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Skepticism Grows About Safety of Testosterone Therapy

Increased skepticism and closer scrutiny of the benefits and risks of testosterone therapy is beginning to emerge in the wake of several research reports highlighting their potential danger, according to a recent New York Times story by Roni Caryn Rabin.

However, given the wild popularity these treatments have achieved among male patients in recent years, it may be an uphill battle to stem the tide of prescriptions being written in large numbers every single day.

Research unveils testosterone side effects

Over the past decade, studies intended to examine the potential benefits for older male patients of testosterone therapy have yielded a substantial amount of evidence that the use of such drugs frequently results in a significantly heightened risk of cardiovascular events such as strokes and heart attacks. While the specific degree of risk to certain categories of men varies depending on their age, history of heart disease and other health issues, the research results to date give real cause for concern.

Recent boom in use of testosterone therapy

It has been virtually impossible to escape the advertising blitz in recent years touting the ability of testosterone drugs to reverse some of the more frustrating complaints of middle aged men, including low libido, lethargy and general malaise. The concept of “low T” as an actual medical affliction has caught on like wild fire, causing countless men to schedule appointments with their doctor in order to obtain relief.

The fact remains that testosterone therapy products available have received FDA approval only for use in men with documented low serum testosterone related to a condition known as hypogonadism. Despite that reality, many physicians have been prescribing the treatments to men who have received no such diagnosis.

Experts remain conflicted about testosterone therapy risks

Testosterone researcher Dr. Brad Anawalt believes that for patients who really are suffering from clinically-identified low testosterone, the benefits of these drugs can certainly be greater than the potential for adverse testosterone side effects. However, for others, the potential harm is simply not worth the gamble. In such situations, Dr. Anawalt informs patients that because he is uncertain about the safety of such treatments, they should consider pursuing natural methods of increasing their blood testosterone levels.

Others have drawn an analogy between the rise in popularity of testosterone drugs and the hormone replacement therapies countless women were given before any large-scale analysis of its safety was conducted. Experts long believed that those treatments were effective in guarding against heart disease, but when formal studies were concluded, it was revealed that they actually increased patient risk of strokes, blood clots and cancer and also did nothing to prevent heart disease.

The National Institutes of Health is currently overseeing a large trial intended to assess whether testosterone treatments actually do produce measurable improvements in mental function, physical condition and libido, but some experts believe that such studies have the wrong focus.

They argue that greater attention needs to be paid to determining the long-term dangers this type of therapy may truly pose so that millions of men do not incur unnecessary, possibly deadly risk in an attempt to recapture their youth.

  1. New York Times, Weighing Testosterone's Benefits and Risks,

  2. NIH News, NIH-Supported Trial to Study Testosterone Therapy in Older Men,

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA evaluating risk of stroke, heart attack and death with FDA-approved testosterone products,