Hormone deficiency or hypogonadism, whether primary or secondary, has been thought to impact erectile function. Approximately a third of men in the European Male Aging Study demonstrated low testosterone, suggesting that hypogonadism is overrepresented among men with ED.11 Hormone deficiency, however, is less frequently the cause of ED than diabetes or vascular disease. Many entities with a strong relationship to ED also diminish bioavailable testosterone, including obesity, diabetes, and opioid use. Other hormones involved in testosterone metabolism or availability, like thyroid stimulating hormone and gonadotropins, also may impact erectile quality, presumably through regulating bioavailable testosterone. Understanding the relationship between testosterone and ED has been impaired by a lack of standardized measurement of this hormone and the cyclic nature of its release and consumption.


Erectile dysfunction (previously called impotence) is the inability to get or maintain an erection that is sufficient to ensure satisfactory sex for both partners. This problem can cause significant distress for couples. Fortunately more and more men of all ages are seeking help, and treatment for ED has advanced rapidly. The enormous demand for “anti-impotence” drugs suggests that erection problems may be more common than was previously thought. Find out more about the causes and treatment of erectile dysfunction here.
It is hard to know how many men among us have TD, although data suggest that overall about 2.1% (about 2 men in every 100) may have TD. As few as 1% of younger men may have TD, while as many as 50% of men over 80 years old may have TD. People who study the condition often use different cut-off points for the numbers, so you may hear different numbers being stated.

Additionally, the physiologic processes involving erections begin at the genetic level. Certain genes become activated at critical times to produce proteins vital to sustaining this pathway. Some researchers have focused on identifying particular genes that place men at risk for ED. At present, these studies are limited to animal models, and little success has been reported to date. [4] Nevertheless, this research has given rise to many new treatment targets and a better understanding of the entire process.
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).
In non-human primates, it may be that testosterone in puberty stimulates sexual arousal, which allows the primate to increasingly seek out sexual experiences with females and thus creates a sexual preference for females.[39] Some research has also indicated that if testosterone is eliminated in an adult male human or other adult male primate's system, its sexual motivation decreases, but there is no corresponding decrease in ability to engage in sexual activity (mounting, ejaculating, etc.).[39]
The effect excess testosterone has on the body depends on both age and sex. It is unlikely that adult men will develop a disorder in which they produce too much testosterone and it is often difficult to spot that an adult male has too much testosterone. More obviously, young children with too much testosterone may enter a false growth spurt and show signs of early puberty and young girls may experience abnormal changes to their genitalia. In both males and females, too much testosterone can lead to precocious puberty and result in infertility. 
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.
Overall, it seems that both estrogen and testosterone are important for normal bone growth and maintenance. Deficiency or failure of action of the sex hormones is associated with osteoporosis and minimal trauma fractures. Estrogen in males is produced via metabolism of testosterone by aromatase and it is therefore important that androgens used for the treatment of hypogonadism be amenable to the action of aromatase to yield maximal positive effects on bone. There is data showing that testosterone treatment increases bone mineral density in aging males but that these benefits are confined to hypogonadal men. The magnitude of this improvement is greater in the spine than in the hip and further studies are warranted to confirm or refute any differential effects of testosterone at these important sites. Improvements seen in randomized controlled trials to date may underestimate true positive effects due to relatively short duration and/or baseline characteristics of the patients involved. There is no data as yet to confirm that the improvement in bone density with testosterone treatment reduces fractures in men and this is an important area for future study.

Testosterone is only one of many factors that influence aggression and the effects of previous experience and environmental stimuli have been found to correlate more strongly. A few studies indicate that the testosterone derivative estradiol (one form of estrogen) might play an important role in male aggression.[66][67][68][69] Studies have also found that testosterone facilitates aggression by modulating vasopressin receptors in the hypothalamus.[70]
Dr. Ronald Swerdloff, chief of the endocrinology division at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and a professor of medicine at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, served on the panel of experts who developed the Endocrine Society's guidelines. He is also the principal investigator for one of the 12 sites of The Testosterone Trial in Older Men, a nationwide study funded mainly by the National Institute on Aging. The study of 800 men over age 65 with low testosterone is looking at whether men using AndroGel for one year, compared to placebo, will show improvements in walking speed, sexual activity, vitality, memory, and anemia. The study will be completed in June 2015.
The changes in average serum testosterone levels with aging mean that the proportion of men fulfilling a biochemically defined diagnosis of hypogonadism increases with aging. Twenty percent of men aged over 60 have total testosterone levels below the normal range and the figure rises to 50% in those aged over 80. The figures concerning free testosterone are even higher as would be expected in view of the concurrent decrease in SHBG levels (Harman et al 2001).
Additionally, the physiologic processes involving erections begin at the genetic level. Certain genes become activated at critical times to produce proteins vital to sustaining this pathway. Some researchers have focused on identifying particular genes that place men at risk for ED. At present, these studies are limited to animal models, and little success has been reported to date. [4] Nevertheless, this research has given rise to many new treatment targets and a better understanding of the entire process. 

Epidemiological studies have also assessed links between serum testosterone and non-coronary atherosclerosis. A study of over 1000 people aged 55 years and over found an inverse correlation between serum total and bioavailable testosterone and the amount of aortic atherosclerosis in men, as assessed by radiological methods (Hak et al 2002). Increased intima-media thickness (IMT) is an early sign of atherosclerosis and has also been shown to predict cardiovascular mortality (Murakami et al 2005). Cross-sectional studies have found that testosterone levels are negatively correlated with carotid IMT in independently living men aged 74–93 years (van den Beld et al 2003), diabetic men (Fukui et al 2003) and young obese men (De Pergola et al 2003). A 4-year follow up study of the latter population showed that free testosterone was also inversely correlated with the rate of increase of IMT (Muller et al 2004).

Currently available testosterone preparations in common use include intramuscular injections, subcutaneous pellets, buccal tablets, transdermal gels and patches (see Table 2). Oral testosterone is not widely used. Unmodified testosterone taken orally is largely subject to first-pass metabolism by the liver. Oral doses 100 fold greater than physiological testosterone production can be given to achieve adequate serum levels. Methyl testosterone esters have been associated with hepatotoxicity. There has been some use of testosterone undecanoate, which is an esterified derivative of testosterone that is absorbed via the lymphatic system and bypasses the liver. Unfortunately, it produces unpredictable testosterone levels and increases testosterone levels for only a short period after each oral dose (Schurmeyer et al 1983).


There is a polymorphic CAG repeat sequence in the androgen receptor gene, which codes for a variable number of glutamine amino acids in the part of the receptor affecting gene transcription. A receptor with a short CAG sequence produces greater activity when androgens attach, and men with shorter CAG polymorphisms exhibit androgenic traits, such as preserved bone density (Zitzmann et al 2001) and prostate growth during testosterone treatment (Zitzmann et al 2003). Indirect evidence of the importance of androgens in the development of prostate cancer is provided by case control study findings of a shorter, more active CAG repeat sequence in the androgen receptor gene of patients with prostate cancer compared with controls (Hsing et al 2000, 2002).
Men who produce more testosterone are more likely to engage in extramarital sex.[55] Testosterone levels do not rely on physical presence of a partner; testosterone levels of men engaging in same-city and long-distance relationships are similar.[54] Physical presence may be required for women who are in relationships for the testosterone–partner interaction, where same-city partnered women have lower testosterone levels than long-distance partnered women.[59]
Cross-sectional studies have found a positive association between serum testosterone and some measures of cognitive ability in men (Barrett-Connor, Goodman-Gruen et al 1999; Yaffe et al 2002). Longitudinal studies have found that free testosterone levels correlate positively with future cognitive abilities and reduced rate of cognitive decline (Moffat et al 2002) and that, compared with controls, testosterone levels are reduced in men with Alzheimer’s disease at least 10 years prior to diagnosis (Moffat et al 2004). Studies of the effects of induced androgen deficiency in patients with prostate cancer have shown that profoundly lowering testosterone leads to worsening cognitive functions (Almeida et al 2004; Salminen et al 2004) and increased levels of serum amyloid (Gandy et al 2001; Almeida et al 2004), which is central to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (Parihar and Hemnani 2004). Furthermore, testosterone reduces amyloid-induced hippocampal neurotoxity in vitro (Pike 2001) as well as exhibiting other neuroprotective effects (Pouliot et al 1996). The epidemiological and experimental data propose a potential role of testosterone in protecting cognitive function and preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
Longitudinal studies in male aging studies have shown that serum testosterone levels decline with age (Harman et al 2001; Feldman et al 2002). Total testosterone levels fall at an average of 1.6% per year whilst free and bioavailable levels fall by 2%–3% per year. The reduction in free and bioavailable testosterone levels is larger because aging is also associated with increases in SHBG levels (Feldman et al 2002). Cross-sectional data supports these trends but has usually shown smaller reductions in testosterone levels with aging (Feldman et al 2002). This is likely to reflect strict entry criteria to cross-sectional studies so that young healthy men are compared to older healthy men. During the course of longitudinal studies some men may develop pathologies which accentuate decreases in testosterone levels.
Side effects include lightheadedness, fainting, priapism, urethral bleeding (intraurethral), dyspareunia in the partner (intraurethral), hematoma (intracavernosal) or penile curvature secondary to scar (intracavernosal). Efficacy of intraurethral alprostadil has been demonstrated to be around 50% ("able to have intercourse") in randomized controlled trials.31,32 For intracorporeal injection, typically alprostadil is tried alone, or compounded with papaverine (nonspecific phosphodiesterase inhibitor that increases intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate and cGMP) and/or phentolamine (competitive, non-selective alpha1- and alpha2-adrenoreceptor blocker). Pinsky et al33 reported an extensive review of the benefits and drawbacks of the combinations of these drugs.
Low-intensity extracorporeal shock wave therapy has been proposed as a new non-invasive treatment for erectile dysfunction caused by problems with blood vessels. Shock wave therapy machines are now available in some medical practices in Australia. Although there is some evidence that it may help a proportion of men with erectile dysfunction, more research is needed before clear recommendations on its use can be made. 

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).
Vitamin D and zinc are both essential to testosterone production. A year-long study looked at the vitamin D and testosterone levels of 2299 men. It found that men with vitamin D levels above 30 nmol/L had more testosterone and lower levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG binds to hormones so your cells can’t use them, and if you have too much of it, your testosterone levels drop [8]. Men with vitamin D deficiency had lower testosterone and higher SHBG levels.
Stanley A Brosman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association for Cancer Research, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Urological Association, Society for Basic Urologic Research, Society of Surgical Oncology, Society of Urologic Oncology, Western Section of the American Urological Association, Association of Clinical Research Professionals, American Society of Clinical Oncology, International Society of Urology, International Society of Urological Pathology
Common side effects from testosterone medication include acne, swelling, and breast enlargement in males.[10] Serious side effects may include liver toxicity, heart disease, and behavioral changes.[10] Women and children who are exposed may develop virilization.[10] It is recommended that individuals with prostate cancer not use the medication.[10] It can cause harm if used during pregnancy or breastfeeding.[10]
In a prospective study from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial database, Thompson et al reported that men presenting with ED had a significantly higher chance of developing a cardiovascular event over a 7-year follow-up period. [55] The hazard ratio was 1.45, which is in the range of risk associated with current smoking or a family history of MI.

Epidemiological studies have also assessed links between serum testosterone and non-coronary atherosclerosis. A study of over 1000 people aged 55 years and over found an inverse correlation between serum total and bioavailable testosterone and the amount of aortic atherosclerosis in men, as assessed by radiological methods (Hak et al 2002). Increased intima-media thickness (IMT) is an early sign of atherosclerosis and has also been shown to predict cardiovascular mortality (Murakami et al 2005). Cross-sectional studies have found that testosterone levels are negatively correlated with carotid IMT in independently living men aged 74–93 years (van den Beld et al 2003), diabetic men (Fukui et al 2003) and young obese men (De Pergola et al 2003). A 4-year follow up study of the latter population showed that free testosterone was also inversely correlated with the rate of increase of IMT (Muller et al 2004).
When we say it’s a barometer of men’s health, it’s a signal. It’s an indicator that things may be right or not. And so when a man develops an erectile problem– and we’re talking about something that is occurring over time. It’s not something that just occurred overnight. When it occurs overnight, it’s more often than not a psychogenic, an anxiety reaction.
But if a man with sleep apnea is diagnosed with low testosterone alone, taking the supplemental hormone can worsen sleep apnea. That's why it's crucial for men with low testosterone to get a thorough workup by an endocrinologist so underlying conditions that can cause low testosterone, such as sleep apnea or pituitary-gland tumors, don't go undiagnosed, Dr. Goodman says.
In a recent study of male workers, men with low testosterone levels had an increased chance of severe erectile dysfunction (Kratzik et al 2005), although such a link had not been found previously (Rhoden et al 2002). Certainly erectile dysfunction is considered part of the clinical syndrome of hypogonadism, and questions regarding erectile dysfunction form part of the clinical assessment of patients with hypogonadism (Morley et al 2000; Moore et al 2004). 
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