Living Well: Testosterone therapy — good idea or not?
March 13, 2015
You've likely heard the term Low-T or seen an advertisement talking about how testosterone declines as men age and how the solution is taking a testosterone replacement. What it promises may seem appealing, including increased libido and muscle mass, but what's the whole story? Does it come with health risks?
Each birthday after 30 means a decrease in testosterone levels by approximately 1 percent. That means by age 60 your testosterone level will be about 30 percent lower than what it was when you were a young man. You've heard of menopause for women? Andropause is what men experience — a natural, slow decline in testosterone levels. Sometimes, the decrease is fast, causing legitimate concerns.
Symptoms of Low-T include hair loss, fatigue, low semen production, lowered sex drive, erectile dysfunction, hot flashes, infertility, loss of muscle and bone mass, mood swings and increased body fat. These changes can naturally occur with aging, but if you are an older man and are experiencing many of these all at once, it may be time to see your doctor.
Some men see testosterone replacement as a fountain of youth — a way to reverse typical results of aging and make them feel young and virile once again. While it may seem cut and dry that you should replace the testosterone you lose as you age, it's not. There are unwanted side effects such as problems sleeping, decreased sperm production, and enlarged breasts.
But it's not only side effects that should make you think twice. Studies on the safety of taking testosterone supplements are not conclusive. Some studies have found that it raises your risk for not only heart attacks but stroke and deep vein thrombosis as well. Others show that taking testosterone supplements might increase your risk for prostate cancer. Other studies show these claims to be false.
There are legitimate reasons to treat Low-T, including a fairly common condition known as hypogonadism. Hypogonadism simply means the testes stop producing testosterone at adequate levels. Three million men each year in the U.S. have this condition. Certain conditions can cause hypogonadism, including radiation exposure, infections, liver and kidney disease and autoimmune disorders, genetic disorders, and more.
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Another reason may be male infertility, if you and your partner are trying to get pregnant. Male infertility is responsible for approximately a third of the cases of infertility among couples.
If you suspect you might have Low-T that is outside what's expected as you age, talk with your doctor. The only way to check for Low-T is a blood test. Sometimes, the solution is not added testosterone, but an increase in your iron intake. Low iron can affect your testosterone levels. Practice caution before taking a nutritional supplement to increase your testosterone.
If your doctor does prescribe testosterone replacement therapy, you've got choices. You can get your needed dose by wearing a patch, applying gel, sucking on a lozenge or getting an injection.
Testosterone replacement therapy is not something you should decide upon lightly. Check with your doctor first to see if it's right for you.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.