Edward Lee, DO is Family Medicine Provider at the Providence Lynnwood Clinic.
Testosterone is, shall we say, a man thing. For a man, or the man in your life, it’s viewed as the driver of masculinity and male ego.
It’s a key male hormone that generates the sex drive, production of sperm and keeps his bone structure healthy. So it’s no wonder pharmaceutical manufacturers are cashing in on the newest health craze: the preoccupation with low testosterone.
Drug therapy to boost men’s low-testosterone levels – given either through injection or applied topically – have joined no-exercise-weight-loss formulas and miracle hair-restoration products as the latest medical “breakthrough” product being advertised exhaustively during late-night television.
I’ve seen a large jump in patient inquiries about low testosterone. The media blitz is no doubt driving the increase. In addition to that, the baby boomer population isn’t as shy about broaching the subject as past generations.
Statistics show the commercials are having an effect. A study recently published in the JAMA’s Internal Medicine contends the rate of American males 40 years and older using testosterone therapy was three times higher in 2011 than in 2001. Statistics involving 10 million men in that age group show 2.91 percent of men in 2011 were taking therapy to increase their testosterone levels, an increase from 0.81 percent a decade earlier.
Broken down further, 2.29 percent of men in their 40s and 3.75 percent of men in their 60s were taking some form of therapy in 2011.
Studies also indicate men with low testosterone levels are at greater risk of increased blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. The condition may affect men who are hoping to have children.
When to See Your Primary Care Provider
While a man’s testosterone levels usually begin a gradual decline as he ages, treatment should be considered only if he reports these symptoms:
- Decreased sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction and/or problems urinating
- Concentration and memory problems
- Weight gain and/or breast enlargement
The only way to know for certain is to talk with your Providence primary care provider, who will conduct a thorough physical exam and order a complete set of blood tests.
Despite the impression that TV commercials give to consumers, low testosterone levels aren’t easy to accurately measure. Testing must be scheduled appropriately since levels fluctuate during the day, but measure highest in the morning. Only through a comprehensive medical exam can a medical professional make that determination.
Low-T Could Indicate Other Health Issues
Low-testosterone levels may signal other medical problems. If your provider finds evidence you have low-T levels, he or she will investigate possible links to obesity, sleep apnea or elevated prostate levels. Your brain and reproductive organs also will be analyzed.
Drug use can cause issues, too. Some marijuana, methamphetamines and methadone users have lowered testosterone levels.
Adding Testosterone Doesn’t Always Have the Desired Result
I’m cautious about prescribing testosterone therapy for an otherwise healthy male. While testosterone therapy can help increase a man’s low libido, it hasn’t been found effective in treating erectile dysfunction. New studies also caution against treating men who also have prostate and breast cancer, although medical professionals are still looking at the study data.
Young males concerned about their ability to father children should heed a study presented at the American Urological Association’s annual meeting last year. It concludes increasing testosterone levels without cause may be related to male infertility. The University of Alabama study found sperm production returned to healthy levels for some of the men being treated at fertility clinics after they discontinued using testosterone supplements.
What You Can Do: Stay Healthy
Testosterone therapies are expensive – they can cost between $75 and $300 a month. There are alternatives. Maintain a healthy weight. An exercise regimen, combined with a diet that limits sugar and fructose can be beneficial. Sugar and fructose raise insulin levels, which can contribute to low testosterone. It makes sense that diabetes also has been shown to be a contributing factor to low testosterone.
It helps to get educated about this highly publicized condition. Your Providence primary care provider will be happy to tackle your questions and concerns, and help shed light on this not-well-understood issue. Don’t have a primary care provider? You can search for a provider on our website.