypogonadism in adulthood include:
- erectile dysfunction
- decrease in muscle mass
- loss of bone mass (osteoporosis)
- decrease in beard and body hair growth
- development of breast tissue
- difficulty concentrating
- decreased sex drive
for male hypogonadism
Doctors can determine if you have male hypogonadism through physical exams
and blood tests. If low testosterone levels are detected, your doctors may
perform additional tests to determine the cause.
Treatment typically includes testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) in the
TRT for healthy men?
Many men experience changes as they age that are similar to the symptoms of
hypogonadism. But their symptoms may not be related to any disease or injury.
Some are considered a normal part of aging, such as:
- changes in sleep patterns and sexual function
- increased body fat
- reduced muscle
- decreased motivation or self-confidence
Clinic reports that TRT can help men with hypogonadism. The results are not
as clear with men who have normal levels of testosterone or older men with
decreasing testosterone levels, which is a normal part of aging. More rigorous
studies are needed, according to the Mayo Clinic.
One study published in the Annals of Internal
Medicine showed that testosterone combined with Viagra in otherwise healthy
men worked no better than a placebo in improving erectile dysfunction.
Risks of testosterone
Studies are mixed on whether TRT is beneficial for normal men as they age.
Some research has brought up serious risks with the therapy, particularly when
taken long-term. This has led doctors to be cautious about recommending it. A
large meta-analysis of 51 studies published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology
and Metabolism looked at the safety of TRT. The report concludes
that safety analysis of TRT is of "low quality" and fails to inform the
public about any potential long-term effects.
Clinic cautions that TRT also may:
- contribute to sleep apnea
- cause acne or other skin reactions
- limit sperm production
- cause testicle shrinkage
- enlarge the breasts
- increase the risk of heart disease
While there may be some risks to TRT, there are risks to low testosterone
levels as well. These include a higher risk of:
- heart attack
- hip fracture
If you have male hypogonadism or a low testosterone level, talk with your
doctor about whether TRT may be a good option for you. Discuss the risks and
benefits of TRT in your case. Make the decision you feel is best for you
Maybe you don’t have hypogonadism, but you’re interested in feeling more
energetic and youthful. The following alternative methods may help increase your
testosterone level without the use of hormone therapy.
- Maintain a healthy
Overweight men are more likely to have low testosterone levels. Losing
weight can bring testosterone back up.
Sedentary men tend to have reduced levels of testosterone, as the body
doesn’t need testosterone as much. Weightlifting can stimulate
testosterone production. The key is regularly moving your body and using
- Sleep 7-8 hours a night.
Lack of sleep affects the hormones in your body.
- Try vitamin D
A 2011 study published in Hormone and Metabolic Research indicated that
supplementing with vitamin D, about 3,300 IU a day, increased testosterone
- Get more zinc. Zinc deficiency in men
has been associated with hypogonadism.
- Eat more nuts and beans. They're rich in
D-aspartic acid, which promotes the production of testosterone, according
to research published in Reproductive Biology and
Endocrinology. Try adding these foods to your diet:
- Enjoy your morning
coffee. There is some evidence that caffeine may increase
One way to increase your testosterone levels is through TRT. It’s especially
effective if you have hypogonadism. Studies have not yet demonstrated the
effectiveness of TRT in helping men with normal levels of testosterone or older
men with decreasing testosterone levels due to aging.
Men who take TRT usually experience increased energy, a higher sex drive,
and an overall well-being. But its safety over the long-term hasn’t been
established. There are a variety of lifestyle treatments involving exercise,
diet, and sleep that have been shown to increase testosterone levels. Talk to
your doctor about which of these treatments may be best for you.