Overall, few patients have a compelling contraindication to testosterone treatment. The majority of men with late onset hypogonadism can be safely treated with testosterone but all will require monitoring of prostate parameters HDL cholesterol, hematocrit and psychological state. It is also wise to monitor symptoms of sleep apnea. Other specific concerns may be raised by the mode of delivery such as local side effects from transdermal testosterone.
With the decline of ovarian function in menopause, not only do estrogen levels decline, but so does testosterone availability, since the ovaries contribute, either by direct secretion or through precursor production, about 50 percent of circulating testosterone. The other 50 percent is supplied by the adrenal glands. Many post-menopausal or oophorectomized women are symptomatic as a consequence of reduced testosterone, the leading symptom being loss of libido (Sherwin and Gelfand 1987; Simon et al 2005). There is an increasing trend toward testosterone supplementation in these women. Such supplementation may also lead, not only to increased libido, but to increased bone mineral density and an improvement in general overall sense of well-being including energy, strength, motivation and mood (Davis et al 1995; Davis et al 2000).
So, how does one ensure that testosterone levels remain in balance? Some doctors suggest that monitoring testosterone levels every five years, starting at age 35, is a reasonable strategy to follow. If the testosterone level falls too low or if the individual has the signs and symptoms of low testosterone levels described above, testosterone therapy can be considered. However, once testosterone therapy is initiated, testosterone levels should be closely monitored to make sure that the testosterone level does not become too high, as this may cause stress on the individual, and high testosterone levels may result in some of the negative problems (described previously) seen.
Some of the effects of testosterone treatment are well recognised and it seems clear that testosterone treatment for aging hypogonadal men can be expected to increase lean body mass, decrease visceral fat mass, increase bone mineral density and decrease total cholesterol. Beneficial effects have been seen in many trials on other parameters such as glycemic control in diabetes, erectile dysfunction, cardiovascular risk factors, angina, mood and cognition. These potentially important effects require confirmation in larger clinical trials. Indeed, it is apparent that longer duration randomized controlled trials of testosterone treatment in large numbers of men are needed to confirm the effects of testosterone on many aspects of aging male health including cardiovascular health, psychiatric health, prostate cancer and functional capacity. In the absence of such studies, it is necessary to balance risk and benefit on the best available data. At the present time the data supports the treatment of hypogonadal men with testosterone to normalize testosterone levels and improve symptoms. Most men with hypogonadism do not have a contraindication to treatment, but it is important to monitor for adverse consequences including prostate complications and polycythemia.
Fenugreek is often found in Indian, Turkish, and Persian cuisine. Multiple studies have found it to improve testosterone levels, and in particular, sexual performance. Scientists at Babu Banarasi Das University and King George’s Medical University in India have found that fenugreek improved testosterone levels. Testosterone levels increased for 90% of the volunteers, sperm morphology (the size and shape of sperm) improved for 14.6%, and more than 50% of volunteers experienced improvements in mental alertness, mood, and libido.
A number of epidemiological studies have found that bone mineral density in the aging male population is positively associated with endogenous androgen levels (Murphy et al 1993; Ongphiphadhanakul et al 1995; Rucker et al 2004). Testosterone levels in young men have been shown to correlate with bone size, indicating a role in determination of peak bone mass and protection from future osteoporosis (Lorentzon et al 2005). Male hypogonadism has been shown to be a risk factor for hip fracture (Jackson et al 1992) and a recent study showed a high prevalence of hypogonadism in a group of male patients with average age 75 years presenting with minimal trauma fractures compared to stroke victims who acted as controls (Leifke et al 2005). Estrogen is a well known determinant of bone density in women and some investigators have found serum estrogen to be a strong determinant of male bone density (Khosla et al 1998; Khosla et al 2001). Serum estrogen was also found to correlate better than testosterone with peak bone mass (Khosla et al 2001) but this is in contradiction of a more recent study showing a negative correlation of estrogen with peak bone size (Lorentzon et al 2005). Men with aromatase deficiency (Carani et al 1997) or defunctioning estrogen receptor mutations (Smith et al 1994) have been found to have abnormally low bone density despite normal or high testosterone levels which further emphasizes the important influence of estrogen on male bone density.
Trials of testosterone treatment in men with type 2 diabetes have also taken place. A recent randomized controlled crossover trial assessed the effects of intramuscular testosterone replacement to achieve levels within the physiological range, compared with placebo injections in 24 men with diabetes, hypogonadism and a mean age of 64 years (Kapoor et al 2006). Ten of these men were insulin treated. Testosterone treatment led to a significant reduction in glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C) and fasting glucose compared to placebo. Testosterone also produced a significant reduction in insulin resistance, measured by the homeostatic model assessment (HOMA), in the fourteen non-insulin treated patients. It is not possible to measure insulin resistance in patients treated with insulin but five out of ten of these patients had a reduction of insulin dose during the study. Other significant changes during testosterone treatment in this trial were reduced total cholesterol, waist circumference and waist-hip ratio. Similarly, a placebo-controlled but non-blinded trial in 24 men with visceral obesity, diabetes, hypogonadism and mean age 57 years found that three months of oral testosterone treatment led to significant reductions in HbA1C, fasting glucose, post-prandial glucose, weight, fat mass and waist-hip ratio (Boyanov et al 2003). In contrast, an uncontrolled study of 150 mg intramuscular testosterone given to 10 patients, average age 64 years, with diabetes and hypogonadism found no significant change in diabetes control, fasting glucose or insulin levels (Corrales et al 2004). Another uncontrolled study showed no beneficial effect of testosterone treatment on insulin resistance, measured by HOMA and ‘minimal model’ of area under acute insulin response curves, in 11 patients with type 2 diabetes aged between 33 and 73 years (Lee et al 2005). Body mass index was within the normal range in this population and there was no change in waist-hip ratio or weight during testosterone treatment. Baseline testosterone levels were in the low-normal range and patients received a relatively small dose of 100 mg intramuscular testosterone every three weeks. A good increase in testosterone levels during the trial is described but it is not stated at which time during the three week cycle the testosterone levels were tested, so the lack of response could reflect an insufficient overall testosterone dose in the trial period.
Sleep apnea is another frequently listed contraindication to testosterone treatment. There have been a few reports of the development, or worsening, of sleep apnea during testosterone therapy (Matsumoto et al 1985) but sleep apnea is actually associated with lower serum testosterone levels (Luboshitzky et al 2002). The reduction in fat mass during treatment with testosterone could potentially be beneficial for sleep apnea, so many specialists will still consider patients for treatment with appropriate monitoring. It is wise to take a clinical history for sleep apnea during testosterone treatment in all men and perform sleep studies in those who develop symptoms.
Testosterone levels generally peak during adolescence and early adulthood. As you get older, your testosterone level gradually declines — typically about 1 percent a year after age 30 or 40. It is important to determine in older men if a low testosterone level is simply due to the decline of normal aging or if it is due to a disease (hypogonadism).