If you have a close, aging man in your life, chances are great that he has begun to experience some loss of muscle mass, loss of libido and lower energy levels than he has been previously accustomed to. With the recent rise in popularity of treatments touted to combat these ails, many men are turning to testosterone boosters to replace what they believe is the missing link in their overall drive. But what many may not realize, is that they could be putting themselves in harm’s way by increasing their risk of blood clots, infertility or damage to the liver if not properly diagnosed and treated by a highly-trained men’s health professional.
You may have noticed the many advertisements (often on late-night TV or during commercial breaks for sports broadcasts) geared toward men looking to improve performance in virtually all facets of life, piquing interest in both young and older men who may be experiencing even slight shifts in their bodies. According to IMS Health Inc., a world-wide health care analytics company, annual sales of testosterone prescription hormone therapies have more than doubled since 2008. And that doesn’t include supplements that can be purchased over the counter.
So, is it time to help your man find a reliable treatment, or is what he is experiencing just part of the natural aging process? And how can you tell the difference? To answer these questions, a bit of a biology lesson is required.
Testosterone is a hormone produced primarily in the testicles and helps maintain bone density, sex drive, sperm production, red blood cell production, fat distribution and muscle mass. Peaking during adolescence and early adulthood, testosterone usually begins a normal and gradual decline after age 30, with an average loss of one percent annually.
And while it may be true that low testosterone (commercially referred to as “low T” and clinically known as hypogonadism) does have symptoms of loss of muscle mass, drive, libido and more, these too can simply be signs of the natural aging process. The only way to truly know if a man has low T is with a blood test. A highly-trained, male-specialized physician can then determine whether the factors at play are related to normal aging or if the disease hypogonadism is indeed to blame. The physician may also want to run a prostate cancer screening test (PSA) and a test to measure the red blood cell count in the body (hematocrit) to rule out any other conditions that can cause these symptoms.
For men diagnosed with hypogonadism, a disease in which the body does not produce enough testosterone, Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) can have a host of benefits, including those touted in the TV commercials and magazine ads you see just about everywhere today: improvements in mood, energy levels, sexual function, lean body mass and muscle strength. Roughly 39 percent of the male population over the age of 45 has hypogonadism, and the number increases with age, with roughly 50 percent of men over the age of 80 experiencing some level of low T.
But what about the guy who just wants to put a little pep back in his step, so to speak? Is this type of hormone replacement therapy right for him? Probably not. And there is a long list of risk factors he should consider before making the decision:
• Increased production of red blood cells, which can lead to the increased risk of blood clots or heart disease;
• Noncancerous growth of the prostate;
• Possible growth stimulation of existing prostate cancer;
• Sleep apnea;
• Skin reactions including acne;
• Urinary problems;
• Reduced sperm production;
• Edema, or water retention (especially in patients with kidney, liver or heart problems);
• Liver toxicity.
If TRT is something the man in your life is interested in exploring, the first and best place to start is an open dialogue with a doctor who specializes in men’s urological health.
While low T therapy is clearly gaining mainstream momentum, there is still a lot of research needed to be done for the aging male population. A final word of caution: many of those low T therapies sold at nutrition stores and over-the-counter have not been studied enough for their effectiveness or safety to be confirmed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The key is to always ensure the men in your life are seeking guidance from trained and experienced professionals who can help diagnose and correct the problem.