"The hope," explained Dr. Swerdloff in a telephone interview, "is this will provide some clarity as to whether testosterone replacement therapy will benefit men in this older age group who clearly have abnormal testosterone and have some symptoms." He added, "We don't know whether it will be beneficial at all the endpoints we are studying, or be beneficial to some and not others. We don't know if the benefits occur at different blood levels that are attained in the individuals."
Unfortunately, some patients may have an overly simplified understanding of the role of PDE5 inhibitors in ED management. Such patients may not expect or be willing to undergo a long evaluation and testing process to obtain a better understanding of their sexual problem, and they may be less likely to involve their partner in discussing their sexual relationship with the physician. They may expect to obtain medications through a phone call to their doctor or even over the Internet, with minimal or no physician contact at all.
Barbara Mintzes, at the University of British Columbia, said in a Skype interview, "Androgel was approved for a real condition—men who have a number of clinical or acquired conditions that affect testosterone, either through the testes or pituitary gland. So testosterone replacement therapy makes sense, and producing it in a gel makes sense. Where there is an actual need for the product, there's nothing wrong with that." But, she added, "When this gets marketed for what is essentially healthy aging, the antennas go up."
Alcohol is a depressant, not an aphrodisiac or a libido enhancer. Excessive consumption can interfere with the ability to achieve an erection at any age, and even occasional drinking can make erectile dysfunction worse in older men. Feloney advises using alcohol in moderation: "In small amounts, alcohol can relieve anxiety and may help with erectile dysfunction, but if you drink too much, it can cause erectile dysfunction or make the problem worse."
Several treatments were promoted in the pre-PGE1, pre-prostaglandin era, including yohimbine, trazodone, testosterone, and various herbal remedies. None of these is currently recommended under the updated American Urological Association Guidelines for the Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction.15 Testosterone supplementation is only recommended for men with low testosterone levels.
Intramuscular testosterone injections were first used around fifty years ago. Commercially available preparations contain testosterone esters in an oily vehicle. Esterification is designed to retard the release of testosterone from the depot site into the blood because the half life of unmodified testosterone would be very short. For many years intramuscular preparations were the most commonly used testosterone therapy and this is still the case in some centers. Pain can occur at injection sites, but the injections are generally well tolerated and free of major side effects. Until recently, the available intramuscular injections were designed for use at a frequency of between weekly and once every four weeks. These preparations are the cheapest mode of testosterone treatment available, but often cause supraphysiological testosterone levels in the days immediately following injection and/or low trough levels prior to the next injection during which time the symptoms of hypogonadism may return (Nieschlag et al 1976). More recently, a commercial preparation of testosterone undecanoate for intramuscular injection has become available. This has a much longer half life and produces testosterone levels in the physiological range throughout each treatment cycle (Schubert et al 2004). The usual dose frequency is once every three months. This is much more convenient for patients but does not allow prompt cessation of treatment if a contraindication to testosterone develops. The most common example of this would be prostate cancer and it has therefore been suggested that shorter acting testosterone preparations should preferably used for treating older patients (Nieschlag et al 2005). Similar considerations apply to the use of subcutaneous implants which take the form of cylindrical pellets injected under the skin of the abdominal wall and steadily release testosterone to provide physiological testosterone levels for up to six months. Problems also include pellet extrusion and infection (Handelsman et al 1997).
The prevalence of biochemical testosterone deficiency increases with age. This is partly due to decreasing testosterone levels associated with illness or debility but there is also convincing epidemiological data to show that serum free and total testosterone levels also fall with normal aging (Harman et al 2001; Feldman et al 2002). The symptoms of aging include tiredness, lack of energy, reduced strength, frailty, loss of libido, decreased sexual performance depression and mood change. Men with hypogonadism experience similar symptoms. This raises the question of whether some symptoms of aging could be due to relative androgen deficiency. On the other hand, similarities between normal aging and the symptoms of mild androgen deficiency make the clinical diagnosis of hypogonadism in aging men more challenging.
Cross-sectional studies have not shown raised testosterone levels at the time of diagnosis of prostate cancer, and in fact, low testosterone at the time of diagnosis has been linked with more locally aggressive and malignant tumors (Massengill et al 2003; Imamoto et al 2005; Isom-Batz et al 2005). This may reflect loss of hormone related control of the tumor or the effect of a more aggressive tumor in decreasing testosterone levels. One study found that 14% of hypogonadal men, with normal digital rectal examination and PSA levels, had histological prostate cancer on biopsy. It is possible that low androgen levels masked the usual evidence of prostate cancer in this population (Morgentaler et al 1996). Most longitudinal studies have not shown a correlation between testosterone levels and the future development of prostate cancer (Carter et al 1995; Heikkila et al 1999; Stattin et al 2004) but a recent study did find a positive association (Parsons et al 2005). Interpretation of such data requires care, as the presentation of prostate cancer could be altered or delayed in patients with lower testosterone levels.
Unlike women, who experience a rapid drop in hormone levels at menopause, men experience a more gradual decrease of testosterone levels over time. The older the man, the more likely he is to experience below-normal testosterone levels. Men with testosterone levels below 300 ng/dL may experience some degree of low T symptoms. Your doctor can conduct a blood test and recommend treatment if needed. They can discuss the potential benefits and risks of testosterone medication, as well.
Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, associate professor of pharmacology and director of the industry watchdog group PharmedOut.org at Georgetown University School of Medicine, calls this kind of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising "evil." She likened the efforts to sell TRT to earlier campaigns to push hormone replacement therapy for post-menopausal women. "They stole the playbook," she said. "This hormone is being thrown around like sugar water."