How Low Testosterone Affects Your Health
Dropping levels of this male hormone can cause more than sexual problems. It can also affect your mood, weight, and concentration.
The Hidden Effects of Low Testosterone
Testosterone is more than just fuel for a sex machine. Low testosterone levels can also cause:
- Decreases in bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis
- Diminishing ability to concentrate, as well as irritability and depression
- Increases in body fat, particularly in the midsection where the buildup puts them at heightened risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Treating Low Testosterone
Fortunately, there are effective remedies to raise testosterone back up to a normal level. Sabanegh likes his patients' levels to hover around 300 to 500 ng/dL. Treatment comes in several different forms, each with its own pros and cons.
Deep muscle injections are the oldest and least expensive treatment. Given every one to three weeks, they give patients the biggest boost in the first few days, after which levels begin to drop. They're not for the needle shy, and they can be painful when receiving the injection itself.
Patches and gels are applied daily to the skin, and the testosterone is absorbed into the bloodstream. They're easy to use, but some men develop rashes, itching, and other skin irritations. Also, they have to be careful that their partners and children don't touch the gel.
Buccal tablets are placed between the gums and upper lip -- like chewing tobacco (not that anyone should be chewing tobacco). These 12-hour tablets slowly release testosterone into the bloodstream, but they can be bitter-tasting as well as an irritant to your gums.
Subcutaneous (under the skin) implants are the latest treatment in the testosterone-boosting arsenal. Once these implants are in place, they work continuously for about six months. Sabanegh says that infections, bleeding, or bruising can occur at the insertion point, though rarely.
Potential Side Effects of Testosterone Treatments
Sabanegh steers patients with sleep apnea away from testosterone therapies since it may worsen the condition. He also discourages men who are trying to conceive a child with their partners. "In some men," says Sabanegh, "testosterone treatment will turn off the body's own testicular function -- both sperm production as well as testosterone production."
Long-term use of testosterone boosters may increase a man's red blood cell count, thickening the blood and potentially increasing the risk of blood clots. It also can accelerate age-related enlargement of the prostate, a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia. However, there is little evidence, according to Sabanegh, that testosterone treatments put men at higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
"We used to worry about prostate cancer, that testosterone treatment might accelerate its progress or onset, but that has not been borne out," he says.
Still, your doctor will likely want to keep a close watch on your prostate and monitor it for any suspicious changes for as long as you are taking testosterone. Other potential adverse effects of treatment can include acne and breast tenderness.