Testosterone for Aging: Caution Urged
Researchers Say Testosterone Therapy Is Not a Fountain of Youth for Men
Dec. 11, 2007 -- More and more clinics and infomercials are popping up
touting the antiaging benefits of hormones for men. But researchers are warning
prospective patients to view the claims with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Male hormones like testosterone are well known to bulk up muscle mass and
cut down on body fat.
But there's growing interest over the last several years in
"testosterone replacement" therapy for men who are aging normally. The
idea is that replacing naturally waning testosterone can make men more robust
and possibly healthier as they age.
One recent study from Australia showed that giving otherwise healthy,
non-obese men testosterone replacement over the course of a year helped them
avoid some of the muscle loss and fat gain associated with aging. The men were
all over 55 years of age but were not "deficient" in testosterone when
they started the study.
The study suggests that "replacement" could be a help to men.
Especially if the benefits seen in deficient men -- such as improving bone
strength and reducing cardiovascular risk -- translate to naturally aging
But that "if" is a big if, experts say. They say the results of the
study and others like it are giving too many people an excuse to claim that
testosterone and human
growth hormone replacement is a fountain of youth for men.
Testosterone Therapy and Healthy Men
Marc R. Blackman, MD, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University in
Baltimore, says no one has ever shown that otherwise healthy men get any
healthier if they gain some muscle or lose some fat on testosterone
At the same time, gains in muscle mass haven't even been shown to improve
older men's ability to perform normal activities like climbing stairs or
"Nobody's ever shown that. And coupled with an absence of proof of
meaningful effectiveness is the absence of long-term safety information,"
Blackman tells WebMD at a conference sponsored by the Endocrine Society in
Without proof of improved strength or help in avoiding disease, all that can
be concluded now is that the benefits of testosterone therapy are
"absolutely cosmetic," he says.
Testosterone Therapy: U.S. vs. Europe
Experts, including Blackman, say they're worried about growing prescriptions
for testosterone, along with evidence of growing gray-market purchases over the
Internet. That use is at least in part fueled by studies like the Australian
study in 60 men.
Glenn R. Cunningham, MD, a professor of medicine at Baylor College in
Houston, says testosterone does show some benefits in men who are clinically
deficient. But in men whose testosterone wanes normally, the benefits are
"We don't treat those men," Cunningham says. "Most of the
clinical trials in this area are small. You don't get the information you need
to truly address effectiveness and safety in studies this small."
Researchers including Cunningham and Blackman are trying to get the
government to fund a large-scale trial of testosterone use in older men. They
want to see if the drug can be managed effectively so that patients could
derive benefits while avoiding risks.
In the meantime, Blackman points to an attitude that he says differs between
the U.S. and Europe, where testosterone therapy is not nearly as popular. In
the U.S., both men and women tend to place a high "prize" on
appearance, sometimes with unhealthy consequences, Blackman says.
In Europe the attitude is: "Aging is part of the normal life cycle. Live